When I googled the definition of pretty, this is what I got:
1. attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful or handsome.
2. an attractive thing, typically a pleasing but unnecessary accessory.
So basically, when we tell women, or little girls, that they are pretty, we are telling them that they make the scenery nice, but that they are absolutely not vital. Females merely contribute to the atmosphere in a superfluous sort of manner. We are an accessory. We are icing. We are pleasant, but not particularly stimulating, and we had better keep our mouths damn well shut, lest we destroy our simplistic value.
The scary part is that I believe that even though the majority of us females may not be aware of the technical definition of pretty, we still actually strive to achieve it. Even though we have been educated about feminism, and female oppression, objectification and misogyny we still strive, somewhat unconsciously I believe, to exist as delicate unobtrusive adornment to our environment.
I read a study recently about the color pink, and how deeply and obsessively little girls relate to this color, and identify with it very intimately. This color pink, is the one and only singular color that the majority of children identify with, which is actually less than a color. Pink is only a tint of red. Pink is ineffective. It is quiet and undisruptive. Pink is pretty.
Pretty, to certain individuals of a southern upbringing, or to people who are more inclined to appreciate intellect than appearance; is a synonym for stupid. Although I strongly refrain from referring to any woman this way, I do often refer to my less than quick Golden Retriever as pretty when she does something very unintelligent.
I think that the reason we may continue to strive for pretty is because we would prefer to be referred to a pretty woman, rather than a bitch. No matter how nicely we fit in with the gentle adornment of our surroundings, once we open our mouths and state an opinion, we risk being labeled, not the pretty woman, but the bitch.
This is not a risk that a man is ever forced to take. Men have to deal with lots of things, but a man never risks being demoted from his tolerable position by merely stating his opinion. I stopped using the word bitch a very long time ago, pretty may soon have to be considered as well.