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  1. Shybiker
    Shybiker August 3, 2011 at 9:19 am |

    Your two conclusions (in paragraph 4) are exactly right. And important to realize, to clear away confusion.

    The post is exceptionally well thought out and written.

  2. SamanthaPink
    SamanthaPink August 3, 2011 at 9:27 am |

    You make a great point. I don’t think that this is helping men test our gender roles at all, because there are very few men who will try colored make-up. I feel like this is just going to blow up into a big controversy.

  3. DAS
    DAS August 3, 2011 at 9:59 am |

    Do I wear make-up? Yes, to be honest I do wear make-up (i.e. tinted sun lotion). But does this mean I am somehow subverting gender roles by doing “beauty work”? Not at all — because there is a big difference between rubbing some tinted lotion over my face and checking to make sure it looks even and spending ten or more minutes in front of the mirror because you know that if you go out without applying full make-up you will be viewed as un-professional looking or as somehow being improper.

    And the interesting thing is, the people doing a lot of the gender norms enforcement are women. For example I think my wife actually looks better with no or minimal make-up (and I suspect most men would agree), but if she were to go to certain places (synagogue, work-related appointments, etc) without “proper” make-up, it would be other women who would treat her differently.

  4. Variety
    Variety August 3, 2011 at 10:06 am |

    I think there is a lot of variability &ndash for example, I spend way more time on a day-to-day basis getting ready/grooming/managing body hair than my current girlfriend, but she spends more times in salons than I do, getting her nails/hair done every few weeks.

  5. benvolio
    benvolio August 3, 2011 at 10:49 am |

    The thing about the Hugh Laurie bit that immediately struck me was his seating posture, i.e. slouched back, splayed legs. That, my friends, is what primatologists call ‘dominance display.’ The message is ‘see my crotch? I’m so manly, I can taunt you with my forward-thrust denim-clad genitals!’ Which is a hilarious counterpoint to the whole ‘I think I may need makeup to look good, and if I don’t need it, well, I look good with it anyway’ message the dialogue would impart. No matter the text, the subtext is “manly manly man.”

    (Yes, his posture is partly the function of that chair, but as the only prop on set –besides the manicure girl sitting on a freaking cinder block– the chair has undoubtedly been carefully selected for its visual appeal, both textually and subtextually.)

  6. ArielNYC
    ArielNYC August 3, 2011 at 10:54 am |

    Very thought provoking, thank you.

    I think it’s the conflict of being a modern man. You kind of envy the social norm of eons past where wearing powedered wigs and dressing splendiferously was the way to go for men (assuming you head the means). At the same time you’re ever cognizant of the male privilege of being able to roll out of bed and get ready to work in less than 10 minutes.
    I actually would be happy to just get back to the mid 20th century where wearing a hat was a matter of course. I think you could make a very strong argument that man fashion could use a little pendulum counter swing.

    I understand there’s the probem of fashion a class marker and that shifting toward more male “aristocratic peacocking” will undo the egalitarian progress of years past. I suppose we could all adopt the Mao suit for maximum comfort and egalitarianism, but wouldn’t it be an incredibly boring world? Is dressing men in dowdy clothes that much better? Besides, you can argue that men nowadays peackock with fancy cars rather than with fancy wigs or fancy tailcoats. Is that progress? I think ultimately the desire for differentiation is not really going to go away. Might as well make it a more dandy world.

  7. Mr. Kristen J.
    Mr. Kristen J. August 3, 2011 at 11:33 am |

    To be honest, I haven’t given beauty work much thought in the context of masculinity. Thank you for giving me some additional food for thought. I’d say this is more support for the idea that beauty work is a means of enforcing class dominance through conspicuous consumption. I would argue that the Renunciation only worked for as long as it has because many men did and do consider their wives as ornamentation – consciously or unconsciously – signaling their social status. If wives-as-signals of social status are unavailable, it stands to reason that men have to find other methods of signaling. I.e., expensive cars, clothes, gambling, and now possibly beauty work.

    I’d guess its probably a wash for men overall, but clearly a blow to class equality. Now, in keeping with gendered norms I must go apply moisturizer while using dominant displays to avoid the implication that I am not a manly, manly man.

  8. William
    William August 3, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    I think context really matters here. Yes, men might engage in more attention to grooming, they might buy products made by L’Oreal, they might wear clothes which are traditionally identified as feminine or engage in traditionally female pursuits, but they’re still men and their actions still happen in the context of masculinity.

