Women are the beautiful sex. Who doubts it? Among birds the male may have the pretty plumage, but among human beings it is the female who wears the peacock feathers.
Whatever else is denied women, no one denies that they are better looking than men. Little boys are made of frogs and snails, but little girls are made of sugar and spice, that is, potential cheesecake. When the first baby born in the New Year is a girl, the newspaper predicts that in twenty years she will be Miss America, for just as all men are created equal, all women are created beautiful. Of course, occasionally an unfortunate woman may be an exception, but isn't she the exception that proves the rule? Or rather, just as all men have different I.Q.s, so all women have different Beauty Quotients; although all women are beautiful, some women are more beautiful than others.
When a mother unwraps the pink blanket from her tiny bundle, we say, »My, isn't she pretty.« And as the little girl grows up and looks about her, she sees models of female beauty everywhere. As she sits in front of the television set, every deodorant and soap powder is in the hand of a fair lady. The actresses on TV and in the movies are always beautiful, or at least the young ones who get the men are. When the little girl travels on an airplane, the stewardess who gives her a balloon is lovely, and when she peeks over her father's shoulders as he reads a magazine, she sees the beautiful paper dolls in Playboy.
When she walks beside her mother in the supermarket, her eyes are level with the beautiful women on the covers of the magazines and with the beautiful half-naked women on the covers of the paperback books. When she rides in the family car, her eyes rise to the gigantic beautiful girls papered on billboards; when she is taken to a museum, she sees mostly women in stone and paint, their naked beauty displayed for all to see and admire. Perhaps on the coffee table at home is a heavy book with glossy photographs of beautiful women. On TV every year, she can watch dozens of beauty contests—Miss Peaches, Miss Salt Lake City, Miss Rodeo, Miss Tall San Francisco, Miss Junior Miss, Miss Teen-Age America. From Alabama to Wyoming, every year without fail a new Miss Prettiest in the state is selected, from which crop of beauties Miss U.S.A. is chosen, who may then honor all American womanhood by being selected as Miss Universe, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World.
Little girls not only look endlessly at beautiful women, they hear and read about them too. In the newspapers women are almost always described as the beautiful Miss - or the pretty coed, or the attractive Mrs. - and of course, all the brides on the society page are beautiful. All the songs are about beautiful girls too; in stories the fairy princess and later, all the heroines, always overwhelm men with the power of their beauty, the poets too, every last one of them, are forever exclaiming, »O fair is she«, »so divinely fair«, »the fairest of creation.«
Then the little girl looks in the mirror. But she has read the story of the ugly duckling who turns into a swan, and when she visits her relatives they all smile at her and say, »What a sweet face!« and her father is always telling her what a knockout she is going to be when she grows up. She decides that beauty, like menstruation, is something that happens to girls at adolescence. She will wait. When she becomes a woman, she again looks at herself in the mirror —long and hard.
She then begins woman's frantic pursuit of beauty, for she has read in innumerable ads that »every woman has the right to be beautiful. Make-up is magic! It can transform you, create the illusion of perfect feminine loveliness that every woman longs for.« In every new jar of face cream, box of powder, tube of lipstick, mascara, eyeliner, she expects to find the magic formula that will transform her into a beauty. Every change of hairdo, every padded bra, every girdle, every pair of high heels or sandals, every mini skirt or midi skirt, every tight sweater or sack dress will somehow make her glamorous, captivating. She never gives up. Her blue hair waved, circles of rouge on her wrinkled cheeks, lipstick etching the lines around her mouth, still moisturizing her skin nightly, still corseted, she dies.
For centuries, in the pursuit of beauty, Chinese women used to bind their feet, trying to compress them to the ideal three inches. To achieve »this ideal beauty, no suffering was too great. At about the age of four, a girl's feet were bandaged; the toes were pulled backward so tightly that blood and pus later oozed from the bandages, a toe or two might fall off, and death from gangrene was possible. If the girl survived, she would never be able to walk freely again without a cane or the support of attendants. But the excruciating pain and the loss of freedom were worth it, for the tinier her feet, the richer the husband she might get. She might also win first prize in one of the many tiny-foot beauty contests. All ladies had bound feet; it was fashionable; natural feet were ugly; only thin feet were beautiful.
