Sex Object: A Memoir

Sex Object: A Memoir

February 28, 2017

By Jessica Valenti

New York Times Bestseller

“Sharp and prescient… The appeal of Valenti’s memoir lies in her ability to trace objectification through her own life, and to trace what was for a long time her own obliviousness to it…Sex Object is an antidote to the fun and flirty feminism of selfies and self-help.” – New Republic

Hailed by the Washington Post as “one of the most visible and successful feminists of her generation,” Jessica Valenti has been leading the national conversation on gender and politics for over a decade. Now, in a memoir that Publishers Weekly calls “bold and unflinching,” Valenti explores the toll that sexism takes on women’s lives, from the everyday to the existential. From subway gropings and imposter syndrome to sexual awakenings and motherhood, Sex Object reveals the painful, embarrassing, and sometimes illegal moments that shaped Valenti’s adolescence and young adulthood in New York City.

In the tradition of writers like Joan Didion and Mary Karr, Sex Object is a profoundly moving tour de force that is bound to shock those already familiar with Valenti’s work, and enthrall those who are just finding it.

Above review from

Feminist “Scores” …

Feminist Scores:” Their Impact on Psychological Testing

By Patricia J. Anderson

Psychological Assessment I (LAP 501), Spring 1997, Dr. Karen Jaffe

After testing nine thousand three hundred thirty seven people in his Anthropometric Laboratory in eighteen eighty four, Sir Frances Galton summarized his findings this way, “women tend in all their capacities to be inferior to men” (Lewin & Wild 1991, p. 582). Over a hundred years later, this erroneous type of belief still lies deeply internalized within the minds of many men and women.

In their essay, Miriam Lewin and Cheryl Ward include the findings of women psychologists whose findings dispute those of Galton. In eighteen ninety five, Mary Whiton Calkins and her student Cordelia Nevers repeated work done by Joseph Jastrow (a follower of Galton) on the “mental traits of sex” (Lewin & Ward 1991, p. 582). Calkins and Nevers results did not demonstrate female inferiority (Lewin & Ward 582).


Helen Thompson Woolley argued against the popular views of Darwin and Galton in her book, The Mental Traits of Sex (1903). A psychology student of Woolley, Leta Stetter Hollingworth also challenged male theories about women’s biological inferiority.

During the nineteen twenties work by Beth Wellman, Marie Skodak and Harold Skeels on intelligence testing had a vital impact by demonstrating the profound effect of social environment on supposedly static intelligence traits. Their work has been crucial to debunking sexist and racist thinking within psychological testing (Lewin & Ward 582).

Rhoda Unger and Mary Crawford (1992) also discuss Galton’s work. Galton measured things like reaction time, grip strength and height because he thought these were innate and were a mirror to intelligence (76). The only people who questioned Galton’s theories were women, but because of their perceived inferior status, were not heard when they posited that opportunity and life experience were involved in intelligence (Unger & Crawford 76). Despite future testing that revealed no differences in variability, brain structures or intelligence between the sexes, the belief in women’s inferiority lives on to this day (Unger & Crawford 76). From the vantage point of today, it’s relatively easy to see how racism and sexism among past researchers might have led them to find justification for labeling women and people of color inferior (Unger & Crawford 77).

Despite the not doubt hard work of these aforementioned feminists, I have not found their names cited in any of the numerous books on psychological testing that I have been reading. The textbook for this class Psychological Testing (1997) makes no mention of these early feminists work that challenged Sir Frances Galton’s findings. Unless these harmful and erroneous findings are actively challenged traditional assumptions of female inferiority are left to linger in our brains. If the works of these women were included in psychology programs, along with the history of men like Galton, today’s students would be much more enlightened about the issues of sex differences and testing. Teacher comment: These sex differences are not mentioned in our textbook.

Lewin and Ward have provided an update on the progress, or lack there of, that has resulted since the recent inclusion of women’s voices in the field of psychological testing. They specifically discuss the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI).

There are many reasons why feminists have criticized psychological tests. One is that some measures discriminate against females. Some measures address things from the perspective of typical males in stereotypical male settings. Secondly, feminists have found that assumptions have been made (without adequate evidence) that women as a group have less of a particular characteristic if their scores were lower than men’s.  Teacher comment:  Like what?   No one considers males as lacking in any way when they score less of a stereotypical female trait. A third reason for feminist criticism are traditional concepts about femininity and masculinity, masochism, violence and rape as variables (Lewin & Ward 582). If not for feminist inquiry, new concepts such as androgyny, sexual harassment, date rape, and the Rape Myth Acceptance Scale wouldn’t be in existence (Lewin & Ward 582-3). Fourth, feminists posit that operational definitions must be of concern if the originating conceptual definitions are questionable. They offer an example in which femininity was measured via a criterion group of thirteen gay males without first proving that gay males were validating examples of femininity. Lastly, feminists have thought that biases within tests and measures resulted in women being denied admission to schools, denied jobs, and were improperly diagnosed with mental illnesses, when their actual problems stemmed from oppressive environments (Lewin & Ward 583).

Women’s historical not measuring up to male standards on tests created by males, has been used to prove women’s lower status and to justify men’s higher status and power in society. Feminists refute the notion that the standards that we should all be directed to or measured against are those that come from dominant males. Some feminists would go so far as to say that “their way” held the possibility of being “… even better than, the stereotypical male way” (Lewin & Ward 1991, p. 583).

Lewin and Ward ask, “How can we approach truth”? (1991, p. 584). Surely truth cannot come only from male or female perspectives. Surely a combination that includes the experience and “knowing” of women can come closer to “truth” than historic masculinist models.

The most widely used psychological test is the MMPI. It’s most extensive revision the MMPI-2, was put out in nineteen ninety. Scale 5, Mf (masculine-femininity) was validated for femininity in nineteen fifty six by a criterion group of thirteen gay males. Original descriptions of the scale clearly attest to the fact that their attempt to measure “sexual inversion” was a failure (Lewin & Ward 1991, p. 585). However, this fact was less prominent in test manuals (Lewin & Ward 585).

Feminists had minimal success in effecting change within the MMPI. Only four of the sixty items on the Mf scale were deleted due to their offensive nature. New norm samples were drawn on the United States population to get new means, percentiles and scale score distributions. Despite these new means the basic Mf scale 5 was never validated by correlating to any type of criteria (Lewin & Ward 585). Among revisions made on the F scale of the MMPI, one was done because of sexist language (Rothke, et al 1994).

The new MMPI-2 now includes scales that can be used for both sexes; the Gm (masculine gender role scale) and the Gf (feminine gender role scale) were taken from items on the old scale. These new scales include only items that seventy percent of one sex respondents label true and no more than sixty percent of the other sex respondents agree. Items are scored for extremes only. Lewin and Ward give the example of how the question, “I like to read mechanics magazines” is scored: Because men split about half in agreeing with this item, men will get no point no matter how they answer this question; when a female answers false to this question gets point in favor of femininity due to the fact that seventy percent or more of women in the sample answered false (585-586). The authors rightfully question whether we can gauge femininity and masculinity in this manner (Lewin & Ward 586). Also couldn’t one be feminine and like to read mechanics magazines? Couldn’t a man be masculine without enjoying mechanics magazines? These measures serve to trivialize the meaning of both genders.

Face validity is also questionable as far as the meaning of the concepts rated. Women get positive femininity on items such as, “I like to talk about sex”, “I am worried about sex” when they answer false to these questions; males gets points for answering true to these. What do these concepts mean (Lewin & Ward 586)? Could it not be that men and women like to talk about and worry about sex?

Lewin and Ward call into question the manual’s explanation of characteristics used to gauge femininity and masculinity. The manual claims that males scoring highly feminine are likely to be sensitive, aesthetic, passive and may even have a low heterosexual drive in contrast to males who score low and are deemed to be aggressive, crude adventurous, reckless with narrow interests – no evidence is offered to substantiate these claims about these traits. Despite the fact that the authors of the MMPI-2 have admitted that the Mf scale is ambiguous, people who use the test may not know this (Lewin & Ward 586).

This leaves feminists to ask whether this test ought to be used to screen people looking for jobs. Employer bias could occur in either direction. Masculine men may be thought unlikely to be happy in a creative type job and a woman who scores high on femininity may be questioned as far as her ability to fire someone if she were in management. There is a class action suit pending in California against a department store that used the old MMPI as a hiring tool (Lewin & Ward 587).

The Mf (MMPI) scale isn’t a valid measure of sexual preference or of how masculine or feminine a person is. The fact that femininity was measured against responses from gay males speaks for itself (Lewin & Ward 587). The fact that test creators would even consider using gay men to measure women demonstrates the extent to which men are consistently used to develop “norms” that women are expected to measure up. The criterion also wrongly assumes that gay men are feminine.

According to Friedman, expert on the MMPI, Scale 5 (masculinity-femininity) of the MMPI-2 was originally used to detect homosexuality. Today it’s used to measure interest patterns (Friedman 1997). Friedman says that low scores on this scale reflect the fear of being cared for and the missing joy of being card for (1997). He used a fellow author and friend to demonstrate how a male can be married with kids, but also love fashion and shopping (Friedman 1997). Clearly his description of the Mf scale does represent evidence of feminist influence. His description gave me hope that, at least within psychology, stereotypical attitudes about gender are being challenged.

Friedman (1997) also says that the MMPI can detect men who would commit date rape. As a feminist, I immediately ask myself why the test hasn’t been used to weed out potential rapists? What use of testing could be more important than the protecting women from harm? If the test can detect date rapists, then the test could also be used to detect therapists who would take advantage of their clients by having sex with them. Since rape is about control and power, not sex, therapists in essence do rape clients when they have sex with them. Why isn’t this test being used to prevent harm? Teacher comment: Individual rights are protected on both sides.

