Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Are you a dube of The Patriarcy?

It’s good to see Donna writing again at The Silence of Our Friends. On the topic of the latest battle between women calling themselves radical feminists and feminists of other stripes, Donna wrote:

The complicated part and the part that has these women annoyed, disgusted, and angry is that some radfems have declared themselves the arbiters of who is and isn't a feminist. Those women who choose and enjoy presenting themselves in what could be considered a traditionally feminine way and/or in traditionally feminine roles must be kept out of the feminism clubhouse. I'm not sure how this can be viewed as anything but as stifling as the patriarchy, our choices are still being constricted, but now it's by the matriarchy.

I think this is a great summation of the way a lot of us view discussions about makeup, dresses, sex with men, etc. The problem is, as soon as we begin talking this way, the response of radfem women is: "I don’t have the power to kick you out, so quit pretending I do! All I’m doing is expressing an opinion! Why are you trying to suppress my right to speak?"

I have to say, I can see good and bad points on both sides of this debate, even though I would imagine my current label to be sex-positive, pr0n-tolerant feminist.

In one of these discussions, I read about a woman who lost an employment discrimination lawsuit when she was fired for not wearing makeup in her job as a bartender. The details don’t really matter. What matters was several women were pissed that they HAD to wear makeup in order to keep their jobs.

Bear with me as I explain why my situation may differ from that of many women involved in these discussions.

I work in a corporation in the Midwest in which corporate dress, including makeup, is strongly encouraged. Yet I choose not to wear makeup. Every day I see maybe a thousand women at work and my guess is less than 12 of us make the decision to not wear makeup.

I experience zero discomfort over this decision, although I expect some of my co-workers may feel differently. But I can also walk down the streets in this metropolitan area and see dozens if not hundreds of women who also do not wear makeup.

Do I live in a lesbian utopia? Nope. But I do live in a state that until very recently was overwhelmingly devoted to agriculture. So the women who were and are valued here are strong, skilled and no-nonsense farmwomen. Flannel and denim clothing, leather gloves and steel-toed boots, strong arms and backs are the attributes of an ideal farmwoman. If you bothered with make-up it was gone after the first few hours of hard labor.

So my decision to not wear makeup is not seen as the choice of a militant feminist, but the choice of a powerful woman who has worked hard at good and honest labor. That makes the decision easy for me. Probably far easier than it would be for a woman living in New York City or Los Angeles.

It is hard for me to empathize with women who wear makeup resentfully or women who choose not to wear makeup but experience that decision as a source of daily tension.

Then again, I experienced that tension when I attended my 20th high school reunion. I had to force myself to not wear makeup – to not change my behavior just to fit in with that crowd. When I arrived, I realized I was the ONLY woman there not sporting stylish clothing, hairstyle, makeup, etc. I felt damned uncomfortable. I can’t imagine experiencing that feeling every day.

Which is to say, making the decision to be femmy or butch has different effects for different women in different environments.

I think it is useful when radical feminists ask us to question our decisions about how we dress or whether we wear makeup and why. Unfortunately, their appearance of being gatekeepers at the clubhouse of feminism makes it hard to respond in a way that is helpful in advancing the women's movement.

But what if we did talk about these things amongst ourselves? If you choose to be femmy or butch, do you think the decision is easy or difficult? Do you experience problems or benefits because of your decision?

I’ve noticed one rather odd result of my decision. I ride the bus every day. I usually get on before the bus gets crowded, so I’m able to observe the newcomers having to make a decision about which seat to choose when there are no empty two-person benches. It’s not uncommon for women to choose the seat next to me. But I’ve noticed that both young and middle-aged men, when forced to choose from an assortment of seats with one woman each, will choose to sit next to me. I think that I project an image of unavailability that makes them feels safer than sitting next to a more traditionally attired woman. Or maybe I’m imagining it.

So what about you? How has your choice of clothing or makeup affected the way you interact out in the world? Do you feel compelled by your environment to alter your behavior? Would you be able to change your choices on a whim without consequences? Could a butchy woman all of a sudden go femmy and feel comfortable? Vice versa? And does that say anything about the state of feminism today?

8 comments:

Donna said...

