Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Makeup: A Rad Fem's Dilemma

Makeup was my right of passage to womanhood. My parents absolutely refused to let me wear it until I was thirteen, and then only in muted shades and small amounts. Looking at the over-sexualized images of pre-teen girls in the media and my younger brother's yearbook, I can honestly say that I am grateful to my parents. Makeup wouldn't have made me less self-conscious, and would have taken a sizable chunk out of my allowance--and when I was 16, wages.

Now, I do not wear anywhere near as much makeup as I used to at 16, and even 18. Although I am in my 20s, I am often mistaken for a teenager because of my short stature and lack of "smoky sex kitten" makeup; even while bar-hopping I prefer light makeup.

However, my guilt over buying and wearing eye liner, blush, powder, and mascara persists. Am I a bad feminist because I sometimes like how I look with makeup better than au natural? Given that I self-identify as a radical feminist, am I somehow falling sort of the label? Do I invite men to look upon me as an object or sexually available?

I know that people perceive me as stereotypically feminine the more makeup and gendered clothing, like mini-skirts, I wear. More doors are held open (literal, not metaphorical), I am addressed as "honey" instead of "ma'am", and men smile at me more. Although, I never get the respect I want from co-workers and professors no matter how little makeup I wear, or how much. Professors that are enthusiastic about taking my male peers under their wing hesitate to do the same for me and fellow female classmates because we are female. A male professor, and most of mine are male, sponsoring a female student is rare simply because the professors are afraid of the perception that they are sleeping with us, or they simply don't think of us in any sense other than a sexual one. Even in sweatpants and no makeup, my male professors will not invite me to lunch to discuss further the symbolization of Aristotle's classical dilemmas because being female means that I am always potentially a sex object, never a peer or a prodigal student. All of my sponsors in my field have been female. I am lucky that my university employs many female Philosophy professors, because otherwise, I sincerely doubt that I would have had the opportunity to do as much as I have.

This constant perception of being a sex object: am I only fueling it by wearing makeup and gendered clothing? If I'm not dressed up, am I still responsible for the actions of others because of my female mannerisms?

My answer is a resounding no. My choice of clothing and face-paint should not affect my opportunities in life. How much eye shadow I do or do not wear does not affect the poignancy of my thesis. In my ideal world, men and women would wear as little or as much makeup as they please, and it would not affect any situation outside the contexts where makeup and gendered clothing are relevant.

Besides, I am kept at a distance professionally by male superiors regardless of how little makeup I wear or how long my skirt is. Feminism, I think, is about choices. I choose my gender-identity. I like being pretty and female. What I do not like is being patronized, belittled, and sexually objectified in a context in which such attention is entirely inappropriate.

In the same way that "promiscuous" women are responsible for the bad behavior of their male peers, every woman is held responsible for the sexism of their colleagues because of how she dresses or acts. Too frumpy and she is a slacker or a frigid bitch. Too feminine and she is a sex object or a coy flirt. I am always defined in terms of "fuckable" or "not fuckable" every second of the day because women, regardless of how they dress, act, or look, are members of the sex class and thus may be belittled, shamed, over sexualized, and harassed with the justification that anyone with a vagina is simply "asking for it".

My choice to wear makeup is my business. A woman's choice to get breast implants is her business. It should be obvious that the choice to sexualize women out of context and act like sexist dog is precisely that: a choice.

How people attack women who choose to do something perfectly legal that makes her feel good about herself and defend those who choose to be assholes is completely illogical. The phenomenon of blaming the victim saturates every justification of harassment, violence, and injustice that women and even young girls suffer daily.

I say, enough already! If the choices I make are always wrong and the injustice I suffer is always right, then what choice do I have? I choose to please myself, and only myself. Fuck everyone else. I sharpen my eye pencil and apply it to my upper lid because I think I look good when I do. If my best male friend thought he did too, I would let him borrow mine without a sideways glance.

Treating women like objects is also a choice. The idea that it is the fault of the evil female temptress, her gender fallen from grace by the actions of her ancestor in the garden of Eden, is nothing but unadulterated bullshit and should be treated as such.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am always defined in terms of "fuckable" or "not fuckable" every second of the day because women, regardless of how they dress, act, or look, are members of the sex class and thus may be belittled, shamed, over sexualized, and harassed with the justification that anyone with a vagina is simply "asking for it".


This perception is largely yours, not society's.

The phrase "members of the sex class" is immediately claiming victimhood for the sake of victimhood, and isn't effective.

Surprisingly, men do not walk around looking at women thinking "fuckable", "unfuckable", "fuckable", "unfuckable".

You're overreaching, seeing things where there are none, and it's sexist as hell.

You're assuming all men are considering you based on whether or not we want to fuck you. (We aren't), and you're assuming that you're so incredibly important to our world that we can't help but stare at you.

We aren't.

Get over yourself.

Anonymous said...

