50 Comments

FAQ: Aren’t feminists just hairy-legged makeup haters?

“Feminist” all too often conjures up images of “ugly”, hairy legged, makeup hating, flannel loving, short-haired, boyish women. Namely, women who embody the rejection of the patriarchal beauty standard and all of the trappings that go with it. There are, obviously, feminists who fit into some, or all, of those categories. Of course, there are also conventionally attractive, shaven-legged, makeup wearing, short skirt loving, long-haired, feminine feminists as well (and not all of them are women). The claim that women have to reject shaving, wearing makeup, and other beauty regimens to be a feminist (or a “good” feminist) is a myth that obscures the actual ideological issues that feminists have with beauty standards.

According to feminist thought, a woman shouldn’t be judged by her attractiveness, and this myth of the “ugly, hairy-legged feminist” does just that — both as a cautionary tale to would-be feminists, as well as a strawfeminist argument that many feminists often feel the need to debunk by citing how attractive they are — all of which just proves how pervasive the beauty myth is.

Thinking about it in another way:

Not all feminists reject femininity, but most reject the notion that it should be a prison and many of us have complex and self-reflexive relationships with our own femininity or lack of it.

What it comes down to is this: dismantling the beauty myth and challenging women’s status as the sex class is a rallying issue for many feminists. However, this is an ideological issue that doesn’t preclude an individual’s choice regarding what to do with her body. This is an important distinction because it intersects with the idea of bodily autonomy, which is a cornerstone of feminist thought. Because, really, feminists don’t care if a woman is feminine or not, but they do care when her supposed attractiveness is used to judge her worth.

Related Reading:

Introductory:

Clarifying Concepts:

  • A personal anecdote on the question “to shave or not to shave?”:

    The hardest thing for me was taking the step from secretly growing my hair to publicly doing so. Like kristy, I was terrified of being seen and called “gross” — after all, hadn’t I heard that same rhetoric from my father? Hadn’t I heard my friends and family say the same things about other women who didn’t conform properly to the beauty standard? Hadn’t I, myself, once both said and believed the same things?

    I was terrified. I was defensive about it. But I did it. I made my point. Right there in Miami, one of the most image-conscious cities in the USA, I put on my short skirt — in the full heat of summer, I was not going to stick to jeans, let me tell you! — leaving my legs in all their hairy glory for all to see, and marched right out of my house.

    I had to go to the supermarket. I was with my best friend at the time and, believe me, I was paranoid. “Everybody’s staring at me! They’re judging me! I know what they’re saying, ‘Gawd, look at her. Doesn’t she care enough about herself to try and look good?’ I just want to die!”

    But, then, because my feminism had given me the vocabulary to deal with and understand my situation, I told that part of me, “Why is it that going out as your natural self makes you want to die of embarrassment? Why is it that being proud of what you look like by nature must mean that you aren’t taking proper care of yourself? Men are allowed to grow any part of their hair that they please without these comments. That’s holding women to an unfair beauty standard. That’s inequality in action, and it’s your duty to fight it. This is why you’re a feminist. Because women aren’t allowed to feel comfortable with ourselves just the way we are.”

    And so the next day, without shaving, I put on another short skirt. And the next day. And the next. I had to have it out with my father a couple of times. I was defensive to my friends and family if they asked about it. But I did it. Every day it got a little bit easier, I got a little bit less defensive, and my family started to accept it as just another quirk from the one in the family who has always marched to her own drummer.

    Is there any day where I slap on my skirt in my hairy-legged glory that I don’t feel any anxiety, or any shame? No. I will most likely live and die with those feelings, thanks to the way we are socialized from young girls to feel that our natural bodies aren’t good enough. But I can’t let shame or fear run my life. I won’t let it.

  • Differentiating personal choice from “empowerment”:

    I still shave, and will occasionally wear makeup if I feel the situation warrants it. But there is absolutely no part of me that feels that this is something I do “for me,” because I have seen the other side of things. This is why I don’t give women a hard time for making themselves pretty — because the alternative is a very difficult road to walk. What I do get upset at is that we should as feminists, celebrate women who capitulate and start making themselves appealing to patriarchal beauty standards. We don’t need to celebrate them–the patriarchy celebrates them well enough.

