So, I know I do a lot of calling out, but I’ve got to call myself out when I feck up…and it’s gonna happen; see, it’s right there in the feckin’ name: I’m a right bloody Feck-up at times. Being aware and attentive to social justice issues is something that’s important to me, and as a cis white straight male, and the attendant privilege that comes with that, I’m not always gonna get it right. At the very least, I (and anyone else concerned about social justice, and not enforcing the negative, regressive norms of society that we are bombarded with) can call “bullshit!” when I see it.
Anyhow, in my haste to display my enthusiasm for the band in my last post, I made two missteps which I feel I should point out:
#1 I mentioned in passing how attractive one (actually, all) of the members of the band was.
#2 I took the piss on Shane McGowan’s appearance.
These two are closely related, in that each one leads to what is problematic about the other.
#1: Pointing out who is attractive marginalizes who is not, and these are subjective and exclusionary terms that in the end do a service to no one. No one wants to be seen as “unattractive” and yet those who are declared to be attractive are thereby alienated from their actual identity by the lens of this arbitrary feature. It reduces a person to this singular trait that is ephemeral from who a person is.
It can also cause those who are deemed “attractive” to value and promote this trait at the expense of other, worthwhile things, and also creates a pool of doubt: “Am I attractive enough? Am I loosing my looks? Is this all that anyone sees when they see me?” etc. So the very thing intended to be complimented serves to undo itself. Also, most importantly, there is a societal construction of how we expect women to be measured, and it creates a standard that is both more difficult and incorporates less important (read: unimportant) criteria.
#2 By talking about someone and how they are unattractive, (even someone who is in the public sphere and accordingly is seen as part of the public discourse), this again rarifes away the fundamental human qualities about the person (though there is another point here about fame and media perception; one a bit more obvious about how people are pigeonholed). It reduces the person to their appearance, and even though the person has notoriety through fame, what does this say for people who do not have this level of fame? It’s a way of writing people off. Sure, Shane might have done it to himself, with his drunken barfights & what not, but the very basic idea of holding forth for public discourse features of appearance all feeds into this idea. Regardless of the cause, when a person (in this case ME) shames a person for their appearance, the person shames not just the person, but other people who may see, rightly or wrongly, something of themselves in the shamed person. It polices norms of how people “should” look, when the reality, there is no “should” to how a person should look. To suggest otherwise is actually hateful.
Even without the shaming aspect, there’s a real problem with anything that implies that what people look like are things that we should be talking about. The reality is there is far too much talk already about people’s appearance.
Perhaps you say, “wait, people are going to look at and be attracted or not-attracted to whoever they are going to be and so it’s foolish to try to stop anyone from doing that.” That’s not what I’m trying to do. Of course we all see what we see and like what we like; what I’m saying is that *choosing* to talk about that is a political choice, whether one chooses to recognize it or not and that choice comes with societal consequences that are far from innocent, regardless of how pure one’s intention may be.
I insist that my intentions were well-meaning. That doesn’t make them any less harmful. “Good intention” without attention to result is an empty nicety, and that is just as much of a problem as direct hostility. It’s a real question of “How then can we know what we don’t know?” The answer? Listen. Listen harder. Keep checking in. Don’t assume you “know”. Like I said, I’m not gonna always get it right. I’m not gonna stop trying.
Back to the question of “looks”, we may not be able to avoid noticing these arbitrary values we have internalized, but there is no need to point them out in any sort of public discourse, be it either complimentary or otherwise. Both have a negative influence, be they born of condemnation or of compliment. They both have the same result: over-valuing appearance in a way which serves to perpetuate male privilege and undermine gender equity.
Were we in a truly post-oppressive social balance, perhaps we could talk freely about appearance in a way that was observational instead of oppressive, but the fact of the matter is that as it stands now, conversations of aesthetics in the public sphere for the most part only serve to police the status quo. Not a good look if you want to change it. HOLY FUCK do I want to change it.
It’s April in 2013 and here’s what artists like Grimes STILL find themselves facing. Talking about the physical appearance of women serves to undermine the legitimacy of their accomplishments, since it feeds a trivial feature which society has made central.
I know my sphere of influence is small, but in those two errors I made, I was unwittingly on the wrong side of progress. So this is me calling myself out. I’ve decided (for now) to leave the post as-is, so you, dear reader, can see the mistake and the correction. It’s a fuck up, and I take full responsibility for this, and apologize to you, dear reader, for it.
Forgive the digression; let us now turn back to the music in a way that I hope calls attention to where we want to go, instead of what we want to get away from.