I’ve been watching strings of baby chimp and orangutan videos to get me through 3rd year dread and I can’t help but notice how ape-like humans are. On the train I people watch when the Wi-Fi cuts out (who doesn’t?). I find these ape qualities especially in men. Those raw, hairy knuckles – unshaven and Tarzan like. Or when old people are slumped with their arms hanging over their knees. Their jowls become saggy reminding me of that nightmare inducing chimp with alopecia. Google ‘Jambo the Chimpanzee’ before you sleep.
Women, on the other hand, are different. Their posture upright. Their feet pointed with heels. Eyes made up to resemble a bird, jaguar or deer. Bald in all the socially acceptable places. Although faux furs are in season they are generally of the feline variety. Women have the expectation to look as un-ape like as possible, especially in the shape of their anatomy. Globally, fashion has created many unique silhouettes – from the kimono to the burka, a woman’s waistline can be moved up, down or gotten rid of altogether. Secondary sex characteristics have been exaggerated through many cultures. Corsets and neck rings. Boob jobs and butt fillers. Some have gone so far as to surgically remove ribs.
Why do these expectations exist? Could it be that a women’s secondary sex characteristics are uniquely human? A man has a phallus and is hairy… ‘Been there! Done that!’ says the chimpanzee. Now a woman has hips…A high hip to waist ratio has connotations of giving birth to a smart baby with a big head. Evolutionary theorists’ highlight neoteny as key for human evolution. Large eyes and small chins equate to a bigger brain. Is female body iconography a subconscious indicator of evolution? Of our future progression?
Most depictions of aliens have exaggerated feminine qualities – long neck, small chin, big eyes, big foreheads and slender shoulders. ET looks like any women who’s had a hangover. In science fiction aliens tend to be symbolic of future humanity yet they are mostly negative. In other forms of fantasy, though both men and women have shown agency and great power: men depicted in a warrior type combat role versus women with some form of telepathic magical power. Jean Grey, Scarlet Witch, Eleven from Stranger Things and Princess Allura from Voltron to name a few. Even Wonder Woman has a magic truth rope that’s essentially telepathy. In Christian iconography, Jesus is more human then Mary. Jesus on the cross is depicted naked, tortured, bleeding. The virgin is always fully covered in an oval silhouette of bright blue cloth, usually surrounded by stars. Mary is usually the one doing all the miracles (or ‘interceding’) and Jesus is the one who more humanly physically suffers.
The points I’ve been making is that throughout history the iconography of the female gender has been put on a pedestal. Its alienating, fetishistic and patronising. It isn’t just men who call attention to the female gender. It is also other women and repetitive ad campaigns specifically focused on what it means and involves to be a woman. How many news articles will be about ‘first women to…’ ‘these women think…’ ‘this woman is…’? Whereas articles about men will just use their name or their profession title. How many movie campaigns focus on the character’s gender and not the actual character? I couldn’t help but cringe when the tag line for the Captain Marvel ad was morphing ‘her’ into ‘a hero’. Its 2018 not 1970.
Who’s writing these articles? Who’s setting these crazy fashion trends? It is usually women. Though I won’t deny there is pressure from men to either attract them, or to prove to be just as strong as them, it is counter productive to use your gender as your weapon of choice. Since Mulvey wrote about the male gaze we’ve been trying to articulate a female gaze and the female experience. But what if gendered experiences are only as deep as one’s sex drive?
What humans regret the most is not taking an opportunity because we long for multiple experiences. After so much focus on men, our media has been selling the female experience as headline worthy. From centuries of alien iconography of the female body, society has an expectation for these experiences to be fundamentally un-male and therefore un-ape-like and unhuman. But really, they are not.
I’m not saying don’t wear makeup or don’t express yourself if you want to attract men, it is fine (I do too). Articles about the female experience have their place (here I am writing about women) it just gets old when headlines specifically highlight the subject’s gender when the article itself is about science or business for example. Question why gender is the focus. I’m tired of being an alien, I just want to be an ape.