One of the reasons international economists give for Sub-Saharan countries’ economic underdevelopment is that they often exclude women from their work forces. Economists reason that if half of a country’s population is kept from being active in the economy, the economy cannot reach its full potential. Economists don’t use this theory to describe America’s stagnating economy, nor will I, but I couldn’t help but think of it while reading Bartky’s essay. I believe that the regulation of women’s bodies not only leads to their subjugation, as Bartky argues, but goes even further to detract from their economic output.
The pursuit of feminity is extremely time-consuming. Time spent by women on the pursuit of being a blonde bombshell is time that they could be spending honing economically useful skills and fully utilizing their talents. For example, Bartky mentions all of the activities women spend time on just to perfect their faces: they eat healthy foods, avoid strong facial expressions, apply skin cleansers, moisturize, use night creams, etc. This is without even beginning to mention the time women spend making up their faces. I estimate that I spend 1 hour per day on my face alone. What else could I do with this hour? I could go to bed 30 minutes earlier and wake up 30 minutes later, which would undoubtedly make me a more productive student in the morning. This hour may seem small, but compounded with hours I spend shopping for clothes, compulsively exercising–not for fitness, but to “sculpt” as my body, Bartky says, and poring over magazines’ tips to reach the feminine ideal, I am wasting a lot of time that could be used to make myself a more productive and competitive member of the economy. And though I commend women who don’t wear make-up or waste their time removing every hair follicle that dares to grow on their body like I do, I can’t help but notice that most of my peers are likewise wasting their time in pursuit of the feminine ideal.
What is the effect of this? Women are definitely not excluded from participating in the workforce in America today. However, I argue that their search for femininity constricts their participation. The feminine ideal distracts women from becoming more productive workers because they focus on “fixing” their personal appearance instead of developing their skills and talents.