Malmam's Blog

January 15, 2012

The Lynching of Respect

Filed under: Culture — by malmam @ 5:40 am

This past weekend I came across an opinion paper in the National Catholic Register blog that bewails the demise of “pretty” as more desirable than “hotness” in a partner. The author, who is male and presumably heterosexual, defines “pretty” as “a mutually enriching balanced combination of beauty and projected innocence” while “hotness” is “a commodity…a consumable..that consumes as it is consumed but brings no warmth.” He cites the movie Grease as an example of how a sweet, attractive girl begins to wear tight black leather pants, a shoulderless shirt, smoke, and use foul language to get the attention of a popular boy in high school. The villains who apparently killed the pretty as a cultural norm are named as “society” influenced by “40 years of  women’s liberation.” The author asserts that he as well as “[m]ost men” would rather be relationships with pretty women rather than hot women and pleads for “[g]irls” to “bring back the pretty.”

As a spiritual individual with a religious, conservative background, I sympathize with the author’s desire to live amongst individuals that value pretty over hotness in both males and females. Being female I presume that I am therefore the author’s intended audience for this plea. Despite my prejudices and because of my eligibility, I would like to respond to the author’s plea along with critic’s assertions while delving into what I consider some of the underlying issues of the demise of pretty or the more aptly named “projected innocence.”

The same day I later read an article regarding a Colorado student who wanted to posture wearing nothing more than a short yellow skirt and shoulder-exposing black shawl for her senior portrait. The five student editors refused to publish the photo as her senior portrait, saying that the photo “violated dress code” and therefore would be considered “unprofessional” for their school which had “an award-winning yearbook”; however, the school did not ban the photo from being published in the yearbook on a different page as a “senior ad.”  The student along with her mother filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming that “I feel like they aren’t allowing me to have my freedom of expression.” The student’s controversial picture was published in the article and therefore can be commented on by all internet patrons.

This student and her mother are most certainly the author’s intended audience who feel the need to emphasize hotness over pretty whenever seen, heard, or otherwise nebulously expressed. The author presumably represents the authority figure or dying society that prevents people like this student from enjoying all of her rights to as a liberated modern woman, including to be appropriately judged based on her true character. I think that both the author and the student along with her mother fail to express an understanding of underlying cultural values that both support and oppose their respective stances.

The author, while using the euphemism pretty, actually describes the ideal woman to attract an ideal man as being “innocent.” Being pretty or innocent is what inspires men like the author to exercise “nobler instincts” such as to “protect and defend.” The author’s post-modern critics quickly dismiss the author’s ideal husband as paternalistic, one who must have a naïve, submissive wife that presumably needs to be preserved in this state as much as possible. To be fair to the author, “projected innocence” as a cultural norm may be more adequately defined as self discipline born of a sense of respect for the social consequences of expressing one’s sexuality or a guileless quality of one who does not engage in sexual promiscuity. These qualities do not necessarily exclude an awareness of or even appreciation of other cultures; they are a conscious choice to create one’s own culture.

The author is pleading that women at least aspire to be part of this culture of “innocence” or, as I would say, “respectability” even if they are promiscuous or whatnot in their private lives. Post-modern critics see this plea as supporting a culture of lies in which people portray themselves as virgins even if they are not. The author fears an opposing reality in which people deliberately portray themselves as prostitutes even if they are virgins, especially if they are minors. In regards to the claim that modern women can protect and defend themselves, readers may wish to review the Woody Allen movie Match Point for an exposition of certain men’s values of hot women versus pretty women. For readers unfamiliar with this movie, the protagonist in the film marries a sweet, “pretty” woman even though he is “in love” with a “hot” woman. The protagonist and the latter character have an affair while the protagonist and his wife strive to conceive. The greatest hormonal rush of the movie is achieved when the protagonist kills his lover with a gun when she refuses to get an abortion after “falling pregnant” as the English say; in other words, the protagonist feels the need to “protect and defend” his marriage with his wife above the life of his mistress regardless of her considerable merits. While some critics may blame the author’s paternalistic cultural ideals for incurring the demise of the mistress, others may rightly blame the protagonist for trying to embody two conflicting cultural ideals, a gentleman and a cad. Both the author and the critics could benefit from a further clarification of terms and context as well as further elaboration on the perceived social responsibilities and consequences in either promoting or deviating from one’s sexual culture.

The student’s story is an excellent example of what the author and critics fail to address as they uphold their opposing cultures. Clearly the student does not appreciate or respect the purpose of a senior portrait, which is not to express one’s developing sexuality as a minor. I presume that senior portraits within an award-winning yearbook are meant to portray students within the context of a close-knit society sharing class uniforms and similar values (e.g cleanliness). The author’s critics might embrace this student’s defiance as an honest expression of her true self; unfortunately, these critics need to understand what other honest expressions from other selves  may come out as a response to this behavior. If everyone was allowed to wear whatever they want including nothing whatsoever in a school portrait, schools would hopefully be investigated for publishing child pornography. Unlike the student, the mother, and the critics, the school wishes to show respect towards a social ideal of innocent children needing guidance and of the school yearbook as an innocent function of student comradery, even if the reality is far from the truth. The school’s attitude is what the author would like to see society have towards not just children but also women, also known in Christian culture as “avoiding the very appearance of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) This student erroneously believes that she only is entitled to express herself in this particular situation while undermining the other students from expressing their desire for cohesiveness in this situation.

I have two main criticisms of the author and his critics, which may very well include the student. First, they ask to be absolved from judgment while asking others to judge responsibly. The author does not want to be condemned for judging women who dress or behave a certain way to be whores or aspiring whores; the critics similarly do not want to be judged as bigots who characterize all moralistic people as hypocrites who want to raise children with their spouses and simultaneously have lovers. The author and critics can ’t have it both ways; you can’t demand people be responsible for their behavior if you are not willing to be responsible for yours.  The insanity plea can only be used so many times before one must ask if anyone in the entire justice system is sane enough to determine someone else’s sanity. Secondly, the author does not consider how respect in this situation is born out of the respector’s character rather than the merits of the respected. For example, some parents love their children simply because they are their children rather than because their children are respectable people deserving of universal admiration. The author perhaps does not fully realize his role in respecting the pretty in women while unintentionally respecting the hotness in women. Women cannot be innocent of knowing what is out in the world, the good, the bad, and the ugly; neither can women be expected to be virgins after they have been married or enhance or diminish their physical appearance solely to please their sexual partner.  My point is in order to influence people to become more like you would want them to be, sometimes you need to treat them like you would if they were already those people. If you treat people as well-meaning, caring people who just made a mistake, you will get their trust of you much more easily than if you condemn them for being bad people. When you show yourself as someone that someone would want as a friend, they may just surprise you by becoming someone that can be your friend too.

Both the author and the student should be careful about what they wish for. I am not sure if the author is aware of the implications of his stance that women should be “innocent,” but I reiterate my stance that if men do not respect women for what they are individually, they should not be surprised to not find many respectable women. I personally hope that the student loses her case, but more importantly, I hope she learns to respect the purpose and people that she currently wishes to undermine. As for the critics that just want everyone to be themselves, I would direct them to the case of Lawrence King and Brandon McInerney. No one deserves to be bullied or be killed for what they wear and say, but some people would rather live in a prison for the rest of their lives or be dead than deal with people who make no attempt to respect their feelings in public. So my plea to my readers is let’s bring back the respect, the listening ears, and the open hearts. As we change who we are on the inside, the outside will also change to reflect those positive changes, like a pregnant mother who is neither innocent nor ashamed of her body but  happy and excited about life.



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