Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Princeton hot?

by Josh Franklin

The Daily Princetonian published an opinion today by Neha Goel, pointing out the sexism involved in the popular complaint that women at Princeton are, "just not that attractive." She examines the idea that 'attractive' girls on campus are labeled as 'Princeton hot'; that is, it's noted that they seem attractive only due to the generally low level of attractiveness among Princeton women. Goel considers the fact that the size of the school limits the population of 'hot girls', but then moves into more controversial territory. The really interesting material here, as Goel points out, is the possibility of an inverse relationship between being 'hot' and being 'smart'. Maybe women who, growing up, were labeled as very attractive don't have an incentive to apply themselves to realizing an academic potential. Or maybe Princeton women, overburdened with serious concerns like writing theses, don't have, "time to primp."

What should we make of this? I think that Goel does a great job of pointing out that, unsurprisingly, the campus culture of attractiveness seems overwhelmingly directed towards judging women. I'm not sure where she thinks we ought to go; it seems to me that the sexism and misunderstanding here starts with the unfortunately huge value our society places on a very narrow ideal of human beauty. I applaud her for asking men to imagine themselves compared to the ideal of male perfection in an effort to expose the harmful ways in which women are judged. However, I think that reading some of the commenters who wrote that they weren't even aware of this idea of 'Princeton hot' is enlightening. Maybe by arguing only in terms of ideals of beauty or the 'hot girl', we exclude those who don't view women this way, and conceal an important opportunity to change a negative culture.


At March 12, 2009 at 10:10 AM , Blogger Chloe said...

I think what irked me most about the reactions in the comments to this piece was the very common expression of the idea that "Princeton girls think they're so great because they're smart, but they're not that hot, so they shouldn't act like they're the shit." As though you don't get to be self confident if you're not beautiful by today's largely arbitrary standards, because brains aren't enough to make you a worthy human being (or an attractive one).

At March 15, 2009 at 1:08 PM , Blogger Claire said...

I agree, Chloe. Moreover, the male commenters seemed massively arrogant about their own worth (the Princeton guys were way cooler in high school, the general standard of attractiveness is much higher for guys here) but suggested that women at Princeton having high confidence in themselves was a real turn-off.

At March 17, 2009 at 11:19 AM , Blogger LSG said...

I think you're right on the money, Claire.

During my years at Princeton I heard male friends and acquaintances use a whole litany of types of "hotness", each with its own characteristics -- there was the general "Princeton hot", then there was "Theta hot", "art history hot", "Ivy/Cottage/Tower/TI/Terrace hot", "BodyHype hot", "pre-med hot", "Anscombe hot"...on and on and on. It got old very fast. It always seemed, too, like Princeton boys were lusting after a type of "hot" they didn't have access too, the girls who weren't part of their immediate circle.

It's not just a Princeton phenomenon, though -- I am sorry to say that I've found the "women around here aren't nearly as hot as the women everywhere else" attitude to be extremely prevalent in the post-Princeton world. I'm currently living in Boston, and it's extremely common for young professional/grad student men to sit around and whine about how women in Boston aren't as attractive as those in New York City. Yet many of my male friends who are now in New York complain about how there aren't as many attractive women there as they expected, and talk about how French women are so much more beautiful than American women. If only they were in Paris, they lament.

I recognize that different "types" can sometimes be legitimately described: there are certainly universities in which few woman come to class blown-out hair, make-up, and heels, and New York is known for fashion while Boston is known for schools. Still, I've come to the conclusion that many men are convinced that really, really attractive women exist everywhere but where they are. As much as I hate to do the "it's all the fault of the media" thing, the media plays a key role in this. Television and advertising show a world populated by uniformly gorgeous (not to mention corseted and airbrushed) women: then men look around and are naturally disappointed. Holding onto the image of "this is what real women should look like" that comes from totally unreal places, they end up thinking that if only they were in a different major, a different eating club, a different university, a different city, a different country, then they would immediately find themselves in a The Bachelor situation, with gorgeous women constantly vying for their attention -- or at least forming the backdrop for their everyday life.

Because in some men's minds -- and these are the ones who whine, make no mistake -- all surgical interns are look like Katherine Hegel. If they don't, well...the man must just be at the wrong hospital.


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