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“Ugly”: The Last Refuge Of The Lazy

June 21, 2010

It’s unintentionally ironic. The go-to “critique” of feminism is to call feminists ugly, and it’s hurled so mindlessly and so regularly when appearance isn’t even the subject that the bizarre juxtaposition of the not-an-argument accusation with a well-reasoned critique of the outsized role of beauty in our culture’s estimation of women appears to escape the antifeminist rabble.

I have very little to say about the actual content of Chloe Angyal’s GritTV appearance. Working within tight constraints is tough and I’ve never been good at keeping it short; Chloe is on camera for just over two minutes here. She’s so good and so succinct that nothing I can say about the substance will add much value.

But the comments! It’s their first outcry, half pig-ignorant habit, but half as if to prove Chloe’s point. The first thing they do is call her ugly.

dudefromgermany says:

chole looks like a feminist, very ugly

Since he’s failed either to capitalize or correctly to spell the speaker’s name in a comment of some 38 characters, I think we can conclude that the comment was considered (if at all) only briefly and typed very quickly. Someone calling himself matlock12c continues in the same vein but at greater length:

You ever notice, Ya’ never see a ” PRETTY ” feminist…
Because “FIMINISM” was invented by UGLY WOMEN to “level the playing field”

Likewise, and typically for antifeminist trolls, the short comment lacks even elementary proofreading. The measure of the strength of the underlying assumption can be taken within the same thread, however. Someone using the name goldshle apparently realizes that arguing that Chloe is ugly in untenable, and takes a different tack, exposing the divide in the antifeminist troll community:

why is this feminist so mad? she is cute enough to live a normal life without bashing “the patriarchy”. since her anger is illogical under this criteria, i conclude that she is a lesbian.

The premise of this comment, too, is fatally flawed. While the comments were nasty, personal trolling, it is a great stretch to characterize Chloe’s demeanor as angry (unless one characterizes any challenge to the status quo as “mad”, in which case it sweeps in so much as to lose its power).

There is an insidious reason for the frequency and persistence of the ugly slander, however. In a society that places so much importance on women’s beauty, that defines women entirely or almost entirely by it, women are forever in doubt about it. Some of the most conventionally attractive women I know are also the most insecure about their own appearance. There is no “right”, there is no “good enough”, there is no objective yardstick and, in fact, the women who are famous as most perfectly representing the ideal are also those who spend the greatest portion of their waking hours being criticized for not meeting it. How can it feel, after all, to be famous for being thin and pretty, and then to know that one’s own pictures have to be photoshopped to be acceptable for public consumption?

This in turn leads to a dilemma in response, and the comment thread stands as a good example of how this always seems to go. Most of us know that the calumny hurts, however ill-founded, and it is tough not to respond by denying the charge. However, it is also self-evident that responsing in kind partially concedes the relevance of the speaker’s appearance, particularly where as here the speaker’s point is to question the emphasis on appearance. Many comments try, when approaching the fork, to take both paths. jerseywolf tries it three times:

Hey Matlock12c and dudefromgermany, did you actually listen to what Chloe Angyal is talking about? Warnings to women about correlations between tanning and skin cancer are less effective than warnings about the risk of premature aging (women in the study were more afraid of ugliness than cancer). You two clowns are just proving her point – as a society we value a woman’s beauty more than health. Also, you’re wrong. Chloe is beautiful. But that is irrelevant to this discussion!

* * * *

p.s. – some of the most beautiful women I’ve known are feminists. But see, you two have corralled me into an irrelevant and puerile discussion. It doesn’t matter that some of the most beautiful women I’ve known are feminists. What matters is the substance of Chloe’s presentation. This is a disturbing study. Would you want your sister or mother to be more concerned with becoming ugly than developing skin cancer? Your girlfriend (I know it’s a stretch to assume either of you have one)?

* * * *

I now realize that my comment that “some of the most beautiful women I’ve known are feminists” is wrong as well because it engages mean and shallow comments as if they have any merit, and neglects that estimations of beauty are subjective anyway. Who cares? Why do we put so much value on this stuff? Physical beauty is transient, subjectively determined, and not the most important value. I just became angry. Those comments made against Chloe were obviously cruel, unimportant, and untrue.

[All emphasis supplied.]

I’m a lawyer, and making both arguments in the alternative is what we usually do, so I won’t disparage it as a tactic. But as with most longstanding issues, others have taken on this subject before, and some say it better than I ever will. NYC domme, blogger, feminist and generally formidible fucker Halo P. Jones has had this kicking around for a few months on FetLife, and has now put in on her blog. After some sleaze on a forum tried and failed to elicit her immediate fawning attention:

… his response was a mixture of insulting my face, my body, and my personality. He played what I’m going to call ‘The Ugly Card’ – the idea that a woman’s most, and possibly only, worthwhile attribute is her appearance – so the greatest possible insult is to call her ugly. He also told me I looked fat and old (… as if fat people and old people also can’t be beautiful) judging from my pictures which I’d posted–clearly if I posted such pictures (what a slut!) I deserved his insults.

