“Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself
to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”
The early feminists were speaking primarily to other women, but men have much to learn from their insights as well. Wollstonecraft was warning women that the desire to be deemed beautiful is a kind of prison since beauty is in the eye of the (usually male) beholder. No one finds their true worth in the opinion of another.
“The pornographic gaze” is a name given to that way of looking at women that sees their physical attractiveness but is indifferent their intelligence and character. If you look at popular magazines, the camera often centers on the faces of men and then lowers that center when taking photos of women. That is the pornographic gaze, which sees men as persons and women as objects of desire for men.
Men must, if we would be friends and allies to women, take responsibility for how we look at others. Almost everyone wants to be seen as attractive sometimes, but no healthy person wants to be seen primarily as a beautiful object for others. Wollstonecraft’s warning to women informs men as well. If we find the worth of women in how they appear to us, even our sincerest compliments are adornments for a prison.
I have been reading your blog for many months now and although I am agnostic I fully appreciate your points of view about our secular world. I just wanted you to know that beyond a basic belief system, we have many of the same ideas and conclusions. Thank you for your posts. I will continue to look forward to reading them daily.
Gra’ma, Thank you so much. I’m sure we have much in common. I’m honored to have you read the blog.
After reading this, the thought that comes to my mind is that maybe, then, women should cease from the action of “fishing for a compliment”. Unless, of course, they WANT to end up in the prison. If the cage is a “gilt of gold”, who would be so eager to not position themselves within?
Gos, thanks for writing. I think that’s what the author is trying to say. The statement wasn’t meant for men, but I think we can learn from it. It must be very hard for some women who have been told since infancy that their value comes from being attractive to men to suddenly stop wanting it when they grow up. It can be confusing for everyone involved. The answer, I believe, is to forge a culture where women have equal value and power without needing to go through men to get it. Oppressed groups are often accused of being sneaky because, as human beings, they seek self-determination by any means available to them.