One of the major causes cited for malpractice claims against therapists is sexual misconduct. Occurrence rates for sexual intimacies and harassment inflicted by therapists are shocking and have been increasing (Corey 1996, 74). Corey credits better reporting procedures and increased public awareness with these increases (1996). With shocking rates of sex occurring between therapists and clients wouldn’t it make sense to use a psychological test that could weed out potential client abusers?

Feminists have yet to make a dent in the way people are assessed for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not a single study used women to develop the measures. Women rape or incest victims, or army nurses could have been used in the seventeen studies done with male combat veterans and prisoners of war (Lewin & Ward 587).

Lewin and Ward also talk about the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory as an example of where feminist critique has had a positive result. Here feminists asked whether women should be judged by what a typical male feels about his occupation. After studying sex bias in the inventory, the American Measurement and Evaluation in Guidance Commission found that the fourth edition had been much improved. The fourth edition was found to have only five out of two hundred and seven occupations lacking in samples taken from men and women (Lewin & Ward 588).

The evolution of the Standards for Educational and psychological Testing is evidence of the inclusion of women. It’s nineteen eighty five revision says that there is a concern about the role of testing in the attainment of social goals. New developments such as, gender specificity, cultural bias, validity generalizations, interpretations done via computer and scores flagged for those with disabilities are some cautions that were brought out (Lewin & Ward 589). The previous nineteen seventy four standards didn’t address gender issues; the nineteen eighty five revision does address differences in gender, bias of certain items and differential predictive measures. The Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education (1988) agrees with the nineteen eighty five revision, along with all majors testing organizations in education (Lewin & Ward 589).

Women score lower on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than men, but these tests fall short of predicting how women will perform in college because women are known to get better grades in higher education (Unger & Crawford 87) . On the actual abilities gained from courses reflected on the tests girls continually attain higher grades (Unger & Crawford 93).  As a result of women’s lower test scores they loose out on many scholarships; more than seven hundred and fifty organizations award scholarships according to a test score. Women also loose when they are wrongfully denied inclusion in gifted programs. These concrete losses are compounded by the fact that lower test scores effect women’s sense of confidence about their ability to succeed in school (Unger & Crawford 87).

The Educational Testing Service mandated a sensitivity review process in nineteen eighty. Its effect resulted in changes in the SAT Verbal tests to a more balanced referencing of males and females. Items that were thought to be related to being male or female specifically were dropped from scoring (Lewin & Ward 590-591). There has also been an increase in the number of women on test committees. In nineteen seventy-seventy one, there were only six percent women on the testing committee for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), compared to twenty nine percent in nineteen ninety-ninety one. Other programs demonstrate moves in the same direction (Lewin & Ward 591).

Unger and Crawford (1992) explain that it’s language that has described women and men as “opposite sexes” (67). The journal Psychological Abstracts reported 16,416 articles on sex differences between nineteen sixty seven and nineteen eighty five. They claim that the differences thought to be discovered between women and men are rarely related to biology. They refer to sex differences as carrier variables in personal history and experience. Thus feminist psychologists describe differences found as gender-related  (Unger & Crawford 1992 p. 67).

Feminist critique the very definition of gender-related differences, the problem of measuring them, and understanding the results due to issues of interpretation and values. Feminist researchers discovered that historically women’s unequal status was justified by differences documented as scientific facts. Finding new differences between the sexes neglects to explain the societal influences that led to the differences. Feminists argue that differences between women and men are far less actual commonalties (Unger & Crawford 67). The notion of statistical significance can be far removed from the practical meaning of the word significance. “… Statistical significance is not the same as importance” (Unger & Crawford 69).

Unger and Crawford use the image of looking through a microscope as way to explain how researchers perceive their hypothesis in terms of results. If the researcher gazes through the microscope and views what was expected the hypothesis is deemed correct. If the view down the microscope shaft is blurry or shows nothing, the methods are blamed, the procedures are tried again, instead of concluding that the hypothesis was wrong to begin with (Unger & Crawford 70).

Within studies of gender-related differences many times researchers have studied only one of the sexes and posited the results as difference between the sexes. Measuring only hormonal differences as they correlate with mood among women, and then saying that only females experience this phenomenon (Unger & Crawford 71). Feminists also question taking samples for many research studies from college students. These female and male students may have equal levels of formal education, but may differ greatly on the types of classes taken from the start of high school and will frequently be very different while in college. These differences may be crucial to women’s lives (Unger & Crawford 72).

My own experience serves to validate what Unger and Crawford have said. The Miller Analogies Test that had little face validity for me. I never had a college math, philosophy or literature course. I studied nursing, physical and social science and medical ethics. Despite the fact that I graduated with honors from my nursing associate degree program, held a 4.0 GPA (four point scale) in the rest of my baccalaureate studies, and had already obtained A’s on five graduate courses at DePaul University, I failed this test. Out of one hundred questions, I got twenty eight correct, placing my score within the twenty fifth to thirtieth percentile. I can now see that the courses I chose to study did indeed explain why its face validity prepared me for failing. Thanks only to my feminist education and due to the last ten years of excellence in undergraduate and graduate school, my self confidence was not affected by this apparent failure.

My experience validates the claim of Unger and Crawford that, “A valid psychology of gender difference must account for how individual experiences and situational variables interact with sex (Unger & Crawford 74). Even new sophisticated techniques of meta-analysis do not lead us to any conclusions about the causes of differences historically found in published studies (Unger & Crawford 75). Traits usually connected with people of color and women, when compared to those of the “reference group,” are less affirming and desirable. “… Separate but equal …” stratifications remains illusive (Unger & Crawford 77).

Most psychological research measures behaviors outside of their social environment, which feminists question as far as then extrapolating real world validity; taken out of context, objectivity faces a mirage (Unger & Crawford 98). According to testing specialist, Phyllis Teitelbaum, standardized tests are androcentric in their epistemology in that they fail to measure skills such as creativity, intuition, verbal and non-verbal communication, cooperatives, sensitivity and supportiveness, all of which reinforce the androcentric model’s values and way of seeing the world. When something’s not tested it’s less valued than items included on tests (Unger & Crawford 98).

Because of feminist inquiry some psychological tests have been revised for the better. Sexism is more likely to be challenged today because of the work of feminists, despite the failure to promote change on the MMPI-2 Mf scale. The field of psychology and testing will evolve slowly along with the increasing presence of women in the field (Lewin & Ward 593).

Work Cited

Anastasi, Anne., and Urbina, Susana. (1997). Psychological Testing. Prentice Hall: New Jersey.

Corey, Gerald. (1996). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Fifth Edition. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company: New York.

Friedman, Alan. (1997). Lecture on the MMPI Test. National-Louis University, Wheeling Campus. May 5.

Lewin, Miriam., and Wild L. Cheryl. (1991). “The Impact of the Feminist Critique on Tests, Assessment, and        Methodology.” Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, (pp. 581-596).

Rothke, Steven E., Friedman, Alan F., Dahlsrom, W. Grant., Greene, Roger L., Arredondo, Rudy., and Mann, Anne Whiddon. (1994). “MMPI-2 Normative Data for the F-K Index: Implications for Clinical Neuropsychological, and Forensic Practice.” Assessment. vol 1, number 1, pp. 1-15.

Unger, Rhoda., Crawford, Mary. (1992). Women and Gender: A Feminist Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Feminist Therapy: Valuing Women

Feminist Therapy: Valuing Women

By Patricia J. Anderson

Frida Kerner Furman, MALS 477, Feminist Ethics, March 14, 1996


My interest in feminist therapy stems out of my own difficult experience with non-feminist therapy. Like many women, I have gone into therapy at various times in my life, basically wondering, What’s wrong with me? Why was I so unhappy? Why was I so sad, incompetent, and worthless? I was sure that the inner inferiority and confusion was within me, that it was my fault.

I will illustrate how “traditional and/or family values” have actually had a part in causing women’s mental health problems. I will tease through feminist therapy ideas, principles, disorders common to women, and women’s diversity to illuminate the feminist values that inform this field that offers real promise to women’s mental health.

Feminist Therapy, Do We Really Need It?

A personal friend’s experience with therapy provides an insightful example of the need for feminist therapy. She sought therapy to help her get away from an abusive husband. She began to tell me some of the therapist’s responses to her explanations of the type of abuses her husband inflicted upon her. It became clear to me that this therapy was never going to help her to gain the psychological strength she needed to escape.

Examples of the therapist’s responses to her depictions of the physical and psychological abuse were: Maybe you should stay home on Saturdays and do housework; Do you really have to go to the movies with your girlfriends?; Have you really tried to cook the foods that he likes?; Maybe it’s a good idea to let him handle your paychecks, maybe he’s better with money?

It took months to convince my friend that this therapist was not only not helping her, but was functioning to maintain the abusive relationship. The therapist was blaming her for the abuse, trying to get her to conform to the passive, obedient feminine role that would support her husband’s dictates! The solution was simply for her to follow the prescribed feminine role and her marriage would be alright. It was assumed that the problem stemmed from inside her, her patriarchal disobedience was in need of fixing!

Rather than empowering her to act in defense of her self, the therapist reinforced her internalized inferiority. My friend’s experience with psychotherapy is not an isolated one. Many women have had similar experiences, although perhaps not as obvious and easy to articulate. Therapy’s perpetuation of oppression can be as subtle and invisible as it sometimes is in society, especially when combined with the client’s emotional vulnerability.

Medicine and Morals

Kathryn Morgan describes women’s moral status as akin to a moral groupie, dependent upon males deemed capable of full moral integrity (149-150). The male moral model claims that “… women’s bodies are interpreted as capable of acting on the mind so as to occlude consciousness, thought, and moral feeling” (Morgan 150). If women lack societal power to live according to their own values, it serves to explain why women are so frequently unhappy.

