When are women going to stop dressing up like dolls? Don’t they want to be more than just playthings for men’s fantasies? I recently attended an end-of-year ceremony at my son’s school here in Porto Alegre. Two hundred youngsters aged 14 were parading on stage in front of their proud parents and teachers. The boys were dressed in white shirts, dark trousers and jackets. And the girls? They all looked like Barbie dolls. Glittering pink dresses, so short they had to keep pulling the hems down with their hands as they climbed up and down from the stage. Caked in make-up and blushing self-consciously, they looked as if they were training to be Japanese Geisha girls. It’s more than 40 years since the sexual revolution and more women (and girls) look like bimbos than ever before.
I wonder if it would have been the same in Rio or São Paulo. I suddenly thought to myself that perhaps I had come to the most conservative city in Brazil; a place locked in the 1950s where all the girls grow up to be ‘Stepford Wives’ – robotic servants for their bread-winning husbands. So what do mum and dad think about their daughter dressed up like a dog’s dinner? I can hear the answer already: “They’re still very young and so there’s a lot of peer pressure. They don’t want to look different as they might get teased or even bullied.” When I was at school all the people I admired were original. They had their own way of dressing, their own tastes in music and were proud to be unique. They were also vocally critical of convention. I couldn’t keep up with them, but it made me want to find my own way.
I’ve heard the arguments from educated women about dressing in sexy outfits. Intelligent women have told me that flaunting or sexualizing their bodies is empowering. In some way it gives them the edge over men who leer at them. But I don’t buy that argument. To me, women who glamourize their bodies by shaving, smoothing, painting and preening are perpetuating the image of women as some kind of sanitised ideal. Why is a “natural” woman – with hair, warts and all – too much for men to take? Because they are accustomed to having their women dolled up like Christmas fairies; to tiptoe alongside them like some pomaded appurtenance.
And that word feminism. Wow! What a downgrading that’s been given. It’s associated now with frumpish hairy guerillas who shouted and argued just like angry men and were all probably lesbians anyway. And as for the men who supported feminism, well, we all know they were just doing it to get more women into the sack. But cynicism aside, the saddest thing about gender difference is that women have yet to find their sexual identity. Women’s ideas of sexual fulfilment are derived from men’s ideas about a woman’s sexual fulfilment. How could they not be in a world where women assume their role is to please their man and always look desirable? Sadly, men still have no idea about erogenous zones and sensuality when it comes to women’s bodies. But then again, I suspect, neither do most women.
I’m sure some of those girls I saw at my son’s school will grow up to be successful career women: doctors, lawyers and politicians who garner respect from their male and female colleagues. But I hope they have the wherewithal to cast off those gaudy bimbo outfits, climb down from their high-heels and plant their feet firmly on the ground (removing those silly ankle chains while they’re at it). Women are naturally beautiful; they just haven’t realised it yet.