    I think an example is useful here. I’ve long been a fan of the black metal scene. Performers in this odd little subgenre put a lot of effort into their appearance, elaborate make-up has been a part of the aesthetic from the early days and the costumes take the metal-and-spikes look to a comically peacocked extreme. One of the big bands in this scene until very recently was an act called Gorgoroth and their frontman was a man named Gaahl. Pretty recently Gaahl came out as openly gay. He dated a young and fairly effeminate fashion designer, was involved in the production of collection of women’s clothing, and made his career wearing make-up onstage.

    Gaahl has also been to prison twice for acts of extreme violence. Shortly after he came out someone called him a homophobic name and needed to be hospitalized as a result of Gaahl’s reaction. Both his on-stage persona and his off-stage identity is bound up in a hyper-masculine presentation. His ability to do things which are not traditionally considered masculine is the product of his ability to masculinize activities. Gaahl doesn’t subvert gender signs, he appropriates signs through his (sometimes overtly violent) masculinity.

    A less aggressive example can be seen in the marketing materials for products like Utilikilts, Hugh Laurie’s wide pose, or even David Bowie’s hypersexual attitude. I think what we’re seeing in this trend towards men’s grooming is as much marketing companies selling masculinity as it is any actual shift in what defines masculinity. Axe’s entire business model seems to be built around the idea that their products will make you more manly. Old Spice has been fairly explicit in that sales pitch as of late. I think what we’re seeing here is the argument “if you use our products you will be so masculine that you can act like a girl and still be the manliest man on the block.”

  9. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe August 3, 2011 at 12:36 pm |

    I once heard of a salon that tried to market manicures and pedicures to men by calling them “hand detailing” and “foot detailing.” Don’t think it worked.

  10. L
    L August 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm |

    (Certainly not all makeup-wearing men enjoy such privilege, as many a tale from a transgendered man will reveal, but the kind of man who is posited as a potential challenge to gender ideals by being both the typical “man’s man” and a makeup wearer does have a relative amount of privilege.)

    I think you mean transwoman here in place of ‘transgendered man’.

    Very interesting post!

  11. Z S
    Z S August 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm |

    “But in actuality, the message teeters on mockery”

    That is because Hugh Laurie is a comedian, not because he’s just super manly. Mockery is what he does – see his entire career besides “House”, including interviews on eg Leno since “House” began. Also “Hugh Laurie” and “working class” in the same sentence made me chuckle – Mr. Laurie went to Eton, alma mater of Prince William and I believe 6 members of the current British Cabinet, including Prime Minister David Cameron. So there was nothing for him to “transcend” class-wise, as he is as upper class as it gets.

    As a posh person, he had better be tongue in cheek while talking about beauty, or he faces social evisceration – he has no social license at all to groom in public. That’s the privilege/burden of the middle class male, or of new money (see: David Beckham). For a British aristocrat, male or female, to be seen to make too much effort with their appearance is considered nouveau, trival, and (gasp) American. It also reads as “townie” instead of country – that is, not a useful person. Getting a manicure isn’t too far off such abominations as driving a red Ferrari instead of a 20-year-old Landrover, or wearing a designer coat instead of a battered old Barbour jacket. Indeed the more the brilliant Mr. Laurie is seen to have “sold out” to Americanization, being “in trade” (fine to be an actor, but to make quite so much money at it…?!), and abandoning comedy and his original “authentic” fanbase, the more important it is for someone of his class background not to take personal grooming seriously. The video subtext is, “I’m terribly sorry about this manicure business old chap, but they offered me a giant wad of cash, don’t you know, and I’m afraid the stately pile needs re-roofing, hasn’t been done since George III I’m afraid, what what?”

    That said, this post was interesting to me as it said something about how this plays in the US. America’s class system, while different to Britain’s, is grossly under-discussed, and I admire this site and this author for actually talking about it.

  12. DAS
    DAS August 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm |

    As a posh person, he had better be tongue in cheek while talking about beauty, or he faces social evisceration – he has no social license at all to groom in public. That’s the privilege/burden of the middle class male, or of new money (see: David Beckham). For a British aristocrat, male or female, to be seen to make too much effort with their appearance is considered nouveau, trival, and (gasp) American. – Z S

    Interestingly, as far as I know, the “no social license to groom in public” aspect of being posh is a complete reversal of how things used to be in Britain (c.f. the comments in the post about the 19th century change in men’s fashions). In fact, I think in much of the US, there was a similar aversion to “old money” engaging in such “peacock-ing”. As far as I know, the South has been the (partial) exception as the Victorian-era “reform” of the upper-classes didn’t quite penetrate the South. Michael Lind has written about this, FWIW.

