The persistent, absurd, useful mythology of Chauvinism

It wasn’t until recently that I learned about the man and the myth behind the term chauvinist pig. This mythological man has been a part of society for quite a while and indirectly has been part of mine, especially since I live in a rural area. I was flabbergasted to find out that Chauvin was a fictional character, a legend, and although some thought he was a real person, history hasn’t backed this up. Instead he’s an archetype and not one to be proud of. You may know a few of them, particularly if you live in the country.

The chauvinistic character has a long history in comedies and satires. The loud-mouthed ardent patriot, aggressively clinging to extreme nationalism –which by the way Einstein called the “measles of mankind”– first appeared in French vaudeville around 1840. The allegorical Nicholas Chauvin was an aging soldier who allegedly had 17 wounds and three amputated fingers, all from his persistent re-enlisting in the military. He was a peasant, his name synonymous with “clodhopper” or “country bumpkin.” Early songs about him make him sound like a man obsessed with his sex-life as much as he was with France and Napoleon. He was in fact, “pig-like” in that he was unaware of how expendable he was to Napolean–how the battles he bragged about were leading him to eventual slaughter, but not before he returned home and made more little piggies to send off on nationalistic tasks for any Empire in power. His first sexual experiences were with women who took his money. He was used. He was deep-down a coward. Yet he glorified sex and violence. He was a chauvinist.

Chauvinism has long been associated with rural life and a source of comedy and even admiration

A chauvinist is then, anyone who has a self-defeating “tribal attachment” to their race, gender, profession, or nationality. What does it take to create a chauvinist?

The romanticized image of the mutilated soldier-peasant with either a weapon or a spade over his broken shoulder has been pushed since the days of Pliny the Elder. How do you think Rome got so powerful? The image is hauled out and “worshiped” whenever “intellectuals” such as Einstein unfavorably critique the value of war and its exploitation of the lower class or talk about free college. Farmer-soldiers have been common throughout history, especially in the Union in the Civil War. (One of my relatives was such a soldier. He was severely injured and unable to farm, became educated instead.) The first step in creating a chauvinist is to connect it with patriotism.

Traditionally, farmer-soldiers are rewarded with land, but only if land is available. Interestingly enough, Midwestern farm women have been heavily lobbied to reject any kind of “feminism” or “women’s lib” as a threat to their way of life, their faith, and to the men who “feed America.” They have been told not to fight for themselves. Most of this perception was fanned by Farm Bureau (an insurance company) and other organizations who sell them things, starting in the 1980s. Rural women have been taught to accept and defend chauvinism…by insurance sellers. Another step in creating chauvinists is getting buy-in from women.

I have been wondering why my Midwestern-college employer put up rusty $100,000 landscaping statues to honor veterans instead of having the art department come up with something beautiful and inclusive. These rusty guys replaced a set of beautiful marble tablets engraved with names of Civil War dead and trees were cut to make way for them. Now, I see. This sort of imagery isn’t meant for people like me. War isn’t supposed to make intellectual sense. Those riveted scraps of corrosion represent the broken peasants and their mythology. Even at a college, a seat of intellectualism, the myth must live on because it’s useful to those in power. Even today, most military recruits are poor and yes, rural. So, another step in chauvinism is shallow tributes to it.

The chauvinist thus holds a certain type of grievance or unhappiness because of unjustness, and he responds by, well, being unjust. An older, country woman once told me that prejudice was the price women paid for not going to war. War, its injustice, rural life, and chauvinism go hand in hand.

At the heart of chauvinism lies aggression. As Masters and Johnson pointed out long ago, “sexuality is a dimension of personality” and although sexual aggression is often taken as a cultural symbol of male sexuality, it is not “hardwired” into human males. It is taught. The chauvinist has an axe to grind against society. The chauvinist ideal was created long ago but even today, men with fragile self-worth are more likely to lash out with aggression towards those around them.

For many, chauvinists are entertaining idiots. Their archetypes can take many forms: the redneck, the jingoist, the playboy, the gun-nut, the male chauvinist pig. Heck, even I have hapless chauvinists in my rural dystopian novels. Where else can you get comedy and tragedy in one package? The last step in chauvinism is to make it so normal that it’s funny.

Chauvinism is an identity. Nicholas Chauvin was meant to be a fool. However, many a chauvinist has embraced the term as a source of jokes and a badge of honor. Rush Limbaugh didn’t get a medal for being a nice person, or for any type of truth telling, but for reinforcing myth. He was proud of being a jerk, because he was a funny jerk, like Nicholas Chauvin. He even was called a political vaudevillian. Although Nick Chauvin died on the battlefield because he wouldn’t surrender, chauvinists aren’t going away any time soon. But should there come a time when we stop laughing?

Wrinkle creams–social panacea and or cover-up?

