Several years ago, Anne leveled an accusation at me that straight pissed me off. She said I was vain.
Me? Vain? Pshaw. I mean, I was only spending an hour on my daily beauty routine and maybe two hours for a really big night. Perhaps twenty or so hours a week on the stair machine and the weight benches at the YWCA. Vain? For real. There was an art to this package.
But the more I thought about it and shucked the initial repulsion of identifying myself with a culture I despised, the more I realized she was correct. I was spending an unbelievable amount of my time maintaining an image I didn’t value. I took it as a challenge, stopped blow-drying my hair, cut the makeup down to three products, and cut the shower routine down to soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a razor (and most of the time, not even the razor). I also cut back on the time at the gym, partially because the YWCA doubled their rates and I could no longer afford it. I substituted an at-home yoga and pilates routine which soon faded for more lifestyle-exercise activities.
To my genuine surprise, I didn’t look much different.
In fact, I looked healthier and more well-rested.
I never gave up the skirts and heels that I took up during a self-imposed pant boycott, partially because I like them and partially because nearly no one my age wears anything remotely similar except to job interviews. But I’ll tell you this, a skirt is far more comfortable than pants on most days.
I’m late to this article, a response to the lawsuit in which the court found that women can be fired for not wearing enough of, or the right, makeup:
Never again is anyone allowed to give me crap about how women naturally want to adorn themselves with makeup, as if there’s some genetic urge to look fake that’s wended its way here on the sparkly pink path of evolution. This ain’t biology. This is your government, endorsing your corporate lackey’s creepy-ass urge to make me turn my happy, natural face into a twisted parody of comeliness. This is some cosmetics executive getting rich on state-enforced gender norms.
This quote resonated with me as well.
Let’s not get into the question of whether it’s degrading or sexist for women to wear makeup. Sure, it might be for some women – but there are plenty of politically aware girls out there who like to get dolled up. The question here is whether women who are forced to wear makeup when men aren’t can be described as experiencing gender equality. The 9th Circuit’s opinion acknowledged that makeup costs money and takes time, then dismissed this point as “academic.” But if these costs are so insignificant, why not require Harrah’s to pay to keep its female employees looking as if they’d just had a makeover? Maybe the company could even pay these women for the time it takes to keep their faces properly clad.
My defiant nature dictates that anyone who requires me to adhere to a gender-based standard will quickly find me behaving in just the opposite fashion. The pedestal of femininity is not only a high place from which to fall, but I will whip that thing out from under me and hit you with it faster than you can blink. Nothing (nothing!) irritates me more than someone informing me how I or someone like me ought to appear or behave.
The operative term here is “ought.”
The lovely Bitch Ph.D. touches on these points in a completely unrelated post:
Now, by doing all this shit, I recognize that I am being shaped by (and myself contributing to) a system that judges women by how they look, that burdens us temporally and economically with adhereing to a fairly narrow standard…
At the same time, I do speak out about the falsehoods inherent in these systems. Should I walk the walk as well as talk the talk and refuse to play the game at all? Should I refuse to wear stylish clothing, refuse to spend $50 on a haircut, refuse to consider my appearance, eschew vanity? Doing so would, on one level, be consistent with my beliefs. But not entirely, because frankly, I enjoy this shit. I enjoy it when my colleagues whisper, “fantastic purse!” or “we were talking earlier about how great your shoes are!” after a meeting. I take pleasure in compliments, and I like it when people find me attractive. I’m not interested in a revolution where I can’t dance, and I think there is not a goddamn thing wrong with enjoying pleasure and flirting. I also, of course, reserve the right to schlep around and look like crap on a given day, and I’m not going to play the game of running other women down, and frankly I go through periods where I am more or less femmey (right now I’m in a femmey phase), and I’m cool with that too.
Because frankly, even while I can criticize the system, even while I can bitch about the beauty standard and point out the constructedness of gender and all of that, I am also well aware that I do live in that system. We all care about what we look like, even if the look we choose to project is “I don’t care about what I look like” or “fuck your fascist beauty standards” or “combat boots kick ass.” I can pull those looks off, too, and sometimes I do. But it is a fact that, if I stand up and identify myself as a feminist, the fact that I am femmey, the fact that I am married and have a kid, the fact that I have a Ph.D., gives my words a certain kind of weight.
In my unbiased opinion, the words of a femme feminist help, in some unenlightened circles, to defy the stereotypical feminist image. This notion in itself is inherently irritating — while my words are rarely different than, and rarely more poignant than, most feminists, the messenger sometimes makes the difference.
One of my goals here on the blog has been to mix the personal and political to an indefinable mush. We cannot easily divorce our politics from our personal experiences thus this has been my experiment in the opposite. I have found readers who have reluctantly begun to stick around and like what I have to say about feminism because something about the rest of my online persona appealed to them, just as I have had people in my tangible life who have approached me for my looks or femmey personality and been turned onto feminism by virtue of my physical persona.
While this wasn’t a conscious effort on my part, I have noticed over time that for some people, especially young women, the acceptance of the belief system and the feminist label are far more acceptable from someone who appears in every other way to be like them (and for young men, from someone physically unthreatening). Sometimes I want to hold them down and wash them of this silliness, but I usually tell carefully crafted stories about my coming out as a feminist at the same time I came out as an unabashed femme.
This may get me some criticism, but I’m not sure I care. As the doctor paraphrased: “I’m not interested in a revolution where I can’t dance.”