  • Taking the wind out of the myth’s sails:

    The claim not to be a feminist because feminists are physically unattractive and hairy certainly proves rather than denies the need for feminism. Anyone, but especially a young woman, expressing such a disgustingly misogynist view is in serious need of feminist inoculation. Again I wouldn’t bother arguing that not all feminists are unattractive (some are quite pretty), because this would subscribe to the idea that not conforming to the brutal standards of femininity is very bad. In any case, this statement is really about the fear of questioning the beauty myth and of women who refuse to meet the norms of conventional femininity. Ask him or her why they think resistance to this norm is a source of such revulsion? Feminism can’t stop you doing anything to your appearance, but yes it will encourage you to question the socially constructed rules which invade so much of women’s everyday lives. It will make you feel less comfortable. I suspect that many anti-feminist statements are rooted in a fear of questioning the status quo because it’s perfectly true that feminism won’t make your life easier in this respect. We still live in a world in which western women are, as Mary Wollstonecraft put it in the eighteenth-century, “Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” Not all feminists reject femininity, but most reject the notion that it should be a prison and many of us have complex and self-reflexive relationships with our own femininity or lack of it.

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50 comments on “FAQ: Aren’t feminists just hairy-legged makeup haters?

  1. May I post some words from the Patriarchy blaming expert? (That’s Twisty, for the ones who don’t know her yet)

    “Femininity, if you’ll permit a brief review, is a humanitarian emergency because it enforces practices and behaviors (boob jobs, FGM, ‘beauty’ expenditures, the ‘veil’, the flirty head-tilt, pornaliciousness, fashion, compulsory pregnancy, marriage, et al) that are dangerous, painful, pink, or otherwise destructive; that are rooted in female subordination; that exist only to benefit Dude Nation; and that are overwhelmingly represented as inviolable cultural traditions in blind compliance with which comfort, contentment, and personal fulfillment are supposedly found and from which deviation is discouraged by ingenious punishments ranging from diminished social influence, to unemployability, to ridicule, to imprisonment, to death.”

    “Can a feminist wear stiletto heels to the Patriarchy-Blaming Convention in Bali? Sure. Can she call it a politically neutral act? Sure. Will anyone from whose eyes the scales have fallen believe her? Fuck no.”

  2. On beautification:

    I draw the line at excessive consumerism and my health. There are some “beautifying” items and services that in of themselves impart no health benefits, are costly, and only serve one purpose; that purpose is to be recognized as a card carrying member of the patriarchy–that is, to make yourself more acceptable to the “menz”.

    And you know what mainstream women get for all of the spending money on shoes, latest fashions, manicures, highlights and hair cuts, make-up, etc? We are considered consumeristic gold-digging b*****.

    Yup. that’s what it’s come to. So I say, women, save your money! And you will save a lot of money. I am saving about $300 a year alone just for ending the trips to the hair salon ( I found a low maintenaince way to handle my out of control curls with help from my S.O.) Making such choices will save you time and cash. And the beauty is that nobody can make any logical argument against this!

    Beauty (for men and women) should be about physical and emotional well being; neither rampant consumerism nor mainstream male acceptance will help a woman achieve either of these aspects. And sadly, many women mistake “male attention” for acceptance. Not so, ladies, not so.

  3. So true, Spike. Men have just as much disdain for women who practice “femininity” as they do for those who don’t. They just want to fuck the former group.

  4. [...] by zombie z on February 11, 2008 The claim that women have to reject shaving, wearing makeup, and other beauty regimens to be a feminist (or a “good” feminist) is a myth [...]

  5. My first reaction to this question was that it was so idiotic that only trolls could ask it.

    But then I asked myself, if someone is honestly asking this question, what might the question be that they are really asking?

    The past few weekends, I’ve been at music and dance events where there were a fair number of “young” people (college age or soon after) were present, and I thought how the young women there (and the young men, for that matter) might respond if they read some of the feminist blogs and web-sites I’ve looked at over the past few months.

    I could see them asking whether Feminism (with a capital F) has anything to say to them or Feminists would have any use for them if they still want to pretty themselves up for a dance, or be friends with and fall in love with a young man, or if they’d like to have children and care for them. Or if they just want to live life without viewing everything with suspicion. Put another way: is there room for non-fanatics in Feminism?

