Adequate definitions of contemporary feminism

feminists book ISLAND OF THE SEQUINED LOVE NUN Christopher Moore. To, general trend feminism

Beyond Conventional Feminism

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There are a number of reasons why contemporary feminists would find fault with Island of the Sequined Love Nun, a novel published in 1997 by author Christopher Moore which may be considered an example of postmodern literature due to the variety of subjects, cultures, and sexual orientations it deals with (Powell 1). The book is largely told through the male perspective of a fairly certified womanizer, Tucker Case. Subsequently, women are consistently objectified throughout this work, mostly in the author’s attempt to be humorous. Yet the central notion that would more than likely present a problem for feminists who are reviewing this novel would be the conception of beauty as it applies to women that the author portrays throughout the text. Most contemporary feminists would strongly object to the notion that a woman is only beautiful or desirable when she is “made up” in a manner that is considered attractive to a male perspective. The vast majority of feminist thought has largely striven to present its own definitions of femininity and the beauty of a woman’s image on her own terms, which have relatively little to do with the conceptions of those of the opposite sex. A careful examination of Moore’s novel, augmented by references and quotations from additional texts steeped in feminist thought, pointedly reveals that feminists would rather vehemently object to Island of the Sequined Love Nun due to its reinforcement of the stereotype that women must objectify their bodies and adhere to traditional male perceptions of desirability to be deemed attractive.

In order to readily demonstrate the veracity of this thesis, it first becomes necessary to provide adequate definitions of contemporary feminism, which is largely considered the epoch spanning from the midway point or the latter stages of the 20th century into the 21st century. A fairly comprehensive definition can be provided in the following quotation, in which it is stated that feminism “aims to examine women’s oppression, expose the dynamics of male domination and female subordination, and, guided by that analysis, fight for women’s liberation” (Mackie). One of the most salient points made in the preceding definition is in relation to the nature of male domination and female subordination. It may be argued that a large part of such domination and subordination may be due to the roles in which women are perceived, particularly in what constitutes a woman being considered attractive.

Furthermore, this quotation also implies that there is a relationship between the oppression of women and this regard for their beauty that is largely determined by a male perspective. This notion is largely underpinned by the following quotation.

We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women’s advancement: the beauty myth. It is the modern version of a social reflex that has been in force since the Industrial Revolution. As women released themselves from the feminine mystique of domesticity, the beauty myth took over its lost ground, expanding as it waned to carry on its work of social control (Wolf 10).

This quotation is largely important in regards to the fact that it suggests that the utilization of male perspectives of women’s beauty is used as a form of “social control.” Such control may be evidenced within Island of the Sequined Love Nun both in the depiction and portrayal of The Sky Priestess, who utilizes her half-naked, cosmetically enhanced beauty to actually control the notions and opinions of the islanders.

The male perspective of female beauty dominates throughout Moore’s novel, in forms that are both obvious and subtle. In some of the passages, the author himself may not have even been aware that he was presenting a rigid, male-oriented view of female beauty. But as the following quotation certainly denotes, he definitely was presenting the representation of a woman’s desirability largely through traditional male proclivities of attraction.

The Seattle Airport Holiday Inn was all hunter green, brass rails, and oak veneer. Remove the bar and it looked like Macy’s men’s department. It was one in the morning and the bartender, a stout, middle-aged Hispanic woman, was polishing glasses and waiting for her last three customers to leave so she could go home. At the end of the bar a young woman in a short skirt and too much makeup sat alone. Tucker Case sat next to a businessman several stools down (Moore).

There are a number of eminent allusions in this paragraph that are of importance to the argument that Moore’s book objectifies woman. The most accessible of these, quite obviously, would be the description of the woman who Tucker will proceed to court — and embark on the rest of the zany adventures that typify the duration of this novel. Virtually the only description of the woman is that she has a “short skirt” and “too much make-up.” The latter reference to the make-up will be of particular value to the thesis propagated in this paper in later references to the sequined goddess for which this novel is named. Yet both of these facets of the woman’s description conform to standard male definitions of attractiveness — revealing clothes and a cosmetic augmentation that is designed to appeal to men. The contrast of the woman’s appeal stands in direct opposition to the bartender’s description, which is merely as being “stout.” The bartender, therefore, is not deemed attractive or worthy of Case’s interest. The fact that the perception of attraction and beauty in this passage is decidedly male can be evinced from the fact that the bar is described as a “mens'” department.

Also, in order to aid in the conviction of this paper’s premise that contemporary feminists would object to the conception of attraction and its inherent objectification that women largely endure throughout this novel, it is necessary to analyze feminist views of beauty, particularly in contrast to those of men’s. The following quotation alludes to the fact that these two forms of beauty may not only be diametrically opposed, but that the male version is certainly a means of oppression towards women.

A central mantra of feminism is that the so-called male gaze constitutes a form of assault. Accordingly, any dress code that negates such “patriarchal oppression” can be liberating. Western media images (and more generally the capitalist patriarchal system) are apparently key peddlers in the sexist subjugation of women…veils can at times be construed as liberating since some women freely choose to wear these (Saad).

