Monday, March 09, 2009

Philosophy 101 (And a Little Bit of Country)

I've been taking a philosophy class and recently, we addressed the topic: "What are you?" I'll spare you the introspection (read: Googling) and let you know that, philosophically, there are three aspects to the self:


In class, the professor asked us to comment on these variables and an interesting discussion ensued. We spoke about which elements we know for sure exist, which tend to dominate our lives. I commented that women seem to be more identified with their bodies than men; in other words, a greater part of our self-definition arises from our bodies than it does for men.

I would have loved to have recorded the debate that followed--most women (one offered the prevalence of wealthy men with "arm candy/trophy wives" as proof) and some men agreed, as I provided socio-biological explanations for why a woman's appearance matters more, but a couple of men (including the instructor) seemed to be taken aback. I offered everything from evolutionary choices (as did an orthopod in the room--we scientists are so transparent) to the differential incidence of eating disorders by gender to prove my point.

As I'm writing this post, I'm thinking of country music (you made the same leap, too, huh?) A number of country music performers have recently crossed over into pop. If you haven't been following pop hits (or itunes favorites), some country artists have high-ranking singles on the charts. But, why is it that certain artists are able to cross over to a larger audience and others aren't? Is it strictly a function of talent?

My hypothesis is that it has to do with their marketability and, specifically, that female country artists are marketable if they happen to be young and pretty (think Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Kellie Pickler). How many unattractive female country artists have made the transition so seamlessly? How many men have made the switch? Top ranking Keith Urban's popularity seems largely derived from his marriage to an attractive female star.

Are women, in fact, more identified with their bodies (by others and themselves), or was I arguing an antiquated point?


Gina said...

Women are totally more identified with their bodies. Because men are people who are overall valued more for their achievements and abilities, but women are sex objects and expected to be pretty above all else.

Heidi said...

Hey! I've been reading for a couple months and it's time for me to de-lurk and actually contribute things :) *waves*

You're absolutely right. I think it's because, in general, we (women) spend much more time dealing with our bodies than men do - both physically (the expectation of applying make-up, doing our hair, etc) and psychologically (you said it: "the differential incidence of eating disorders by gender"). And then there's the fact that women's bodies are valued, monetarily speaking, more than men's bodies: they're used to sell things and of course are themselves sold. So like Gina said: while we're valued for being pretty, men are valued for the things they do. Of course we identify with our bodies - that's what we're taught to do!

The point the woman in your class brought up about "arm candy" is interesting, because it makes me wonder if the body of the woman a man is "with" is considered more important (in terms of making him look good) than his own body. I think it's pretty common knowledge that men see themselves as successful when they've "scored" a "hot chick," right? So I wonder if that contributes. Women are judged on their bodies, and men are judged on... the bodies of the women they "score"?

azusmom said...

I agree with all of the above. I'm also a HUGE fan of Keith Urban. For a long time I wondered why he wasn't more popular; he's good looking and can play guitar like nobody's business. And then, like you said, he married Nicole Kidman, and now everyone knows who he is. (I think a big part of that is that she's a bigger celebrity than he is, and she was previously married to the most famous man on the planet.)
Of course, if Taylor, Kellie, et al didn't look the way they do, they wouldn't be nearly as popular as they are. It's the same in pretty much any arm of the entertainment industry: I was a talented actress. Could I get a job, or even an agent, in Hollywood? Heck no! I was already in my late 20's and not nearly "hot" enough when I went to L.A. Eventually, for my own sanity, I had to come to terms with it and went back to the theater, which I loved and could actually work in, lol!
The sad thing is, our society takes cues from entertainment and media. We've gone backwards. Women are valued more for looks than achievement now than we were 10 or 15 years ago. And that's just SAD. My hope is that with Michelle and Hillary as role models, that will begin to change.

New Realities of Southern California said...

To a degree I agree with all the above, in the past a huge amount of focus has been placed on a women for her appearance and the appearance of the women a man hooked up with or dated seems to raise his status. This I am sure will continue, but an interesting fact is that there now seems to be a raise in the prevalence of eating disorders in men, whether or not it gets to the magnitude that it affects women is unknown, but times are changing. Society has started to place an importance on the appearance of men as well. They need to have the chiseled body, great hair, nice smile, teeth, eyes and have to have very little if any hair on their body. Men now get their eyebrows and body waxed. This never happened in the past. So in general women are still more identified with their body but this trend is on the rise in men. If you look at the research it seems that the next big wave and specialized field will be for men with eating disorders.