Not long ago when narrow-toed shoes were fashionable, many women had their little toes amputated so their feet would more comfortably fit the shoes. These women were like Cinderella's sisters, one of whom cut off her big toe and the other the back of her heel in order to fit the glass slipper. These are extremes, perhaps, but few women alive today have not subjected themselves to the discomfort of high heels, which produce such deformities as calluses, corns, bunions, clawed toes, unduly high arches, an secondary shortening of the calf muscles, deformities different only in degree from those of the bound foot.
In China it used to be said that a girl had to suffer twice — she had to have her ears pierced and her feet bound. But today a girl in her first pair of high heels will rarely admit that her feet hurt; almost every girl begs to have her ears pierced and does not think of it as suffering or mutilation. Apparently, the pursuit of beauty is a great anesthetic. Older women used to wince bravely as they plucked their eyebrows, and who can doubt that if it became fashionable many women would pluck out every eyebrow hair, as Japanese women did not long ago. At it is, women merely razor off the »unfeminine« hair on their legs and under their arms. The women unlucky enough have »masculine« facial hair endure the pain of electrolysis; millions of women undergo surgery to have their freckles burnt off, their skin peeled, their faces lifted, their noses reshaped, their breasts filled with silicone. Millions of women wear tight girdles, live for weeks on celery and beef broth, or sweat in gyms, or if rich, subject themselves to the luxurious rigors of a beauty farm, just to keep thin. It is now fashionable to be thin, but if it were fashionable to be fat, women would force-feed themselves like geese, just as girls in primitive societies used to stuff themselves because the fattest girl was the most beautiful. If the eighteen-inch waist should ever become fashionable again, women would suffer the tortures of tight lacing, convinced that though one dislocated one's kidneys, crushed one's liver, and turned green, beauty was worth it all.
When Rudi Gernreich predicted that women in the future would shave their heads and wear wigs, everyone laughed, but in ancient Egypt women did precisely that. And though at present women increase the size of their breasts with internal or external falsies, if it became fashionable to be flat-chested women would, as in the 1920s, flatten their breasts with bandages, or, if rich, have a plastic surgeon transform their breasts into the fashionable size. Is it too much to predict that if the ideal became long pendulous breasts, women would, as Nigerian women used to, spend hours pulling at their breasts to make them droop? Black teeth were once considered beautiful in Japan, so all fashionable women blackened their teeth, just as actresses and models now have their teeth filed down to points and capped with shining white porcelain. Because America is the world's most powerful nation, rich Oriental women have their eyelids straightened; if China should become the great world power, American women would have their eyelids lifted.
In the past men pursued beauty as avidly as women; in fact in most primitive societies (just as among animals) the male sex is believed to be the fair sex; only the men wear beads, feathers, flowers, perfumes, and bright colors. In an East African tribe the men wear huge cone-shaped headdresses; when a woman marries she traditionally shaves off her hair and gives it to her husband to pad out his headdress. Among the Tchambuli in New Guinea, women also shave their heads and do not adorn themselves; the men are graceful and charming, curl their hair, and wear bird of paradise headdresses Similarly, in ancient Greece, men were considered the beautiful sex. Originally, nude statues were all male; even as late as the fifth century B.C., the great period of Greek art, nude statues of women were extremely rare. It was not until a century later that nude statues of women became common, but they did not predominate. We can explain the Greek preference for the male nude by the bisexuality of Greek culture, yet in Italy and other heterosexual Western European countries during the Renaissance, female beauty was not more celebrate than male beauty in painting and sculpture. It was only with Raphael that the female nude began to predominate, and it took 200 years before it was a fait accompli. It was not until the nineteenth century that »the nude« in art almost always meant a female nude.