    Whatever the logic of the blogs I’ve been reading, the overall impression you get after a while is that everything that happens — if it rains, or if it shines — is part of an evil Patriarchal conspiracy to enslave and oppress women, and that a true Feminist won’t clip her toenails without considering whether it will aid or oppose Teh Patriarchy. Twisty is an extreme example, but I’m also thinking of Feminist Law Professors, Feministing, Feministe, Shakespeare’s Sister, etc.

    I’m not saying that the bloggers in question actually live such extreme lives (maybe they do, maybe they don’t.) Or that they don’t often have a good point. But the problem with Movements and Blogs and other gatherings of like-minded souls is that it encourages people to express and support points of view that are more consistently extreme than they might actually believe (or that most of us could ever live by), and discourages people from expressing more nuanced or ambivalent points of view.

    Looking at the main part of this article, I see lots of quotes explaining why some women might not want to shave their legs or use make-up, etc. But I’m thinking that it might also be useful to point out that there is a place in Feminism and among Feminists for women who may want to occasionally or even frequently to do either or both things. (Or do other Feministically Incorrect things.) And that it’s an important part of Feminism for her to be allowed to feel OK about herself either way.

    Assuming that it’s actually true, of course.

  6. “Im not saying that the bloggers in question actually live such extreme lives (maybe they do, maybe they don’t.) Or that they don’t often have a good point. But the problem with Movements and Blogs and other gatherings of like-minded souls is that it encourages people to express and support points of view that are more consistently extreme than they might actually believe (or that most of us could ever live by), and discourages people from expressing more nuanced or ambivalent points of view. Quite logically”

    Interesting. I guess it comes down to what people think is extreme.

    See, I seem to think that starving oneself down to a size 2 is extreme. I also think that yo-yo-ing your weight give or take 50 pounds because you can never really be a size 2, is also extreme. I think it’s extreme to take medication to lose weight, in place of lifestye changes.

    I think that young girls feeling the need to walk out the door half-naked to be “cute” is extreme. I think that taking out loans for elective plastic surgery is extreme, as is gifting one’s eighteen-year old daughter a boob job for her birthday.

    I think it’s extreme that fair skinned people put themselves at risk for skin cancer to be tan, while dark skinned people buy skin bleach.

    I think it’s extreme for people to put chemicals in their hair that may burn their scalp (I know about this first hand, thank you). I think it’s extreme for women to pay hundreds of dollars and endure hours of pain to have another person’s hair, weaved into their own.

    I think it’s extreme for a women to feel that they must be completely naked or completely covered to feel empowered.

    I think it’s extreme that shaved genitalia is considered ‘normal’ now. I think it’s extreme that people are scared of High Def porn because it will actually show that women really do have flaws.

    I think it’s extreme that anybody gives a shit what Hilary’s outfit looks like.

    And I think it’s poor taste for someone to feel perfectly at ease in a feminist space talking smack about not cutting toenails.

    **********
    Feminism requires critical thinking and introspection. But each woman can take something from these ideas or nothing at all.

  7. AMM, I think you’re probably misreading a lot of the blogs I read (Shakespeare’s Sister, Feministing, etc.) if you think they’d give a flip about whether an individual woman choses to clip her toenails or not.  Certainly they’re not going to tell you not to fall in love with young men – most of those bloggers (particularly at Shakesville) are married. Several have children; even those that don’t are very pro rights of mothers. You’ve got a row of straw-feminists up there that the feminists I read could care less about.The reason for this is that those choices of what to wear, who to love, and how to live are choices.  Most feminist bloggers are in favor of women making their own choices. If they weren’t, I’d be out of there in a flash… I’m not going to stand for anyone telling me I can’t shave my legs or wear skirts.

    It’s a mistake to conflate critical thinking with criticism. Most of the feminist blogs you listed that I also read are blogs that critique the culture that suggests women should shave their legs or genitals or be less feminine, the culture that requires women to dress attractively in order to be taken seriously and yet accuses women of dressing attractively if they are assaulted or raped. (I’m side-stepping love and motherhood for now, for fear of launching into a much larger rant.) If you asked any one of those bloggers point-blank, he or she would probably tell you how incredibly important it is for women to be free to choose skirts or pants, shaving or not. The feminists that I read aren’t interested in criticizing women for those choices; they’re interested in criticizing the culture that weights those choices with unreasonable meanings. Probably a lot of them are interested in getting women to ask themselves why they want shaved legs or husbands or children – but part of being pro-woman is defending a woman’s right to have those things if she wants them!

