Friday 13 January 2023

So much easier, being a conservative

 ... as opposed to being a typical leftie, permanently bemused and worried about how the world is.  Here's the Grauniad's Zoe Williams - by no means the worst of her tendency, writing under a typically Graun click-bait headline, and it's almost as bad as the banner suggests.  It's on the subject of that old feminist worry - Fat.  Oppressive body images and the "body disgust that girls experience".  And the best she can come up with?  It's all the fault of capitalism. 

The over-riding message to young girls from the mainstream – advertising, agony aunts, teachers, parents, the acceptable face of their peers as represented in culture – is a set of platitudes about body positivity: come as you are, love your body, love yourself ... So you have this tripod effect: the explicit message to girls is “don’t try to be thin, try to be healthy”; the implicit message is “thin is actually better than beautiful, thin is beauty, femininity and discipline combined”; and finally the high-pitched screaming of our collective lizard brain: “Fat is disgusting and undignified.” ... I’ve thought about this for years, on my own account and now in relation to my teenagers, and I don’t think tackling our self-loathing is a matter for individual resilience or self-belief. It’s essentially a function of capitalism. At its most mechanistic, you create panic around cellulite, you sell more tights ... Anything innate to humans that you can make into a problem will create a market for the solution. More fundamentally, mass markets rely on homogeneity, the Fordist formula, any-shape-so-long-as-it’s-thin. You can’t really monetise desire unless everyone’s desires are the same, so you have to create quite a narrow physical ideal... It’s a mistake, made constantly, to characterise girls and young women as “vulnerable”. They don’t struggle with their body image and mental health because they’re fragile or weak. It’s an absolutely rational response to a world that hysterically, ceaselessly bombards them with contradictory demands. I don’t have a better answer to all this than “anarcho-feminism”. 

If we want to be generous to this cri de coeur, we should probably just note the "I've thought about this for years / I don't have a better answer", and leave her to her misery.  But hey, she's accused capitalism: so we are entitled to have a little think about it, too.

As a piece of analysis, Williams' is slipshod in the extreme; though she does at least start with something sensible: "blaming a timeless patriarchy is too general".  It's downhill from there, however.

  1. She acknowledges from the start that mainstream advertising (inter alia) is woke nowadays - she even dates this back 20 years - and, along with "agony aunts, teachers, parents, the acceptable face of their peers as represented in culture" pushes a body-positive message:  "a worthy agenda endorsed by right-thinking people everywhere".  That's, errr, capitalism at work, no?  Following "right-thinking" trends. 
  2. So the "implicit message" she identifies is clearly, therefore, coming from somewhere else nowadays.  Is she suggesting there's some extraordinary, devious-capitalist double-bluff going on: the body-positive ads are understood by everybody to be a hilarious spoof, or something?  Or is this "implicit message" coming from society as a whole?  Or indeed, from the "lizard brains" (which sometimes signal something worth paying attention to)?
  3. The jump from subtle, "implicit message", to "creating a panic" is a complete non sequitur: she's a lot more work to do if she wants to establish anything about "created panic".
  4. If the "Fordist" formula for business success is to deal with as few categories as possible whilst sweeping up as many customers as possible, to focus on something unattainable in practice would seem to be a really dumb idea - unless it corresponded with something "innately" there already in society.  Capitalist businessmen are nothing if not keen to follow the herd: it's pretty rare (Bill Gates, maybe Steve Jobs) that anyone attempts to educate the herd to want something entirely new.
Contradictory demands?  That would be: lefties versus human nature.  There are several strong hints that Williams really does blame human nature all along; human nature that exists quite independently of capitalism, as a little journey back into pre-capitalist history would reveal.  

It would also be interesting to hear Williams on, for example, the triumphant England women's soccer team: but it doesn't look like she wrote about it at the time of their great 2022 successes.  Only one body shape in evidence** at the women's Euros, though; and we are all supposed to get behind the Lionesses in no uncertain terms.  Aren't we, Zoe?  Or is sport once again problematic for lefties?

There are social problems aplenty that any person of good will can be keen to address.  But blaming them lamely on capitalism won't get us very far.  Lefties, being intrinsically at odds with human nature, aren't well placed to make progress here.  It is conservatives that recognise and attempt to understand the grain of human timber, and work with it.



** As ever, Rugby Union is much more catholic on this score!  (So: which of RU and soccer is more, errr, populist, eh?  Oh, the ironies ...) 


Matt said...

