A recent Mormon Times article about the Rockefeller Foundation/Time survey findings that American women are less happy now than women were 30 or 40 years ago drew criticism from the feminist bloggernacle. The MT author, well aware of the biases of both her readers and her bosses at Deseret News, interpreted the survey to pretty much dismiss feminism as a factor in female happiness.
Now I don’t know that any “ism,” including feminism and Mormonism, actually creates happiness. Certainly life is much different for women now than 40 years ago when female attorneys and male nurses were as rare as Democrats in Texas. One change particularly concerns me. Despite all the gains in legal and occupational equality, modern American women are judged by appearance much more now than before the equality gap narrowed. And by appearance, I mean a youthful, sexy physical image. Back in the ‘70s when the ERA was being discussed, exposed cleavage and see-through skirts were not appropriate business attire for women. Today we women fight the erosion of age with the dedication of Netherlands engineers building dikes to hold back the sea. Our aging bodies have become enemies to subdue rather than friends to appreciate and pamper.
Now, men’s bodies as well as women’s deteriorate with every birthday, but male power and income increase with age. In too many areas, women still access power and income via sex appeal—and nobody has to tell you that sexy good looks do not improve with age. Even Maureen Dowd, the feminist NY Times columnist, posts glamour shots of herself on her webpage. While her photos are hardly cheesecake, they show a lot more leg and chest than photos of her male colleagues.
Why do we women still define ourselves by our desirability to men? Maybe because we don’t notice the problem when we’re young. Denying reality, we think Mother Nature will treat us differently. We won’t lose our looks. But no matter how strenuously we fight the ravages of time—defending ourselves with hair color, make up, diets, and surgery—Ma Nature wins every battle. Sometimes I think Muslim women have the better deal. Hide it all under a burqa.
Maybe if woman united and demanded being valued for our brains instead of our boobs, we’d attain equality. And maybe not. Rebellion can backfire. Look at how the sexual revolution affected women. As part of the equality movement of the ‘60s and 70’s, women demanded the same right to enjoy sex as men. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that idea. Women’s sexual pleasure has been ignored for way too long in American culture . But by demanding sex with no strings attached, women gave away their best bargaining chip. Eventually the nesting urge kicks in for most women and they want a permanent attachment and a family. Not so with all males. Does a woman have any leverage to encourage marriage if the guy she’s been living with for ten years decides it’s time to replace the old model?
According to the survey (and who would fault the RF and Time mag?), equality doesn’t equal happiness. Since even the best of intentions and plans can go awry, maybe we should be grateful the gap between gender equality has yet to be acknowledged, much less bridged in Mormondom. Maybe pushing for a larger role in the decision-making process at church would somehow result in our being judged even more by our physical attractions. Do we really want to compete with the Hot Mormon Muffin in our ward for a calling as Relief Society president?