According to Rhoda Unger and Mary Crawford, the male medical model sees “… a direct connection between the uterus and the mind” (572). Throughout history the uterus has been blamed for women’s so-called hysteria/insanity. The term most women are very familiar with, hysterectomy, refers to the removal of the uterus – the source of women’s insanity. Hysteria is used to label stereotypical behaviors of exaggerated femininity including: “… being demandingly childlike, overly dramatic, scatterbrained, and sexy, but frigid” and according to Rachel Mustin, may actually depict, “… a caricature of women”, not a mental illness (597).

Imagine an opposite affliction in males, “testeria.” Despite common accusations that men think with their penises, “We need never worry about disabling testeria in men” (Morgan 151). Sometimes turning things around can illuminate the preposterous nature of the masculinist arguments about women’s so-called “hysteria.” Can you imagine books titled, Men Who Love Too Much or Men Who Feel Guilty When They Say No?

The Genderization of Women’s Psychological Disorders

Many psychological disorders are actually exaggerations of masculinity and femininity. In our society characteristics that define femininity also define maladaptive behaviors. Thus the gendered societal norms that we have internalized are at the root of many of the psychological problems frequently seen in women.

Traditional therapists see the world through the same gender-colored lenses that the rest of society does. Women are diagnosed and treated by a system that places women’s psychological disorders within the individual women. However, many of women’s problems are the result of societal oppression.

The development of mental illness may be influenced by sex roles that demand that women repress negativity, strive to satisfy men, be passive, helpless and at times to even exaggerate their femininity (Mustin 595). Judith Rodin and Jeannette Ickovics say that a person whose social role lacks power and control is more likely to be victimized by violence, sexual discrimination and harassment (1018). It’s not healthy to be confined within a role prescribed by someone else, let alone some one else who seeks control.

Unger and Crawford describe the social constructionist view of mental illness which claims that psychological distress encompasses personal and social aspects (Unger & Crawford 569). Morgan recommends, “… a vigilant deconstructionist attention to sexist, racist, heterosexist and class presuppositions” (161) as one solution to women’s internalized “moral madness”. The personal is political definitely applies to women’s psychotherapy.

Women’s unequal status has robbed them of the power to define and even to name themselves. Men have held the power to name and/or diagnose the acceptability of women’s behaviors. “The power to name is also the power to control” (Unger & Crawford 569). “… Under some circumstances, simply being a woman is sufficient reason to be considered `mad'” (Unger & Crawford 571). Many disorders common to women come out of stereotypical roles expected of them, thus the naming and treatment of their disorders can’t be value-free (Unger & Crawford 571). Within this cultural power dynamic how could women’s therapy be therapeutic, let alone ethical?

Despite a lack of knowledge about women’s psychology, mental health services for women have flourished due to the pervasive nature of women’s unhappiness. Women’s responses to oppressive “… social, economic, ethical and legal conditions,” instrumental in causing women’s problems, are labeled pathological, and are thus subject to psychiatric intervention (Mustin 593).

Erickson explains women’s masochism in allowing their own exploitation by theorizing that women only find identity when they figure out who to marry (Mustin 594). Erickson’s theory is a patriarchal rationalization and justification for female exploitation. The notion of a woman’s self, found only in conjunction with a male, dependent upon exploitation for development is beyond unethical – it’s evil. Applying Nel Noddings’ theory of evil, this notion has caused women great psychic and physical pain and has separated women from their sense of self. And as a result of the internalization process, harmful ideologies become invisible, leaving women helpless in escaping their psychological grasp (91).

Typical Genderizations

Morgan quotes Andrea Canaan regarding intellectual growth and its connection with her womanly virtue of altruism, “The open heart and forgiving soul stifled my rightful indignation, gagged my rage, and forced my fear, my needs, my rage, my joys, my accomplishments, inward” (154).  Psychological disorders reflect gender roles. Women become depressed, anxious, passive and unassertive; their behaviors are viewed as mental health issues (Unger & Crawford 597). Men exhibit psychic disorders through acting out, which involves anti-social behaviors–toughness–and because they’re dealt with in the criminal justice system, aren’t seen as psychological disorders (Unger & Crawford 597-600). The fact that women take their psychic pain inward and seek mental health services makes it look like women have more mental disorders (Unger & Crawford 600).


Studies show that married women experience depression more than men and that husbands of housewives experience the least depression. Conflicting expectations between trying to care for children and maintaining a job plus the stress of multiple roles plays a part in the depression married women experience (Unger & Crawford 579). The Task Force on Women and Depression of the American Psychological Association found that women’s low social status, poverty, and sexual/physical abuse was depressing to women (Unger & Crawford 579). How … shocking!

The medical model posits a connection between women’s biology and depression. Three basic syndromes are blamed for women’s depression: Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), postpartum depression and menopausal syndrome. There are also three no’s that apply to these diagnoses: No symptoms or pattern of signs define them, there are no tests to prove their existence and there is no cure or effective treatment for them (Unger & Crawford 581). Contrary to the claims of medicine, studies have demonstrated that menopause is rarely a crisis to women (Mustin 596). And yet the pathologizing goes on.

Women’s cyclicity has not been valued. Biological connections with female emotionality is just another way to justify and rationalize women’s inferiority, lower status and vulnerability to psychological problems (Unger & Crawford 581-582). The knowledge of all this alone is depressing.

Healthy self-esteem protects people from depression and self-esteem reflects cultural values. Signs and symptoms of psychological disturbances are likely to occur when people are prevented from expressing behaviors that enhance their self-esteem (Unger & Crawford 579). Women are likely to experience poor self esteem because they’re not valued in society.

Anorexia and Bulimia

Unger and Crawford suggest that the pandemic nature of women’s “normative discontent” with their weight is inseparable from the fact that women are the major victims of anorexia and bulimia (585). The connection between this disorder and the societal mandate for thinness is obvious. Traditional mental health has no effective treatment to offer patients with these life threatening conditions (Unger & Crawford 588). The collective rejection of the perfect, skinny female body could prevent this disease but presents a monumental task.


Agoraphobia serves as a perfect example of a disease that is inseparable from notion of femininity gone too far – the phrase, “a woman’s place is in the home” fits this disease. Agoraphobia is usually seen in married women and means “fear of the marketplace.” Another name for it is “housewife’s disease.” The client fears leaving home or a safe place (Unger & Crawford 590). The severity of symptoms ranges from fearing elevators, crowds, expressways to fearing separation from home or trusted person (Unger & Crawford 590-591). Agoraphobia requires relationality. They’re passive, dependent on others for basic needs, and unable to make decisions. Husbands of agoraphobics report satisfaction with their marriages, perhaps due to the wife’s obvious femininity (Unger & Crawford 591).

Self-defeating Personality Disorder

Self-defeating personality disorder (a concept derived from psychoanalytic theory) serves as a label for women’s masochism exhibited by remaining in abusive situations. Victims of interpersonal violence have high rates of mental illness, yet a study of this diagnosis never asked the three hundred women about abuse (Unger & Crawford 593). Interestingly, when removed from abusive situations for six months, symptoms were diminished or disappeared altogether, thus arguing against a disorder of personality itself (Unger & Crawford 593).

This diagnosis is an example of a double bind that blames women if they fail to keep the family together, but labels them crazy if they don’t get out of abuse (Unger & Crawford 593). If we twist the diagnosis to fit males, a new diagnostic category  blooms into being: “Delusional Dominating Personality Disorder,” describing the pathological social norm of the “real man” (Unger & Crawford 569).

Traditional Therapy and The Male Medical Model

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) classifies disorders of the American Psychological Association (1987). Judith Worell and Pam Remer assert that the DSM-III-R is an offshoot of the sexist medical model. It focuses on personal pathology, denying oppression and institutional stressors (153). Established norms come from healthy male models, making pathology itself genderized (Worell & Remer 156-8).

Over seventy percent of psychotropic medications are prescribed to women (Mustin 595; Rodin & Ickovics 1018), despite the fact that they were not included in most of the research done on these drugs. The disproportionate use of these drugs among women is linked to the fact that, instead of being viewed as a psychosocial issue, stress has been designated as a medical pathology (Rodin & Ickovics 1027).

Studies examining clinicians’ beliefs about normal and appropriate characteristics of men and women parallel the rest of society. Therapists don’t make distinctions between healthy adults and healthy males (Unger & Crawford 597). If male behavior is the norm – no wonder women seem crazy.

According to The President’s Commission on Mental Health (1978), providers and administrators of health care are mostly male, but most clients are women. There’s no reason to believe that these males have less oppressive attitudes toward women than any other male. Male therapists have encouraged women to accept and adjust to the unhealthy behaviors implicit in our societal roles; males frequently lack insight into women’s experience and reinforce the patriarchal power that brought women into therapy to begin with (Mustin 594).

Over the last forty years, psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theories have dominated psychotherapy that specify, “… women’s innate nature as passive, dependent, and morally inferior to men” (Mustin 594). Rarely even recognized by therapists is the injustice women face within the traditional family (Mustin 596). With a chauvinistic physician you risk your physical health; with a chauvinistic therapist you risk your sanity.

Psychodynamic therapy assumes problems are “all in the head” of the individual stemming from unconscious forces (Unger & Crawford 601). Androcentrism is more likely to view behaviors of women and minorities as disordered, thus traditional psychotherapy acts as a social control (Unger & Crawford 601, 602). Women are expected to the behave within male norms; when they deviate from these norms they’re labeled less than. Freud’s penis envy theory places a penis in a “better than” position with vagina and uterus (Worell & Remer 85).

Traditional therapy denies the oppressive social context of women’s problems, thus denying the lack of justice at the root of many woman’s problems. A misogynistic society guarantees large numbers of unhappy women for mental health professionals to treat (Unger & Crawford 602). The mental health system also stands to profit from its misogyny. If traditional therapy maintains women’s oppression while making a profit, how therapeutic might it be?