Her reply — not to that toolshed, who doesn’t deserve a response, but to her readership, was, in part:

The photos in question came from a burlesque act where I consciously chose to not shave, tan, and diet in order to change my appearance–and show that I could still be sexy, and sexual, and celebrated.

* * * *

What we weigh, how big our breasts are, whether we shave our bodies, whether we are old or young, able-bodied or disabled, cis, trans, male, or female–we all have a right to our own beauty.

At this point, thinking that you are beautiful the way you are is an act of rebellion.

* * * *

At various points of my life, I have had short hair and long hair, worn dresses and heels, worn combat boots and corsets, dyed my hair a rainbow of colors, had a shaved pussy and a full bush, been chubby and thin, been pale and tanned, fucked men and women, and I have always been beautiful.

[Emphasis supplied.] That idea, navigation only by a star fixed inside ourselves, is a powerful one. It has persisted since Zeno, whose writings did not survive, so I will instead quote Marcus Aurelius: “[o]utward things cannot touch the soul, not in the least degree; nor have they admission to the soul, nor can they turn or move the soul; but the soul turns and moves itself alone.”

(FWIW, the sharp-eyed may note a Robert Frost reference in the post. No, not the fork in the road thing, give me more credit than that.)

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Leslie permalink
    June 21, 2010 12:23 pm

    Don’t feed the trolls. Sorry to be dismissive, but Chloe is obviously an attractive woman and the people who made most of those comments are just trying to rile others up.

  2. marissa permalink
    June 21, 2010 3:27 pm

    So what do these trolls do when confronted with an obviously (traditionally) attractive heterosexual woman who is also a feminist?

    • June 21, 2010 3:41 pm

      Easy! They call her ugly anyway! You saw the video, right? Chloe’s very, very attractive. So much so that some of the trolls won’t even try the Ugly Card. But that didn’t stop them from throwing it out there.

      No matter what she looks like or how many people will disagree, there’s a decent chance it will hurt her, and that seeing the attack will tend to chill other women from speaking out. I’ve seen trolls call Jessica Valenti ugly; I’ve seen trolls call Jill Filipovic ugly; I’ve seen trolls call Gloria Steinem ugly. We’re talking about women that would get a broad general consensus as highly conventionally attractive.

      The think about it is, like “slut”, the power of the accusation is completely independent of the truth of the matter asserted. It derives from social conditions that create a seed of self-doubt in virtually every woman.

      (There’s a comparison to be drawn here to fragile masculinity, but that’s a longer discussion.)

  3. Georgios permalink
    June 22, 2010 7:03 am

    it’s unfortunate that jerseywolf, while defending feminism, says “girlfriend (I know it’s a stretch to assume either of your have one)?”… he assumes the posters are male and hetero and then attacks their statements by questioning their ability to procure and keep a romantic/sexual partner. not only is this wack, I think it feeds some very problematic ideas about sexual activity validating a persons existence and beliefs. I hope that if we, as feminists, are going to look at an issue critically, we will put the magnifying glass up to our allies and ourselves as well as our opponents.
    apart from that, good post.

    • Sam permalink
      June 22, 2010 12:22 pm


      I suppose Youtube comments are the garbage research of web 2.0 anthropolgy, even reading them is usually a waste of time.

      Giorgios is right, as for problematic staple arguments – in feminist discussions, men who are complaining about their problems are not rarely confronted with the charge that they’re only complaining because they “can’t get laid”. That’s a similarly unfair assertion.

      • June 22, 2010 4:12 pm

        Agreed. We shouldn’t be defined by our sex drives or our sexual histories, and we shouldn’t pat others on the back for doing to. It’s a bad and self-defeating argument.

  4. Dominique Millette permalink
    June 27, 2010 1:23 pm

    sorry but I laughed when I read the “logic” of the puzzled troll who saw that Chloe was “cute enough” and, therefore, could only be a lesbian *eyeroll to the zillionth power*. Because all that attention “cute enough” women get is a great big treat that should only encourage them to be happy little slaves of the patriarchy. Especially since getting and “appreciating” unwanted attention all day, all week and all year, is kinda their “job”, given that we patriarchal trolls can’t figure out what else women are on the planet for. This is totally not getting it to the gazillionth power. Thanks for the chuckles. I think.


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