  8. I find myself agreeing with the people who responded to my post, yet also feeling that they don’t address the point I think I intended to make. This is most likely my fault, but before giving up on myself entirely, I’ll make another stab at expressing this somewhat vague concern.

    I don’t know any people in “real life” who label themselves feminists, but I know a fair number of Progressives, and people who put a lot of energy into various “progressive” causes. I mostly agree with them, and I can respect them when I meet them at peace marches, vigils, pot-lucks, etc. Yet I also breathe a sigh of relief, when I head home, that I don’t have to spend more time with them than I do, so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time and energy justifying to them the way I live the rest of my life. I also thank God that these people, wonderful as they are in their own way, are _not_ running the country! And I find I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a “progressive,” despite being for most of the things Progressives are for.

    In short, I don’t have a problem with Progressive ideas, but I do have a problem with Progressives.

    Now, I read complaints about how so many people will say they aren’t feminists, and then describe the things they are for, all of which are Feminist positions. Given my own experience, I wonder if there’s a sort of “feminist ideas” vs. “capital-F Feminists” contrast going on, similar to my progressivism vs. Progressives contrast.

    And that’s what I am suggesting that the question that starts this section is really about, at least in the minds of those who ask it honestly.

  9. AMM, I’m not sure I can fathom what’s actually going on in the heads of people who use the hairy-legged feminist trope, or if it’s even possible to ask it honestly. But that’s me. ; )

    On the other hand, bell hooks can fathom what you’re feeling and has written about it… for as long as people have been trying to define feminism and its aims, there have been people who have felt that feminism was not in sync with their practices and ideals. (I think that must be a problem with any and every monolith… that’s why so many feminists advocate “feminisms” instead of feminism.) bell hooks says Okay then, if you aren’t comfortable taking the label feminist with all of the associations it carries, try saying “I advocate feminism.” hook writes: “…the response is usually ‘what is feminism?’ A phrase like ‘I advocate’ does not imply the kind of absolutism that is suggested by ‘I am.”
    So, maybe you advocate progress and the end of sexist oppression?

    Myself, I prefer to claim the name ‘feminist’ and then act it out as I choose, but preferring not to is also a choice. And, like I said above, the importance of choice is something most feminist writers agree on.

    P.S. I couldn’t find a link to “Feminism: a movement to end sexist oppression,” the article I quoted, but I found another similar essay by bell hooks: “feminism is for everyone.”
    http://reconstruction.eserver.org/BReviews/revFeminism.htm

  10. So, AMM, what I think I read in your clarification post is that spending time with Progressives makes you feel judged for your choices. Also, I am unclear on why exactly, although you like progressive ideas, you don’t want Progressives running the country.

    I am responding to what I think you are saying, and I apologize if I read you wrong; I am not 100% sure I did read you correctly. But I wanted to bring up the feeling of being judged and made to account for our choices by people who are Progressive or Feminist. I can’t really speak from personal experience of Progressivism, so I’ll focus on Feminism. If done correctly, Feminism asks us to really examine our options and consciously choose the option that is best for us, and to know when we are making a compromise with the Patriarchy for our own health or happiness. Feminism should not shame or blame women for making certain compromises to get by in the Patriarchy, although sometimes Feminist theory, like Twisty’s, can be a statement like “stilettos are not empowerful,” which, if someone is feeling defensive, can be read as “you are a Bad Feminist if you wear stilettos.” But that is not the intent- the intent is to make people examine the cultural and social ramifications of shoes that hobble women and display their calves for maximum male enjoyment, and then let women make their own, *informed* choices about whether to wear them after examining the underlying issues. If people are uncomfortable with the choices they have made, that can translate into feeling personally attacked when someone talks about how some choices are concessions to the patriarchy. Final note, all this is in no way aimed specifically at you, your post just helped me crystallize some thoughts that I have been thinking about my own defensiveness on similar topics.

  11. Those kind of over-defensive reactions are odd. It’s almost as if the person who feels criticised wanted feminist approval, consciously or subconsciously. As if they do regard feminists as having serious, authoritative things to say about women, and that they are invested in feminism even if they do not identify as feminist.

    One silly example I saw was a comment on an article by Sheila Jeffreys (I think, can’t find it now) critiquing poledancing. The woman commenter said something like “how dare this feminist tell me what I can and can’t do”. As if the writer could make a damn difference as to whether the commenter continued her pole dancing classes or not. I suppose it is the common fallacy of assuming that feminists have some sort of power in society.