The exclusive identification of women with beauty occurred at the same time that men stopped being sex objects. Around the end of the 1830s men gave up wearing bright colors, silks, laces, earrings, and perfumes stopped setting their hair. Men no longer showed off their legs; instead they wore trousers so loose that a man's sex can only be assumed from the presumptive evidence of the fly; they also covered their chests with loose jackets. Men became modest; they now conceal everything and signify their maleness only by a symbol — the necktie.
Since the Victorian period men have projected al sexuality onto women, whose dress has obediently conformed to whatever aroused men. One hundred years ago the Victorian woman tried to look like Miss Innocent: she wore no make-up except for a touch of rice powder, fluttered her lowered eyelids, and floated about in crinolines as if she lacked legs to walk on. She looked angelic because men were sexually aroused by innocence. Victorian brothels always kept a fresh supply of virgins, who were often extremely young - until 1885 the age of consent was twelve. Adult prostitutes tried to look like children. »You find the women dress like children, and it pays better. Children used to dress like women in the streets and now women dress like children«, said an english clergyman testifying before a committee investigating child prostitution.
Men, having tired of innocence, now require women look sexy. As Caitlin Thomas wife of Dylan Thomas once said, the woman who wants to keep a man must continually emphasize »bust, bum, legs, lips.« Clare Booth Luce, in a speech given in 1969, advised women who wanted husbands to turn their bodies into a »man-trap« by wearing mini skirts and plunging necklines. Even after marriage, the good woman is supposed to continue to look sexy. Columns in the women's pages instruct them in the art of dressing and undressing sexily; not long ago a New York disc jockey suggested that the really good wife would greet her husband at the door dressed only in Saran wrap, and at least one good woman followed his advice.
Woman's present state of undress, therefore, is not an indication of her own sexiness; it is merely the current way of arousing men, who now like women to look sexually aggressive. But only to look it. A woman must still be innocent of active sexual aggressiveness. The woman in a mini skirt and plunging neckline must never ask a man to bed, and in bed she must surrender, not assert her sexuality. The modern woman's liberty to expose her legs and most of her body does not signify women's sexual liberation but only her obsessive desire to please men. Women are »free" to start wearing padded bras at the age of nine and to spend forty-eight million dollars annually on eye make-up alone. Women are free to be Playboy bunnies or to be topless and bottomless waitresses. Women are not free not to be sexy.
Women are not free to stop playing the beauty game, because the woman who stops would be afraid of exposing herself for what she is—not the fair sex. And yet the woman who does play the beauty game proves the same thing. Every day, in every way, the billion-dollar beauty business tells women they are monsters in disguise. Every ad for bras tells a woman that her breasts need lifting, every ad for padded bras that what she's got isn't big enough, every ad for girdles that her belly sags and her hips are too wide, every ad for high heels that her legs need propping, every ad for cosmetics that her skin is too dry, too oily, too pale, or too ruddy, or her lips are not bright enough, or her lashes not long enough, every ad for deodorants and perfumes that her natural odors all need disguising, every ad for hair dye curlers, and permanents that the hair she was born with is the wrong color or too straight or too curly, and lately ads for wigs tell her that she would be better off covering up nature's mistake completely. In this culture women are told they are the fair sex, but at the same time that their »beauty needs lifting, shaping, dyeing, painting, curling, padding. Women are really being told that »the beauty« is a beast.
