Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Another Inanity From a Male Feminist

Ever since Hugo Schwyzer came to this blog to inform me that he’s had it with me daring to have my own opinions about his writings, I tried hard to abstain from commenting on his articles. It’s difficult, though, because he often writes things that make me think that I’d rather have no male feminists at all than ones who write this kind of stuff. See, for example, a recent post from somebody who, let me remind you, teaches about body image on a college level:

When I ask my female students, as I do every semester, “How many of you would say it’s easier to get along with guys than with girls”, invariably over half the young women in the class raise their hands. The reasons they give are always the same: “girls are so competitive”, “boys just have less drama”, “guys aren’t as critical.” Of course, not every woman feels this way – but plenty do. So it may surprise you to know that the research on eating disorders shows that critical comments from boys are much more likely to lead young women to start to diet or purge. In a major 2008 study called Family, Peer and Media Predictors of Becoming Eating Disordered researchers found that the hurtful remarks of male peers were more damaging to girls’ self-esteem than comments made by other women of any age, including peers and female relatives. Only the media had a comparable impact on young women’s self-esteem.

Leaving  aside the fact of how annoying it must be to shell out a huge sum for a college education only to end up in a classroom where you get your time wasted on condescending kindergarten-level questions, it is mind-boggling that anybody would honestly believe something as silly as this. Self-esteem is something that is created on the basis of one’s very early childhood experiences. After that, nothing short of extensive therapy can influence one’s self-esteem in any significant way.

A person with a high self-esteem can watch media images of skinny women and ripped men all day and every day for decades and remain completely unaffected. A person with a low self-esteem can go into a major bout of depression because s/he thinks that somebody might have looked at them in a critical way. If your self-esteem is high and you know for a fact that you are stunningly gorgeous, nobody will even try to insult you with nasty remarks about your appearance. Let’s say you want to annoy, offend or bug a person for whatever reason. Will you come up to them and say, “You have three heads”? I don’t think you will because something that is so patently untrue is not likely to offend.

When I was little, I was always surrounded by a group of adoring adults who would exclaim, “Here comes our beauty!” in unison whenever I would enter the room. Today, 30 years and many pounds and wrinkles later, I still hear this admiring chorus whenever I appear in public. I just took a walk around the block and tried to remember a single instance when “a girl or a guy” made a nasty comment about my appearance. I came up with nothing. So if you have little kids – or are planning to have them – just make sure they know that they are beautiful. If you do that for them, neither the scary media nor condescending male feminists will scare them. 


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20 thoughts on “Another Inanity From a Male Feminist

  1. Melissa on said:

    Granted, a single person’s anecdotal evidence means absolutely nothing scientific, but I can say with certainty my self-esteem is not directly proportional (in fact, it’s probably closer to inversely proportional!) to the amount of love I was shown in my first few years of life…

    That being said, I can see the point Schwyzer was trying to make going somewhere totally infuriating, but I didn’t go read it all because I don’t feel like being infuriated today 😉


    • Stringer Bell on said:

      Well, this is not a scientific discussion anyway. Clarissa is drawing from her experience. Your experience runs contrary to that. As for me, I agree with you in that I see no reason why events happening after one’s childhood would have such a disproportionally small effect on one’s psyche.


      • This isn’t about my experience. It’s about this field of knowledge called human psychology. Whether you see any reason for this happening or not, all those reasons have been discussed by psychologists for over a century.


  2. Stringer Bell on said:

    And what an objective and scientific field that is! I’d love to see a scientific study universally accepted in this field where it is proven that one is forever immune to societal pressures, media, peer pressure or any other adverse psychological experience if one has been adequately praised during childhood.

    I’m happy for you that you still hear choruses of admiration in your mind when you walk around, but you just cannot universalize your experience. Not everyone feels like this, even after getting unconditional love and support during their childhood from their parents.


    • Would you agree that if some comment from some random guy shatters your self- esteem, then there wasn’t much self-esteem to begin with?

      If somebody has abysmally low self- esteem, I’d suggest they really reevaluate the mythology about the “unconditional” love they got in the first years of their lives.


      • Stringer Bell on said:

        Would you agree that if some comment from some random guy shatters your self- esteem, then there wasn’t much self-esteem to begin with?

        – Of course, but what does that have to do with your statement that NOTHING can ever damage self-esteem once you’ve been praised in your childhood?


        • I never said anything about praise. Praise is a complex issue anyways because it very often signals lack of acceptance. I said that self- esteem is created during one’s early childhood. After that, there can be no significant changes to it in any direction barring intensive psychoanalysis.