  12. I’m a feminist. I hate makeup and wear as little of it as possible. I rarely shave my legs (about once a year at most). I haven’t worn high heels in … gee, I can’t remember.

    However, I once had a nose job, because I didn’t want to go through life with the aquiline nose that my genetic inheritance blessed me with. I didn’t do it to attract men, as I’d had little trouble attracting them already. (In fact, my boyfriend at the time insisted he liked my nose as it was.) I did it for me.

    If anyone ever makes a snide remark about the fact that I have had a nose job, I reply by asking them if they, or their children, have ever had braces on their teeth. That always shuts them up.

  13. i’ve been debating, over the last six months, whether or not i want to have shaved legs or hairy ones. i would like to make a statement by having hairy legs, but every time i see my (currently hairy) legs in the mirror, i don’t feel like they look very pretty. when i confront myself about why i don’t think they look pretty, the obvious answer is because our culture tells me that hairy legs on women aren’t pretty. but, no matter how many times over the past six months i have told myself this, i can’t seem to overcome it. i feel really damned if i do, damned if i don’t in this situation, not only by our culture, but by myself. it’s as though i must choose between being ashamed of myself for not being able to overcome and act out against this particular standard of beauty or being dissatisfied with my appearance and not feeling particularly lovely (and not wearing skirts, which i like to wear, in public). this blog and these comments gave me a lot to think about, and though i’m still not sure what i will do, i am definitely keeping it all in mind.

    • Hello. Regarding your comment, I’ve been feeling the same as you. My legs aren’t particularly hairy yet – I think it might end up depending on how hairy they get. Then of course, like you said, I ask myself why it should depend on that, etc. However, I advocate that if you like wearing skirts, whichever you choose, wear skirts! You might just get the message to other people like us that it is acceptable to have hairy legs, and give them the confidence to choose. After all, if most women had hairy legs, people would feel very embarrassed about shaving.
      Don’t worry – whichever you choose, you probably won’t even think about it in a decade or so… :)

  14. Marian

    I would have not have had a nose job had i been in your situation as i feel it would have been better to stay with your old nose as a symbolic strike against the bigotry normally given to people with an aquiline nose

  15. That strikes me as moderately judgemental, Anastasiya. We all make our personal accommodations with the various expectations, discriminations and privileges that society places upon us. Only the most extraordinarily resolute can choose to fight battles about every single box that society wants us to tick.

    To “a young feminist”,

    not every act that a feminist woman does has to be a feminist act. It’s OK to fight the fight on some fronts and not on others, in order to give yourself a space to breathe. Every little feminist act you can do adds up, and those acts are not nullified by the occasional giving in to beauty myth conventions, especially if you are aware of how unreasonable expectations are pressuring you to do so.

    A personal perspective – for me to choose not to shave my legs is hardly brave at all, as hardly anyone notices that I do not – my body hair is naturally sparse and blonde. It would be unreasonable for someone like me who gets de facto hairless privilege to berate someone for shaving whose body hair is more noticeable and thus affects them more.

  16. I find the debate regarding beauty standards to be a bit misguided.

    Basically, all those would-be femminists are debating wbether to make a stand and risk social backlash or conform and fail to empower women. I find this laughable.

    Humans, by nature, are social creatures. As such, all humans are subject to social norms, irregardless where they may form. Shaving one’s legs, even if it is for the sake of conforming to these norms, is not a transgression against oneself, but rather a compromise that every human has to make between his or her individuality and broader societal conditions.

    It may see odd to the posters on this board, but males are subject to beauty standards as well. The problem with Feminism is the name itself. It is a label which implies that there is some sort of battle between the sexes, which is absolutely wrong. Despite all the progress regarding all issues of inequity, the social dynamics of gender formation, and social research methods accomplished by feminists, I find that the misleading name encourages a very ignorant understanding of the feminist academic stance.

    Am I still a feminist if I don’t shave my legs? Funny and sad alltogether.

  17. Yes, Anastasiya. I find kind of insulting someone saying to a woman what they should, or shouldn’t do to their bodies to ‘win against patriarchy’. If patriarchy is a corrupt system, we should try to fight those oppressive believes and not place the burden on the oppressed who are just trying to make their lives easier. I think that feminism mostly should be about choosing, and not imposing. We are fighting against that.

