Tag Archives: compulsory femininity

Hiking boots on sand

Makeup, mobility and choice: the things you don’t have to do

Cross-posted from my personal blog, originally titled “The Kind of Feminist I Am”.

I don’t use makeup. I put lotion on my skin and balm on my lips if they feel uncomfortably dry, if you want to call that cosmetic. If someone wants to film me then they’ll have to find some powders or whatever that suit my skin tone, because I don’t have any. I don’t shave my legs. I don’t own “heels.” I think a few of my shoes may have, like, a quarter-inch rise in the heel compared to the toe. I usually keep my hair so short that combs barely affect anything; if bangs start existing, an old headband keeps them out of my eyes. A barber shears my head every few months.

Also: I’m still not on Facebook. That’s right, I’m an online community manager, have been for two years, and I can get along fine without Facebook. I don’t eat red meat, and rarely have sustainable fish or organic free-range poultry. “Vegetarian” is basically right. I don’t imbibe massmedia about the visual appearance of famous people. I didn’t watch most of the Matrix or Lord of the Rings movies, and I don’t read TechCrunch or Gawker or that ycombinator news site.

I post this as part of the project to normalize diversity. If you think “everyone” is on Facebook, well, no, because I’m not. If you think every woman shaves her legs, no, I don’t. I am a successful person who has given influential speeches and mentored others, and I don’t have to do any of these things, so you don’t either. It’s all of a piece.

Caitlin Moran recently wrote a very good feminist book, How To Be a Woman. She discusses some sexist expectations (that women should wear uncomfortable shoes and epilate ourselves all over and so on). It’s unpaid labor and it’s nonsense and I say to hell with it. Some sexist expectations still get in my way. For instance, men interrupt me more often than they interrupt other men. And if I run a meeting efficiently, I’m less likely (compared to a man) to get thought of as a “strong leader,” and more likely to get thought of as a “bitch.” It’s annoying enough to have to spend any thought on avoiding that crap, so I skip all the other, more optional crap as much as possible.

It saves big chunks of time and money to omit “oh but everyone does it” junk. It’s pretty easy for me to just go with my own inertia — I never started wearing makeup, wearing pointy heels, or using Facebook, or smoking pot. I tried out leg-shaving and longish hair and earring-wearing and tens-of-thousands-of-people conferences, and they just don’t deliver ROI for me, so I stopped.

I know not everyone can just say “screw it” and walk away from this crap with no consequences. Intersectionality exists. Thank all goodness that I can dismiss as much of the crap as I can.

Mobility’s one part of that privilege. I move around a lot and have had a bunch of jobs, and sometimes that’s annoying, but a cool thing about it is that I’m not as stuck with one small consistent group of authority figures who might be jerks about my choices or reinventions. I can be blithe about other people disapproving of my choices, because I have a great job, certifications of a good education, a sensible spouse, a lucrative career, reasonably good health, and various convenient privileges. It also helps to be a bit socially oblivious, and specifically to have a tough time making out soft voices in crowds; if anyone’s gossiping about me in whispers, I won’t hear it! It’s great! (For me.)

So this is one reason why I’m in favor of good government-sponsored education and healthcare that levels the playing field for everyone, and reproductive rights, and easy border-crossings, and public transit. I love mobility. I love the means by which people can get away from their old selves and the people who thought they knew them. I love the fact that I get to choose whether I care about my high school classmates. (Make your own Facebook-related joke here!)

Exit, voice, and loyalty. Forking. For adults, the most fundamental freedom is the freedom to leave, to vote with your feet.

But right near that is the freedom to walk around in public without having to slather paint or a smile on your face. If you want to, cool! Performing femininity, like playing the guitar, ought to be a choice.

eye_with_makeup

I feel Pretty, Oh So Pre-AAAAh It’s in my EYE!

I don’t wear make-up. When I was a baby, my mother made me be a clown for Halloween and when she washed the makeup away, I had a horrible rash. I guess I was allergic to the face paint and since then I have told people I am allergic to makeup. I wore some make-up in middle/school; but I didn’t wear it in college, I didn’t wear it when I was working in industry, and I don’t wear it now in grad school. My mother has never worn make-up, so never gave me instruction on how to apply it. The couple times friends have convinced me to let them put some on me, I thought I looked ridiculous. Twice in the last six months my hair gal has asked to “touch up” my make-up after she finished my hair. Either she thinks I need help, she can’t tell I’m not wearing any, or she gets a bonus if I buy makeup.

Do you hate me yet? Well prepare yourself. I think that makeup is a waste of my time. (Note, I didn’t say makeup is a waste of YOUR time). I think that most people I know who wear makeup look fine. When I meet people who love makeup and wear a lot I think the same thing I think when I meet a person who spends a lot of time making scrapbooks or watching Saw movies, “That is neat, I am glad you like that, and I would never do it.” It just isn’t for me. I hate the way it feels. I hate being afraid to touch my face and makeup seems to require putting a lot of stuff really close to my eye. (I don’t wear contacts because YOU SHOULD NOT PUT STUFF IN YOUR EYE!)

There are women I know that are successful and spend a lot of time on makeup and I think that they are amazing and I that am rather lazy. I do think that society forces women to focus on a lot of stuff before they can focus on stuff that men get to focus on right away and in a very real way this puts women at a disadvantage. Mitchell and Webb think so too. The biggest examples are the second shift and the pink economy. Requiring women to do something that doesn’t really add value to their lives and costs them money and time seems wrong.

Jezebel had an article about whether makeup is a choice. The author doesn’t think it is a choice. Many commenters replied with “I know, it’s not fair.” or “Sure it is a choice, I don’t wear makeup.” or “I love makeup!” A few months ago the president of our student section of Society of Women Engineers suggested that for one of our events we have a makeup tutorial. I said that in many industries makeup is a requirement for women and that we should not encourage that to be the case in engineering. She is a lovely girl who wears makeup and she looked at me like I was nuts.

I know that there is an opinion that makeup is a little like brushing your teeth but I would like to disagree. Teeth brushing, or some type of dental hygiene, is just that, hygiene. It is about cleanliness. Makeup, is the very opposite of that. It is stuff you literally have to wash off, with chemicals sometimes (near your EYES!).

Honestly, it is probably inevitable that makeup will become a requirement at some point in my life, either because it already is and my relative youth has just been giving me a pass or because we are on a societal march towards mandatory effort towards pretty for women. Or maybe it already is mandatory and I have lost jobs, friends, or relationships because of my laziness stubbornness. If, at anytime, a person takes me aside and says, in a concerned tone, “You would really look so much better with just a little bit of makeup,” I will respond (to someone I like) “Thanks but I just don’t like it;” or, to a non-makeup wearer, “So would you.” or, to a makeup wearer, “It doesn’t seem to be working for you.” Because, really, someone just called me ugly and, even if it is true, it is still rude.

So here is my plea to the pro-makeup people. Keep loving it, or stop, whatever you want. If someone asks for your help, give it to them like the tactful person you are. If you ever think “Wow, she could use some makeup!” keep that thought to yourself. If you encounter someone being judged for not wearing makeup, remember that appearance is not the same thing as hygiene and should not be the defining characteristic of a person’s skill, character or personality. And please, try not to get anything in your eyes, because I care about your eyes too.