I don't care for the sexist generalizations against men you use here.

They're rude, and blatantly offensive. First, your words intone and assume that men are always viewing women in terms of sex, because men are always thinking about sex.

That's a very sexist stereotype, which is harmful to men, and harmful to feminism when feminists use it.

Then, you build off of that to assume that your professors can't treat you seriously as a student, because they view you as a sex object (because, [stereotype again], all men only think about sex).

When, actually, based partially on feminists propagating this stereotype, men are generally believed to be big hornballs, ergo, were a male professor to take you to a lunch, the female faculty would immediately assume he was trying to sleep with you, and find his conduct inappropriate.

Now, is this the fault of men, or the fault of feminists trying very hard to push a stereotype of men as base creatures that only think about sex?

Many of your arguments, and the arguments of like minded feminists NEED this stereotype to be true. If it weren't, a great deal of your arguments against men wouldn't hold up nearly as well.

Lindsay said...

I generally don't wear makeup, or if anything, mascara. I'm lazy and don't want to take the time in the morning to do it. I usually let my hair air-dry too - I love sleeping late so anything that takes time away from that usually gets cut out of my schedule.

Also, I don't really give a rats ass about a social taboo between older male professors and female students. My undergrad academic adviser was the greatest ever, even if he was older and male. Our age and gender difference didn't stop us from meeting to discuss my work, often over a beer. I admire him greatly both academically and personally. In fact, I'm having dinner with him tomorrow and I'm really excited about it.

feministblogproject said...

Hmm, somehow, OpenID failed me last night when I was trying to comment. So I'll reproduce this the best I can.

I never felt much sexism in undergrad, but when I got to grad school, there were two professors who definitely treated me differently because I was a woman. One was an older guy, and he wasn't that bad, so I was inclined to forgive him because it just didn't seem worth fighting when he was dead-set in his ways. But the other guy was in his mid-50's and way worse! I couldn't stand him, and he didn't like me too much either, once he found out that I had a brain and opinions and didn't think he was god's gift to the female grad students.

I also think that a radical feminist can wear makeup and still be a radical feminist. Makeup in and of itself is a collection of powder, liquid, etc. It has meaning because we give it meaning. So give it your own meaning.

feministblogproject said...

First, your words intone and assume that men are always viewing women in terms of sex, because men are always thinking about sex.

You are either a woman who is very lucky because she doesn't get stared at at least once a day, or you are a man. It's not even 9 a.m. and someone wolf-whistled at me today. Anytime I wear a skirt to work, it happens. But I live in Texas. It's hot. It's not appropriate to wear shorts to work, and skirts are cooler than pants. And because my skirts need to be business-appropriate, nothing is more than an inch above the knee. They're modest. And I'm still getting wolf-whistled. It happens at least 4 times a week, as that's how often I wear skirts. So don't say she's "overreaching" if you've never been in a position where you're getting oogled just for dressing modestly. It happens and it's not fun.

Maybe not all men do that, but enough of them do that it creates a stereotype. Maybe you should go after those guys that are creating the stereotype rather than getting mad at the women who are sick of such behavior.

Amelia said...

I find the "I would call myself a feminist, but I wear make up" idea so tired. Feminism is about being able to make choices. If a feminist decides to wear make up, fine! I wear eyeliner nearly every day, and I consider myself a pretty good feminist.

It is true, though, at least in my experience, that when I used to wear more "gendered" clothing (skirts, etc) I got more sexual notice from guys. When I stopped that, I still got noticed, but more for being outspoken. And the attention was definitely less tense, more friendly.

That happens. You can't deny it, Anon. I agree that not all men are looking at all women and classifying them based on their looks, drooling over them, imagining taking them to bed. But it happens. And sometimes it's really unpleasant.

But it is not up to women to change that. Women should be allowed to wear whatever they want, look however they want, without having to fear being treated as a lesser person because they didn't feel like wearing make up, or wearing skirts, or anything. The same thing goes for men.

No one should be treated differently based on their looks. That's just a problem that really needs to be fixed.

Anonymous said...

Women are just as guilty of it as men.

Problem is, it's easier to demonize men for it, which is why that's done.

Anonymous said...
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Kari said...

Not to mention that it is harmful for your skin and body:

http://www.naturalnews.com/016898.html

Lindsay said...

Now, is this the fault of men, or the fault of feminists trying very hard to push a stereotype of men as base creatures that only think about sex?