    MIhai, yes, there are beauty standards paced on everything, but pretending that men and women are looked with the same scrutiny and the same expectations is just plain ingenuous. Sorry, it just isn’t a simple “compromise that every human has to make between his or her individuality and broader societal conditions.” I doubt someone here would believe that.

    Women are the ‘sex class.’ If you can’t see that on the media, the cosmetic industry, and haven’t wondered why men don’t use miniskirts, high-heels, why they perfectly can go out unshaven… well, there is nothing much I can do for you.

  18. Mihai’s a concern troll. S/he is concerned that the whole problem with Feminism is the name, which encourages misunderstanding. Well, the name and the laughable stances on things like beauty standards. How silly! Ha ha!

    Here, I’ll be a concern troll for Mihai: Mihai, I’m terribly, terribly concerned that your condescension will be misunderstood by people who read your comment. It sounds like you’re snorting in the general direction of women who ask critical questions of cultural standards, and feminists (two groups with a lot of overlap), rather directing your terribly, terribly sophisticated disdain toward the beauty standards themselves and the people who choose to remain ignorant about feminism.

  19. Lol, tanglethis, that was truly enjoyable. Yet here we are, witness to a discussion regarding the aesthetics of emancipation rather than its core principle: free choice.

    You have to admit that there is much confusion even among women with regards to the actual meaning of feminism. How is it that the paradigm promotes equality all the while its proponents consistently attack 50% of our society’s members?

    examples:

    “And you know what mainstream women get for all of the spending money on shoes, latest fashions, manicures, highlights and hair cuts, make-up, etc? We are considered consumeristic gold-digging b*****.”

    “So true, Spike. Men have just as much disdain for women who practice “femininity” as they do for those who don’t. They just want to fuck the former group.”

    “Whatever the logic of the blogs I’ve been reading, the overall impression you get after a while is that everything that happens — if it rains, or if it shines — is part of an evil Patriarchal conspiracy to enslave and oppress women.”

    I thought feminism was mean to be an emancipatory movement for all invididuals and that the name was derived simply due to its emphasis on the historical reality of discriminaiton against women. The discourses which have spawned as a result, however, are contradictory to the ideologies of emancipation.

    Patriarchy operates on so many levels and against so many groups. Why is it that only women should fight against ascribed gender roles? Its not a matter of exclusion, but of implicit contribution. If women are the only ones fighting against patriarchy, then not only are men seen as free from the negative dynamics of partiarchy, but they are also seen as tacit accomplishes. That’s my concern. Women not shaving their legs and blaming men for the fact that they feel ugly doing it should not be a part of feminist discourse.

  20. p.s. I have not done market research study, but I guarantee that a survey of GQ, Menshealth, etc. and a study of men’s purchasing habits, from Ford Mustangs to Gillette Razor Blades, clothes and nutrition supplements would shed some light into the societal construction of the male gender.

  21. Mihai,

    you said:

    “Patriarchy operates on so many levels and against so many groups. Why is it that only women should fight against ascribed gender roles? Its not a matter of exclusion, but of implicit contribution.”

    So true that Patriarchy operates on many levels. However men are indeed equally free to fight against the Patriarchy. Men should and do also fight against ascribed gender roles. I’m not sure if these men identify as pro-feminists or feminist, male rights activists or whatever, and I’m not sure it matters actually.

    and

    “Women not shaving their legs and blaming men for the fact that they feel ugly doing it should not be a part of feminist discourse.”

    Societally imposed beauty is often one of the first things young girls use to identify as a female. Thus women and girls who feel ugly, are divorced from being a feminine and ultimately divorced from being human (in the US, when I was growing up, we called ugly girls, ‘dogs’, to give you an example).

    Feminism and is the only area I have seen to critically examine this concept and it’s social implications for individuals and groups.

    As far as male beauty standards:

    There is a constant push and pull between gender norms. Consequently, men are succumbing more and more to beauty standards. This can be seen as a failure of feminism or a triumph of capitalism. I think it’s probably a bit of both.

    I think that one of the great successes of American style consumerism is convincing men that they also are unacceptable. It’s a practically untapped market–male beauty that is. And when they find a way to safely surgically enhance penises, it will be downhill from there.

    I am by no means anti-capitalist, but I recognize that capitalism is a very, very efficient means of tapping into the wants and desires of a consumer no matter how reluctant he or she is.