In the eighteenth century Swift described a »fair nymph« preparing for bed by taking off her artificial hair, false eyebrows, false teeth, the rags she used to »prop her flabby dugs«, her corset, and her hip bolsters. How different is she from the twentieth-century woman who at bedtime takes off her wig, peels off her false eyelashes, creams off her eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, and lipstick, and removes her girdle and padded bra? If women were indeed the fair sex, why would they need all these improvements? Why couldn't they simply be as nature made them? Women's beauty is largely a sham, and women know it. That is why they obediently conform every time the fashion masters crack the whip. A woman conforms to all the whims of the cosmetic and fashion industries so that she will not be singled out from the mass of women, so that she will look like every other woman and thus manage to the pass as one of the fair sex. Clothing and cosmetics are the means by which society tries to prove that all women are beautiful, but it is one of our great cultural lies. Women are the false peacocks of the species. The average woman — and that means a good 95 percent of them — is not beautiful in the way the culture pretends. Look at women and try to see them without their symbols of beauty. How many beautiful women are there then? Then picture men fully adorned — in bright colors, with their hair curled and with eye make-up. How unsettlingly attractive most of them become.
Beauty is rare in either sex. In most species in the animal kingdom, one sex is more colorful or attractive than the other; more often than not it is the male. But in the human species neither sex, au naturel, is more attractive than the other. But a strong case could be made for considering woman the less attractive sex, at least if we maintain our present standards of beauty. Schopenhauer described women as »that undersized, narrow-shouldered broad-hipped and short legged race.« If he had added that their waists are usually large and their bosoms small or, if full, tend to droop, he would have described the average woman's body fairly well. The average woman does not resemble at all the naked women in Playboy. And even those beauties were not meant merely for male contemplation but for impregnation, and the pregnant woman is not beautiful. During pregnancy a woman's face may be radiant (and that belief is by and large a myth too) but what of her body? — the breasts swollen, the nipples brown, the belly distended and shiny with stretch marks, the belly button protruding. Are women beautiful then? And after pregnancy the breasts of millions of women collapse, the stretch marks remain, the belly sags, and the nipples stay brown.
However beautiful one may think women ate, their beauty leads to the non-beauty of pregnancy. Woman's body is functional. Since the man does not have to carry a child within him, he is better fitted to keep whatever looks he was born with. There are, of course, some people who would insist that the pregnant woman is beautiful because whatever is natural is beautiful. Certainly prehistoric men admired natural women, as their squat, hippy, swollen-bellied, swollen-breasted figurines testify.
But the modern cult of women's beauty has nothing to do with what women naturally look like, which is why Playboy doesn't run pictures of pregnant women or average women, and heavily airbrushes its carefully selected beauties. For even the small percentage of women who fulfill the modern ideal of beauty are not allowed to be natural. They too are creatures of artifice. The women who compete in the Miss U.S.A. contest are required to wear false eyelashes, and, like all the other beauties who dazzle us in the media, must be well-groomed, carefully curried like expensive horses, with full make-up, elaborate hair-dot, and the latest fashionable attire. Their beauty is kept at the highest level of artificial polish because they are performing an essential service in our society.
Glittering and smiling in the media, looked at by millions, envied and ogled, these ideal beauties teach women their role in society. They teach them that women are articles of conspicuous consumption in the male market; in other words, that women are made to be looked at, and that females achieve success in the world by being looked at. »My face is my fortune«, said the pretty maid in the nursery rhyme, by which she meant that her pretty face would enable her to get a husband — the prettier the face, the richer the husband. The prettiest faces in our society angle for the biggest fortunes. Why else is the office beauty the front office secretary? Why else are airline stewardesses, models and actresses chosen solely for their looks? Why, if not to put them in the most visible places in the market so that the richest men can see and buy them? Men have so structured our society that the most beautiful women, like all other valuable property, can go to the highest bidder.
In the eighteenth century Swift said that a rich man was able to buy »the finest clothing, the noblest houses, the most costly meats and drinks and have his choice of the most beautiful females.« The world has always served up its most beautiful girls to its richest men. In Edwardian days an exceedingly rich man decided to test the claim of Maxim's of Paris that it would serve a customer any dish he desired, no matter how exotic. The rich gentleman ordered a naked girl covered with cherry sauce. He got her, silver platter and all, in one of Maxim's private dining rooms.