I also rarely wear make-up but as a stay at home mom I'd feel like June Cleaver if I did, and have to wear a dress and heels while dusting...LOL

I have taken jobs to make ends meet on occasion and when I have I didn't wear make-up then either and the only thought I had about it was, do I want to get up 15 minutes early to do it or not? And the answer was no. Although maybe if I was in a corporate setting I would have felt differently. I worked in at a couple of big box stores, at a magazine publisher (with the machines putting together the magazines and pamphlets), and as a secretary for a construction office at the construction site.

I also think there is a difference in feeling pressured to dress or groom a certain way and just doing it because it's the way you like doing it. So I would side with the bartenders they should know how to mix a good drink and give correct change. Until the men are required to wear cosmetics the women shouldn't be either.

Renegade Evolution said...

Great question!

Obviously, I wear make up for work. If I am just hanging around the house, I do not. I am also generally a jeans and t-shirt kinda gal. When I am going out, some times I wear make up, sometimes I don't, and I am comfortable either way, and most of my female friends, straight, gay, or bi, are pretty much the same way...actually, the "butchest" girl I know has long hair and rarely goes anywhere without eyeliner (just eyeliner) on, because she prefers her hair long and likes the theatrical bent of eyeliner, other than that, she is all jeans and combat boots and dating femme girls.

I think, if anything, feminism has made, and should continue to make, women feel comfortable in looking however they WANT to look. Eh, I am a fan of variety...

queer dewd formerly known as ( ) said...

heh. too tired to comment intelligently, but I did want to say that I LOVE getting older and it all just doesn't matter anymore! Working at home for so long, I haven't even had to get dressed -- which is why I own only one decent outfit to wear in public. I never invested in anything, spent it on the kid, and now two years later with a low income, haven't wanted to splurge on anything. :) when iw as in grad school, i always dressed up. after years of working in uniforms or in clothes fit to scrub fish scales off walls, I was pleased as hell to wear pretty things. Got 'em at Sally's Boutique, but if you shop right, you can find the nice department store remainders. Never forget the day I was teaching about the concept of property. In sociology, we understand property as a social relationshiop. Somehow, I said something about how I'd bought my outfit at The Sally. A gasp rushed out across the lecture hall. They were mortified! LOL

charmin said...

Uh, maybe it's time some of you freaks moved out of your moms' basements into the real world?

UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

1. Charmin, you're a moron.
2.To answer your question... I think I've worn makeup once in the past year, when some of my floormates decided to make me their pet project for a night of drinking. When I was in high school, I only ever wore it to formal dances and when I was in plays. If I wear makeup at all this year, it'll be because I'm in a play in February. I'm EXTREMELY low-maintenance--I usually just roll out of bed and get dressed. I wear jewelry, but no makeup, and while I love using good-smelling shampoos and conditioners, I don't use any other hair products. In high school, I had friends who would tell me I HAD to wear makeup, either for the reason of "getting guys to notice me" or "because everyone else does", both of which annoyed me to no end, both because I already had a boyfriend and because I don't give a shit what everybody else does. I like the fact that I can be like this-- it gives me more time to sleep, I look good to me, and from what I've seen, most guys don't mind having low-maintenance girlfriends.

Ravenmn said...

Don't forget the pearls, Donna. June Cleaver always wore her pearls!

Great answers, but I wonder if we're all just odd ducks.

And Charmin, no dissing my Mom's basement. It's a lovely place!

Jamie said...

When I arrived, I realized I was the ONLY woman there not sporting stylish clothing, hairstyle, makeup, etc. I felt damned uncomfortable.
Doesnt this say more about your own insecurities than it does about any external forces imposing their societal norms on you?

Jamie.

Jamie said...

But Ive noticed that both young and middle-aged men, when forced to choose from an assortment of seats with one woman each, will choose to sit next to me. I think that I project an image of unavailability that makes them feels safer than sitting next to a more traditionally attired woman
Maybe they think (as a lot of men do) that you are actually more accessible than the "traditionally dressed woman" - that because you don't primp and preen and make yourself up, you might be interested in more than your own appearance and life, and may actually be worth starting an intelligent conversation with.

I've certainly found this to be the case in my experience.

Best wishes,

Jamie.