  22. Mihai, I think most of your issues could be cleared up by reading more carefully… and/or writing more carefully, since I’m not entirely sure what you mean in some of your sentence constructions, but I’ll give it my best shot.

    “Yet here we are, witness to a discussion regarding the aesthetics of emancipation rather than its core principle: free choice.”

    Here you seem to be suggesting that the discussion of beauty standards is replacing the discussion of free choice. I’d agree that choice is one of the core principles of feminism – in fact, I think I mentioned exactly that in an earlier comment on this page. But if I’ve read you correctly, you’re wrong on two counts that are both addresses in this very post:
    (1) that choice is left out of the argument. Choice is the whole point of this argument, as tekanji addresses here in the FAQ post: “this is an ideological issue that doesn’t preclude an individual’s choice regarding what to do with her body. This is an important distinction because it intersects with the idea of bodily autonomy, which is a cornerstone of feminist thought.”
    (2) That aesthetics can’t be discussed along with or in relation to free choice. That, too, is a major point of the OP: while beauty is subjective and a personal decision, it’s worth talking about and critiquing the cultural history behind some of those aesthetic decisions – for men and for women, as spike mentions. I teach how sexism goes both ways in advertising to my composition class, but we happen to be focusing on women here.

    “You have to admit that there is much confusion even among women with regards to the actual meaning of feminism.”

    No one’s denying that. Some women even prefer to use the word “feminisms,” plural, to address the multitude of ways one can be pro-woman that may differ under different cultural circumstances. But that has nothing to do with your next sentence:

    “How is it that the paradigm promotes equality all the while its proponents consistently attack 50% of our society’s members?”

    I’ve yet to read a feminist – first wave, second wave, present-day – who made the argument that feminism ought to attack men. I’m sure a few individual feminists do from time to time, but you don’t see that happening here too often.
    The examples you gave (the woman who is presumed to be golddigging, etc.) are examples of cultural oppression, and are critiquing the patriarchy, which is not the same thing as attacking men. Men do not equal the patriarchy, thank goodness. Here, you need these other FAQs to straighten you out:
    Aren’t women just sexist against men?
    Isn’t the patriarchy just some conspiracy theory that blames all men for womens woes?

    “Its not a matter of exclusion, but of implicit contribution. If women are the only ones fighting against patriarchy, then not only are men seen as free from the negative dynamics of partiarchy, but they are also seen as tacit accomplishes.”

    By some, perhaps. And often, men are accomplices of patriarchy oppression – if they choose not to recognize male privilege, or consciously take advantage of it. Spike’s already done a nice job of addressing how men aren’t free from sexism, and how it is silly to leave the onus on women to “fight” gender, so I’ll leave that alone… it’s important, though, not to confuse male privilege with “Freedom from patriarchy,” or to presume that having male privilege means that all men are conscious agents of patriarchal norms. You might want to read up on that concept; it’s very useful for sorting out how men and women have different relationships with sexism but can still both be engaged in dismantling it.

    In fact, all of your “concerns” can be easily addressed with other FAQs in this site, so it appears that you’re confusing this particular post with, perhaps, feminism in its entirety. This specific post was addressing a specifically feminine issue in aesthetics, so yes, we were talking about women. It is important, I think, to have particular spaces where womens’ issues are addressed… they do get brushed to the side in some many other arenas. But just because this particular post doesn’t address men in advertising doesn’t mean that feminist writers elsewhere don’t either… in fact it’s very crucial to many feminist arguments to examine how sexism hurts everyone, since that can be both true and persuasive.

  23. JadeWolf, on March 6th, 2008 at 1:47 am Said:

    So, AMM, what I think I read in your clarification post is that spending time with Progressives makes you feel judged for your choices.

    I think it’s more that I’m kind of glad I’m not like them. I think they limit their lives in ways that I’m not willing to do. It’s like admiring certain nuns (e.g., Sister Mary PreJean, of Dead Man Walking), but being glad you’re not a monk or a nun, even if it means you will never have the impact that they do.

    In a similar way, when I read Twisty (of I Blame the Patriarchy), I have to agree with her about the things she is angry about, but I don’t think I could live with the level of anger I see expressed in her blog. If that’s what seeing The Truth does to you, maybe I’d rather remain deluded.

