Against “real women”

Via Miranda Celeste Hale:

I find the phrase “real women,” when it is used in a discussion of female body shapes, to be both problematic and frustrating. (I realize that the phrase is also used in other ways that may also be problematic and frustrating, but I want to focus on “real women” in the context of the discussion of female body shapes, as it’s the context I’m most familiar with and frustrated by.)

I’d imagine that many (if not most) people who use the phrase do so in a very well-intentioned manner. Often, it’s used in an attempt to draw attention to the unhealthy and unrealistic female bodies that much of the mass media, specifically advertisements, portray as the ideal, to encourage the media to portray a wider variety of female body shapes, and to promote the self-esteem of girls and women (by reminding them that they do not need to look like the women in advertisements in order to be beautiful, and that, indeed, most women cannot achieve such bodies, at least without extreme starvation.) And these are all positive and much-needed messages. Even those of us who are smart, educated, and media-savvy critical thinkers and who limit our media consumption are almost certainly, in one way or another (or in many ways), affected by the messages the mass media delivers to us, and when those messages may have a powerfully negative effect on how girls and women see their bodies and, as a consequence, may also perhaps contribute to the development of eating disorders and related behaviors, the messages do indeed need to be questioned and/or critiqued.

However, the use of “real women” may actually work against the good intentions of these critiques. In this context, “real” implies that a woman needs to have certain physical attributes in order to be authentically female. This discussion is a tricky one because “woman” has both a biological meaning and a more ambiguous societal/contextual meaning that, to a certain extent, varies from person to person. In other words, different people may associate “woman” or “womanly” with that which is traditionally feminine, with a certain type of appearance, with a certain type of conduct, etc. Because some of these connotations have been used as a justification for defining and dictating what is proper, authentic, normal, acceptable, and ideal when it comes to female appearance and behavior, those of us who object to these arbitrary rules and expectations and the various punishments that can result from violating them should be wary of using “real” to describe any attribute of female appearance or conduct, as doing so subtly asserts that some women are acceptable and authentic women and some are not.

There’s more, all worth the read.

2 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for mentioning/recommending my post! I really appreciate it

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