As a woman in this country, I have been taught from a very young age that my body, my personality, my career, my passion, my likes and dislikes, need always take into consideration the preferences of men. This is a fact that I am just now beginning to examine — prompted by the constant assails from my government and my president, telling me how I am only valuable if I am quiet, subservient, and completely available to their whims.
I am suddenly and inexplicably baffled at how many of my actions have come from my desire to fit within what I’ve been told men want from me. This is a desire that has been internalized from the day I was born. It came about through observation, of my parent’s relationship and my father’s behavior towards other women. It also came about through social interactions with my male peers, and general interactions with media. Clearly, there’s a deeper, more sinister system at work here, which feminists have been shouting about from the rooftops for decades. My question is, can I identify and separate the behaviors that I associate with pleasing men, from the behaviors I associate with pleasing me?
For example, I will always be treated differently by men and women, whether I choose to wear makeup or not. I understood the rule that if I did not possess a stereotypically glowing visage without makeup, I should always, always wear it, for fear of being considered “ugly,” and being disqualified from participating in social outings. God forbid I could ever convince a man I was beautiful without makeup, or the beautifying lens of alcohol. It’s reinforced in the workplace, where I get more smiles, more tips, more responsibility even, when I wear makeup, when I appear submissive, when I martyr myself and what I need in order to appear “nice.”
It’s reinforced by advertising and narrative media, where women are depicted without makeup only to portray them as weak, unkempt, or irresponsible. “No-makeup makeup” has become an international gold-standard on the basis that women want to look like they “woke up like this” (didn’t put any effort whatsoever into their appearance), while hiding the considerable amount of time spent applying that glowing visage. From this perspective, “no-makeup makeup” is another way of martyring myself to please men. My question here is, can I wear makeup without it being about how other people react to my wearing it? Can it just be for me?
Having suffered from hormonal, cystic acne since I was 12 years old, my worth has always been tied to my appearance. It began with peers, particularly tween boys, teasing me when I was a child, penalizing and demeaning me whether or not I chose to cover up the myriad of angry spots on my face.
I was ridiculed and ostracized for being intelligent and wanting to succeed academically. I was taunted for developing feelings for these little monsters because we’re taught that when boys hurt us it’s because they like us. This brutality is then reinforced as we outgrow these stereotypically childish tendencies. It’s reinforced by the media we consume; where women’s bodies are used as props, Instagram bodies are manipulated to perfection, and anything that would make us recognizable as human is photoshopped out. It’s reinforced by our sex education systems, and how they focus primarily on safety, female purity, and physiology rather than consent and mutual pleasure. It’s reinforced in how we sexualize lesbian and bisexual women as existing solely for male fetishizing.
Is the only way I can avoid demeaning myself to destroy my phone, disconnect from the outside world, and move to an all female colony that’s completely asexual? Maybe not.
I feel it most acutely in the way our social and legal systems currently operate. We don’t have national systems that support women’s capability, their assertiveness, their individuality, really, their existence beyond men. We are expected to marry and become mothers. We are expected to carry the children that we bear, no matter the way in which we came to bear them, and then foot the enormous costs associated with the birthing of that child, and the caring for and raising of that child, without even being guaranteed paid maternity leave. We are expected to put our faith in the men who rule us, and defer to their judgement.
I feel it, and I want desperately to change it. Is the only way I can avoid demeaning myself to destroy my phone, disconnect from the outside world, and move to an all female colony that’s completely asexual? Maybe not.
Yes, I live in a society that systemically devalues me for anything beyond my sexual appeal. Yes, I have been programmed to objectify myself in order to buy into this system. I have been afraid of rocking the boat, of owning my own anger, of valuing myself to the full extent of my potential as a woman. I see what happens to women who come forward, how female CEO’s are treated, how activists get silenced, how girls get “put in their place.” Yes, I am afraid, and, yes, I have every right to be. I also have every right to be angry. And every right to wear whatever I want, put whatever I want on my face, do whatever I please, say whatever I feel, and be whatever I choose, regardless of whether or not our male dominated society gave me permission. Maybe, not for the first time, but more regularly, and more consciously, these things can be for me, and only me.
Perhaps these things can lift me up, and make me feel stronger in my idea of myself; without having to rebuild my whole personality from the ground up. I can be angry, and afraid, and intelligent, and capable, and funny, and beautiful, and worthy, even within this society that is rigged against me finding those expressions.
I do it daily, by noticing my motivations, and making conscious choices based on what will make me feel true to myself. I do it by wearing makeup because I like who I am when I do. I do it by dressing in a way that makes me feel strong. I do it by standing my ground, and speaking my truth against those that would try to take it from me. I do it by voting, writing, reading, and putting my money and my time where my mouth is.
I will continue searching for, and surrounding myself with, others who are attempting to do the same. Who’s with me?