Feminist Therapy’s Values

Susan Sherwin posits that the basic criticism that feminist ethicists have with traditional biomedical ethics is that its discourse excludes people’s oppression, thus it’s unethical (54). Biomedical ethics addresses issues of importance to doctors and ignores problems of importance to women, minorities and other health professionals, despite the serious effect they have on patient care (Sherwin 4). The mental health system’s same lack of ethicality is compounded by the fact that the exclusion of women’s values and oppression has itself caused many of women’s mental health problems.

Inclusion of Diversity

Inclusion is a fundamental value for feminist therapy. Traditional therapy has not addressed the needs of the many diverse varieties of women. Psychological diagnosis and symptomology include assumptions about class, race, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation that are enmeshed in the labels attributed to people (Unger & Crawford 570).

African-American Women

Angela Neal and Midge Wilson discuss how Black women have not only been compared to the norms of healthy males, but to the beauty standards of white women. In therapy, Black women frequently need to deal with anger and resentment about an additional discrimination they face in their own community related to skin color and features. A light-skinned Black women may be concerned about her ancestral history and may feel guilty about privileges that she might enjoy because of her light complexion and Caucasoid features. A dark-skinned woman may feel unattractive and might resent Black men who prefer lighter skinned women (330). Therapy can help Black women to realize that images of white beauty are inappropriate and must be redefined within the Black community (Neal & Wilson 332). Therapy and social change must fit the context and needs of particular women’s experience.

Asian-American Women

Connie Chan says that Asian women have been viewed as sexual objects and prostitutes by American soldiers (34). Their portrayal in Western media as exotics has fostered the fantasy of Asian women as passive sex slaves and created a booming market for mail-order brides in America (Chan 34-35). Mail-order brides are prime targets for exploitation and abuse for several reasons: they come from desperate poverty, to a strange country with a new language and culture, to a husband of a different race and nationality who has enormous power over them (Chan 35).

Asian-American women seem quiet, submissive, unlikely to be rejecting, and invisible while at the same time alluring. Values developed from her Asian-American culture make it likely that women will be agreeable, gentle and will defer to the needs of others. Chan shares that in her practice with Asian-American women there is a conflict between their own values, and feeling unrespected and abused within the American system that values placing one’s own needs first (36). They frequently use denial to deal with uncomfortable feelings of objectification by men (Chan 36). After initially feeling vulnerable when they realize how they’re stereotyped, they experience ambivalence about the desire for invisibility and wanting attention for who they really are (Chan 36-37). Like most women, they blame themselves for their problems (Chan 37).

Hispanic-Latina Women

Lillian Comas-Diaz describes Marianismo as a concept taken from the Catholic church’s Virgin Mary that serves as an example of female superior spirituality that provides women with the strength to endure male abuse (43). This image forbids women to express interest in sex, even after marriage, but expects men to be interested in sex all the time (Comas-Diaz 43-44).

Machismo is about male virility, male as provider and protector of female relatives from other men’s advances. The extreme form of machismo includes alcoholism and physical abuse. Hembrismo, a sort of revenge to machismo, is an image of female strength similar to feminists (Comas-Diaz 44). In Puerto Rican culture Hembrismo women use their power in a spiritual sense which might be compared to the superwoman image in America (Comas-Diaz 45).

Acculturation issues sometimes mandate role reversal. The fact that female immigrants find work easier than men in America has led some Chicana women to reinforce machismo in their mate as a means to soothe their lower status (Comas-Diaz 48-49).

Physical and psychological problems aren’t separated in Hispanic/Latino culture and it’s believed that strong emotions lead to physical illness. Somatization is not only an accepted way to express one’s needs, but is rewarded with support from the family (Comas-Diaz 51).


Laura Brown discussed three themes that explain the lesbian and gay identity: Biculturalism, marginality, and normative creativity (New Voices 452). The bicultural aspect allows lesbians and gays to incorporate the ambiguous nature of more than one cultural identity at the same time (Brown, New Voices 452). “The experience of having both self and other within one’s identity development creates a singular and potentially powerful heuristic model for self-understanding” (Brown, New Voices, 450).I would go beyond biculturalism to multiculturalism. Being a lesbian or gay man adds another separate cultural layer of identity, in addition to being Black or white, Asian or Hispanic, Jewish or Hindu. There are Jewish Black lesbians.

Another layer of identity involved in lesbianism is the butch\fem\androgyny concept. This involves women developing various degrees of stereotypical masculinity, femininity or a combination of the two. There is much confusion and ambivalence within the lesbian community about this topic. Research is needed in this area of psychological development to help lesbians avoid mirroring the dominant culture’s harmful stereotypes.

Living along the margins, inside and outside of dominant culture, provides lesbians a view into both homosexual and heterosexual worlds (Brown, New Voices, 452). The feminist value of inclusion demands that we value lesbian identities that include multicultural visions of the world not available to heterosexuals.

Brown describes normative creativity as the ability to invent workable limits where there were none, and with make-shift tools (New Voices 453). Brown says that her experience with psychotherapy ethics sees “… ethical action as a continuous variable” and that “… having rules about what to do narrowed my thinking and excluded that which had never been considered, thus making it invisible” (New Voices 453). A great argument for a creative ethicality in feminist therapy in general.

In the context of large number of homosexuals who have received or are in therapy, Brown questions whether it’s due to pathology or whether it’s a health-seeking mechanism to deal with the societal ambiguity they live in (New Voices 456)?

Principles/Feminist Values in Therapy

Your therapist’s values CAN hurt you! Worell and Remer warn that, without conscious awareness, each therapist’s values will be communicated in therapy. They discuss three basic principles of feminist therapy: The personal is political, egalitarian relationships, and valuing the female perspective (Worell & Remer 91). Feminist values lie within their context.

The Personal is Political

This very basic feminist principle asserts that what happens to individuals also has political aspects and acknowledges that social experiences are at the core of women’s problems. This principle leads feminists to address three areas of therapy: Separating the external from the internal, reframing pathology, and initiating social change (Worell & Remer 92).

Therapy’s goal is to assist clients to externalize problems so that their societal core becomes visible. Clients can then choose whether or not they want to work on change, not only within themselves, but in their environment. Instead of looking for ways to cope with dysfunctional situations, therapists focus on the unhealthy situation (Worell & Remer 92). Thus women’s societal experience is valued.

Instead of blaming the client, therapists help clients to see their “pathology” as coping mechanisms to deal with numerous societal dysfunctions. This reframing would make symptoms of depression natural, “normal,” and even logical in the face of discrimination. This perceptual change has the power to remove the “crazy” label imposed upon the client’s self and can lead women to understand that nothing is wrong with them; Thus the fuel of empowerment to facilitate change is instilled (Worell & Remer 92).

Women aren’t only taught to express their anger, but to use it’s energy to effect change. The client is also held responsible for making changes (Worell & Remer 92). Feminist therapists also assist clients to become involved in social change within their communities. Social change becomes enmeshed in preventative mental health care for women (Worell & Remer 93).

The ultimate goal of women’s therapy is to help women to see and overcome* the ways in which they facilitate their own oppression and to help women to see their power (Unger & Crawford 602).

Egalitarian Relationships

The therapist/client relationship itself serves as a model of egalitarianism. Therapy’s use as social control is minimized, the therapist’s values are not imposed and the imbalance of power so often experienced by women is rejected. Rather than an expert\sick mode, therapy is a collaborative process that empowers the client by viewing her as expert on herself and her experience (Worell & Remer 94). This egalitarian process starts with the therapist sharing her values with clients, educating clients about feminist therapy itself, along with its goals, thus making the client an informed consumer (Worell & Remer 95).

Self-disclosure is used to reveal common experiences, divert the focus from internal causes and reduce role distance and power (Worell & Remer 95). Self-involvement is a tool that allows the therapists to respond emotionally to the client, allowing the client to safely test how she is perceived. When feelings are mutually expressed, vulnerability is reduced and the therapeutic relationship models healthy communication along with acceptance of and the expression of anger (Worell & Remer 95). The traditional model of “the objective, emotionally- distant, expert-therapist” is replaced by feminist values of “… empathy, sharing of common experience, nurturance, and mutual respect (Worell & Remer 95-96).

Valuing the Women’s Perspective

By helping women connect with devalued parts of their self, feminist therapists help women to rethink weaknesses and negativity in terms of strength and positivity. Harmful double binds are pointed out so they can be disregarded (Worell & Remer 97). Women can be assisted to reject male definitions of femininity. Therapists help them to validate, value and trust their experience, offering the opportunity for self discovery and for the development of women-centered world views (Worell & Remer 97-98). Feminist values: Empathy, nurturance, cooperation, intuition, interdependence and relationship are priorities. Valuing the female self and female relationships can lead to self-nurturance, healing and social change (Worell & Remer 98).

Brown’s value system also includes self-care for the therapist (Ethical Issues 333). Feminist therapists need to be valued as much as their clients. Within small communities the number of feminist/lesbian therapists may be limited. As a leader in the community the therapist may feel obligated to always project an image of competence and complete mental health which may result in her personal feelings being ignored. A therapist whose role stress and self-care is ignored is more likely to slide down the ethical continuum toward problematic action (Brown, Ethical Issues 333). If you don’t take care of yourself you’re more likely to make “ethical errors.”

Ann Stanford eloquently synthesizes the work of three African-American fiction writers whose characters find healing outside of the medical/mental systems. Stanford’s synthesis artfully blends connections between personal health and societal illness, so that their inseparability is unquestionable. She argues that health professionals have not only overlooked social change as a therapeutic option, but their very treatments serve as a means of duplicating and perpetuating oppression (Stanford 30). The African-American women authors refuse to name the illnesses of their characters, illustrating that without medical labels illnesses “… are out of medicine’s reach” (Stanford 31). She refers to a poignant metaphoric phrase taken from one of the novels, “… the `poison of reality,'” spreading like gangrene through a woman’s body (Stanford 39). One might envision oppressive ideologies causing psychological gangrene that destroys parts of a woman’s self.