What the rich gentleman obtained in private is now procured for rich men by society, and in public, for we live in a democracy. Therefore, there is no silver platter and the girls are usually only partially naked, but they are on display everywhere—on TV, in movies, ads, and planes—waiting to satisfy the rich man's palate. Although only the rich can afford these ideal beauties, the not-so-rich man can ogle them and daydream, an the average woman can imitate them. Since the ideal beauties are obviously not quite as nature made them, the average woman is encouraged to artificially aspire. So she pads herself and copies their make-up, hair styles, an clothes, and walks with her breasts and ass jiggling, dangling herself before every man in the street. In our twentieth-century democracy men do not have to be rich to be polygamists. A man may only be able to marry one woman at a time, but every woman bedizens herself and constantly entices him. Every woman in our society, like the few beautiful ones in the media, is a flesh peddler in the harem of this man's world.
The ideal beauties teach women that their looks are a commodity to be bartered in exchange for a man, not only for food, clothing, and shelter, but for love. Women learn early that if you are unlovely, you are unloved. The homely girl prepares to be an old maid, because beauty is what makes a man fall in love. »As fair thou art, my bonnie lass, so deep in love am I«, wrote Robert burns. A man's love is beauty deep. Beauty is man's only and sufficient reason for lusting, loving, and marrying a woman. Doesn't a man always say you're beautiful before he says I love you? Don't we all think it's strange when a man marries a girl who isn't pretty and not at all strange when he marries a dumb beauty? Is it therefore surprising that even the great beauty fears a man's love will not survive her looks, and the average woman is convinced that no man can really love her? How can he love her when sue lacks what is needed to produce love? That is why she so desperately keeps up her looks and feels that although all the kids have the measles, she ought to greet her husband with her beauty mask on. In France there are beauty-moils that dash to the bedside of a newly delivered mother lest papa see her when she isn't beautiful. To keep their men in love, women spend billions on creams and ... so their skin will continue to look youthfully beautiful. To keep their men in love, women read book and book telling them How To Be Thirty for Forty Years, an Art of Staying Young, Beauty has Not an Age, and take the love potions prescribed by modern witch-doctors. There devise special hormone therapies to help women says »feminine forever« which means, of course, beautiful forever.
However, the ideal beauties in the media do remain young forever. They are always there to keep women permanently insecure about their looks, and that includes the great beauties as well. Indeed, the more beautiful a woman, the more she dreads time and younger beauties; for generally the beautiful woman's opinion of herself has depended almost solely on her looks. Elizabeth of Austria, who in the nineteenth century was regarded as the most beautiful woman in Europe, said when she was approaching forty: »Nothing could be more terrible than to feel the hand of time on one's body, to watch the skin wrinkling, to wake and fear the morning light and know that one is no longer desirable. Life without beauty would be worthless to me.« In the 1960s when Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, turned forty, she said that though forty was a marvelous age for a man, it was torture for a woman because it meant »the end.«
Certainly it means the end if a woman's value depends upon her looks and her looks succumb — as they must to age. The only road to glory this culture offers women is one that cannot last, one that must perish long before they do. The culture discourages women from achieving the kind of glory that does last, the glory that results from using one's mind. The little boy is asked what he's going to become when he grows up; the little girl is told she is — pretty. A girl's potential is only physical. Like an animal, she is expected to create only with her body, not her mind. The quickest and easiest way for a woman to get ahead (besides hitching her body to a man's star) is by displaying her body, like an animal in a zoo, as a topless waitress, a belly dancer, a model, an airline stewardess, a Miss U.S.A., or that ultimate glory, a Raquel Welch, who at present embodies the height of woman's attainments.