The other day I was in the grocery store and one of the employees went up to a grey haired woman and asked. “What can I help you with, young lady?” She gave him a surprised look and I had to hold myself back. What made him think that such a patronizing comment was welcome? It’s well known that older women are denigrated and rarely seen prime time. Once you can’t reproduce, you’re no good to men, only to children. Even young women dislike older women. Older and female? You might even be evil–with the exception of Hispanic culture. I suppose that’s why he thought he was doing her a favor, kind of like that boss I had who kissed all the women in a benevolent way.

My problem? I’ve sat on the sun far too long. I like to be warm. I want  my skin to make my vitamin D–it’s better that way.  But it’s like beer–no need for too much and I’m guilty of the “If a little is good, more is better” syndrome. Ultra-violet rays  break down collagen and the loss of collagen and elastin proteins forms folds of skin known as wrinkles. This is most pronounced for Caucasians. But UV light isn’t the only thing that breaks down collagen--sugar and stress can do the same. Wind and smoking will also add wrinkles. So will lack of sleep–ask any parent.

As child, I thought my grandmother’s wrinkles were fascinating and beautiful. Then, society told me different. So that’s why I say, until the partriarcy falls, there’s no shame in trying out wrinkle creams.

What do you want from a skin cream? Here are some substances to consider:

Retinoids increase collagen production but take several months to work and can be irritating. The new skin is sensitive and thin so it can burn more easily, too. That’s why this product is recommended primarily for night use.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and protects skin from UV exposure and can reduce wrinkles. It works by removing compounds that break down collagen. The beter way to get Vitamin C is to eat it rather than apply it.

Alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid exfoliate the skin and may remove wrinkles but how they work is yet unknown.

Niacin amide (B3) can also stimulate collagen production and there is some indication that riboflavin (B2) may do the same. A vitamin B analog known as DMAE could increase skin firmness but formulations that don’t harm the skin have proven tricky. These studies are preliminary.

Peptides–pentapeptides in particular–can work to stimulate collagen production.

Alpha hydroxyl acids used in skin peels have been shown to decrease blotchiness and skin roughness.

Hyaluronic acid can be applied or injected and does a good job of attracting moisture to the skin and plumping out minor wrinkles. The effects aren’t long lasting but there are few side effects.

Vitamin E. Tests about this one are inconclusive. It probably works to protect the skin but not as well as Vitamin C.

Collagen is not absorbed through the skin so its application isn’t known to reduce wrinkles. However, it might do so when paired with riboflavin.

Q-10 is produced by the skin as an antioxidant and decreases with age so it makes sense that putting it on your skin will renew it. However, no studies have shown any benefit from applying it to skin.

Most botanicals have produced inconclusive results in the lab when rubbed on human skin or rabbit ears. Aloe vera might increase collagen production. Soy might help remove fine wrinkles according to studies done with people and with hairless mice. But soy has its drawbacks. 

Moisturizers such as glycerin have shown mixed results. Some studies indicate that the skin becomes hydrated from them and others show that they act as a barrier to prevent dryness but do not increase skin hydration.

Here is a graphic highlighting the most effective substances.

One thing to remember is that looking young and feeling young are two different things. You can take a natural approach to protecting skin by eating plenty of  fruits and vegetables and getting enough sleep and exercise. It doesn’t help to produce collagen if you have weak bones for it to cling to. In fact, your wrinkles may be a sign that your bones need attention.

A toss away line in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 went like this.

“You remind me of an old lady”

“Oh, you mean wise.”

But were there any old lady characters in the movie? No.

Older women are wise, powerful, intuitive, and opinionated–this is why they are feared by the patriarchy. Nowhere is this fear more evident than the United States today. Until we put an end to this nonsense,  it never hurts to try out some skin products–because who wants to be wise and ignored or even worse, unjustly hated? However, keep in mind that your skin is an indicator of your overall well-being. Perhaps we dislike wrinkles because they are tattle-tales, telling the world of our sleepless nights and wild abandon or maybe that we had to work too hard. With that in mind, I wonder what the grocery store man should have said.

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Age before beauty? It should be the case.

 

Ogle vs bogle

A new study confirms the obvious–men size women up by how they are built. Women even do it to each other. We’ve all caved in to this notion that a woman’s value is in her body. But read the article further. What kind of women embrace this objectification? Those with low self-worth. It’s a destructive pattern–look good or be worthless, get insecure about your worth as you age. You’re not going to win. As a young woman, my high school guidance councilor discouraged me from getting a degree in science. Women don’t have the brains for it, he said. I’m glad I didn’t listen. In science, your data is what people look at. In fact, scientists who look too slick bring out my suspicions. Yes, books are judged by their cover elsewhere. I’ve even heard people in business laugh about not hiring someone because of their shoes. This makes me happy to have gotten that chemistry degree. I know when my data is good and I can get good data even on a bad hair day. There’s something freeing about putting on those safety goggles and saying “Screw you world, for the next few hours, I’m not even trying to impress you with my looks. I’m going to boggle you with what I discover.”