Unless therapy comes out of women’s experience it harms women and as a result is unethical. For women’s therapy to be truly therapeutic it must deconstruct the social context and so-called symptomology attributed to their so-called madness. Women themselves must create a feminist paradigm of therapy that comes out of lived experience. We must de-internalize patriarchy’s notions of who we are. Within a racist and sexist society, “… the community is both the disease and the cure” (Stanford 34).

I think feminism itself is therapeutic, simply sharing feminist values among women offers the potential to heal societal wounds. Any therapeutic environment must honor women’s experience, diversity, and values. It needs to address the unjust and oppressive environment women live in and must emphatically reject blaming women for their situations. Feminist therapy teaches women they’re not crazy, that the craziness lies in the ill society. Internalized “norms” that have actually caused women’s disproportionate unhappiness must be revealed and rejected. Feminist values themselves contain the power to heal societal wounds and ills. If women lived in a society that valued and really loved them, most women wouldn’t need therapy.

One last thought. If one believes that the mind, body and spirit are inseparable, it would make sense that if we improve women’s psychological health we stand a good chance of also improving their physical health. If you feel good about yourself, odds are you’ll be less likely to become physically ill. I think feminist therapy has the potential to also enhance women’s physical health and well being. A loved self and valued body is less vulnerable to stress and illness.

Teacher comments:  This particular stance might be arguable. More convincing would be to say that standard therapy harms women and it is unethical.

Works Cited

Brown, Laura S. “Ethical Issues in Feminist Therapy: Selected Topics.”  Psychology of Women Quarterly 15 (June 1991):  323-336.

___.  “New Voices, New Visions: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Paradigm for Psychology.”  Psychology of Women Quarterly 13 (1989): 445-458.

Chan, Connie S. “Asian-American Women: Psychological Responses to Sexual Exploitation and Cultural Stereotypes.” Women and Therapy 6 (1987): 33-38.

Comas-Diaz, Lillian. “Feminist Therapy with Hispanic/Latina Women: Myth or Reality?” Women and Therapy 6 (1987): 39-61.

Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. “Women and Moral Madness.”  Feminist Perspectives  Eds. Lorraine Code et al. (n.d.): 146-167.

Mustin, Rachel Hare T.  “An Appraisal of the Relationship Between Women  and Psychotherapy: 80 Years After the Case of Dora.” American Psychologist (May 1983): 593-601.

Neal, Angela M., and Wilson, Midge L. “The Role of Skin Color and Features in the Black Community: Implications for Black Women and Therapy.”  Clinical Psychology Review 9 (1989): 323-333.

Noddings, Nel. Women and Evil. Los Angeles: U of California P, 1989.

Rodin, Judith, and Ickovics, Jeannette R. “Women’s Health: Review and Research Agenda as We Approach the 21st Century.” American Psychologist 45, no 9, (Sept 1990): 1018-34.

Sherwin, Susan. No Longer Patient: Feminist Ethics in Health Care. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992.

Stanford, Ann Folwell. Mechanism of Disease: African-American Women Writers, Social Pathologies, and The Limits of Medicine. NWSA Journal 6, no 1, (Spring 1994): 28-47.

Unger, Rhoda, and Crawford, Mary. Women and Gender: A Feminist Psychology.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992.

Worell, Judith, and Remer, Pam. Feminist Perspectives in Therapy: An Empowerment Model for Women. New York: Wiley, 1992.


Brown, Laura S.  “Ethical Issues in Feminist Therapy: Selected Topics.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 15 (June 1991): 323-336.

___.  “New Voices, New Visions: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Paradigm for Psychology.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 13 (1989): 445-458.

Chan Connie S. “Asian-American Women: Psychological Responses to Sexual Exploitation and Cultural Stereotypes.”  Women and Therapy 6 (1987): 33-38.

Comas-Diaz, Lillian. “Feminist Therapy with Hispanic/Latina Women: Myth or Reality?” Women and Therapy 6 (1987): 39-61.

Enns, Carolyn. and Hackett, Gail. “Comparison of Feminist and Nonfeminist Women’s Reactions to Variants of Nonsexist and Feminist Counseling”.  Journal of Counseling Psychology 37, no 1, (Jan 1990): 33-40.

Enns, Carolyn., Hacket, Gail., and Zetzer, Heidi. “Reactions of Women to Nonsexist and Feminist Counseling: Effects of Counselor Orientation and Mode of Information Delivery.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 39, no 3 (July 1992): 321-330.

Gilbert, Lucia Albino, and Osipow, Samuel. “Feminist Contributions to Counseling Psychology.”      Psychology of Women Quarterly 15, 1991: 537-547.

Glidden, Cynthia, and Tracey, Terence. “Women’s Perceptions  of Personal Versus Sociocultural Counseling Interventions.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 36, no 1, (Jan 1989): 54-62.

Koss, Mary P. “The Women’s Mental Health Research Agenda:  Violence Against Women.” American Psychologist 45, no 3, March. 1990: 374-380.

Lerman, Hannah. and Porter, Natalie, eds. Feminist Ethics in Psychotherapy. New York: Springer, 1990.

Marecek, Jeanne., Mustin, Rachel Hare,. “A Short History of the Future: Feminism and Clinical Psychology.”  Psychology of Women Quarterly 15 (Dec 1991): 521-536.

Miller, Jean Baker.  Toward a New Psychology of Women.  2nd ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. “Women and Moral Madness.” Feminist Perspectives. Eds. Lorraine Code et al. (n.d.): 146-167.

Mustin, Rachel Hare T. “An Appraisal of the Relationship Between  Women and Psychotherapy: 80 Years After the Case of Dora.” American Psychologist (May 1983): 593-601.

Neal, Angela M., and Wilson, Midge L. “The Role of Skin Color and Features in the Black Community: Implications for Black Women and Therapy.”  Clinical Psychology Review 9 (1989):  323-333.

Noddings, Nel. Women and Evil. Los Angeles: U of California P, 1989.

O’Connell, Agnes N., and Russo, Nancy Felipe. “Women’s  Heritage in Psychology: Past and Present.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 15 (1991): 495-504.

Robbins, Joan Hamerman., and Siegel, Rachel Josefowitz, eds.  Women Changing Therapy: New Assessments, Values, Strategies in Feminist Therapy.  New York: Haworth P, 1983.

Rodin, Judith, and Ickovics, Jeannette R. “Women’s Health: Review and Research Agenda as We Approach the 21st Century.” American Psychologist 45, no 9 (Sept 1990): 1018-34.

Stanford, Ann Folwell. Mechanism of Disease: African-American Women Writers, Social Pathologies, and The Limits of Medicine. NWSA Journal 6, no 1, (Spring 1994): 28-47.

Steinbuch, Thomas. “`Take Your Pill Dear’: Kate Millett and Psychiatry’s Dark Side.” Hypatia 8, no 1 (Winter 1993): 197-204.

Travis, Cheryl Brown. Women and Health Psychology: Mental Illness Issues. New Jersey:  Lawrence Erlbaum, 1988.

Unger, Rhoda, and Crawford, Mary. Women and Gender: A Feminist Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992.

Worell, Judith, and Remer, Pam. Feminist Perspectives in Therapy: An Empowerment Model for Women. New York: Wiley, 1992.

The Cosmetic Industry

The Cosmetic Industry: The Externalization of Women’s Identity

By Patricia J. Anderson

Dr. Midge Wilson, Advanced Psychology of Women, 561

De Paul University, Chicago, Illinois, November 15, 1995


Personal experience with the use of cosmetics led me to look at how the cosmetic industry got started and how it “hooked” women psychologically into believing that artificial beauty was a requirement of femininity. Patriarchal images of beauty have gone far beyond “powdered noses”. Beauty that was initially obtained through make up and hair care products led to surgical procedures like face lifts and breast augmentation. While cosmetic surgeon’s knives carve into a women’s physical body, the scars are actually inflicted much deeper, into a women’s core – her sense of self. For this reason, I also look at the “choice” involved in cosmetic surgery through a feminist ethical lens.


My reason for doing research on make up and cosmetic surgery was very personal. I started wearing make up around age thirteen, in response to peer pressure from my friend Iris. She applied mascara to my reddish-blonde lashes and eye brow pencil to my also light brows. What a drastic difference it made! For years I had lived with barely visible lashes and brows – how had I survived without make up? I was hooked. I could never again go back to being plain and colorless.

My dad’s initial response to seeing me with make up on was quite emphatic, “No daughter of mine is gonna wear that crap on her face! Go wash it off!” But dad wasn’t in charge of make up – it was mom’s thing and mom said okay.

A few months later I came to the breakfast table without make up on. Dad immediately threw up his hands covering his eyes (to shield himself from my ugliness) and said, “Jesus Christ, redhead go and put your make up on”! Dad was kidding, right? He WAS a kidder. I’ll never know.

At thirteen my beauty ego was very fragile, girls at this age are very influenced by what their fathers think of them. I was shattered! I really believed I was ugly without make up on. Despite the fact that my feminist consciousness was raised a long time ago and the fact that I’ve never had a lover express any negativity about my appearance without make up, I still rarely leave the house without make up.

                 Creating a Market for Make Up

According to Kathy Peiss (1994),Victorian times viewed women’s make up as illegitimate and unrespectable. Many women had refrained from wearing make up due to, religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and cost. Most working class women who wore make up were prostitutes, so respectability was an issue. A boundary had existed between respectability and promiscuity, gentility and vulgarity – paint marked that boundary (Peiss 1994).

Things changed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, American women started wearing face powder, rouge, lipstick and other visible cosmetics – make up turned into an essential sign of femininity (Peiss 1994). Naomi Wolf (1991) says that since the industrial revolution, women’s “beauty” was used as a form of currency among men. Ideas about beauty and money became parallel economically (Wolf 1991). Capitalism set out to redefine a woman’s everyday needs; cosmetics became enmeshed within the mass consumer industry. The challenge was to define women’s external appearance and then make their cosmetics compelling to women (Peiss 1994). They did.