Women are supposed to be bodies, not differentiated complex minds. Who would think of talking to the virtually indistinguishable, vacuous faces in Playboy? Women are supposed to be a man's sexual outlets, not his work colleagues, not his intellectual companions. The girl who tries to show off her mind instead of her body is penalized. On a date the girl who stops listening and starts talking is considered rude and aggressive; the girl who presumes to argue, disprove, and refute is not asked out again. In the eighteenth century Mary Wortley Montagu advised her daughter to hide her learning »like a physical defect.« No one minded Jayne Mansfield's 160 I.Q. because she kept it hidden well behind her bosom. Men want their women dumb, their beautiful lips sealed. »No dress or garment is less becoming to a woman than a show of intelligence«, decreed Martin Luther.
Men feel threatened unless they are with a woman who is less intelligent than they are. Accordingly, men, in order to keep their egos inflated (at least in the presence of the fair sex), for centuries excluded women from schools and colleges, and then sneeringly discoursed on woman's stupidity: »A woman has the form of an angel... and the mind of an ass« (German proverb). »No woman is a genius; women are a decorative sex« (Oscar Wilde). Max Beerbohm felt that a woman couldn't be charming who had a »masculine-styled brain«, which is male for »a powerful intellect.«
The woman who, in spite of cultural disapproval and the difficulties of acquiring an education, pursues learning is regarded by men as a sexual freak. Nietzsche said that »when a woman inclines to learning there is usually something wrong with her sex apparatus.« Women seem to feel the same way, for when they do use their brains they tend to fear that they have unsexed themselves. In 1787 when Dorothea von Schlozer took her doctorate of philosophy at Göttingen, she dressed herself in white, with a veil on her head and roses and pearls in her hair; that is, she dressed like a bride to reassure herself that she was a woman. Today even female professors, doctors, and lawyers dress sexily and still modestly pretend to know less than they do; they act like dumb blondes and enjoy being mistaken for them.
It is protective covering, for the intelligent woman is disliked, and if she cannot pass as at least »attractive," she has to endure constant adverse comments about her appearance. It took the press about twenty years to stop joking about Eleanor Roosevelt's looks. A journalist recently explained the phenomenon of Bernadette Devlin, M.P., as a compensation for her lack of beauty, the implication being that if Miss Devlin had been prettier she would not have had to be an M.P. but would long ago have happily become Mrs. Someman. George Eliot, who was among the two or three greatest novelists of the nineteenth century, was forced by society to agonize about her looks. Even so serious a journal as the London Times Literary Supplement recently captioned a review of her latest biography, »Magnificently Ugly«, and devoted almost half the review to a discussion of the problem of her looks. But George Eliot was no worse looking than Emerson or Dante; she was ugly only in terms of the beauty ideal artificially set up for women. Critics still like to talk so much about her looks because they do not want to think of her as a mind, but rather as a woman.
In 1966 when a woman was appointed vice president of a corporation, journalists were impressed not by her competence with financial statistics but by her own statistics— 34-24-36—which they published so all the world could marvel at the anomaly: a brainy woman who was built too. What they were in reality doing was reducing the vice-president of a corporation to a beautiful body. Similarly, when a woman is appointed a judge, we sometimes see the exclamation, »She's pretty tool« When a good-looking man is appointed a judge, the press rarely exclaims. »He's handsome tool" Men are astonished by the combination of beauty and brains in a woman because they really cannot understand why a good-looking woman should have brains. What does she need them for? In 1837 Alexander Walker, in his discourse on Beauty; Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman, concluded that the ideal beauty's head ought to be small »because the mental system in the female ought to be subordinate to the vital... sensibility should exceed reasoning power.« Or as a twentieth century song put it, »Why does a beautiful girl need an I.Q. to say I do?« On the same either/or principle is a watch ad in which the woman's watch is described as beautiful, the man's as accurate.
Society has so overvalued beauty that most women, given the choice between unusual intelligence and great beauty, would choose beauty. Charlotte Bronte was so angry at fate for not making her pretty that her publisher believed she would have given »all her genius and all her fame to have been beautiful.« How many girls given the choice between Raquel Welch or Maria Goeppert-Mayer, the woman who won a Nobel prize for physics in 1963, would choose to be the physicist?
