Beauty is a system of power, deeply rooted, preceding all others, richly rewarded....I thought there were 2 systems, beauty and power. But beauty is a system of power. Franke-Ruta stumbles over her own jargon. The word "system" was already too much. What makes beauty or power a "system"? Back in the 1960s, we were always complaining about "the system." It's the system, man. So it's a word that sets off my bullshit detector. What does it mean to say "Beauty is a system of power, deeply rooted, preceding all others, richly rewarded"?
Beauty is beauty. We are human. We have eyes. Our eyes our rigged to our entire nervous system. That's a system, and I'd certainly agree that that system is deeply rooted and preceding all others. But I don't think Franke-Ruta is talking about the nervous system that tracks through our animal bodies and that we would never wish to eradicate or even numb. We are alive, sensual beings. The visual experience is real and vivid and fundamental.
But Franke-Ruta pictures an external system that "operates everywhere in the world" and consist of women as "a natural resource, a form of wealth that men can acquire." Beauty is valued and people want what they value. Is that a system? Those with the value can make an exchange, or as Franke-Ruta puts it "can choose the extent to which they wish to engage with this system of power." But women can also "choose to go to law or medical school or contend in any other way for standing and earning capacity in the world."
That is, they can enter the system of power.That is, the other system of power. Which is to say, women can trade only on their beauty or they can have a career. But then Franke-Ruta talks about women wanting or needing to be in both systems at the same time. And this is "why beautiful and extremely capable women are often valued above their less glamorous or less fit peers — they are triumphs in two systems of value, double-threats." But somehow everyone is supposed to know which "system" we're in on any given occasion. In this light, what Obama did wrong was to mix up which was the operable "system" as he spoke on a particular occasion.
Despite all the jargon and the many nods toward feminism, Franke-Ruta calls what Obama did a "gaffe." A little oopsie. Would a feminist unbound by Democratic Party partisanship let him off so easily?
ADDED: I can't help but be reminded of how easily all the supposed feminists let Bill Clinton evade serious criticism.