Well, it's Capitalist in so far as it's a competition for a (breeding) mate. Outside of some fetishes, fat birds aren't going to get themselves a rich fella. So, it's women competing amongst themselves.

And there is the problem - not the patriarch.

Don Cox said...

I suppose Rubens pre-dates modern capitalism, but so does Botticelli.

Rich birds are more likely to get a handsome fella. I like the illustration to Hilaire Belloc's poem about Charles Augustus Fortescue.

Really, it takes all sorts.


Don Cox said...

Here he is, with his bride:


Clive said...

[sigs, holds head in hands...]

What the Graun never fails to fail at is recognising how, in claiming how the sisterhood is so oppressed by (insert this week's token bogeyman here), men sometimes get commoditised by our culture, too.

Put it this way, if you're short, fat and bald -- and you're looking for love (or anything else for that matter where the opposite sex is concerned) -- you'd better be rich. Well, there are always exceptions, I suppose. But, as a rule, it certainly helps.

Anonymous said...

Clive - yes, the fat girl can always lose 5 stone, but the 5 foot 5 guy had better have cash or one hell of a personality (although the most successful guy I know with women is 5 foot 7 - but how he'd get on today with online I'm not sure. My 5 foot 2 daughter doesn't seem to match with anyone less than 6-3!)

ND - I'm glad my girl stopped taking sport too seriously - in her early teens she was county level. The Lionesses are never going to be on many teenage boys walls, because so many are gay! This isn't a big issue with boys sport.

Now I know county level soccer and hockey girls who are married with kids - but there are a LOT more teppich-fressers in women's sport.

Anonymous said...

Advertisers following the woke agenda isn't "following right thinking trends". Its cowardice in the face of activist blackmail. That maybe in a "capitalist" mode of protecting revenues but hardly deserving of the description "worthy".

Anyway, its "following left-thinking trends"! (-;

Caeser Hēméra said...

On the attraction thing, confidence and standing out beats out looks and money any day.

Prior to settling down, I had no shortage of lovers, with age ranges from 20 to mid 30's. I'm no George Clooney. Probably not even a _Rosemary_ Clooney, but I'm also a lot easier on the eye than, say, John Merrick ever was.

I'm not wealthy, I'm not poor, a half million gaff in a Yerkshire village means I have to work more than I'd like to. Joining the local golf club would be end up being a Ripping Yarns version of Caddyshack.

Even now, in may late 40s and married, when out I'm never shy of female attention, usually a lot younger, although these days the only thing getting stroked is my ego. The only time I'm truly tempted by a fruit of another is when I'm singing to Squeeze.

This happens because I dress loudly and dance expressively, what I am is _noticeable_.

A lot of men like to moan about the wealthier and more handsome, yet never think maybe their misery and tendency to camouflage themselves in the crowd may have more to do with it.

Anonymous said...

Kev will be a long any minute with his own fruity take on this, I feel.

Caeser Hēméra said...

As for the capitalist/body view, sex sells, and every age has its own ideal as many a portrait artist has had to deal with across the ages. Fairly sure there already exists a few academic papers on the subject.

I can't recall a lot of topless Stephen Hawking calendars, or him wheeling out of the sea in budgie smugglers to sell aftershave. For much the same reason Kathy Bates somehow lost out to Eva Herzigova when it came to being plastered over billboards in a Wonderbra to say hello to all the boys.

When music videos appeared, a lot of the MOR/AOR singers disappeared - many of us enjoy listening to a bit of Christopher Cross or the Doobie Brothers, but let us be honest, visually they were basically sweaty darts player types. They lost out to the visual.

If Zoe Williams wants to argue it forms a re-enforcing spiral, that would be hard to argue against, but to state that capitalism was the trigger is just daft.

And capitalism doesn't always follow the herd, otherwise the obesity crisis would mean I'd have a wider range of clothes to pick from. When it comes to losing the lard, I confess I look more forward to being able to shop easier than now than I do the health benefits.

Anonymous said...

My favourite Zoe

"If sex with HIV is a crime, so is swimming with verrucas"

E-K said...

It's very simple, really. Conservatives are meant to say "Do as I do."

Lefties say "Do as I say." There can be no hypocrisy with conservatism and there is no need, therefore, to suppress the language of debate by inventing ever more trip wires to put those who disagree with you in the wrong.

E-K said...

It can get worse... much worse.

An English graduate I know sent me an essay on Sexism in Farming. No. Not farmers themselves but the exploitation of female animals, in particular... milk, eggs, calves...

"Why is there no outrage against the victimisation of female animals ?"

'Fruity' enough ?