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Four Eyes (take your glasses off so I can get a look atcha)

I wear glasses and have done for quite a while now, and a recent altercation I had with a creepy old stranger got me thinking about how women with glasses are portrayed in popular culture and the implications this has for bespectacled femininity in the real world.

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So I’m going about my business when this old geezer attempts to flatter me by saying how pretty I am (and how I should go away with him in his Winnebago), but he stops his lecherous tirade to ask:

“Would you mind taking off your glasses so I can get a better look at you?”

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This got me thinking about what our dominant Western idea of feminine beauty is and how short-sightedness really doesn’t factor into that. Barbie didn’t wear glasses, unless she was being a (sexy) secretary, or a teacher or something. Glasses for women are not seen as a permanent fixture of their physical identity, but an amusing costume piece that can be coquettishly removed when serious (sexy) stuff is about to go down.

Think about all the times in movies when women wear glasses- more often than not, towards the end of the film, the four-eyed heroine will undergo a Cinderella-like transformation in order to be an acceptable (sexy) partner for the male love interest/hero, and no longer a strange, intelligent, feisty, mysterious, frump.

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Then there is the converse of this- the sassy, cute, extravert, socialite, (dare I say it) ‘bimbo’ will slap on some frames to look clever, serious and boring in order to intimidate her social prey. (For example, in Legally Blonde where Elle Woods puts on glasses to go to Law School to win back her ‘himbo’ {male bimbo} boyfriend). Glasses have gained popularity in this vein with the recent trend in hipster glasses, thick black Ray Bans (or equivalent), sometimes even worn without lenses… I don’t know if this is good for women who actually need prescription glasses, or insulting…

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What is it about glasses on women in mainstream Western popular culture that just seems to say smart, cunning, over-achieving, cold, quirky bitch? (Is this necessarily a bad thing?) And why can’t a woman protagonist/character/love interest be successful in (heterosexual) love as well as in her job/education/whatever and still sport a pair of specs?

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I think it, again, comes down to the ways women are represented in relation to technology in our culture – Glasses imply culture and intelligence through (apparent) prolific reading (or just not eating enough carrots as a kid?), which was traditionally a pursuit of the male academia. Also, glasses themselves, are a visible technology, a contraption, an apparatus that obscures the ‘natural beauty’ of the feminine face.

I received a catalogue from my optometrist recently in which there was an advertisement for contact lenses targeted specifically at women, because (it was implied) glasses are more of a hassle for women than they are for men. In the ad there was a picture of a dowdy, bookish and clearly unhappy woman in thick black glasses, then voila! There she was with no glasses, make up and (sexy) clothes. All better.

I guess I just wanted to say to the next creep who tries to chat me up only on the condition that I remove my glasses:
I reject the sexist cultural assumption that women in glasses are irritatingly bookish and intelligent, but once they take them off they will miraculously morph into docile hyper-feminine fuck puppets!

The glasses are staying on.

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About JohnnyCigar

My name is Ruby and I'm a Gender Studies major at the University of Tasmania, Australia, with a special interest in gender, sexuality and technology. I also enjoy books with a bit of attitude, American TV with sex, violence and preferably a car chase, tea with no sugar, and a flawless WiFi connection.

One response to “Four Eyes (take your glasses off so I can get a look atcha)

  1. Georgia McInerney ⋅

    Fabulous, dahlink! I hear you on the glasses issue, loud and clear. It is a frustration I feel keenly, at times. I have felt less than beautiful in my glasses, particularly in formal wear. The optical industry keeps trying to put me in contact lenses but alas, I have dry eyes and comfort is a factor. My glasses have been on my face since I turned 13 and they are here to stay. I love spotting groovy frames and observing trends in eyewear. I do not love the representations of females in pop culture that you so accurately described. I get particularly upset about “Ugly Betty”. What can we do about it?

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