…continuing the discussion from Peterson’s book, Liberating Tradition.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the family was a productive unit.  Women’s value was not in her “ornamental quality” but in her work skills, economic shrewdness, and physical strength.  Once the Industrial Revolution occurred, the value of women shifted.   As you read Peterson’s quotes, consider how this shift has impacted women … specifically pertaining to her body.

“This new concept of masculinity demanded that femininity be defined in new ways.  In the growing middle class, a woman was valued no longer for her work but for her ornamental quality; her passivity rather than her productivity began to be prized.  Not surprisingly, this is the era in which a caricature of female form became fashionable: the tiny corseted waist and the huge bustles to accentuate hips.

It is significant that it wasn’t until this era that much was written about “The Woman Question” in this country.  This became an American obsession in the nineteenth century.  When women’s work was valuable to the family, people didn’t wonder what women were for, or what they should be, or how to define their value. It was only when their work and their place in the family became devalued that these questions arose.  By the end of the nineteenth century, middle-and upper-class women had been assigned a new function: they were to be the consumers who helped fuel a rapidly expanding market system.

…This intensified after World War II with the need to move Rosie the Riveter back home and get her shopping to boost the economy…”

“Fixation on appearance intensified in the last couple of centuries for a number of reasons.  We could cite the rise of factories when clothes began to be ready-made in standard sizes instead of made for individual bodies; the invention of the camera, which resulted in huge proliferation of images; and the growth of the advertising industry in the late 19th century.  Many scholars have noted that advertising in order to create desire for products required a new unhappiness with self on the part of consumers.”

Peterson concludes, “Never before has a society been so saturated with images, so bombarded with the appearance of idealized women in every state of dress and undress.  In nonimage-based societies, a woman may feel comfortable being compared to other real women in the neighborhood.  But the media-produced women are unlike women in one’s own village or neighborhood.”