You hear it all the time. I hear it all the time, and frankly that would be enough to make this article necessary. But as it happens, everybody hears it.
“All women are beautiful!”
It’s a slogan. It’s a T-shirt. It’s supposed to be a compliment.
It’s the second thing you get when you type “all women are” into Google.
(Wanna know what the first result is? “All women are the same.” Creepy.)
Just in this past week, I heard this sentiment mansplained in a Facebook posting that I can’t link to, and mentioned in an important online apology-gone-viral that I can.
The above-mentioned apology would mean so much more if the woman writing it hadn’t fallen now and then into the usual “every single one of you is just gorgeous!” happy crappy.
I’m tired of this horseshit and I hate having to say something more than once, so listen up, please:
All women are NOT beautiful.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to earn karma points or get laid, or both.
If you’re arguing or spluttering or getting all self-righteous on your end of this online experience, riddle me this: Why women?
Why only us?
Think about what your reaction would be if someone leaned toward you, looked into your eyes, and said in deep, meaningful tones, “Darling, all men are beautiful.”
I did that to my 15-year-old son last night, and he looked like he wanted to hurl and then he laughed. “Ew,” he summed up.
If you’re in the habit of saying “All women are beautiful!”, please stop being such a condescending fuck. Thank you.
Years and years ago, I worked in a feminist bookstore. (Which I guess made me a professional feminist for part of my career. Interesting. I never thought about it that way. Anyway.) One afternoon, we were having a book reading and signing. I think the writer in question was Maureen Murdock, author of The Heroine’s Journey. She was talking about what inspired her to write her book. She said she’d spoken once to Joseph Campbell, who wrote extensively about the hero’s journey. She asked something about certain aspects of his description of that journey that didn’t seem to apply universally – that is, that didn’t seem to have anything to do with female existence, but were exclusively male. What would a heroine’s journey look like?
According to her, he replied that women didn’t need to make the journey. They were already there.
What a crock.
Saying “All women are beautiful” is like saying that. It’s saying that all women have the goal of being purely aesthetically appealing. But guess what, girls? You made it! You’re already there! Yay, you!
Please shut up. Have I mentioned that already?
I’m not going to do that annoying, beginning-journalism-student thing of telling you, as if you don’t own a dictionary and wouldn’t know what to do with one if you did, that the official definition of beautiful is blah blah blah. I will point out that beauty is (yes, okay, by definition) exceptional.
If everybody’s beautiful, nobody is.
Most people are pleasant looking, or at least not actively unpleasant.
Many people are attractive, at least to somebody, and they don’t have to match some generic standard in order to be so.
Plenty of people you wouldn’t want to stare at a picture of are so appealing that you’d gladly spend all day with them in person.
None of this is beauty, unless you’ve watered down the word so much that it’s completely worthless by virtue of losing all damned meaning.
Stop saying “All women are beautiful,” and start meaning “It would be fine if women weren’t expected to think about being beautiful any more than men do.”
Men are not all beautiful.
Some men give a great deal of thought to their looks. Maybe they’re actors or public speakers or body builders. Maybe they just enjoy cultivating their physical charms. The results can be pleasing, but in general we consider this kind of focus to be a signal of shallowness.
Some men don’t give nearly enough thought to how they strike others. Yes, I’m talking to you, stinky guy in the café who has a home and plenty of money but can’t be bothered to bathe and change his clothes regularly.
The vast majority of men fall somewhere in-between. Most men aim to look okay in public, better than okay on special occasions, and seriously sloppy at home on lazy non-workday mornings.
Duh. Why am I even bothering to explain this?
Because it doesn’t seem to be as bloody obvious as it ought to be.
All men are not handsome. I’m sure plenty who aren’t would like to be, but how pathetic would it be if that were a consuming passion for many or (heaven forbid) most of them?
Can you imagine how people would feel about a brilliant male writer who was described as being so desperate for good looks that he would have given up half his genius to be considered beautiful? We’re not talking someone who looked like the elephant man. We’re talking someone who just wasn’t particular distinguished in the aesthetics department. Not frightening children in the street, and not tripping over all the women falling at his feet. Just somewhere in-between. Like most men.
But unlike most men, he was a true genius whose work would survive for centuries. Because of its merit. Its beauty.
And he was known for wishing bitterly that he could have bought a measure of the ephemeral, purely physical sort of beauty instead, and saw his genius as a sort of consolation prize.
Or maybe he didn’t think that. Maybe all his friends and readers and critics spent all their time whispering in pitying tones about what a shame it was that someone so otherwise gifted had fallen pitifully short when it came to what was really important.
But we’re talking about a woman here, of course. Of course! What man who was granted the knowledge in his own short life that his genius was the real true thing would give a thought to his looks?
Have the nerve to be a Brontë, though, and you’re remembered with sympathy. Not because you died young and broke, but because – OMG! – you weren’t a babe.
Beauty is rare. It should be. Otherwise we wouldn’t treasure it so. “Treasure” means something costly and precious. There’s no aluminum in that buried pirate stash.
Beauty is fleeting. Butterflies and longevity have nothing to do with one another.
Healthy people are not all beautiful. Brilliant people are not all beautiful. Unhealthy brilliant people can be just plain weird-looking. When was the last time you heard anyone singing the praises of Stephen Hawking’s inner beauty? Beauty has nothing to do with his gifts. Why should it? (Even before he got sick, he wasn’t winning any awards. And for the record, the guy’s been married twice.)
Why is it so important to you that every female on the planet physically embodies beauty? Why should that be a goal, or even an idea?
Tell me what you think of this list of statements.
“Women are all award-winning marathon runners!”
“Women all have perfectly straight brown hair that falls to their ankles!”
“Women are all professors of mathematics at world-famous universities!”
See? Those are all perfectly good things. They’re things you’d exclaim over and be impressed by, if you ran into them embodied in someone you just met at a party.
So all women should aspire to them, right? And all women who don’t manage to be those things, either because they haven’t tried or because they weren’t able to, should be assured that, well, yes, honey, you sure are!
Fuck off with that, okay? Stop telling me I’m beautiful. I’m not. I’m a lot of other awesome things. I’m not beautiful. I never have been. I never will be.
I’d like that to be something that didn’t inspire exclamations of pity or embarrassed statements to the contrary. Unless you’re also going to exclaim over the other rare things I’m not. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not someone who’s ever been to Antarctica. I’m not possessed of a photographic memory.
Not really. Pardon me if I don’t spend my days eaten up with regret over never meeting penguins in their native land. It’d be fun, but I’m over it. I have plenty of other things to keep me busy and happy.
My son made a really great point (after he finished gagging) when I said, “All men are beautiful!” in that unctuous tone. “People say that about children, too,” he remarked.
Well – all babies really are beautiful. They’re our young. They’re our hope. They really are rare, in a way, because they’re possessed of that most fleeting quality: pure innocence.
“Yeah, but I mean kids,” my son said. “And trust me, they’re not all beautiful.”
He’s still traumatized from being a junior counselor at a LEGO day camp, so some of that was the bitter speaking. But I saw his point. Especially when he went on, “That’s the kind of thing you say about a group you look down on.”
15, male, white, and middle class, and he gets it.