Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Debora L. Spar's "Wonder Women"

Debora L. Spar is the president of Barnard College, a women’s undergraduate college affiliated with Columbia University. She received her doctorate in government from Harvard University and was the Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Spar is the author of numerous books, including Ruling the Waves: Cycles of Invention, Chaos, and Wealth from the Compass to the Internet and The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.

Spar applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, and reported the following:
I was a bit worried about what page 99 might hold. Because Wonder Women is a broad book, cutting across swathes of a woman’s life in ways that don’t necessarily hew to a particular structure.

So I was pleased to see that it did hold many of the book’s core themes. The page shows up in Chapter Four, the part of the book devoted to women’s beauty and stubborn body image. It’s a chapter that argues that, despite fifty years’ passage since the feminist and sexual revolutions; despite countless inspired arguments about the importance of valuing women for their brains and their skills and their spirits rather than their looks; despite women having surged into the workforce and across the tippy-top tiers of power, women still lavish extreme amounts of time and energy and money on the pursuit of physical perfection. We wax our legs. We paint our nails. We coif our hair before entering virtually any professional realm, and inject ourselves with potions and poisons to banish wrinkles from our brow.

It is easy, of course, to scoff at these exertions. We could, as individuals or a species, just stop the waxing, forget the manicures, and banish the blow-dryers. We could ignore the images of lithe seventeen year-olds trumpeted from the magazines and revel in own un-adorned selves. But as page 99 points out, we don’t. Instead, women across the world continue to invest – massively and perhaps irrationally – in their own physical appearances. As the page states:
We are the ones, ultimately who are choosing liposuction and boob jobs, who are nibbling on carrots and spinning like exhausted hamsters. We are the ones who still equate beauty with success and thinness, in particular, with goodness. Surely Oprah Winfrey doesn’t need to lose ten pounds (again) to prove her worth. Nancy Pelosi could probably handle both the House of Representatives and a few wrinkles. And I would almost certainly be better off if I skipped the gym every once in a while and slept in instead. But I don’t.
Maybe, the page wonders, women chase beauty because the media condemns us to. Or maybe we are simply programmed, like grooming cats or preening peacocks, to polish and strut our stuff.

In the end, though, I’m not sure it makes that much difference:

“Because even if women like me have been manipulated since childhood – even if we know in our heart of hearts that beauty is both foolish and fleeting – there is something that seems to propel us to want it. To want to be thin. To want to be flawless. To want to be wanted.”
Learn more about Wonder Women at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue