Lamenting My Prejudice Against Beautiful Women
The women didn't just perform femininity in their dress; they also talked it, effusing "Love you, girl" and "Oh my word" and "Can I just say, y'all are my favorite?" (Did I mention that we were in Texas?). We were channeling the spirit of Beth Moore, and it was more estrogen gathered in one room than I had experienced since the days of youth group. I freaked. And then I judged. Specifically, I judged that because the women were more traditionally feminine than me, they were shallow and uninterested in the world of ideas.
Where did this beauty-intelligence false dichotomy come from? That contrast was in full swing after Yahoo! chief Marissa Mayer appeared in a Vogue photo shoot this September wearing Michael Kors and stilettos. Critics suggested that Mayer's languid pose communicated that corporate leadership "is too rigorous for skirts, and it might just be simpler and easier for everyone if we did our jobs by sitting still and looking pretty," said Stephanie Smith at Q Ideas. Grace Chan, a media vice president, told CNN, "If you want to be treated equal, you shouldn't take advantage of your physical assets. I don't want to get brownie points because I am attractive. I like to separate the fact that I am a woman and I am a professional." (As if women can choose to not be women while on the job.)
If the false beauty-intellect divide is strong now, it must have been raging 60 years ago. Marilyn Monroe was frequently asked to pose in tight shorts or swimsuits while holding a tome such as James Joyce's Ulysses, as if to wink at the viewer: "Isn't it silly that a gorgeous woman is holding a book?" To her tragic demise, Monroe became the archetype of the Dumb Blonde, though some psychologists actually report a positive link between beauty and intellect.
Even as a Christian women's site, Her.meneutics has had to wrestle with the false dichotomy that separates the pretty from the smart. We've intentionally downplayed traditionally feminine cues in our website design—note the relative lack of pastels and floral patterns.
But why would pastels and flowers signal "silly" or "unimportant"? How paradigm-shattering would it be to produce a website that looked like an Anthropologie catalog—and also delivered sharp analysis of the debt ceiling or religious freedom or the Bechdel test?
The women I met at the conference last month shattered these kinds of paradigms—and my own ugly prejudice against beautiful women. They were articulate, curious about the world, deeply kingdom-oriented, and passionate about much more than hair and facial products. Physical beauty for them seemed important, but clearly (and rightly) not as important as global and eternal questions and concerns. They gave me a new model for what it means to lead as a woman—not as a woman trying to hide their femininity, like so many women in leadership, especially in male-oriented workplaces, feel they must do.
To add a comment you need to be a registered user or Christianity Today subscriber.