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Desirability is women’s currency in a patriarchal world

By Rebecca Harrington

It’s true that women have never seemed more powerful and united with the rise of popular feminist culture, but still, we are reminded of the harsh realities that come with being a woman, or other marginalised gender, daily.

In a world designed and created to profit and champion the patriarchy, and those who meet their ideals, our innate fight to survive has created ‘normal’ habits and expectations of women in society. For too long women have been lulled into the trap of attempting to reach these ideals, when in reality, just because something is ‘normal’, does not mean it is right.

So, in the ‘girl-power’ era of the 21st Century, what lies are women still being fed about our bodies?

Unfortunately, women still carry the burden of the hundreds of years of silence and oppression placed on us by men who uphold the patriarchy. Remember when marriage was just an exchange of property between two men? Well, even though these days most women in the west can recognise their value is higher than that of a couple of sheep, the objectification of women is still prevalent in too many ways.

This is largely recycled to men through the media. While there has certainly been a shift contextually alongside feminist movements within the last 40 years in the media, to what extent do these representations help or hinder women? With female protagonists lining up to fill the cinema screens, from action stars to superheroes, women, and perhaps more importantly men, are finally able to see that women can do and be whatever they want.

However, to produce an entirely intersectional feminist, blockbuster action film is impossible. This is because it would go against the grain of the patriarchal ideals, and thus alienate a large audience of predominantly men. So instead, the films continue to perpetuate the age-old representation that we are all used to: objectified women.

(Image from Vanity Fair)

Whether it’s Lara Croft or Wonder Woman, these strong female leads cannot exist without first being desirable to men. It simply doesn't sell to that audience. Even if they are fighting to save the world, their character will be reduced to a lens suited for the male gaze, so they have to look sexy while doing so.

But what problems does this create?

Whether it’s through the normalised representation of desirable women in the media, or through toxic masculinity which confines men to a certain role within the patriarchy, too many men continue to assume entitlement to look at women’s bodies.

This then creates the problem of men being unable to separate what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘right’. In turn, they assume that women exist to be desirable and thus, catcalling, groping and even sexual harassment become forms of ‘flattery’.

Anyone woman would tell you, however, they are very much not.

As soon as women begin to internalise that ‘desirability’ appears to be synonymous with ‘success’, ‘safety’ and ‘happiness’, they are caught in the patriarchal trap which will keep them in a never-ending cycle of oppression and submission.

From a young age, it is disseminated to girls that life is easiest when men find you attractive, and as a result, desirability becomes the currency which we use to move through life safely.

Therefore, it’s no wonder entire industries were created to keep us chasing the desirability of men.

A bigger bum, cellulite-free legs, a smaller waist and clear skin – sounds perfect, right? That’s because it is.

Even diet culture is not as it appears, as it flips this vision on its head to make us think that we want to look ‘perfect’. Falling into diet culture is like falling into quicksand, and so long as women tie their worth to their appearance, they will remain trapped.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, how little you eat and how much you workout, you will still never reach this goal, because it doesn’t exist. So, having wasted all that time ringing up your desirability currency, you will still never see the repercussions of this in the form of ‘respect’ or ‘happiness’.

Someone like Kim Kardashian might be rich from desirability currency, but does that mean she never gets a negative comment from someone about her appearance? The most idolised and desired women around the world don’t even look like the ‘ideal’, because they are either edited to appear like they do, or ridiculed by men when they don’t.

So why do we invest so much time, money and energy into trying to be desired and perfect?

The truth: the patriarchy is scared of us.

The biggest lie we are told as women is that what we see in the mirror defines our opportunities and our ability to reach our dreams. In reality, diet culture was created by and for men (as a result of patriarchal structures) to keep women focused on reaching an impossible beauty ideal instead of facing the world and achieving what we’re capable of. The fact of the matter is, we will never ‘win’.

We will never be thin enough, thick enough, tall enough, short enough, pretty enough, natural enough or anything to satisfy the desirability scale of the patriarchy, because none of it is real. So, if you can’t win by being desirable, why not simply choose that you, as you are, is enough?

Women do not exist to satisfy the patriarchy, give billions to an industry that profits off our misfortune and never truly love ourselves. Women exist to be creative. To be bold. To love and be loved. To be loud. To take up space. To lift each other up and take the patriarchy down.

It’s a tough world out there for all women, including trans women and also other feminine-presenting marginalised genders, and it will take time, patience and a whole lot of passion to ensure every woman has the right to feel enough without the desire of men. But together, we are stronger, and together, we will win by choosing to love ourselves.


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