Can You Be a Feminist and Wear Makeup?
The short answer is yes. The long answer, however, is a bit more complex and something I plan to undertake over the course of this blog.
Feminism isn't a singular. Rather, there are feminisms. The reason why there are so many branches of feminism (e.g. Marxist Feminism, Liberal Feminism, Radical Feminism, Lipstick Feminism, etc..) is because debates and arguments as to how we can challenge the subordination of women in society are infinite.
What these feminisms hold in common however, is a definition: feminism is a doctrine which holds that women are equal to men. It's as simple as that. If you believe this, then feminism is a term you can proudly embrace, even as a man.
As it stands, society constantly reminds women they are less valued than men. In the U.S, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, and it's especially harder for women to get promoted to top positions. Women's reproductive rights are constantly encroached upon. A recent NY Times article declared that about 35 percent of women worldwide said they had experienced physical violence in their lifetime. The same report showed that one in 10 girls under the age of 18 had been raped. On college campuses, one in five female college students are assaulted each year.
Of course, violence can happen to anyone, and these facts are not meant to diminish the gravity of a man's or a boy's harrowing experience. However, the reality is that violence is mostly done to women. And that violence against women is very much real, and frequent, and this violence exists because of a fundamentally twisted belief: that women are inferior, that they can be owned, and traded, and violated because men are entitled to them.
I feel the need to say-- and it is quite unfortunate that I feel that need because of the negative connotations feminism spurs to mind for some of you-- that I love men. I am in a relationship with a wonderful, supportive man who I feel incredibly lucky to be with. I do not have "daddy issues." Some of my best friends in the whole world happen to be male. Though I love and treasure Adrienne Rich's writing, I do not think, unlike her, that the answer to feminism is lesbianism for all women (though I urge you to read her really powerful and poignant essay I linked to above to understand why she believes this). I do think men and women can live together in harmony, but the current hierarchies put in place by society sometimes prevent us from proving as much.
What separates all these feminisms I listed above (and a million others) are the values shared by each group, and, at the root of it, a question: Is feminism a political and ethical commitment? As a feminist, I want to see a change in the ways in which society is organized. For that to happen, however, I believe the political is necessary. In order to raise people's consciousness, in order to change the status quo and open up possibilities to women, yes, I absolutely believe the political and the ethical should be present in our understanding of feminism. I believe feminism should be about a commitment to challenging power. And by believing that, I sometimes feel that I fail incredibly in my activism.
Though some women will chime in and say that makeup can be empowering, that anyone can wear makeup and that simply having the choice of wearing makeup is a feminist one, I'm more reluctant to exclaim as much. Obviously, I created this blog because I adore makeup. I like the self-expression it allows. I like that by painting on a bright pink lip I am making a statement much different than by wearing a dark purple one. I like that I can blacken my eyes and look at you like a wolf. I also, almost like a sacred act, love the ritual of putting it on. And taking it all off. I like it above all else, however, because it makes me feel pretty.
And that's the problem.
While we should be allowed to embrace traditional notions of femininity to empower ourselves (as Lipstick Feminists have argued), I also believe they can work against us. Because as women we are expected to look beautiful at all times (just turn on the news: almost all female news reporters are conventionally beautiful, while the male reporters are mostly regular plain looking men, as this journalist acutely pointed out), we are also more often valued by how we look rather than how we think.
The beauty industry has capitalized on our self-esteem issues (in part created by them) and constantly tells women what they absolutely need in order to be or become a woman. We have very little say in what being a woman is. Rather, we are told from birth, by the color of our room's wallpaper and the dresses and dolls that we are given, that femininity falls into a certain mold and that to be called a woman, we must fit inside it. As Judith Butler famously wrote in Gender Trouble, gender identity "is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results." That is, gender is a performance.
That being said, I do not think that wearing makeup makes you un-feminist. If you believe in equality, and if you're ready to go march the streets for reproductive rights, or petition to stop violence against women (and violence against everyone, period) then why the fuck shouldn't you be allowed to call yourself a feminist? It's also un-feminist, I believe, to shame other women because of how they choose to present themselves.
However, can we fight the power by making use of the master's tools?