Having followed Autumn Whitefield-Madrano’s blog The Beheld for a long time – and having been inspired by her writing in starting this blog – I’m very excited that she is hosting a guest post from me today. Here’s a taster:
Recently I got into an argument with a male friend who couldn’t see the difference between makeup, clothes, and jewelery when it came to beauty work and feminism. I thought the difference was obvious, but being forced to explain it properly I settled on the argument that it came down to adornment vs alteration. Makeup sits right on your skin and changes the way you look, and it isn’t always easy to see that it’s there. Clothes can alter your shape and general appearance, but they are more separate from you than makeup; jewelery is more separate still, not actually changing the way you look but merely adorning you with sparkles.
At the time I was quite pleased with this argument, but now I wonder. When does adornment become alteration? I’m not sure that the boundary is as clear as I had assumed—after all, do we then have to draw a distinction between BB creams and bright red lipstick, on the grounds that lipstick is obvious and artificial, and therefore falls more into the adornment camp, whereas BB cream is a deceptive alteration of your skin (or at least its appearance)?
I’ve certainly never heard anyone argue that wearing jewelery is part of the patriarchal oppression of women by pressuring them to be beautiful. But it is something that women do, with the purpose of enhancing their beauty. Does that mean a feminist should rethink her earrings, giving them the same weight of consideration many might give makeup?
Read the rest here… and read everything else on The Beheld too!
March 25th, 2014 at 7:37 pm
Interesting perspective. I’ve found that feminists don’t always agree on these issues so it’s interesting to hear her thoughts.
Some feminists are okay with makeup, jewelry, everything if you’re doing it to celebrate femininity or self expression. Cultural feminists, who celebrate anything that has historically been associated with women, might like to highlight a feminine look with make up, for instance.
I guess the crucial factor is motivation. Are you doing it to celebrate femininity? Or are you doing it to be a beauty object for men?
March 26th, 2014 at 9:02 am
Exactly: and how can we be sure what our motivations are? I always wonder about celebrating femininity too – I don’t think it can be argued that makeup, jewellery etc. are ‘innately’ feminine, they’re just part of a socially constructed idea. And is it helpful to celebrate that? It would be worth comparing this to other cultures (contemporary and historical) where men wear jewellery and makeup too. That’s another post to write… 🙂
April 3rd, 2014 at 6:47 am
I think it is worth celebrating “femininity”–the things associated with femininity, that aren’t innately female–as well. For one thing, breaking those associations is difficult; even things that have become more or less equally apparent among genders (or that always have existed equally, like emotions) still have very strong associations with femininity or masculinity. As long as people are looked down on for, say, crying, women (“but not you, just those OTHER women”) will be looked down on, because crying is associated with women. It might be possible for us to prove WE’RE not personally one of those silly weepy people and then be taken seriously, but a man won’t have to prove himself first.
And, even if we somehow got everything evened out between the genders, and convinced everyone everything was even and that women were no more likely than men to cry(/wear makeup/whatever), there would still be PEOPLE who cry, or put a lot of effort into their appearance, or whatever else. Shifting the shaming and abuse from a majority-female group of people to a group with an even mix of genders is not, in my opinion, an improvement, so it’s better to make “feminine” things good and appreciated than to make them gender neutral but still shameful traits to have. Or better yet, do both at the same time. But don’t just shift the cultural abuse to different people.
April 3rd, 2014 at 10:14 am
That’s a really insightful perspective, and it would definitely be a danger of trying to ‘even out’ gender difference. My hope would be that things like crying, makeup etc. would no longer be considered as weak or frivolous, and so their stigma would be reduced. Then it wouldn’t matter who wanted to cry or wear makeup or not. That is, however, only a hope!