Monday, October 16, 2006


There's been a big whoop-de-do lately, about makeup, shaving, heels, femme adornment in general, etc. Twisty is always good for stirring up some shit, and, over the weekend, Jonquil and Ron Sullivan (who's my new blog crush) weighed in with their own commentary. The comments to both of those latter posts are interesting, too. What eventually struck me about the whole thing is how gendered the whole discussion is--when is the last time you heard/read men defending their choice of clothing, whether they shave their body hair (or rip it out by the roots with wax), their personal adornments, etc.?

That is, what's important about this whole thing, to me, is that women feel compelled to make and defend their choices, and their feminist (or femnine) cred becomes attached to those choices and defenses. Which, in itself, is a commentary on the totalizing effects of patriarchy. I find it fascinating how often a woman defends not/adopting a particular practice because of how it "looks" on her (certain styles, for example), or never having learned how to do it properly (usually makeup), or some bad physical reaction that ensues if she does try to adopt that practice.

And it's not trivial, either. Random strangers (and family members, often enough) feel like they have the right to deliver their opinion on a woman's appearance, particularly if some aspect of it isn't sufficiently feminine, in their judgment. Other women claim they've never been subject to such sexism, not once, nope, never--which, I'm sorry, you haven't been paying attention. Still others claim that True Feminists wouldn't do x, where x = wear makeup, shave, wax, wear heels, etc. The point is, a lot of people are spending a lot of time enforcing one or another dress code--for women. This, in turn, necessitates women defending the choices they make (with or without some consciousness of patriarchy's influence on the choices available and the selections they've made among those choices). The fact that we can and do defend the practices we adopt means that we are at least aware of some aspects of the expectations, i.e., the patriarchy has wormed its way into our heads.

I get kind of tired of enforcers in either direction, to tell you the truth, but I think it's more interesting to see someone make an argument that a particular commonly accepted (or expected) aspect of feminine grooming or apparel is, indeed, anti-feminist in some way. I'm not a fan of the "shaving is bad, and any woman who shaves is caving in to the patriarchy and isn't a True Feminist" approach, but I think a more reasoned argument, detailing (a) why or how a particular practice is patriarchal and (b) how that practice does actual harm, either to the woman who does it or to other people, is a legitimate argument, even when I don't agree with the particular case.

I have to admit that I also get tired of the many women who want to say, "I just do what I do, and it has no relationship at all to the gendered culture in which we live. And I LIKE wearing thongs and having my pubic hair pulled out by the roots with hot wax." That kinda can't be true. You may not want to think about it much, and you may not have experienced a whole lot of obvious (or subtle) sexism in your life (though I think it's more likely that the patriarchy has trained you particularly well), but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

So, really, I'm joining the chorus that's asking women to think about the choices they make, because we are the sexbot class, whether we believe it or no. And that, of course, is why it's women who have to think so much about their personal grooming, adornment, and hygiene practices.
On a completely unrelated note, Susie's dad died, and her remembrance of him is beautiful.


Blogger Larry Jones said...

It's not "the patriarchy" that forces women to look a certain way or do certain things to be accepted. It's society.

Men are "forced" to do all sorts of stupid things to be accepted/attractive/spongeworthy. Let me assure you, guys: If you wear corduroy bell bottoms in 2006, you are not getting laid. If you waste your hard-earned money on a fancy car, your chances of scoring on a hot woman of child-bearing age are immensely enhanced. If you have a big bushy beard, forget about the corner office and the executive washroom - you aren't going there.

The protocols of what you can say to a man about the way he looks or dresses may be different, but the requirements are just as many, varied and rigid.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

You're missing the points, Larry. Of course society imposes constraints on everyone--patriarchal society imposes particular constraints on the sexbot class, however, and I disagree that the requirements for men are just as many, varied, and rigid. Men can adopt one of a couple of standard uniforms (dockers; jeans; suits) and be acceptable and accepted within the spheres in which they move, and, certainly, they're not going to have random strangers (or family members) feeling free to comment. In addition, as I noted, women feel compelled to defend their choices, no matter what those choices are, and, chances are, someone's still gonna criticize her for those choices. You might also want to actually try to wear (and function while you're wearing) the prescribed femme adornments. High heels? Makeup? "Done" nails? And don't get me started on the waxing of pubic hair.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Larry Jones said...

I guess we can't have this discussion, then, since I have missed not just the point, but multiple points.

Look, I know there are injustices in the world. I could even be persuaded that women suffer more of them than men. But we're each the most sensitive (me included) to the things that happen to us. That doesn't mean I've missed the point, and I'm not invested in proving you wrong. I guess we all have to fight the monsters we can see.

As for heels and makeup, I decline to discuss here what I may or may not have worn in the past, or how well I functioned.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous dave said...

Not every woman feels compelled to wax her pubic hair, even those who remove a bit of it (ever heard of a razor, Emma?). You're way guilty of an overgeneralization there. I would guess that the percentage of women who WAX their pubic hair is very small, and probably limited to the more priveledged who can afford it.

And hairy guys do a lot of trimming too, in addition to the daily ritual of shaving (believe me, it ain't fun to scrape beard off your face every day with a razor).

And lack of comment does not equal lack of judgement; it may just be unspoken.

9:00 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Men who want to wear skirts REALLY have to defend it.

Personally: I never defend my clothing.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Orange said...

Good post, Emma.

Larry, I challenge any man to find a pair of bellbottom corduroy pants outside of a vintage clothing store.

I'm getting my eyebrows threaded next week. Really I'm doing it for myself and to be a little girly—my husband doesn't care about eyebrows, and my work is strictly freelance. But my minimal brow treatment would come in for condemnation at Twisty's, as well as in the fashion world. I don't care.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous dave said...

Larry, I still think you and I are largely on the same page, and that maybe we should ALL think about the choices we make. I would posit that it's society (and we can debate whether our society is a true patriarch and what that means) that dictates our dress and manners and what health clubs we can go to and what kind of credit cards we have in our wallet, and a lot of things that are probably WAY more subserviating (is that even a real word?) than pubic hair removal.

I'm still drawn to the words of John Lennon:

They keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be

9:39 PM  
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4:13 PM  

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