  13. William
    William August 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm |

    Fascinating examples here; I didn’t know enough about the black metal or goth world to really get into what makeup use there signals, so I’m glad you pointed out that even a man in full makeup isn’t necessarily subverting gender markers.

    A picture is worth a thousand words: Gaahl Performing Masculinity in makeup that I promise he spent an hour in front of a mirror perfecting.

  14. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |

    I’m reminded of Rudolph Valentino in the Twenties, the original Latin Lover (Even though he was really Italian) who became one of the first modern male symbols. These days, we’d probably call him a metrosexual. He relied on face powder and a manicured appearance and women loved it.

    A backlash began when an offended male found a face powder dispenser inside an upscale hotel’s restroom and wrote an indignant column about the end of masculinity. Valentino, his honor impugned, challenged the man to a duel, but the man would not agree. In desperation, he sought the noted newspaper columnist and wit H.L. Mencken, and proceeded to tell his side of the story. Tragically, he died before he could defend himself in print.

  15. Z S
    Z S August 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |

    Autumn – I’m glad to be useful! I remember seeing a group of posh British men discussing news of a cure for baldness that worked on mice. They said that they’d like a safe reliable human version, but probably wouldn’t dare use it unless it was a side effect of something else (eg the way few complained that Viagra wasn’t a good heart drug!), because they anticipated being teased. I suspect they would use it if it became de rigeur, and brush it off as “well you have to look young in the business world these days”. Definitely America is different – I’ve noticed it a lot living there. I do wonder though whether you would ever see, say, a manicured-up Rockefeller or Astor? America has its aristocrats too, by another name.

    DAS – you are right that it is a reversal. I think there is something in the fact that the new plainer style came about when the new middle class suddenly grew up in tandem with the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700′s/early 1800′s- perhaps because it is more practical and these were self-made men who worked in trade, instead of traditional landowners. It is likely informed by the French Revolution (1789), occuring in response to the excesses of the French aristos whose emphasis on preening was seen as symbolic of their oppressive, wasteful ways. The Romantics rejected this, and were also first to adopt the plain dark suit as well as first to worry about what the Industrial Age was doing to the “innocent”, recently-rural working class. Possibly male non-grooming in England is a historic way of being both not-French and not-Oppressor.

    Amusingly the fashion for wigs went out because syphilis got less prevalent meaning people didn’t feel so much need to cover their syphilitic-induced bald heads!

    I suck at the HTML thing but some links for those interested in the history of male grooming in the UK. Only Wikipedia but fairly good:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fop
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dandy
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beau_Brummell

  16. R. Dave
    R. Dave August 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm |

    Really excellent post; thank you for writing it! I’m not sure I necessarily agree with your perspective in toto, but there’s much food for thought even in the parts I’m wary of.

    One point in particular that I wanted to comment on, though, is this:

    Male cosmetic behavior seems more like the pursuit of “relief from self-dissatisfaction” that drives makeup use among women rather than a space that encourages a gender-role shakeup.

    …By reducing the amount of appearance options available to men, the great masculine renunciation also reduced both the burden of choice and the judgments one faces when one’s efforts fall short of the ideal.

    While I certainly recognize that the more options men have to “improve” our appearance, the more we’ll eventually be judged by the degree to which take advantage of those options, I have to say that in the short term and speaking personally, I welcome having that option. I’m not interested in exploring the boundaries of gender roles or “peacocking”, but I would like to be able to cover up a zit or balance out my complexion from time to time without worrying that someone might realize I’m *gasp* wearing makeup. Without drawing any false equivalence to what women have to deal with, it is true that men are judged (often subconsciously) on their beauty, and it would be nice to have some options for enhancing it rather than just having to accept whatever hand nature deals us.

  17. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm |

    Coming back to this tomorrow when I have more time!

    I often work with guys who wear makeup (goth bands, Japanese visual kei bands), and I grew up in the goth subculture, so I’ve never thought of makeup as something that only women wear. There’s a long tradition of subcultures in which men wear it too. And yes, it is in some ways used to signify transgression, but it’s also used by some guys just because they find joy in self-adornment. (This is part of why a lot of feminist discussions about women and self-adornment feel so alien to me.)

    Some makeup signals “feminine”. Some signals “subversive”. Some signals “I belong to X subculture – if you do too then come talk to me”.

    Also, have you seen the Shiseido range for men? When they first launched it they had a big pop star who’s a former visual kei guy as the face of the brand (this guy, if you’re curious – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gackt), but the product isn’t intended for performers so much as for just regular guys who want to look more attractive.