The notion that the male perception of beauty, as typified by the intrusive “gaze” of men, is oppressive may be evinced from the fact that the author of this quotation considers such gazes to be a variation “of assault.” Furthermore, this notion is supported by the fact that the veiling of women is considered by “some women” to be a form of liberation, since it prevents males from looking at their bodies as something more than they are — as objects of sexual attraction. Yet virtually all of the conceptions of attractive women in Island of the Sequined Love Nun play into this stereotype, and revolve about women wearing less clothes, revealing more of their bodies, and copiously applying cosmetic enhancements to their facial features. Contemporary feminists, therefore, would not approve of such a novel due to this fact.

The basis for most of the feminist objections to Moore’s representation of women as objects within this manuscript would be based on the love nun herself, who is really Beth, wife of Dr. Sebastian Curtis. The pair have been able to exploit the island of Micronesia and aid their health care business by harvesting the organs of the islanders largely on the basis of Beth dressing up as The Sky Priestess, which was the image on the side of the airplane of a World War II veteran who crashed upon the island. What is most significant about The Sky Priestess, of course, is her physical description, which some critics have described, appropriately enough, as “half naked” (Richard). This notion is underscored by the fact that Beth is significantly younger than Dr. Curtis. Furthermore, in virtually all accounts of The Sky Priestess, she is described as wearing a substantial amount of make-up and abundantly exposing her body. Such descriptions are highly important, because it combines the typical male traditional perspective of a woman’s beauty with religious reverence. Such features of a woman’s beauty are used to portray her not only as attractive, but also as a goddess. Significantly, it should be noted that when Beth is not wearing the extravagant make-up of The Sky Priestess and all of her demonstrably revealing attire, she can walk amongst the islanders of Micronesia fairly unnoticed. This point is also meaningful, since it denotes that she is no longer divinely or exorbitantly beautiful (to a traditional male perspective) since she is not adhering to the prerequisites which Moore’s book largely posits, and to which most contemporary feminists would certainly object to.

In fact, it should be noted that the objectification of women due to the traditional male perceptions of attractiveness may be one of the final frontiers in the work that feminism still has to achieve. Virtually all of the three branches of modern feminism (denoted as liberal, social or socialist, as well as radical) seem to be in adherence to this fact (Mackie). Additionally, the challenge of overcoming such typical male perspectives is one of the final ones due to the fact that it is fairly ubiquitous and entrenched within a social psychology that has proved dogged throughout generations, as the following quotation suggests.

…the ideology of beauty is the last one remaining of the old feminine ideologies that still has the power to control those women whom second wave feminism would have otherwise made relatively uncontrollable: It has grown stronger to take over the work of social coercion that myths about motherhood, domesticity, chastity, and passivity, no longer can manage. It is seeking right now to undo psychologically and covertly all the good things that feminism did for women materially and overtly (Wolf 11).

The potency of the male view of beauty and its effect upon women and the feminist movement in general is quite considerable, as the preceding quotation makes quite clear. This one notion of what makes a woman beautiful — the make-up and objectification of her body — can “undo” all of the advances (referred to in the quotation as “good things”) that feminism had previously achieved. These advances can primarily be seen in the second wave of feminism, which dealt with the eradication of the restraints of passivity and chastity and the conventional sphere a woman was supposed to inhabit. Furthermore, it these advances can be undone in a manner that is both described as “covertly” and “psychological” — such as in the authoring and publication of a novel in which women are routinely objectified, as is the case in Island of the Sequined Love Nun.

In conclusion, it has been suitably demonstrated that feminists would object to Moore’s depiction of women in his novel largely due to the fact that it reinforces stereotypes of notions of beauty that are decidedly counterproductive to feminist goals.

Works Cited

Botting, Eileen H, Houser, Sarah L., ‘”Drawing the Line of Equality”: Hannah Mather Crocker on Women’s Rights’ in American Political Science Review. 2006, 100: 265-278. Print.

Cornell, Drucilla. At the Heart of Freedom: Feminism, Sex, and Equality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. 1998. Print.

Chodorow, Nancy. Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. 1989. Print.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell; Machung, Anne. The Second Shift. New York: Penguin Books. 2003. Print.

Freedman, Estelle B. No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women. Ballantine Books. 2003. Print.

Mackie. “The Branches of Contemporary Feminism.” 1994. Web.

Moore, Christopher. Island of the Sequined Love Nun. New York: Avon. 2000. Web.

Powell, James. Postmodernism for Beginners. New York: Writers And Readers. 1998.

Richard, Marcus. “Book Review: Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore.” 2007. Web.

Scanlon, Jennifer, Bad girls go everywhere: the life of Helen Gurley Brown. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009. Print.

Saad, Gad. “The Beauty Myth vs. The Veil: A Feminist Perspective.” Psychology Today. 2011. Web.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. Harpswell: Anchor. 1991. Print.

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