              Making Beauty a Necessity

Women’s faces started to look different in the culture’s mirrors: motion pictures, women’s periodicals and advertising, store windows, fashion runways and department stores. National advertising in women’s magazines became a dominant force by the early nineteen twenties. Advertising stressed the safety and cleanliness of the products and even claimed product’s invisibility, guaranteeing women that they wouldn’t appear immoral or painted (Peiss 1994).

Egalitarian marketing techniques were employed. High priced items were marketed in exclusive salons aimed at wealthy customers; lower priced products were marketed to teenagers and working class women in drugstores and discount beauty outlets. There were also specific ethnic markets that targeted African American, Hispanic, Asian and other women of color (Peiss 1994).

To women who had devoted themselves to their families the message made beauty an irresistible duty. One cosmologist said, “Don’t be ashamed of your desire for beauty” (Peiss 1994, p. 375). The logic of the popular idea that everyone could be beautiful led to the assertion that all women should be beautiful–it was a duty to husband, children, necessary for business success and vital to the attainment of romance. If you weren’t beautiful, you had yourself to blame (Peiss 1994).

The relationship between femininity and appearance was reshaped by a beauty industry that promoted the externalization of the gendered self to be achieved cosmetically (Peiss 1994). The multi-billion dollar industry convinced women using deeply imbedded feelings of fear, anxiety and self-hatred to seek “hope in a jar” (Peiss 1994, p. 391).

           Cosmetics and African American Women

African American women’s lower economic status limited their ability to buy cosmetics. However, growing racial segregation and the migration of Black middle class to the cities led entrepreneurs to develop businesses marketed to Black consumers. One of the leading Black businesses pioneered with the development of beauty products for African American women (Peiss 1994).

Black women’s grooming centered around hair care. Entrepreneurs marketed hair tonics (straighteners for kinky hair) to Black women by way of almanacs and ad cards that used African American ministers and school teachers to promote the products (Peiss 1994).

Black women found good employment opportunities in a sex and race segregated market within the beauty culture. Here was a business that was in great demand, easy to learn and required little capital to get started. This resulted in the establishment of businesses in homes, small shops and door to door sales. High Brown face powder was sold door to door by an army of agents (Peiss 1994).

White racism in the beauty culture exploited issues like the natural inferiority of Blacks noting their unruly hair, promiscuity and sloppy dress and marketed toward the Black woman’s desire for respectability. There was controversy over the adaptation of white aesthetics, but the fact that products were marketed door to door among friends and neighbors fostered a web of support and assistance to Black woman’s culture (Peiss 1994).

             Female Development of a Remade Self

The hospital nursery sweeps an infant girl’s hair into a curl, by age one year her ears are pierced, by age two her nails are polished, she has ribbons in her hair, and ruffles on her skirts. Femininity becomes associated with beauty, beauty becomes a part of a girl’s self perception; pretty is the framework for her self image (Freedman 1990).

Rhoda Unger and Mary Crawford (1992) discuss the fact that much of girls play revolves around glamour. Make up is flavored like candy and geared to girls as young as three. Toy stores market numerous hair and nail products especially for little girls (Unger & Crawford 1992). The prettiest, most popular fashion doll, Barbie, even has her own make up. Cosmetic kits for the girls themselves, reassure parents that they are suitable for children as young as three and promise to help their daughters create dozens of fashion looks. After all, she’s only putting on the same disguise that mommy wears. Parents approve of her beautifying herself; she learns that her own face, though pretty, is inadequate, needing to be made lovelier–a double message fostering negative body image and self doubt (Freedman 1990). Girls learn that their faces and bodies are not good enough and need improvement (Unger & Crawford 1992). Girls are surrounded with constant subtle demands for beauty that become invisible once internalized. They believe that beauty is something they want – it’s a fun choice they make.

Beauty contestants can be very young. Freedman (1990) discusses the opinions of pediatrician Lee Salk about beauty contests for girls. Girls feel tremendous pressure to accept and identify with exaggerated images of beauty. When they realize that they lack the winning look, suffer deep feelings of inadequacy. Nearly half of twenty thousand teenage girls in a survey said they frequently felt ugly (Freedman 1990).

Compared to boys, twice as many teen girls want to change their appearance and a greater number of girls are unhappy with a part of their body. Girls think other girls are better looking than they are; boys think other boys are less attractive than themselves. The smarter a boy is, the more satisfied he is with his looks; there is no similar correlation among girls (Freedman 1990). Freedman (1990) thinks that’s probably because the brighter a girl is the more she realizes “she can never attain the beauty ideal” (p. 390).

The socialization of girls teaches them to seek their identity through male attention. To obtain that attention they must conform to societal demands for beauty defined by white heterosexual males. Under these circumstances girls really don’t have a choice in seeking beauty. The connection between appearance and worthiness can be so deeply ingrained in puberty that a woman is insecure about her appearance (and herself) for the rest of her life (Freedman 1990). This is true of feminist women, as I serve to demonstrate.

Puberty is the time when differences in self esteem between the sexes starts to take place (Unger & Crawford 1992). The enactment of the beauty role is shaped by the way a girl’s father reinforces her appearance (Freedman 1990). I now understand why my dad’s behavior had such a powerful impact on my emerging sense of self.

Make up has become an essential prop necessary to the development of womanhood. Babysitting money is spent on mascara and bust developers (Freedman 1990). When I was eighteen I told my friends that I didn’t need much money while I lived at home – my only expenses were make up and hair spray! Little did I realize just how true and how sad that was.

A newspaper printed an ad to potential advertisers from a teen magazine: “Seventeen readers don’t love you and leave you. As adults 34% still rinse with the same mouthwash and 33% use the same nail polish. Talk to them in their teens and they’ll be customers for life” (Freedman 1990, p. 392). Cosmetic advertisers have been shown to affect the “conception of reality” of teen girls; a girl learns rather than to ask the mirror, “Who am I?” to ask, “What should I look like?”, illustrating a distorted identity that sees its goal as packaging the self as product (Freedman 1990, p. 392).

Susan Brownmiller (1984) said it well, “Cosmetics have been seen historically as proof of feminine vanity, yet they are proof, if anything, of feminine insecurity, an abiding belief that the face underneath is insufficient unto itself.” (Brownmiller 1984, p. 158-159).

Even cosmetic surgery is directed at young girls through advertisements in teen magazines. Parents pay for girls, not boys, to have plastic overhauls, provided by a medical system that reinforces myths about female beauty (Freedman 1990). Girls learn that their desirability is measured by their looks, and that they can never measure up, no matter how hard they try (Unger & Crawford 1992). These societal messages will keep cosmetic manufacturers and cosmetic surgeons in business.

Patriarchy profits financially and perpetuates its control of women through this psychological phenomenon. Women who are beautiful, don’t see themselves such, but their so-called success makes them vulnerable to exploitation – because of their beauty (Freedman 1990). Women really can’t win.

            Cosmetic Surgery: A View of the Knives

Morgan (1991) displayed a page of knives, scissors, needles, and sutures used in cosmetic surgery in her essay, “Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women’s Bodies”. She suggested that her readers look at them carefully, for a long time, and to imagine them cutting into your skin (Morgan 1991). I did.

As a nurse, my first glance simply revealed surgical instruments – no big deal. Then I looked at them with care, for a long time, and imagined them being used on me as the author suggested. When I looked through my feminist lens, I saw mutilating, controlling devices used by patriarchy to manipulate women, to make women fit the image of beauty defined by white men. I saw how far beyond powder the industry had come and how enormous the greed for profit and control had taken patriarchy.

The technological beauty imperative gives cosmetic surgeons the powerful and explicit mandate to explore, breakdown, and rearrange women’s bodies (Morgan 1991). Cosmetic surgery is an example of the medical system’s power to define, not only what is normal or pathological, but what is beautiful. No aspect of medical training certifies physicians to evaluate beauty. The message is: “The ideal woman is made, not born, with a little help from the surgeon’s scalpel” (Unger & Crawford 1992, p. 334).

Kathryn Morgan (1991) quotes a plastic surgeon (director of plastic surgery education at a university): ” … I think people who go for surgery are more aggressive, they are the doers of the world. It’s like make up. You see some women who might be greatly improved …, but they’re, I don’t know, granola-heads or something, and they just refuse.” (Morgan 1991, p. 26). Frightening, this man teaches future surgeons and no doubt perpetuates these attitudes.

Weight standards for attractive women have been reduced in our society (Unger & Crawford 1992). Even Barbie has gotten thinner than since her appearance in nineteen fifty nine (Unger & Crawford 1992; Freedman 1990). In such a society, puberty itself has negative consequences for girls whose normal development includes increases in fatty tissue. Girls are seen as lacking what’s defined as normal – boys lean bodies, also causing a girl to deviate from the “ideal” thin female image (Unger & Crawford 1992).

The most popular cosmetic surgery in nineteen ninety was lipo-suction. Fat cells are vacuumed from beneath the skin – never to return. Women risk their lives in surgical procedures that promise to make them fit the imposed image of a lean body. Lipo-suction has resulted in at least twelve deaths from hemorrhages or embolisms (Morgan 1991).

Facelifts (an umbrella term for several procedures) are recommended to women in their early forties with subsequent repeats every five to fifteen years, costing $2,500 to $10,500. Various styles of rhinoplasties (nosejobs) are available and styles go in and out of fashion from time to time. For $2,000 to $3,000 they will whittle down your nasal bone or add a piece of bone from another part of you body that will answer fashion’s call (Morgan 1991). In one study thirty percent of women said they would have a face-lift if they could afford it (Unger & Crawford 1992).