At present men seem to object somewhat less to the woman who uses her brains. Occasionally one does find an article in the Sunday supplement that tells young girls that it is okay to use their brains. But, why? Because husbands would have no objections to having both an attractive and intelligent wife for entertaining their business friends or a shrewd silent partner with whom they could discuss business strategy. Husbands also do not mind if their wives entertain them in the evening by telling them about something interesting they have been reading. So long as a woman's brains are used in the service of a male, men will permit her to display them. But her brains must be kept subordinate. Even the most enlightened men and women suspect the manliness of a man married to a doctor or a professor. It somehow does not seem right. Men are supposed to marry their intellectual inferiors; if by some unlucky chance, the wife is the husband's intellectual superior, she is always advised to play down her brains and play up her sex appeal if she wants her marriage to last.
Whether a woman has an I.Q. of 60 or 160, whether she is young or old, her first duty is to keep herself attractive. Men have taught women to regard themselves exactly the way men do—as sex objects. A woman's body, accordingly, becomes her lifelong sex object, the physical object she cherishes most. All babies begin by loving their physical selves, but the male baby is encouraged to stop loving just himself and to transfer some of his self-love to the outside world. Girls, on the other hand, are encouraged to continue obtaining gratification the way a baby does—from reveling in and showing off their bodies. A baby's pride is centered in its physical being, not in its accomplishments, and so it is with women. They are never supposed to grow up, but to remain fixated in infantile narcissism. And most women do continue to overvalue their physical selves; this is why all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, every woman is pleased and secretly believes a man when he tells her she is beautiful. Because women are infant narcissists, they like to be treated like queens, for whom doors are opened and cigarettes lighted, and toward whom the whole male world moves as toward a magnet. These attentions make women feel good about themselves, because they are repetitions of infancy, when one's helplessness forces the whole world to wait upon one.
As narcissists women are incapable of loving anyone but themselves. When a beautiful woman falls in love, it generally only means that she has found a man who overvalues her physical self as much as she does. For the average woman the process of falling in love is more complicated. Since every baby thinks of itself as the greatest thing ever created, the average-looking woman at first overvalues herself the way everyone else does. When she discovers that the ideal image she has of herself is not what society finds ideal, she does not give it up; it remains her secret ideal image, which society encourages her to maintain by the deceptions of clothes and cosmetics. Her real self, which she can't love and which she consequently feels no one else can love, is abandoned, and she typically falls in love by self-abnegation, by unselfishly devoting herself to a man whom she regards as her superior and then living through him, making his life her life. She wants no life of her own because she has no real self. But the superior being she worships is not a real man, but an embodiment of her own self-worship transferred onto him.
Narcissus was so enraptured by his own image reflected on the surface of a lake that he tried to embrace himself. Women, too, are in love with their own body image, are therefore unconscious homosexuals. It would be surprising if they were not, since they grow up in a world in which only the female body is glorified, and in which they are bombarded in all the media with millions of images of beautiful women described as love objects. Far from conditioning women to be heterosexual by holding up for their admiration images of handsome men, the culture keeps women looking constantly at other women. The culture, however, likes to think that women don't look at women in the same way that men do. Psychology textbooks are fond of presenting statistics that prove that men are sexually aroused by looking, but that women are not. The trouble probably is that in their tests psychologists show women only pictures of men. It is pictures of women that women are nurtured on, and women do look, and look, and look. Women look at other women with a more intense and discriminating eye than any man does. The culture likes to think that a woman's glance is only critical, to see if the other woman is better looking or better dressed than she is, or that women look because they want to identify with the ideal beauties. But envy is looking at what one desires, and identification is one of the most potent forms of love; one wants to merge, with what one identifies with, become one with the beloved. The almost inevitable rivalry between women, the seeming impossibility of women being friends, may well be an overreaction to an over attraction.
