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Saturday, June 27, 2009

High Heels and Lipstick: The Big Question

For a while I have been struggling with the "am I a feminist if..." question.
Am I a feminist if I follow certain patriarchal beauty standards (i.e. makeup, high hells, hair straightening/curling, etc.)?
Am I a feminist if I read Cosmo?
Am I a feminist if I follow pop culture?

I enjoy these things. Does that make me un-feminist? I don't think it has to, but it has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion.

One of the things that our sisters were fighting for in the 70s was the ability to not HAVE to do these things. To not have to wear heels and panty hose. To be able to wear pants in a professional as well as informal situation. To not have to wear makeup. And all Cosmo and pop culture do is perpetuate these patriarchal beauty standards and reinforce the stereotypical belief that women only exist to please the men in their lives and in society.

How can I call myself a feminist if I support this type of oppression of women? I enjoy wearing heels, dresses and makeup on occasion as well as picking up the sporadic Cosmo and People. But I have also committed my life to feminism. How do I consolidate these aspects of my life?

When it comes down to it, it's all about personal preference and choice. That's not to say that every woman that wears heels and makeup can be a feminist - you have to be away of the political and social meaning behind your choices. Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards in their book Manifesta say,

"In reality, feminism wants you to be whoever you are - but with a political consciousness. And vice versa: you want to bea feminist because you want to be exactly who you are," (56-7).
I wear heels, dresses, and makeup, but I am aware of the history behind the fight to not wear them. I read Cosmo and People but constantly question and analyze what I find in them - I do not take what they are "reporting" blindly.

Feminists need to know what their sisters fought for in the 70s and on and what wearing heels and makeup means in relation to that. Then, feminists need to make the conscious decision on what to wear, read, and do based on that reflection. In the end, I think that even asking the question "am I a feminist if..." shows that there is feminist analysis and reflection in that person. Just asking this question shows a feminist consciousness.


RMJ said...

Your site looks amazing! I'm working on some custom design stuff for my site, and this is inspiring.

Anyway, I struggle with this as well - along with racist/sexist/etc media and art. I think that there is no one disqualifying point from feminism. It's also important to admit inconsistencies in one's viewpoint - we are none of us righteous or feminist 100% of the time. As long as we're critical of the standards we uphold and the literature/music/art we enjoy, I don't think we need to burden ourselves with guilt.

Laura said...

Yeah, that's exactly the point I was trying to make. I think it's just important to recognize all forms of oppression and make conscious and informed decisions about what we do with our time/life. But also realize that no one is perfect or a perfect feminist.

Anonymous said...

Feminism is about empowering women to be who they want to be.

Jackie said...

Any thoughts on the women (or men) who rail and rally against fashion, makeup, dresses and heels in the name of feminism?

I have a coworker who is socially awkward and difficult to get along with. She is VERY anti-fashion to the point of dressing inappropriately at business functions and rudely making fun of a coworker who enjoys fashion and pop culture. It always seemed to me that she must dislike women and was avoiding being seen as one. Yesterday we had to get portraits taken for out company website (this in itself was something she made a huge protest over). The photographer casually asked her if she planned to put on some makeup to calm her extremely sunburned face. She became quite angry (not surprising to us who know her) and in her ranting she was saying all this stuff about being a feminist.

It was kind of shocking because on one hand I get that she's passionate about not being required to live up to beauty standards, but on the other hand she seems to have such HATE for anything "feminine". I wouldn't have ever used the word feminist to describe her. I wanted to ask her how she could be so down on women and still think of herself as a feminist, but I didn't as she's not an easy person to have a conversation with. By the end of the day I was wondering if she falls into the misogynist's stereotype of masculine mean-spirited feminists. I am a bit heartbroken to think that the stereotype has any real-life examples.

Laura said...


This is a tough question to answer. On the one hand, I think that part of feminism is standing up for your beliefs and fighting against the patriarchy, which this woman seems to be doing. And another part of feminism is being supportive of other feminist values than your own.

On the other hand, I don't think it is the place of women (or men) to attack other women about their appearance, interests, etc. without understanding their values. I know that I will always be a little bit judgmental, I think everyone will be. But there is a difference between being judgmental and attacking other people.

I know how hard it can be to deal with difficult people. And it's not really my place to hand out advice here. I'd say that I wouldn't dismiss her feminist values. If she sees herself as a feminist, that's great. It's hard when she uses those values to attack (this may be a strong word, especially for someone who is not personally familiar with the situation) other women without understanding their underlying values for dressing the way they do and doing what they do.

Tiadaria said...

I had trouble for a while after first identifying as feminist trying to see how to balance my absolute LOVE of makeup and hair and fashion with my feminist ideals.

Eventually, I realized...I didn't have to. I looked real hard at the reasons behind why I started getting into these hobbies, what makes me enjoy them, and I figured out that it's really simple...I just like it. I find happiness in perfectly blended eyeshadow, the way a painter finds happiness in a perfectly shaded charcoal portrait. I like doing "fun looks" as a way of expressing my personality. And I'm good at it. Why should I self-deprive myself of something that I love, and that I'm good at, just because someone else thinks I should? Wouldn't that be the opposite of the feminism I fight for? Indeed.

LBD said...

I have this debate with myself on a regular basis.

I like getting dressed up and looking sexy, but does that make me a bad feminist? A place I really notice it is when I listen to music. For instance, I love LMFAO, but does it make me a bad feminist when I sing a long to lines such as
"Get crazy get wild
Let's party get loud
If you wanna have fun and do something crazy like flash yo titties"

This aspect isn't really addressed in your post, and I'd like to hear someone else's opinion on it. I like your answer to the heels/make-up/dresses/etc conundrum - do it by choice, and with a political conscience.

Laura said...

I'm contemplating a post on music for the near future, because I definitely listen to and like music that is anti-feminist.

LBD said...

I'll be looking forward too it!

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