Sell-by Date: Fertility and F**kability

Contains strong language

A woman’s perceived value is tied up in her fertility and her physical appearance. The biological clock has supposedly ruled women’s lives for generations. In many industries, a woman’s sex appeal can equate to her recognition and success. So how does the notion of a “sell-by date” affect real women’s lives?

For generations, women have had their lives directed towards bearing and bringing up children. The average woman has lived her entire life with the overpowering idea that one day, her eggs will suddenly run out and she’ll be immediately infertile. A higher power will flick the off switch; there will be no prior warning.

Thankfully, the dominating premise of the biological clock is a myth. Fertility doesn’t switch off overnight. Of course it does decline, but does so at a different age, and a different rate for different women. Surprise surprise: not all women’s bodies are the same!

Still, a woman’s fertility is often conflated with her value: a woman’s usefulness to a company, a group, and society at large will often be calculated by her age, her marital status, and whether she has or plans to have children. While different organisations make different decisions, and cultural norms differ with cultural identity, some things are universal: a young, newly married woman who hopes to have kids soon is highly unlikely to get the job.

BarbaraCorcoran
Barbara Corcoran, 2014 | image: parade

Sexism is hugely hypocritical. We have a long history of punishing women for their youth and fertility, yet simultaneously praising young, fertile women for their sex appeal.

Many women use their sex appeal to their advantage in the workplace because it’s the best or only path available to them. In some industries, sex appeal can equate to recognition, promotion, and success. Barbara Corcoran, real estate guru and investor on ABC’s SharkTank said she used to “yank up her skirt” to get ahead in the business world.

When I was building my business, [when] I would walk into a room of 600 men in dark suits and I dress like a guy in a nice pant suit, no one would say ‘hi’ to me, no one would entertain me. The minute I started wearing bright suits and I would have a nice length skirt on, I would just roll up the middle and walk into that room, everyone paid attention to me.

Corcoran’s behaviour constitutes ‘internalised sexism’, because she’s enacting sexist actions and attitudes toward herself by asking to be judged on her appearance before her ability (hooks, 10). To both herself and those around her, she’s reaffirming the sexist notion:

A woman’s sex appeal decides her value.

This evaluation comes from anyone who decides to pass judgment – colleagues, friends, family, strangers, fans – thus many women have become experts at tolerating and deflecting sexist sentiments. It would be nice to imagine that certain arenas are free of this sentiment, but women in all arenas face a high probability that someone will judge her value entirely on her physical appearance.

Women in the most powerful positions are still subjected to comments on their desirability. In 2011, Sylvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister called Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, “unfuckable.” As if that changed her value in the world of European politics.

Imagining we had a shortage of misogynistic fascists in contemporary politics before November 2016, now President ‘Cheeto Jesus’ vomited sexist comments all over the US election campaign season and hasn’t let up. He famously criticized Alicia Machado, the 1996 winner of Miss Universe beauty pageant, for gaining weight after winning, calling her “Miss Eating Machine” among other things. He terrorized her for years because he deemed her eating habits antithetical to her sexual appeal. ‘The Donald’ couldn’t abide that, because her physical appearance was the only part of her he valued.

This is a particularly prevalent issue in the celebrity sphere, an arena that sets a strong example for the rest of the world. Women are criticized for any change to their appearance that the media warrant ‘undesirable’, women are judged on their desirability throughout their careers and especially at their most vulnerable.

When Human Rights Lawyer, Amal Clooney delivered a call to action urging the UN to investigate allegations of genocide in Iraq by the Islamic State, some people failed to hear what she had to say. The fact that she was several months pregnant when she spoke at the United Nations HQ in New York City on March 9th did not affect her ability to do her job. Yet myriad media outlets reported on how her baby bump looked, “in a dark gray pencil skirt and matching cropped blazer”, rather than on what she said (People, tweeted by TIME). Some even substituted her job title for “the wife of actor George Clooney” as if her marriage is her best and only qualification. I doubt her Hollywood actor husband has to deal with this s**t.

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 23.32.18
TIME’s sexist tweet caused widespread outrage | image: Mashable

Hollywood actresses, however, do have to. Women in Hollywood are subjected to an astronomical level of criticism about their appearance, the media postulating about their weight, relationship status, fertility, sexuality, age, and sex appeal, drumming up rumours in public reports. Perhaps the most sexist problem actresses face is the decline or dramatic change in their career when they reach a certain age. This is not something that male actors face.

In Amy Schumer’s sketch, ‘Last F**kable Day’, the comedian stumbles across Patricia Arquette (48), Tina Fey (46), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (56) having a bucolic picnic in the woods. The three talented actresses are celebrating the eldest among them, Louis-Dreyfus’ Last Fuckable Day, because: “in every actress’s life the media decides when you finally reach the point when you’re not believably fuckable anymore” and she has apparently reached that point.

Instead of bitterness, though, Louis-Dreyfus expresses gratitude that she was able to maintain ‘fuckable’ status throughout her forties and well into her fifties, and relief that she is no longer required to ‘maintain’ her figure. She chugs a pint of melted ice cream in celebration.

It seems that one can always rely on comedy to cut through the crap and provide a new perspective on the kinds of issues we just can’t seem to resolve. Watch the sketch here:

Contains strong language

To the public consciousness, a man’s fertility is far less age dependent. Therefore his sex appeal is not tied to his fertility and thus has nothing to do with his age. As Patricia Arquette points out among rounds of laughter, “Men don’t have that day.” 


Read on

hooks, bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. (2000). Print.

The Foul Reign of the Biological Clock, Guardian

Should women use their sex appeal to get ahead at work?, hello giggles

Jeremy Paxman stuns Silvio Berlusconi with Angela Merkel insult allegation, Guardian

From ‘Cheeto Jesus’ to ‘F–kface Von Clownstick,’ the best and most creative nicknames for Donald Trump, NY Daily News

Shamed and Angry: Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe Mocked by Donald Trump, NYTimesA lawyer named Amal Clooney gave a powerful speech at the U.N. Some only saw her baby bump., Washington PostFemale Film Directors Share Stories of Hollywood Sexism in Anonymous Blog, Yahoo

S**t People Say to Women Directors, Tumblr

‘Pitch Perfect 2’ Makes 2015 a Historic Year for Women in Hollywood, Yahoo

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