Dr. Robert Mendelsohn (1982) says women frequently ask him about getting plastic surgery, women he knows are looking to cure problems in their marriages that they attribute to their inability to qualify as a model for Vogue. He doesn’t encourage plastic surgery and thinks its use other than in correcting true traumatizing disfigurement, ” … is the biggest rip-off on the medical scene” (Mendelsohn 1982, p. 39). Mendelsohn (1982) mentions one female plastic surgeon who said that some of her peers act as if they’re hairdressers and “give the field a bad name” (Mendelsohn 1982, p. 39).

        Feminist Biomedical Ethical Perspectives

One of the reasons Morgan (1991) gives for writing about cosmetic surgery is that the field of bioethics has been relatively silent about the issues present in this area of medicine, feminist or otherwise. Morgan (1991) thinks that feminists need to ask why women would reduce themselves to potentialities to fit the heterosexual image, illustrated by an enormous and growing demand for cosmetic surgery. Women invest years of their savings to fix natural flaws through dangerous and painful operations to make their bodies fit images designated by fashion editors (Morgan 1991).

The relationship between the means and the ends is no longer unilinear, it has becomes circular, with the new technologies presenting the possibility of new ends. The possibility of what one might desire has new objectives added. Technology’s role has become to transcend, control, transform, exploit and destroy; its object viewed as inferior, thus justifying it’s higher purpose in providing a fix (Morgan 1991). This is congruent with what traditional bioethics has historically done – used rationalization to justify what doctors are already doing (Sherwin 1992).

We’ve become technological subject and object, transformable with the ability to literally create ourselves with biological engineering. Technology plays the role of transcendence, transformation, control, exploitation, or destruction of the object, viewed as inferior.  A higher purpose is served in perfecting the object because it’s harmful or evil. To the Western medical model the body is a machine whose parts can be replaced (Morgan 1991). One plastic surgeon clarifies his role, “Patients sometimes misunderstand the nature of cosmetic surgery. It’s not a short cut for diet and exercise. It’s a way to override the genetic code” (Morgan 1991, p. 31).

Most women are socialized to accept the knives of technology in Western societies. Knives can be used to heal: saving a the life of a baby’s in uterine distress, removing cancerous growths, straightening crooked spines, or giving back functioning to arthritic fingers. But other knives perform episiotomies and other types of genital mutilation, remove our deviant tendencies by cutting out our ovaries, unnecessarily amputate our breasts with prophylaxis used as justification or in cases where less drastic measures could have been employed, slice out uteruses of women beyond child bearing age or of those of undesirable color, and perform unnecessary cesarean sections so doctor’s time isn’t delayed by nature (Morgan 1991).

The skin is nature’s vital protective barrier that protects and contains our body’s integrity; any time skin is broken you are at risk. It should never be taken lightly (Morgan 1991). Morgan (1991) refers to the knives of cosmetic surgery as, magic knives, in a patriarchal white supremacist culture. I’m afraid of these knives that have historically illustrated great ease in penetrating and controlling women – beyond the skin.

After listening to the voices of women who underwent cosmetic surgery, Morgan (1991) gives examples and assessments of their various reasons: “I’ve gotten my breasts augmented. I can use it as a tax write-off” – professional advancement and economic benefit (33); “There will be a lot of new faces at the Brazilian Ball”, – class and status symbol (33); “If your parent had puffy eyelids and saggy jowls, your going to have puffy eyelids and saggy jowls”, – control, liberation from parents, avoid hereditary (33); “… we want a nose that makes a statement, with tip definition and strong bridge line”, – domination and strength (33); “A teacher who looks like an old bat or has a big nose will get a nickname”, – avoid cruelty and aging (33); “I’ll admit to a boob job” (Miss America 1986), – competitiveness, attain prestige and status (33); “People in business see something like this as showing an overall aggressiveness and go-forwardness the trend is to, you know, be all that you can be”, – success and personal fulfillment (33). Her list went on to include reasons such as: a gift to self, erasing a decade of hard work, economic gain, possible denial of grand motherhood, emotional control, and happiness (Morgan 1991).

Sixty to seventy percent of cosmetic surgery patients are female. Why, when the risks are so great, are women willing to sacrifice other parts of their lives to have reconstructed bodies? Risks that include: bleeding, infection, embolism, unsightly scars, skin loss, blindness, disability, pulmonary edema, facial nerve injury, and death. Despite these facts medical ethics doesn’t discuss these issues (Morgan 1991). As a feminist health professional, I feel that our silence on the issue makes us complicit in enlarging the scope of avenues to patriarchal power.

The extent that patients and cosmetic surgeons are committed is shocking to what Morgan (1991) sees as, “one of the deepest of original philosophical sins, the choice of the apparent over the real” (p. 28). Technologically created appearances are perceived as being real (Morgan 1991).

Morgan (1991) thinks we are technologizing women’s bodies in Western culture. Cosmetic surgery is moving out of the sleazy, suspicious, deviant or pathologically narcissistic, to the norm. With this shifting it may actually become deviant not to have cosmetic surgery. This changing societal perception has the potential to lead viewing those who don’t elect cosmetic surgery as deviant (Morgan 1991). Cosmetic surgery has gone far beyond the “duty” that make up became in the nineteen twenties. Morgan’s prophecy is not at all far fetched.

                        Silicone Breast Implants

Breast augmentation with silicone implantation is the second most frequently performed plastic surgery. Over one million women have had these implants, costing from $1,500 to $3,000 (Morgan 1991). “Jacobs (a plastic surgeon … ) constantly answers the call for cleavage. `Women need it for their holiday ball gowns'” (Morgan, 1991, p. 25).

Augmented women appear to have a higher incidence of breast cancer (Morgan 1991). To date there have been seventy two deaths and ninety one thousand injuries related to silicone implants (Winfrey 1995a).

Plastic surgeons and manufacturers rationalize that silicone breast implants are a matter of a woman’s free choice, after all it’s an “elective” procedure. However, women should think seriously about trusting physicians and manufacturers who not only stand to profit significantly by satisfying women’s “choices”, but who are the very same white males who dictate the patriarchal beauty images that women “choose” to comply with.

Oprah Winfrey (1995a) recently did a show on the controversy over breast silicone implants; she had Dow Corning’s Stephanie Burns, Manager of Women’s Health and FDA Issues and Dow’s chairman and CEO Richard Hazleton on the show. Audience members described symptoms they began to experience soon after receiving silicone breast implants: migraines, numbness in hands and fingers, terrible rashes on chest, axilla, and down their sides, rock hard breasts, and burning pain in the breasts and armpits (Winfrey 1995a).

Other than migraines, these signs directly relate to the areas of the body near the breasts. However, doctors told these women they didn’t know what caused their symptoms and mammograms failed to show abnormalities (Winfrey 1995a). Recent studies demonstrate that mammograms are very difficult to interpret because implants block X-rays by casting a shadow on surrounding tissue (Morgan 1991).

It’s now common knowledge that Dow Corning suppressed negative data about the safety of their silicone gel implants. Women who have received the implants say that they have led to the development of autoimmune diseases; diseases in which the bodies own cells attack itself. A disease that may very well correlate with the psychological phenomenon involved in the negative body image that led women to obtain implants. It’s almost as if the body was speaking out metaphorically through the development of autoimmune responses; the body’s way of expressing the evil it has experienced.

Audience members (Winfrey 1995a) knew their doctors thought they were crazy because they couldn’t find answers their symptoms; the women felt like they were loosing their minds. Miraculously, their symptoms went away when implants were removed. Some women who had had implants learned, after having other types of surgeries, that their surgeons found silicone gel on their livers, uteruses, and ovaries. Autopsies have revealed gel in the brains of implanted women (Winfrey 1995a).

Stephanie Burns (Winfrey 1995a) said that the implants can cause local complications: infection, capsule formation around the implant, hardening of the breast and rupture, and that when rupture outside of the capsule occurs, the gel can migrate. Burns (Winfrey 1995a) also admitted that when migration occurs the gel and implants must be removed. One woman showed the actual gel that had leaked out of her implant into her rib cage and lymph nodes. It was obvious that the sticky, stringy material would be difficult, if not impossible, to remove from the inside of the body (Winfrey 1995a).  Burns (Winfrey 1995a) said that eighteen studies have come to the same conclusion, there is no correlation between the implants and autoimmune or other diseases. Burns (Winfrey 1995a) said this despite the fact, (brought out by audience members), that the package insert actually LISTS scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis (autoimmune diseases) as possible side effects. Women in Winfrey’s (1995a) audience said that they didn’t see package inserts – the packages are opened in surgery and physicians have not shared the package inserts with them. I wonder if the physicians themselves read the inserts? My guess is that the good old boy network mentality could allow some doctors to simply trust the manufacturer.

Richard Hazleton said he doesn’t believe the implants are causing the women’s problems. Hazleton suggested that women needed to get beyond their anger and really need to understand the facts. He repeatedly referred to women’s choice in having the implants (Winfrey 1995a).

Many of the women said Dow did not follow ethical standards because women were not informed of the possible dangers. According to an audience member, the FDA said that it’s up to the company to prove that the implants were safe, not the responsibility of the medical community to prove that they’re not safe (Winfrey 1995a). I think both the manufacturer and the physicians are responsible. One woman in the audience said that “buyer beware” is not an acceptable practice (Winfrey 1995a). Both of Dow’s representatives kept citing the evidence from the studies that claim no correlation between the implants and any disease. A woman in the audience said, “We are the evidence. Study us!” (Winfrey 1995a). A great idea!

Historically women have been socialized to use beauty as a power (Morgan 1991). Morgan (1991) includes a quote from Mary Wollstonecraft from 1792, “Taught from infancy that beauty is a woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison” (p. 34). Morgan (1991) asks, whether women today are making free choices to have cosmetic surgery or are they too simply adorning their prisons?

        Psychological Aspects of the “Choice?”

