"To mention Simone Weil is to be reminded of the obloquy to which women are subjected if they deny themselves the arts thought necessary to their true nature, their 'womanliness' (Heilbrun, 1979, p. 70)."
Heilbrun goes on to describe fashion as "the mark of women's slavery" (p. 70). Then she quotes Adrienne Rich as saying that women are taught to "lie with our bodies" with makeup and such, and to "wear clothes that emphasize our helplessness" (p. 70).
One Big Lie
Heilbrun goes on to say that "Lying, with one's body and one's words is, among the oppressed, a dreadful necessity. . . Only women, I think, have also consistently lied to themselves (p. 70)."
Fashion is not about competition between women, although it is often framed that way, on the old principle of "divide and conquer." Diet, fashion, and acting feminine are all about pleasing and maintaining dependence on a man. While it is true that the woman who better pleases men lives better, competition with each other is secondary. There are, after all, more than enough men to go around. The end result, however, is that for as long as we see ourselves as in competition with each other for men and through men, sustenance, we cannot find common cause. And for as long as we spend our money, time, and talents on frivolity, we are not applying those attributes to accomplish big things in the world.
I believe that it was Naomi Wolf who, in The Beauty Myth, estimated that what American women spend every year on face cream alone would fund one battered women's shelter in every state in the nation. The end result, and therefore possibly the goal all along, is that women are frittering away their freedom and their power on pantyhose and mascara. They are trading self-determination for lies that will attract a man to be responsible for them. Because we have been taught that this is what we must do, that this is how to be successful women, we have been co-opted into trivializing ourselves. And then condemned for our frivolity.
IBTP because I believe that no woman who is conscious of this trade-off would continue to make it, would continue to lie to or about herself in this way, would voluntarily fritter away her time, money, and talents on keeping herself in servitude. Women who do see it, articulate it, and opt out are subject to a number of tactics to bring them back into line. They are told they need to fix themselves up. They are called plain, ugly, mannish, or dykes, or slobs who don't care about their appearance. They are warned that they will never get (or be able to keep) a man. They are subjected to all sorts of obloquy.
And for that, you bet your bippy I blame the patriarchy.
Heilbrun, C. G. (1979). Reinventing womanhood. New York: W. W. Norton.