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.