Compare/Contrast Essay on Two Pieces of Reading on Gender Issues

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Beauty and Society's Beauty Ideals

Beauty has come to be synonymous with both sorrow and joy. Although some women alter their images to look attractive in compliance with social beauty ideals, others exist in agony, telling themselves every day that they will never be as beautiful as society wants them to be. There are the same theories that will be explored in detail in two separate blogs. People in the Marked Women are judged by their physical appearance, which represents their personality, and hence they should put more effort into the dressing. In "A Woman's Beauty: Put-Down or Power Source", women are judged for making efforts to appear beautiful or not. Thus, both stories agree that while women are judged by their appearance, men can dress freely in any style because they would only be judged by their actions and not appearance.

Superficial Judgment of Women

In Tannen's essay "Marked Woman", she explains how normal it has become for the society to judge women superficially just on the basis of appearance. In contrast, the men remain socially "incomparable" and unmarked by the attire. In particular, Tannen bases her argument on an academic conference where all the men in attendance wore the same unremarkable suits while the women showed their personality through their clothing. She goes on to argue that while the men could have chosen to wear individually expressive clothes, they all chose the anonymity of uniform (Tannen, 3). The women on the other hand said something else with their clothing. Therefore, women have no choice but to choose what message they would like other people to get from their appearances because their characters are judged based off of it. Tannen brings to attention what the term "marked" means in expressing an individual's personality. She uses her personal experiences of how she has been previously marked for mentioning men and women. And while this article focuses on general gender, Tannen pays more attention to the female's appearance. For starters, she says that women are often expected to carry an expensive visage. For instance, each of the women who attended the conference had to make particular decisions regarding their clothing, accessories, makeup, and hair as each of these elements carried a different meaning (Tannen, 4). Each of these women cited how the desire to appear attractive is often misinterpreted to mean they are available sexually. Contrarily, some men perceive women who avoid makeup as openly refusing to please them. And while women have to care about their appearance, the men on the other hand may choose unmarkedness by wearing slacks, suits or shirts of any colors. Such clothing does not reveal biographical information regarding the wearer.

Women's Judgment Based on Appearance

However, the author's opinion appears biased on one gender. Regarding this, Tannen fails to recognize that both the men and the women in the conference are in a formal setting which obviously calls for formal dressing. Therefore, she would not have expected to see the men wearing shorts and t-shirts. Thus to some extent, even the men are marked according to the setting or situation. This example shows that men are only unmarked in certain situations and settings. Nonetheless, she gives a correct observation regarding a woman's writing. Regarding this, any female who writes about the male gender is termed sexist- a term that is used even in the current times.

Women's Beauty as Enslavement

In Sontag's article "A Woman's Beauty: Put-Down or Power Source?", she notes the linguistic difference in the description of an attractive man and an attractive woman. While a woman gets the description of "beautiful", the man is referred to as "handsome"-a term that has become equivalent to masculinity. Sontag describes a woman's relationship to aspects of beauty as a type of "enslavement". Regarding this, she notes that women have been reduced to just one feature-their beauty. Therefore, the way this beauty controls them emulates how a slave becomes reduced and controlled by labor. Unfortunately, this enslavement has become more expansive than how men appear to be controlled by strength or money. She goes on to explain that the lack of money and strength do not hinder men from getting mates. The society considers such a man better off than an ugly woman. Sontag perceives a woman's beauty as a curse because it has become an obligation for the women to meet particular standards of beauty set by the society (Cohen, 6). Thus, while the males appear as a whole, the women grow up learning to perceive their bodies as parts. Therefore, even though a few women held enviable positions in the seventies, they still struggled to attract equally potential mates. For this reason, the only way a woman could have power was through having an attractive and influential man (Cohen, 8). She paints a picture of how different societies perceived concepts of beauty throughout history and the influences of Christianity towards the same. According to Sontag, Christianity has created an irreversible difference between an individual's virtues and looks also known as Cartesian dualism. The author urges women to define their beauty and not to follow how the society describes beauty.

Society's Criticism of Women's Appearance

Sontag concurs with Tannen that the society's criticism and judgment of women arise from their desire to appear physically attractive. Both note that a woman who makes herself beautiful seems shallow and narcissistic whereas the men only receive judgment over their actions and not their looks (Cohen, 5). All societies have created their own definitions and descriptions of beauty that a woman should certainly have or know to be perceived as attractive. And even though the modern woman enjoys better opportunities and freedom today, beauty standards are still defined by the most majority gender-bias societies. In 2017, a woman who wears too much makeup (with a few exceptions such as models, musicians and actors) may still be referred to as 'lose' or with no virtue while a woman who does not wear makeup appears too reserved, lazy and boring. Most patriarchal societies that exist now still set stereotypical standards of beauty. Regarding this, the society still celebrates aspects such as strength, financial power and influence for men (Cohen, 15). A woman who exhibits physical strength or influence on the other hand appears to have no control whatsoever because the more power she amasses, the less she fits in the stereotyped gender role for females. However, while Tannen perceives women as helpless victims of harsh societal standards of beauty, Sontag believes that women can rise up above these standards and define their own unique sets of beauty that can enable them to become whoever they want to become in the future.

Influence of Women's Name and Societal Influence on Beauty

Tannen's notion that a woman's name influences the perception she would receive holds to date. Having a prefix such as Mrs., Miss or MS says a lot about a woman. For example, having a Mrs. before a woman's name to some extent may accord her respect because she supposedly obeys the marriage institution and therefore may appear virtuous. The lack thereof may derive the same individual respect or a better perception as the society may view her as lacking morals or virtues. Nowadays, factors such as religion, culture, and modernity have greatly influenced how the society influences beauty. Some of these factors have 'pushed' women to extreme levels such as opting for plastic surgeries just to fit in these set standards of beauty. For example, Hollywood has both positively and negatively affected beauty for women. Unfortunately, these superficial standards of beauty have only resulted to worse scenarios as cases of botched plastic surgeries rise on a daily basis. These wasted efforts and money only make women feel less and less beautiful while the men live and dress freely as no one judges them based on their appearance.

Works Cited

Cohen, Samuel. Sontag, Susan.A Woman's Beauty: Put-Down or Power Source? 50 Essays A Portable Collection. Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2014. 386-389 Print

Tannen, Deborah. "Marked women, unmarked men." The New York Times Magazine 20 (1993). Print.

October 25, 2022

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