What holds women back from widespread homosexuality? Although the female body is glorified, females are regarded as the inferior sex, and women share this male-created attitude. The very cause of women's glorification— her presumptive beauty—is at the same time the stigma of her inferiority. No matter how much a woman is unconsciously attracted to another woman, she also despises the other woman as she despises herself, because she is of the inferior sex. In this culture a woman can lose her sense of inferiority only when she is loved by a member of the superior sex. To be loved by a woman would mean to be loved by someone as inferior as oneself. So women, though intensely in love with the female body image, recoil from women.
Perhaps the only women in the culture who do not despise themselves because they are women, are the active lesbians — at least those who don't imitate men — the many lesbians who look and act intensely feminine. They have wholly identified with the beauty ideal, so much so that they despise men because men are not women and because men really don't admire women, not the way they wish to be totally admired. They want to continue to live in the one-sexed world of infancy, in the cocoon of their mother's or their own unconditional love. Lesbians are merely more unadulterated narcissists than heterosexual women. Because women are narcissists, they are also exhibitionists, whose exhibitionism, like their narcissism, is approved by the culture. The male exhibitionist who thrusts his penis at a female is put in jail, but the female who thrusts her bosom, behind, and legs at a male is admired. Female exhibitionism is socially approved because the culture wants to keep woman infantile, to keep her identity focused on her physical person, not on her accomplishments. The culture therefore compels a woman to show off her body, makes her feel unfeminine unless she does so, and makes the woman who accomplishes something feel unsexed. The accomplished woman feels unsexed because she has achieved identity the way a man is supposed to — indirectly, through the active use of his abilities. The male exhibitionist is put in jail, for trying to achieve his identity the way women and infants do, directly, by sheer physicality. He wants to prove his masculinity simply by exposing his penis; he does not want to have to prove it indirectly through accomplishments.
The normal man proves his physical maleness indirectly—compelling woman to expose herself as unlike him. The woman with the most exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics is considered the most beautiful because she makes a man feel more like a man, that is, unlike a woman. Men force women to constantly and blatantly expose themselves as women so that men can constantly assure themselves they are men. They need that reassurance, because their masculine identity is weak, because all men have an unconscious desire to be female, to return to the infancy in which they identified with mother, were not yet differentiated into boys. That is why man both desires and despises woman, why he both glorifies her as beautiful and regards her as a temptress, a femme fatale. Woman is beautiful to man, because she is the image of his rejected unconscious desire, a desire that he can allow himself to experience only indirectly, through a woman. In sex men unconsciously can take what they desire, become one with their lost female selves, much in the same way that primitive men ritually partake of their forbidden totem animal, their »ancestor" whose characteristics they wish to acquire. That is why men must »take« aggressively, powerfully, dominantly, in order to keep unconscious the kind of power they envy the effortless power of the woman, who, like the infant, is loved simply for her adorable self.
Young childlike women are preferred in this culture because they embody most clearly men's projected desires. »Pretty women always seem to appeal to us as more dependent and childlike« admitted William Dean Howells. Children are pretty and dependent, and man wants woman to remain a pretty, dependent child, so that through woman he can reunite himself with his lost childhood when he was still identified with woman and was allowed to be soft, tender, helpless, narcissistic, exhibitionistic, a cuddly, sweet-smelling naked bunny rather than a developed character and mind, a hard-working, responsible, assertive man.
The cult of beauty in women, which we smile at as though it were one of the culture's harmless follies, is, in fact, an insanity, for it is posited on a false view of reality. Women are not more beautiful than men. The obligation to be beautiful is an artificial burden, imposed by men on women, that keeps both sexes clinging to childhood, the woman forced to remain a charming, dependent child, the man driven by his unconscious desire to be—like an infant—loved and taken care of simply for his beautiful self. Woman's mask of beauty is the face of the child, a revelation of the tragic sexual immaturity of both sexes in our culture.