Internalize False Dreams
Ultimately, women come to internalize these beliefs and standards, rendering the elements of social control even more transparent. Women themselves promote the value of breast enlargement surgery, the perfectly matched cosmetic set. Women themselves become members of the social police who monitor and judge other women for failing to embody the ideal. Women themselves equate personal success with the ability to attract attention from men. Women are proud when they have been able to teach their daughters to pursue similar success. The internalization process is multilayered and generated by social, occupational, economic, and legal policies that inherently support patriarchy (i. e., policies that benefit men, for example, in the areas of reproduction, prostitution, childcare, marriage and divorce, etc.). Internalization also is fostered by billion dollar advertising campaigns that prey on insecurities regarding identity and acceptance. Most important, internalization is crystallized through the administration of moderate rewards to women who cultivate their physical attractiveness in accordance with normative expectations.
Despite the fact that these rewards are often fleeting, women who are willing and able to elicit sexual desire from men through the use of beauty are often able to achieve a certain level of self-worth and validation. It may be painful, time-consuming, and expensive to embody the current beauty ideal, but nevertheless there are gains to be had for doing so. First, there is a general bias that what is beautiful is good, and attractive women tend to receive more favorable attention and social deference and have more social alternatives. Second, as long as women continue to occupy second-class status in educational, economical, and political pursuits, they are made vulnerable and in need of protection by a male partner. Sexuality and beauty are strategies for survival for women who face disadvantages of
discrimination, harassment, and crime. It is a survival strategy, in that making themselves attractive to men is a way of (temporarily) acquiring status and protection. The degree to which a woman is successful at mod’ eling herself after the popular beauty ideal often determines her ability to attract men and thereby an acceptable social identity. Undoubtedly, many women seek, and often receive, validation of their own identity by attract’ ing the attention and approval of men. Unfortunately, to the extent that these constructions of beauty and sexuality are internalized, women will continue to experience ongoing anxiety regarding their identity and social standing, especially in times of financial crisis, divorce or death of spouse, and when the inherent promises of acceptance and safety are ultimately found to be flimsy and unfulfilling.
Our society reveres women as “keepers of the hearth” and as mothers of future leaders, but not as figures of financial or political authority in the public realm. Appropriate and acceptable identities for women are those that do not interfere with the status quo. The social construction of beauty, sexuality, and identity is based on the translation of sexuality into external features of appearance and style that may be monitored and controlled by men. Internalization of this process by women themselves enables the destructive elements to remain largely unchallenged. Ultimately, the standards of beauty and, thus, sexuality promote a system of oppression that is physically harmful, psychologically debilitating, economically draining, and spiritually demoralizing, but that is often unknown to women themselves. Factors that perpetuate this system include the unattainable, contradictory, and highly capricious standards of beauty that are consistently demanded but ever changing. We explore these standards in more detail in the next section.