On the Multitudinous Beauties of Women

BOAWIntroductory note: Hi! My very dear and since-basically-forever friend August McLaughlin is hosting, for the second consecutive year, a thing called The Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, and I’ve decided to finally inaugurate this blog by taking part. It’s an odd topic for the first public non-sports writing in six years or so from a straight-dude lawyer and baseball writer, but that was kind of the point — get out of my comfort zone and just write a thing. If you’re interested in more about who I am (and what this blog is likely to be about), look here.

Here are five things I know are true:

  1. There’s a problem with the way women are presented in certain segments of popular media. Film, TV series, commercials, the internet, whatever. A very clear suggestion persists, somehow, in 2013 — and can be found in large parts of each of those places — that a woman’s value is in her face, her body, her capacity to make men happy in one way or another.
  2. This attitude seems to have a correlation with the active mistreatment of women, well beyond the passive diminution of the entire half (well, 51%) of a species that flows naturally from our behaving as though they exist primarily to make things more pleasant for the other half (well, 49%). This is where a lot of harassment and assault and rape comes from.
  3. That passive diminution is plenty harmful on its own. This is where a lot of self-loathing and self-harm and resentment and eating disorders come from.
  4. It should go without saying that in fact, women on the whole are at least as capable as are men on the whole when it comes to thinking, feeling, explaining or doing things. In my experience, most women are better at most of those things than most men are.
  5. But: women can be damned sexy. I find that most women are attractive in one form or another, but also find that some are more physically or visually attractive to me than others are, generally based on characteristics the taking notice of which our society likes to think of as shallow, base, piggish — and the very same ones, basically, that our society glorifies in 1. above.

The biggest gender-related problem we have right now is probably some better-worded combination of items one through four. Once you’ve identified and started wrestling with that problem, though, a secondary issue — and one I think a lot of very intelligent and progressive people really struggle with — emerges: how to reconcile number five with those other four.

Once, I struggled with this a lot. I’m not proud, but the truth is that I’m a solidly, maybe overwhelmingly heterosexual male. I love women, and I mean that in every way. I love the way they look, I love the way they smell, I love their curves and their hair and their relative smallness. I love sex with a woman, I love lingering for just a moment (usually just a moment) on the idea of sex with a woman, and I love looking at a woman — certain women more than others, of course, distinguished, by and large, by characteristics that have nothing whatsoever to do with their talent for songwriting or carpentry, their contributions to medical science, or their capacity to love their fellow humans. Sometimes women are just reeeeaaal purty, in essence, and sometimes I think that’s really awesome. I like pretty smiling faces. I like legs. I like boobs.

And the biggest step I’ve taken as a person over the last year or two, the one thing that’s taken me farther along than anything else on this ceaseless trek toward becoming a happy, well-adjusted, comfortable-in-my-own-skin sort of human being, is the realization that that’s totally fine, that my noticing those things (and thinking they’re really awesome) doesn’t by itself conflict with my deeply-held feminism, doesn’t make me a pig or a neanderthal or an adolescent or a freak. I like what I like because the chemicals in my brain work in a certain way, because the Creator or series of accidents that brought me into being made me in exactly that way, and that’s as it should be. People were made to appreciate all kinds of things in each other. Hetero women appreciate men in the same way, even if they tend not to think about it quite so much (or it’s not quite as socially appropriate for them to acknowledge it). Our faces and bodies have developed as they have in large part for the purpose of being attractive to other people. You’re supposed to notice shit like that.

I’ve always been this way (or since like age eleven), and finally becoming more or less okay with that has been incredibly freeing. Sure, my coarser impulses make me do things (to myself) I wish I wouldn’t — like watch every single episode of Two Broke Girls, for instance, one of the worst and most cringe-inducing shows on television, solely to watch the wonderful Kat Dennings do things in high definition — but the impulses themselves are just a (relatively small) part of who I am, which is not entirely different from who everybody else is, and that’s cool.

Where I think the confusion comes in — and this is an essential companion to the liberating realization above — is here: those things you and I have, those preferences, the likes and dislikes, the “interests,” come with certain responsibilities. The responsibilities can all be summed up this way: these things are totally our own issues, and absolutely no one else’s. Nothing wrong with being a bit superficial (everyone is) or with noticing those things (everyone does), but there’s a lot wrong with “noticing” them in a way that makes another person feel uncomfortable or less human, with expecting another person to strive to fit some ideal you’ve cooked up in your own brain, with treating your own idea of beauty as the single definition thereof, with faulting anyone for not living up to those ideas (or for not attempting to), with patronizing media figures or outlets or types that attempt to impose similar ideals on women (or men), with valuing those features above or to the exclusion of qualities like wisdom, competence, wit, creativity and compassion; with, more generally, anything that fails to recognize at all times that all other people are people, not little collections of lips and butts and eyes and waistlines and so forth.

