Nov. 11th, 2008

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I'm spectacularly behind on most of my Webreading, so I have no idea whether this is The Furor Of The Week in the feminist blogosphere (there's always a Furor Of The Week), or has passed unnoticed, or somewhere in between. I ran across it in the less-appalling of my local newspapers, The Calgary Herald - reading hardcopy, the old-fashioned way. It peeved me, but I couldn't put my finger on just why until I'd let it simmer a bit (well, until I was playing solitaire on the 'puter - an activity I find wonderfully effective in bringing stuff to the surface).

I find there's a much longer article at The New York Times. It peeves me, too - as did pretty well everything I saw on the topic while digging up the Herald link.

I'm not really commenting on any of the articles directly - nor on Concordia University sociologist Anthony Synnott's study, which I haven't read, and which could easily be misleadingly sensationalized by the newspaper reports. It might be that the paper itself doesn't peeve me... except for one thing.

That'd be the coinage "uglyism".

First off, there's already a not-as-neo neologism in widespread use to describe bias based on appearance: looksism. I've never been crazy about it; it's a kludgy construction - tacking "-ism" onto the end of a colloquial word to make a more formal construct usually is kludgy. Today, though, I'm a big fan.

Y'see, "looksism" is essentially neutral (aside from the inherent and intentional non-neutrality of bias-related -isms; their very purpose is to raise the point of the bias' injustice). The colloquialism "looks", unmodified by adjectives, says nothing about how those looks are hierarchized.

"Uglyism", on the other hand, is, quite frankly, a loaded term, a looksist term, for looksism - it implies that there's some absolute, objective standard of what is ugly and what is beautiful. It doesn't say, "passing judgement based on appearance is unjust," it says, "it's not nice to treat ugly people that way."

The NYT article brings up the aphorism, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." There, it's mentioned as folk evidence that judging on appearance is known to be superficial, but that's not what it conveys to me; for me, it says that beauty and ugliness are subjective.

Consider other -ism words: sexism, racism, ableism, and so on. While the things they speak of aren't neat pigeonholes - they have nuance and fuzzy edges, and lots of room to debate how much of it is real and how much an illusion of social construct - there's an underlying objective (in the sense of a widespread similarity of perception) foundation. In the case of looksism, the underlying objective foundation is that, however superficially or unjustly, we do form impressions based on appearance. Not so much for uglyism, which - however unintentionally on Professor Synnott's part (I surmise that his intent may have been "an ugly word for an ugly deed") - implies that ugliness itself has/is an underlying objective foundation.

Uglyism suggests that those who experience the bias of looksism are in fact ugly - that the injustice lies not in applying one's subjective perception of appearance as if it was objective, but in how these poor unfortunates are treated.

One of my own biases is showing there - I've been treated like a poor unfortunate who couldn't possibly be attractive to any man really worth having. (There's lots of asininity about men, male tastes, and what constitutes "worth having" in that, too, but I'm not up for writing a whole book here.) My other bias on this topic is that I've never been able to grasp what "ugly" was, as a solely appearance-based concept - I've known plain people and funny-looking people (I was a funny-looking people; my nose is so not a teenager's nose, so I was definitely odd to look at - not necessarily unattractive, but odd - until I grew into it), but I've never known someone I could consider ugly based on their looks. It's a blank spot for me. (Non-appearance-based ugliness, I do get.)

So that's what has me so pissed off that I had to make a post about it: "uglyism" is pretty frackin' ugly.

November 2009


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