I think you'll find this stereotype perpetuated far more by conservative circles than feminists. If anything, feminists are trying to scale that generalization back and say, "a man is not just his penis or his sex drive and because of that, he should be accountable for _____." By reducing men to simply their sexual desires, it gives people the opportunity to claim that men aren't responsible for their actions because it's biology or hormones. It also gives people the opportunity to say, "since men are driven by sex, women need to watch what they wear because it's tempting." (http://www.therebelution.com/modestysurvey/)

However, we live in a sexualized culture and people in public (especially women) are judged sexually. Women experience the brunt of it, but I'm not going to lie and say I don't think about people sexually on the street - I'm talking to you, hot curly haired reporter at the Obama rally on Tuesday. The unfortunate thing is that often times, perceptions stop merely at sexual attractiveness and don't move into personality and character and wit and intelligence and humor. When people (very very often women) are judged simply on their looks and not on any of their other qualities, then we have a problem.

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Amelia said...

No. It's not my job to do that.

So feminists have to do all the work to correct problems you see, Anon, and you can just sit back and do nothing because it's not your job? Sorry. Doesn't work that way.

Life would be easier for you, though, if you could just get everyone else to fix the problems you see, huh?

Anonymous said...

So feminists have to do all the work to correct problems you see, Anon, and you can just sit back and do nothing because it's not your job? Sorry. Doesn't work that way.

Life would be easier for you, though, if you could just get everyone else to fix the problems you see, huh?


When men stereotype women, feminists attack the men and order them to stop stereotyping.

When women stereotype men...we're told that if we don't want to be stereotyped, we should stop fitting the stereotype.

Do you see why I have a problem with this?

In both causes, the fault is laid on men.

It is NOT up to me to stop feminists from stereotyping men. Using stereotypes against men, is a FLAW in the women making them, NOT in men.

Would you find it acceptable if I had stereotypes of women, and when you called me on them, I said "Well, stop fitting the stereotype, and/or go tell other women to stop fitting it", would you find that fair? Somehow, I think not.

feministblogproject said...

No. It's not my job to do that.

Actually, according to one man, it is

Lindsay said...

Men are just as important in working towards gender equality as females, just likes whites are important in recognizing their own privilege and working for racial equality. I don't think women/people of color/gay people should be responsible for "fixing" society by themselves. I don't dismantle my own white privilege by asking POC what I should do, I look to other white people to see what worked for them. It's not the oppressed's job to fix the oppressors.

Anonymous said...

Actually, according to one man, it is

Well, then. Is correcting the negative things women to do men, then, a woman's issue?

Somehow, I don't see the call going out for that.

feministblogproject said...

Is correcting the negative things women to do men, then, a woman's issue?

Do men make less than women do for the same work?

Do 1400 male soldiers get raped by female soldiers in the military?

Have the cost of condoms risen 900% so the money could be redirected to fund the war in Iraq?

So exactly what horrible things do women do to men?

Anonymous said...
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Amelia said...

I bet I know Anon. I have heard the "I don't associate with women" line here before.

And this: How many women don't understand that "equal work for equal pay" is a false claim? If you have less experience, and less education, you get paid less. Might be politically incorrect to point out, but at my business, I can, and have, paid a man more than a woman for the exact same job. Why? He had 4 more years of education in the field than her, and 3 more years of experience.

is not relavant most of the time.

Even if a man and a woman have the same level of experience, education, background, the REASONS for a woman having such qualifications is scrutinized. She's frivolous. She's arrogant. etc. etc. etc.

It's not equal.
And your personal anecdote, Anon, proves nothing, either.

Anonymous said...
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Kate said...
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Anonymous said...
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Lindsay said...
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Anonymous said...
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Jen said...

I'm getting tired of my threads turning into "oh noes, what about the poor men?" clusterfucks. Anon, your posts are off-topic, inflammatory, irrelevant, and rude.

To various commenters, I very clearly express several times that men who cat-call me or treat someone differently because of what they wear choose to do so. That point explicitly goes against any claim that I am postulating that all men are a bunch of worthless sex-obsessed animals. My point is that men are not animals, and that viewing all human interaction with the opposite gender in terms of sex is a choice, not the fault of nature or the other person.

I'd really appreciate it if the anti-feminists read my damn posts before they run to their keyboards to lament the "feminist hypocrisy".

anymysteryleft said...

Holy crap. Looking at all the Anonymous replies depresses the hell out of me.

When men stereotype women, feminists attack the men and order them to stop stereotyping.

When women stereotype men...we're told that if we don't want to be stereotyped, we should stop fitting the stereotype.

In both causes, the fault is laid on men.


Technically, men are responsible on both accounts. Just like women's stereotypes, men's stereotypes were created by men. Simply because some women were taught to repeat the words that men have said about other men, does not mean that they are the main fault. (The hint is "masculinity.")

It's also important to weigh the consequences. What are the possible repercussions of being stereotyped for a man? Is it life threatening? Maybe you won't get laid for a while, but I think you'll live. I don't think it's worth losing sleep over.
How about for a woman? I think constant sexual harassment and the possibility of rape are pretty legitimate causes to worry and voice one's opinion about.

... Now that I think about it, this argument sounds an awful lot like the reverse-racism debate. Funny how arduously some people in power want to defend their privileges, and how their logic work in similar ways.