When Walt Whitman wrote: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then, I contradict myself; / (I am large–I contain multitudes),” he probably meant a lot of things (he did contain multitudes, after all), but one, certainly, was that he was capable of holding many different thoughts — even contradictory thoughts — and of being many different things — even contradictory things — all at once. Everyone is, which I suppose is what has made “Song of Myself” a classic poem, and not a long-lost diary entry or something.

Women can be both beautiful outside (pretty gorgeous alluring sexy: in your eyes, in someone’s) and beautiful in (brilliant generous creative thoughtful and valuable in any of hundreds of other ways), or either or (rarely enough) neither. It’s a great mistake to conflate the two, which is essentially what our culture does when we tie a woman’s value to her ability to approximate some preset physical ideal. It’s a not altogether dissimilar mistake, though, to treat them as mutually exclusive, as we do when we equate any appreciation at all of one’s personal concept of superficial beauty with a demeaning attitude toward women — or as can be seen in things like the Olivia-Munn-on-TheDailyShow backlash. I used to be able to appreciate what I see as Jenny McCarthy’s physical beauty, but I really wish she’d stop trying to kill our children; can’t say I’ve ever lost myself staring at Hillary Clinton, but I think that what I know of her is pretty damn beautiful. While I’m on the subject, my wife of nearly twelve years is beautiful in every way, and getting more beautiful all the time (d’awww, but it’s true).

Just about everyone is beautiful in more than one way, I think. We contain multitudes. 

Whether you’ve had similar experiences or think I’m totally full of it, I’d be happy to hear from you below. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll check back again sometime.

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44 thoughts on “On the Multitudinous Beauties of Women

  1. The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest II! | August McLaughlin's Blog

  2. This is one of my favorite posts—not merely of the fest or because you’re my dear friend (though those are huge plusses!). We live in a tough time and culture in terms of these issues, and stereotypes go both ways. If we live our lives believing that men think with their penises and women are prudes (the extreme end of those stereotypes), we’ll never find contentment. Knowing that attraction is part of human nature, not punishment worthy or a free pass to react irresponsibly, we can all breathe a bit easier. I’m so grateful that you’ve come to a healthy, happy place with your own feelings, and hope/wish the same for everyone.

    Thanks so much for participating in the fest! Congrats on your new blog. Off to a terrific start. 😉

  3. Wonderfully said. I am lucky enough to be married to a man for going on 22 years who has come to the same conclusions that you have about the ability of the human heart to contain multitudes. I’m glad to know there are more men out there like him, and hope that my two sons, when they grow up, will join the ranks.

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  5. From a guy’s point of view: “Nothing wrong with being a bit superficial (everyone is) or with noticing those things (everyone does), but there’s a lot wrong with “noticing” them in a way that makes another person feel uncomfortable or less human, with expecting another person to strive to fit some ideal you’ve cooked up in your own brain, with treating your own idea of beauty as the single definition thereof, with faulting anyone for not living up to those ideas (or for not attempting to), with patronizing media figures or outlets or types that attempt to impose similar ideals on women (or men), with valuing those features above or to the exclusion of qualities like wisdom, competence, wit, creativity and compassion; with, more generally, anything that fails to recognize at all times that all other people are people, not little collections of lips and butts and eyes and waistlines and so forth.”
    LOVE that, Bill! The issue, I think, comes when we’re dismissed for *failing* to meet those very narrow ideals of physical beauty. I’m a pleasingly plump gal who’s had doors shut in her face because a not-so-gentleman has failed to see me, or blatantly failed to care whether my arms were full. That being said, now that I see MYSELF as beautiful, as someone who has something to share with the world, as someone who is no longer smooshing down all that was fighting to burst from my brain and from my mouth and from my fingers all my life, and thus made me feel like a crazy person, now that I see MYSELF as someone of value…that inner belief that I am worthy, comes from the inside out, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt ignored or dismissed. Besides, plumpness fills in the cracks! I look pretty good for my age, and I wouldn’t trade this time in my 40s–this time of self-appreciation and self-realization–for anything in the world. Great post! And thanks for truly appreciating the beauty of women, inside and out.

