Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are There Babes In A Feminist Utopia?

Short answer:  I hope so.

I took a flight on Porter Airlines yesterday.  Maybe you know, Porter is all about the style.  They got the elegant and comfy waiting area.  They got the free espresso, snacks, and bottled water.  They got the cute raccoon character in their ads:

And they have the most amazing flight attendants:

I love this sort of thing.  Elegance and beauty transforms my mood and the whole way I feel about human existence.

Actually I was reflecting on this the other day when I read the New Yorker story about Steve Jobs, and how he was kind of an asshole.  One of the items described how he obsessed over the fonts in the headings area of the Mac user experience, making his staff redo them like 17 times. 

This really resonated with me, because when I'm using my Mac I often look at things like fonts and think to myself, "Ah, now isn't that lovely."  I'm like the perfect consumer for this kind of mania.  Just the other day the latest OS update radically improved the way the Times New Roman font looks in the "Pages" software.  The update gave me a couple of glitches, but did I mind?  No.  I'm like, "People, would you look at that font?"  

So yesterday I was there, sipping my espresso out of a lovely ceramic cup and I started reflecting on those flight attendants.  Because these women -- they look amazing.  And I have to say, it's a real pleasure to me to see them.

Philosophers are trained and socialized to ask annoying questions, even of themselves, and so found myself wondering, So, is that a guilty pleasure?

Because obviously there's a certain connection between these elegant uniforms and anti-feminism.  These women are on display, being valued for their physical attributes and ability to wear certain kinds of clothes, even while they're doing the ultra serious work of keeping passengers safe.  Isn't that just what feminism tries to eliminate? 

Just so, yes.  But there's a difference between being valued only, or primarily, for your appearance and being valued for your appearance along with lots of other things.  And there's a difference between being able to decide, for real, to participate in something like this in a way that makes it fun, and having it forced down your throat.  And there's a difference between a world that values only women's appearances and not men's.

So let me float this idea -- an idea that sometimes comes up in feminist scholarship.  There's nothing inherently wrong with the female beauty on display thing, even when it's being used, like this, in a commercial setting.  What makes it wrong, when it is, is that it plays into certain extremely common stereotypes, forms of discrimination and control, and occasions for inequality. 

If this is right, the male version of babes on display wouldn't raise many difficulties -- assuming, of course, the men aren't being exploited because of race or class or whatever.  And you know, I think this is right.  I live in a gay neighborhood, and the men who live around me seem to love to go out looking good, to love to look great while they're on the job, to love being a kind of a babe. 

If you could have a world free of sexism, of all the -isms -- a feminist utopia, indeed -- we could all be free to enjoy beauty, style, and spectacle without having to feel like we're letting down the side.  So, yeah, there would be babes in a feminist utopia.  Female, male, intersex, trans ... babes of all kinds.

After I thought all this, I was checked in for my flight by a Porter airlines guy.  And you know, he was just as elegant and beautiful as the women.

The only thing that gives me pause about this is, Does it suck to have to dress up for work in this particular way?  I hope not.  But you'd have to get that information from the horse's mouth.

1 comment:

Molly said...

Patricia, this is great. Thank you.