For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of this Sociological Theory class is the connections and comparisons that we can draw between theorists. I think that there’s a clear reason that we’ve juxtaposed the theories of Veblen and Gilman, as both deal with many of the same societal phenomena and issues. Gender inequality is ubiquitous, and part of the reason for why this is the case is because of how institutionalized it is. Gilman’s emphasis on the way different genders are socialized and the attitudes that pervade all aspects and facets of society because of this is a crucial point. She compares a woman to a horse, in that they both facilitate added production for the males of society, and in that way factor into economics. However, they’re nonetheless dependent on men to subsist and survive. Veblen similarly notes on the inequality of women, when he discusses the role that some women play as “trophy wives,” and how their standing is more of a symbol and object for the conspicuous consumption of men, than that of equal society member.
These ideas and their manifestations can easily be seen in society today, and I’d like to relate them to two specific examples (which in turn, relate to each other). The first example that I’d like to briefly discuss is Lily Myers’ slam poetry reading that we watched in class. Myers titled her piece “Shrinking Women,” and emphasizes the double standard of expectations that exist for men and women. She and her mother, like most women in our society, are constantly told (although oftentimes not told literally) that they’re position in society is one of control, limit, and restriction. Women must monitor all manner of consumption and expression, whether it be eating another slice of pizza, or speaking in class. How do they know that this is expected of them? Because societal institutions around them i.e. the media, school, family, etc. socialize them in this way. These expectations are in diametrical opposition to what has been deemed “the norm” for men, what Myers’ brother Jonas has been socialized to conform to. While calls to fight the status quo are valid, this is easier said than done. Women monitor and restrict, “shrinking themselves” both literally and figuratively in a fashion that is perfectly analogous to Gilman’s “Corset Metaphor,” the second example that I’d like to discuss.
The similarities between a corset and the shape/space altering impact of society’s gender attitudes are clear, and I believe the most salient aspect of this comparison is the after effect that both have. They leave their impressions and marks on the bodies (and in the latter case also the minds) of women, so that they are forever changed, and to a degree that the women might not even notice how abusive the processes were. In Lily Myers’ case, she is thankfully aware of the metaphorical corset that is attempting to alter and strangle her. To shrink her appetite, her intellect, and her chances at equality.
It is interesting to note that the corset was implemented as a tool to enhance the aesthetic look of peoples’ bodies, although most often it was worn by women. It was an object of consumption, favored by men, to increase the value of “their women” in terms of conforming to patriarchal fueled notions of ideal feminine beauty. It was an item used to improve women’s perceived “value” as “trophy wives,” to be conspicuously consumed as symbols of male prowess and success. In that respect it is the perfect object to connect the theories of Veblen and Gilman, and to highlight the gender inequality that has existed for so long.