An inexcusable tragedy is that women expect that the plastic surgery will fix their lives, not just change their features. They soon discover that even fixed, they’re not good enough and the same problems still exist. The psychological impact is likely to produce a even deeper depression than before the surgery when the subsequent disillusionment sets in (Mendelsohn 1982).

Women receive complex negative messages about their bodies and can lead to low self esteem and alienation from one’s physical and sexual self. These negative attitudes remain throughout a woman’s life and can result in constant worry over weight, looks and feeling unsatisfied with her physicality. Despite the fact that these negative body images are distorted one researcher claims that there is an “epidemic of `flesh loathing’ among women (Unger & Crawford 1992, p. 333). Cosmetic surgery is increasingly viewed as a cure for aging and body variance (Unger & Crawford 1992).

Beauty’s affirmation brings with it privileged heterosexual affiliation which includes forms of power not available to the plain, ugly, old or those unable to reproduce. Women who seek cosmetic surgery have compelling voices; their voices tell of their search for transcendence, achievement, liberation and power. The youth and beauty artificially created by the surgery doesn’t only appear to, but often actually does (emphasis added) give a woman a sense of identity that she, to some extent, had a choice in. By increasing her desirability to men (especially white men) it offers the possibility to raise her status socially and economically (Morgan 1991).

A woman’s beauty is a valued commodity. Beauty may be a kind of power for women, their looks can be used in exchange for financial and material gains. Further more, when males treat females well it validates her beauty and enhances her social standing (Unger & Crawford 1992).

In the commitment to pursue beauty, a woman integrates her life with a consistent set of values and choices, bringing with it societal approval which results in an increased sense of self esteem. The process of acquiring cosmetic surgery may expose a woman to people who treat her body in a caring way, something women frequently lack in their lives on a daily basis. The pursuit of beauty through transformation is frequently associated with experiences of self-creation, fulfillment, transcendence, and being cared for – powerful experiences. At the same time that beauty can confer an increase in self esteem to a woman, it also involves being entrapped by its interrelated contradictions (Morgan 1991).

According to cosmetic surgeons, women come to their offices demanding: “Bo Derek” breasts, nose reductions, frequently sought by Jewish women to obtain an Aryan look, Western eyes, sought by Asian women and light skin, through the use of toxic bleaching agents, sought by Black women. The goal isn’t simply beauty, but to mold oneself to fit racist, anti-Semitic, White, Anglo-Saxon, and Western images (Morgan 1991). For women, this molding is at the expense of her precious self.

Initially one might argue that it’s a choice, but Morgan (1991) argues what appears to be the result of reflection, deliberation and a self-creating choice signals conformity at a deeper level. The images of male identified beauty sometimes live as ghosts in the reflective awareness of women clothed in a diffuse manner. It’s not always obvious to women that their bodies are being viewed as raw material, primitive entities, seen only as potentials for exploitation by the colonizing culture (Morgan 1991).

Sometimes the culture’s power source is explicit, it’s brothers, fathers, male lovers, or cosmetic surgeons who offer free advice on how they can cure deformities and problems at women’s gatherings. Sometimes the diffuse power dominates a woman’s consciousness without an apparent outside source (Morgan 1991). That unapparent source is her own internalization of patriarchal values.

Women who are involved in self-surveillance behaviors, like fixing their make-up all the time, or monitoring everything they eat, are maintaining obedience to the patriarchal powers that be. The men that women transform themselves for are male-supremacist, heterosexist, ageist, ableist, racist, anti-Semitic and classist (Morgan 1991). Women don’t see this because their so-called decision comes out of internalized values that tell them they’re not pretty enough. The same self blame that occurred in the nineteen twenties in regard to the use of make up, happens to women today in regard to cosmetic surgery. The basic phenomenon is the same, the behavior that results from the internalization digs in deeper today.

Coercion and domination are frequently camouflaged by theories and rhetoric that appear benevolent, voluntary and therapeutic. Technology’s ideological manipulations serve to destroy and disadvantage aspects of women’s integrity. Rather than escaping the constraints of their given physicality they are becoming more vulnerable, in seeking independence they are actually more dependent on male assessment (Morgan 1991).

The woman who seeks cosmetic enhancement seems to fit the paradigm of making a rational choice, but she makes that choice at significant cost to herself in terms of lengthy post-operative pain and in terms of financial costs (health insurance doesn’t cover elective cosmetic surgery). The term elective has a seductive role in the ideological camouflage regarding apparent choice (Morgan 1991).

Loni Anderson discussed her cosmetic surgeries on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Loni admitted to having two breast reductions and having her eyes done. Winfrey (1995b) asked Loni, “You believe if you can do it – do it?” Loni answered, “I think it’s maintenance, it’s not changing, it’s maintenance” (Winfrey 1995b). Like car maintenance, if you don’t change the oil every three thousand miles you’re engine will be destroyed. What will happen to women’s identities if they don’t do maintenance? Maintenance is certainly a frighteningly harmless sounding description of what is increasingly becoming an expectation for women.

Morgan (1991) quotes an article marketed toward homemakers, “For many women, it’s no longer a question of whether to undergo plastic surgery—but what, when, by whom and how much” (28). Just as make up came to define femininity in the nineteen twenties, today’s cosmetic surgery is becoming necessary for “maintenance” of femininity.

As cosmetic surgery becomes more and more normalized in the media, women who refuse to submit will be viewed in one way or another as deviant. Their stigmas will include being viewed as unliberated, uncaring about their appearance, which is considered a disturbed gender identity by some health care professionals, and as refusing to be all they can be (Morgan 1991). Imagine an ad where therapists offer to help women to overcome their fear of cosmetic surgery: “Gentle, caring therapist will help you overcome you fear of plastic surgery. You just need a little help – we can help you to attain YOUR dream of ultimate beauty!”

“…  the technological imperative and the pathologic inversion of the normal are coercing more and more women to “choose” cosmetic surgery (Morgan 1991, p. 41). Normal variations in women’s bodies are redefined as deformities, ugly protrusions, inadequate breasts, unsightly fat areas, all designed to magnify feelings of shame, disgust and see relief in what cosmetic surgeons offer (Morgan 1991).

Although admittedly not likely to ever be achieved, Morgan (1991) says that women could collectively chose to exercise their power, and refuse cosmetic surgery. Refusal holds the possibility of drastically affecting the market, possibly leading surgeons back to healing (Morgan 1991).

Morgan (1991) suggests that feminists not turn away from women who chose cosmetic surgery, as this decision may be one of the only decisions that she perceives as having power over in her life. It is essential that we acknowledge the power of the gender-constituting, identity-confirming role femininity plays in bringing a woman into existence, while at the very same time makes her a patriarchal defined object. Under these circumstances, refusal may mean renouncing one of the only life-conferring choices a woman may have. While cosmetic surgeons are flooded with new clients and new research in the field is rapidly leading to more body parts becoming objects of redoing, it may be that the best we can hope for is to increase awareness of the numerous double-binds and compromises that affect all women’s lives (Morgan 1991).

In Conclusion

Morgan suggests that women could protest in a culturally liberated manner with events such as Ms. Ugly/America/Canada contests utilizing cosmetic surgery to attain the right look (Morgan 1991). If we cringe at the idea of women altering themselves to win a Ms. Ugly contest, Morgan (1991) says it may just make the point of how strongly the beauty imperative has us all hooked. One might think of these surgeries as mutilations, but Morgan (1991) says it’s just as mutilating to de-skin and alter healthy tissues to go with the flow of fashion.

A revolt Morgan (1991) suggests is to parallel the current market for breast implants with commercial protest booths (set up at health conventions and outside of cosmetic surgeons offices) with before and after photos of penises, the display signs might read, “The Penis You Were Always Meant to Have” (p. 46).

Perhaps feminists could also develop a continuum of handsomeness for males, similar to the one to ten model devised to judge female beauty. It might be fun for feminists and has the potential to even raise the consciousness of non-feminists. Women might be more inclined to see how ridiculous and damaging the beauty imperative is.

Cosmetic surgery’s language fits with the surreal images that women are expected to comply with. Another word for cosmetic surgery is plastic surgery, the word “plastic” is actually more descriptive of the image imposed. Even the word augmentation is revealing to one with a feminist consciousness. Wolf (1991) summed things up well, “The beauty myth generates low self esteem for women and high profits for corporations as a result” (p. 49). The cosmetic industry demonstrates how very personal the political/economical really is.

                                   Work Cited

Brownmiller, S. (1984). Femininity. New York: Linden Press/Simon Schuster.

Freedman, R. (1990). “Myth America grows up”. In Issues in feminism an introduction to women’s studies. (Ed) Sheila Ruth. Second Edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing, pp. 384-393.

Mendelsohn, R, M.D. (1982). Male practice: How doctors manipulate women. Chicago: Contemporary Books.

Morgan, K. Pauly. (1991, Fall). “Women and the knife: Cosmetic surgery and the colonization of women’s        bodies”  Hypatia. 6  (3), pp. 25-53.

Peiss, K. (1994). “Making faces: The cosmetic industry and the cultural construction of gender, 1890-1930”. In Unequal sisters. Second Edition. (Eds) Vicki L. Ruiz & Ellen Carol DuBois. New York: Routledge, pp. 372-394.

Sherwin, S. (1992). No longer patient feminist ethics and health care. Philadelphia: Temple    University Press.

Unger, R., & Crawford, M. (1992). Women and gender a feminist psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Winfrey, O. (1995a, October 13,). Topic: Controversy over silicone breast implants. On The Oprah Winfrey Show. The American Broadcasting Company, Channel 7. Chicago: Harpo Productions, Inc.

Winfrey, O. (1995b, November 9,). Topic: Loni Anderson speaks out about her divorce from Burt Reynolds. On The Oprah Winfrey Show. The American Broadcasting Company, Channel 7. Chicago: Harpo Productions, Inc.

Wolf, N. (1991). “Work”. The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women. New York: William Morrow & Company, pp. 20-57.