Self-esteem versus self-esteem
New Bitch Magazine is here! Tons of articles, and one early on is really interesting, where Gabrielle Moss discusses how the sudden cultural fascination with "mean girls" is just an excuse to trot out tired old stereotypes about catfighting. In her discussion on the movie Mean Girls she talks about a scene where someone suggests to Tina Fey that the girls have self-esteem problems and she says that they all seem pretty happy with themselves.
The line made me snicker because it reminded me of all the awful popular girls in high school who were happy with themselves and in fact thought they were the queens of our little school and that their status actually meant something. In that sense, they did have self-esteem. But in the larger sense, no they didn't, of course. Cattily attacking other women, being the best of the girls (but still not up to boy level of course), defining yourself solely through your looks and fashion--these are not signs of high self-esteem.
But it occurred to me that there is confusion in our culture about exactly what "self-esteem" is, especially for women. and the larger culture and feminists have very different answers. And the interesection between the two definitions is the cause of a lot of problems. The fuzzy general consensus that self-esteem is whatever makes you feel good leads people to define self-esteem for women and girls as that which makes them feel like they are adhering as closely as possible to the impossible standards of femininity. Whereas feminists see self-esteem as drawing pride and esteem from one's total being instead of just one's ability to appeal to artificial standards for women's attractiveness and usefulness.
The rhetoric around plastic surgery demonstrates this disconnect really well. To this feminist at least, plastic surgery is a signal of low self-esteem--I mean, you're slicing up your actual body to replace it with a culturally approved one. It's like a physical reenactment of how women are expected to subjugate their entire beings to artificial standards.
But to the larger culture, plastic surgery is repackaged is a way to enhancing self-esteem because it's seen as taking measures to get closer to the standard and therefore happier. There's little doubt to my mind that people who get it do feel more satisfied with themselves. There's pleasure in being good at something, even if that something is just looking good. I know I get a shot of pride when I dress up and feel like I look good. But the difference is in degree, as hazy as that sounds. The pain of surgery and time it takes to recover puts getting it into the category of efforts you undertake only for the most important reasons. That is, with the price you're paying, is the result worth it? Surgery to save your life--yes. To give you a slightly more culturally advantageous profile--no, I don't think so.
The self-esteem one gets from winning a catfight is another example of the cost being much higher than the benefit. Sure, there's that momentary rush when you realize that you're the bestest of the girls, but the price is that you have confirmed to yourself that women are petty and vain and to everyone else that women are just inferior to men. I know I hit on this alot, but it's an important point. Fighting to be the best of a group of second class citizens is detrimental to the more important goal of destroying the hierarchy that puts your class into the second class.