  6. Good to see a man finding beauty other than in the media’s narrow ideal! Of course it’s natural for us to be attracted more to some than others, but beauty isn’t always physical, in women or men. Thanks for sharing your take!

    • Thanks, Jennette! Very true, and as August is fond of pointing out (and I tried to channel her up there toward the end a bit), those other types of beauty tend to create or enhance the more superficial kind.

  7. Bill! Major big totally awesome high five to you.

    Especially for this part ——-> “those preferences, the likes and dislikes, the “interests,” come with certain responsibilities. The responsibilities can all be summed up this way: these things are totally our own issues, and absolutely no one else’s. ”

    Solid point for all people regardless of gender. Basically, I understand this as encouragement to stop generalizing and love the specific in other human beings….physical appearance being only one small bit of the puzzle and not a reliable indicator at all of things like intelligence, passion, creativity, engagement. All of which are very well outlined by many of the BOAW pieces today.

  8. I want to shout BRAVO! Fantastic post – real, true, honest and I can almost hear Al Pacino going “Boo-yah!” I love the Whitman quote for we are ALL multitudes and I love being a woman and being found sexy. We have physical parts of us to enjoy – and why not? I love looking at the curve of a man’s ass and his legs (I fell in love with my husband because of his beautiful hands). But even more exciting is what’s inside too, as that is the part that makes us different from all the same boobs, legs, and asses, right?

  9. I adore the honesty in this. Heck, *I’ve* checked out women who have especially gorgeous “features”.

    A piece of art grabs you by what you see with your eyes first. What keeps me looking is the story behind the piece. Same with people. No shame in admitting we notice (and notice, and notice) the outside, and love that you totally own that here.

    Also, kinda choked on my drink during your Two Broke Girls comment.

  10. You really capture the contradictions and ‘multitudes’ of just being human, with gender putting its own particular stamp on them. Very thoughtful and rich post. Glad I stopped by.

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  12. Wow, Bill, this is awesome. A very important point, that we can’t ignore or demonize our natural responses to the opposite sex. We just need to have them in perspective (only you said all that much more eloquently).

    Off to a great start with your new blog! Best of luck with it.

  13. I’m really glad you participated in the BOAWfest. It is good to hear a guy’s honest perspective. I really appreciate how you put it when you said–“Nothing wrong with being a bit superficial (everyone is) or with noticing those things (everyone does), but there’s a lot wrong with “noticing” them in a way that makes another person feel uncomfortable or less human…”

  14. After reading all these great posts for the fest, I keep thinking about the idea of our “lizard brains.” How we have these primal urges wired in, and how that can conflict with the more spiritual side of being human. I guess, like with pretty much everything, it’s a balance, but one that works if we are aware that we have all these sides to us for a reason. And not to dismiss one or the the other. Great post–thanks for getting me to think a little more this morning! 🙂

  15. So wonderfully put, Bill! In fact, I daresay that most of us gals are not saying we don’t want to be seen as beautiful. We just want to be beautiful AND…. We want to feel good about our external and internal selves, and it’s frustrating to have unrealistic expectations in either of these realms.

    By the way, I love baseball. I love the game for itself, but it doesn’t hurt this woman’s interest that the baseball player build is rather attractive.

    • Thanks, Julie. Very good point. I think that’s a very good phrasing of the “woman’s perspective version” of the point I was trying to make.

      Ha, hooray for baseball, for whatever reasons! 🙂

  16. “… the realization that that’s totally fine, that my noticing those things (and thinking they’re really awesome) doesn’t by itself conflict with my deeply-held feminism, doesn’t make me a pig or a neanderthal or an adolescent or a freak.” Exactly. It’s what follows the noticing, by and large, that can earn men one or more of the four titles you mention.

    I’m appreciating your heterosexual male perspective in a big way. It goes to prove, men can be beautiful, too.

  17. Yes, yes, and yes! Thank you for being a guy who sees the inequalities with how women are portrayed and viewed and judged. I think your post hits the nail on the head, and your girls are so very lucky they have a father who thinks about this and will create dialogue with them so they’ll know they’re beautiful inside and out! Thank you!

  18. Celebrating the Homocalypse: My Post-Traditional-Marriage To-Do List « The Cranky Lefty

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