  3. Melissa on said:

    Also, are we just talking about early childhood? (Maybe 0-5 or so?) Or are we talking about the entire duration of childhood? A lot of people have very different experiences once they start school–I imagine it’s not at all uncommon for a child to get unconditional love and praise from their parents for the first few years, only to have it shattered in the 7-10 range because of peers, media (which starts to work on tearing down girls’ self-esteem somewhere in the 6-8 range, but as far as I can tell not really before), mounting school and parental pressure, etc. I bet for a lot of these people, the later childhood experiences outweigh the early childhood praise.


  4. People, enough with praise, please. I never mentioned the word even. Melissa, you mention “parental pressure.” How does pressure even get on the same page with unconditional love and acceptance?

    As for peer pressure, some people create this pressure while others suffer from it. Has nobody had a classmate who was neither attractive nor smart but still was the accepted king or queen of the class and their opinion mattered above everybody else’s? Why do you think that happens?

    If you have ever had a chance to teach small kids, you must have observed how the entire class falls in love with the same boy or girl who, objectively, is nothing special. Try to observe such a kid and you’ll see that their defining feature is how self-assured and secure they are.


    • Melissa on said:

      “How does pressure even get on the same page with unconditional love and acceptance?”

      Good question. I think most parents don’t begin pressuring their children to achieve until the kids enter school.


      • Parenting sites are filled with people bragging about how many words their kid can say at 16 months and fretting about how their baby still hasn’t learn to crawl when all the other babies have.

        The need to pressure others is unrelated to the stages of those others’ lives.


  5. Stringer Bell on said:

    You did mention adoring parents and the reason why you have such great self-esteem is because you still hear their admiring voices in your mind. Great. Like I said, I’m happy for you.

    Now, if the reason for great self-esteem is this adoration and it’s only necessary to do so until one is about 3*, then it would mean that the great masses of people who have low self-esteem now must’ve not been adored when they were toddlers. Usually you see the opposite. Even shitty kids are treated like princes and princesses, haha!

    * Huge assumptions, by the way.


    • They are treated like little dolls, which has nothing to do with love. People brag about their achievements like they are not human beings but objects that are supposed to perform certain functions. They are used to fulfill the parents’ goals all the time. How often do you see a parent pick up a kid and just take them wherever they want without even trying to explain to them what’s happening and where they are going? How often do people force their tiny kids to eat when they are not hungry because some book said they should eat this much and at this time? How many parents allow their 2 year-olds to pick out their own clothes? How many parents put their toddlers on ADD medication or anti-depressants? “Ooohing” and “aahing” around a baby has nothing to do with love.

      Formative stages of human personality are not assumptions. As I said, this is being discussed in psychoanalysis for over 100 years.


  6. Stringer Bell on said:

    When I was little, I was always surrounded by a group of adoring adults who would exclaim, “Here comes our beauty!” in unison whenever I would enter the room.

    – Is this love then? Seems like ‘oohing and aahing’ to me. This the only thing you mentioned in your post when you talked about your high self-esteem and now you’re scolding us for inferring that this is what you mean when you talk about love.


    • I didn’t know I needed to explain what love is. 🙂 Love is accepting another human being and loving everything about them no matter how much you might be inconvenienced by any aspect of their individuality. There is no love without perceiving another person as precisely that, another person. Separate from you and different.

      There are people everywhere who place photos of tiny babies online. Often completely naked. Without, of course, ever seeking the permission of that human being to have their naked pictures widely distributed everywhere. Ask such parents, and they will tell you their love for their baby is unconditional. There are people who cannibalize their children’s personalities by using their pictures in their own avatars. Yes, there is lots of love for babies going around.

      This is a sore topic for me, and you have now awakened the monster. 🙂


  7. Stringer Bell on said:

    That’s nice and I agree with you on this issue. But you can see how one can get the wrong impression when you say your parents called you a beauty every time you walked in a room and that contributed to your self-esteem tremendously. If you only had said ‘they treated me as an individual from the very beginning’ we wouldn’t have had to take this detour.


  8. Someone posted this on their Facebook page the other day; it’s kind of a sub-par article, but the concept is certainly relevant to this conversation:

    For those who don’t want to wade through the squishy prose, the upshot is that Some Psychologists are beginning to study self-esteem and self-compassion as two different things–the former being how one measures onesself against others, the latter more about how one measures onesself independently of others. Or something like that. And suggesting that self-compassion is the skill that we should really be fostering.

    I’m not sure how I feel about it exactly, and the article is really quite dreadful, but it’s something worth thinking about.


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