PTC said...

I loved that post, you know why??? COUNTRY MUSIC!! :) Go country artists!! Rascall Flatts has done well crossing over. So have a few other (male) bands songs, such as Lonestars "Amazed," but that really doesn't have anything to do with much. I do feel, be the country music freak that I am, that more male bands have had hits on the pop charts, but maybe just one or two, but it is the female artist who have more staying power and more than one hit on the pop charts.

Leigh said...

Slightly OT: Sunday's LA Times had a feature story in its Image section about a male model and the vastly different lifestyle he and other top male models live in comparison to the female top models. Among the many discrepancies: a top male makes $1000/show while a top female makes $10,000/show. The former rides the subway while the latter has a hired driver. So there is ONE area in which women are highly prized over men: modeling. Oh I am laughing on the inside...

Jennifer Brindley said...

You are absolutely, 100% CORRECT.

That is all.


Kristina said...

So, the country music thing. First of all, I'm not a huge fan of the current crop of "new country music singers", male or female. Give me Willie any day.
In the NYTimes Sunday magazine a few weeks ago, they interviewed Lucinda Williams who, in Nashville, was considered "too rock", and then she moved to LA and she was considered "too country".
One final interesting case: Allison Krauss who defies being defined as rock, country, bluegrass. The album she made with Robert Plant was/is amazing. And that just has to do with her voice.

drstaceyny said...

Gina--I agree.

Heidi--thanks for delurking. Interesting point--it seems that here in NY men are judged by their net worth (and landing an attractive woman is an indication of that).

am--I hope so! On the topic of Michelle, I'm surprised to hear people talking abt her as fuller figured. Really? To me, she looks buff (and thin).

NRSC--you make a good point. Men have historically struggled w/some aspects of appearance (e.g., hair loss), but I do see a trend abt men becoming more concerned abt their looks in general, but the thing is, I believe they can compensate in other ways (by being successful, powerful, rich) whereas women can't.

ptc--maybe, but we'll see the trends, as you suggest. I think the pretty women are going to have greater staying power.

Leigh--an area where women earn more? Can we thinki of any others?

JB--thanks for weighing in. I think I'm 100% correct, too. ; )

Kristina--good counter-examples. I have to say that I LOVE Lucinda Williams (recently got into her), but I have no idea what she looks like! Would never happen w/the younger, trendier stars. . .

Maya said...

Major music fan (of all kinds) weighing in here.
Loretta Lynn was drove all over the country to sing LIVE on radio stations to promote her compositions! THAT is talent!

Taylor Swift whines into her cell phone and sends it to her tween friends and gets a recording contract
where her voice is tweaked and her pouty photos are splashed across the world.

I hate this shallow world sometimes :(

Maya said...

I meant drove..actually was going to say "was driven", 'sorry for that typo, but it does read like Loretta wrote it!! HA!!!!

Tom said...

The gap is definitely closing. With the past decades bringing so much more money and leisure time, men are putting more emphasis on how they use their bodies and less on the other two

With professional sports, there are probably more opportunities for mem to earn fame and millions from there bodies than women

Just as some women so desperately want to not be fat, men so desperately do not want to be weak. At least through their 20s. After that, like women, the importance diminishes for some, for others their bodies remain a status symbol

drstaceyny said...

Maya--that IS talent!

Tom--good point, but you're proving another one of mine--you're arguing function, I'm arguing form. Men are more valued for what their bodies can do, women for how their bodies appear. Female athletes are often judged more on how they look than on their skills. Yes, the gap may be closing for appearance (there's body dysmorphia in men, the Adonis complex, etc.), but I don't think it'll ever close completely.

Anonymous said...

I think that women are definitely more identified with their bodies, because women care more. I am not saying that men don't care about their bodies or appearances, but women have a greater fixation on their physical appearance. I blame the media for a big part of this because they focus so much attention on women's bodies. If a male celeb gains a few extra pounds, a comment may be made about his "beer gut" and then it quickly fades away. If a female celeb gains a few extra pounds, we never hear the end of it. The media feeds people the idea that it is more acceptable for a man to care less about his body than it is for a woman to do the same. This is why there are so many more women who are obsessed with dieting and/or have eating disorders than there are men.