    Historically speaking makeup (and self-adornment in general) wasn’t a specifically feminine thing, and I like to think we’re beginning to move back in that direction. I certainly hope so, because I do love a beautiful, flashy man in eyeliner.

  18. Athenia
    Athenia August 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm |

    You make an excellent point about the class issue.

    But I also wonder too if this isn’t more about men’s relationship with each other rather than to women. My boy toy just bought an eye roller for the bags under his eyes. He also uses lotion and chapstick. It’s not exactly make-up, but I find it interesting that a “young, fresh, energetic” look is what concerns him. Like, it seems very much connected to work rather than attractiveness.

  19. Hypatia
    Hypatia August 4, 2011 at 5:19 am |

    Correction– Transgender men do not use makeup. All the trans men I’ve ever known have sought to eliminate femininity from their lives, and resented having it imposed on them when they were growing up.

  20. DouglasG
    DouglasG August 4, 2011 at 5:06 pm |

    Thank you for raising some new perspectives, although it’s far too late for me now, and the post actually makes me feel more like Miss Bates than ever. But there’s a weird sort of empowerment in embracing being beyond beauty work because no amount of effort will make one look anything other than grotesque, and in being very definitely Off the Shelf.

    You’re absolutely right about being short as well. It basically immediately put me on the Not-Bound-For-Success track, and would have made it pointless for me to try to prettify myself even if that option had been open in my time.

  21. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm |

    @ Autumn – It does seem to me that men in Japan are given a lot more wiggle room as far as being allowed to self-beautify without having their sexuality or masculinity questioned than men in the US or Europe. It’s not just makeup – flashier clothes are also OK, and the way the Japanese media depicts male celebrities leans a lot more overtly sexualised than anything you really see in the US outside of gay culture or little pockets of subculture.

    I think Shiseido chose that particular guy as the face of the brand for a while not so much because he’s known for having worn makeup in the past as because he’s famous for being really good looking and appealing to a broad range of women (and gay men, but I don’t think they were taking that into account as much in terms of the ad campaign). He also does advertising for a lot of other beauty-related products, and actually the way he’s used in advertising in general is a good illustration of what I mean about men being more overtly sexualised in the media in Japan. The ad below, for example, is for a cellphone service, so targeted at a mainstream audience. (Mildly NSFW – he’s naked, but the genitalia is blurred out.)

  22. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 5, 2011 at 6:16 pm |

    It is weird, isn’t it, how resistant American culture is to any sexualisation of men? I was trying to think of similar advertising in the US and all I could come up with was Calvin Klein underwear ads, and that’s for underwear, so…hard not to make it a bit more overtly sexual. When men are overtly sexualised here we usually seem to feel the need to pretend it’s a joke (see the Old Spice ads), as if women looking at men in a sexual way is so unacceptable that it can only be done with a side-order of “but we’re just kidding, kind of”.

    I really think it’s a major force warping gender performance in the US, this idea that women are for looking at and men are not. And it influenced het relationships in all kinds of ways, most of them bad in my opinion.

    The term metrosexual always bothered me because of the implied judgement. And it wasn’t just from men – I saw a lot of women mocking men seen as metrosexual too, which is particularly troubling from feminists, because if we’re going to question ideas about how female gender performance is created, it makes no sense at all to then act like male gender performance is natural and just happens to fit a pattern that American culture is comfortable with.

  23. Jackie
    Jackie August 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm |

    CassandraSays:
    Coming back to this tomorrow when I have more time!

    I often work with guys who wear makeup (goth bands, Japanese visual kei bands), and I grew up in the goth subculture, so I’ve never thought of makeup as something that only women wear. There’s a long tradition of subcultures in which men wear it too. And yes, it is in some ways used to signify transgression, but it’s also used by some guys just because they find joy in self-adornment. (This is part of why a lot of feminist discussions about women and self-adornment feel so alien to me.)

    Some makeup signals “feminine”. Some signals “subversive”. Some signals “I belong to X subculture – if you do too then come talk to me”.

    Also, have you seen the Shiseido range for men? When they first launched it they had a big pop star who’s a former visual kei guy as the face of the brand (this guy, if you’re curious – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gackt), but the product isn’t intended for performers so much as for just regular guys who want to look more attractive.

    Historically speaking makeup (and self-adornment in general) wasn’t a specifically feminine thing, and I like to think we’re beginning to move back in that direction. I certainly hope so, because I do love a beautiful, flashy man in eyeliner.

    Me too I love feminine looking men, I want more of them, moarrrr!

  24. Blog
    Blog August 31, 2011 at 11:27 am |

    [...] post originally appeared on Feministe. Republished with [...]

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