    Also, I am unclear on why exactly, although you like progressive ideas, you don’t want Progressives running the country.

    The Progressives I know in person don’t seem to have much understanding for the kind of people who think differently from them — for example, people who would vote for Bush, or would oppose gay marriage, or support the Iraq war, or the like. They would be nice to them (most of these folks are Quakers, after all), but I don’t think they have any appreciation for where most non-Progressives are coming from. Since most of my country (the USA) consists of non-Progressives, the best we could hope for if my friends were running things would be chaos.

    The Progressives whose writings I see on-line are equally lacking in understanding of those they disagree with, but tend to be more hostile to them. I don’t know how much of this is because it’s on-line — people always sound more combative on-line than in person — and how much is real. But I’ve had similar experiences talking with people at peace marches. And I lived in Germany at the time it looked like the Green Party might become a viable party, and watched as it tore itself apart. And, of course, I remember the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War.

    If these people ever took over, I’m afraid they would tear my country apart.

    P.S.: Sorry to take so long to respond, but Real Life(tm) keeps me pretty busy.

  24. [Tekanji, This is the second time I have posted this. The first posting seems to have vanished.]

    Moderator note: duplicate text deleted – your first two attempts ended up in the spaminator, Marian, and I only just saw them. Sorry about that. ~tigtog April 18th

  25. AMM

    ‘Since most of my country (the USA) consists of non-Progressives, the best we could hope for if my friends were running things would be chaos.’

    If you check out the main opinion polls (International Policy Attitudes, CNN, Gallup, ABC etc), you might get a shock. The majority of Americans definitely poll towards the progressive end of the spectrum on virtually all foreign and domestic issues.

    On women’s issues, polls since the 70s have repeatedly shown majority support for the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Yet it has been consistently rejected by US legislators. In a recent IPA poll of 16 nations, 97% of Americans believe equal rights for women to be important or very important (compared to the overall poll average of 86%). Only 17% believe it is not the government’s responsibility to intervene to improve the status of women. On abortion, polls in recent years show an average support of 60%, and climbing.

    (The only issue on which US people remain quite conservative is capital punishment – with an average 50-60% support on most polls, but this is still lower than many countries.)

    It’s not the population of America that consists mostly of non-Progressives. It’s the political elite, who block out the US people’s wishes in order to push its deeply conservative agenda. And as for ‘chaos’, there are many who might use that very word to describe the state the US is in now.

  26. And as for ‘chaos’, there are many who might use that very word to describe the state the US is in now.

    Word.
    Considering that the “majority” vote in the last Presidential was only a slim margin in most individual states (52-48 in the state of my birth and the state of my residence that year), it seems that we’ve already had leaders who don’t represent the needs or interests of nearly half of all voters.
    (That’s not even taking the non-voters or the blocked-from-voting into consideration.)
    And yeah… what I’d call chaos ensued.

  27. Tigtog

    ‘Moderator note: duplicate text deleted – your first two attempts ended up in the spaminator, Marian, and I only just saw them. Sorry about that. ~tigtog April 18th’

    That’s OK, Tigtog.

    I had 3 goes altogether! The first, April 15th, 9:06 pm, actually appears before your message to me; and the third one, April 18th, 10:53 am, appears after your message.

    The duplication doesn’t worry me. However, if you prefer to minimise any confusion, feel free to delete the first post, i.e. April 15th, 9:06 pm.

  28. Done, Marian. Thanks for being patient and understanding!

  29. The basic problem is that culture is constructed to judge harshly women who don’t want to have anything to do with the male controlled fashion industry.

    The minute women challenge dress codes impossed on them by employers or patriarchy, this is construed to mean that these women are the police.

    Actually, I often call heterosexual women and their overly made up faces the gender police. The women who want to fit in with patriarchy are naturally very uncomfortable about alternatives.

    To see so many people conforming to the patriarchal dress codes laid out for women should be an early warning sign that “choice” is a pretty fake idea out there.

    [sorry for delayed publication - your comment ended up in the spaminator somehow ~ moderator]

  30. As a graduate of fashion school, this last comment about “patriarchal fashion” rings as something of a buzzword.

    Take Yves St-Laurent, for instance. Dubbed the master of modern elegance, the man pioneered every single outrageous and boundary-breaking fashion item for women in the 20th century. He had a deep respect of women and their struggles, and always was a gentleman to them in every way.

    Between the facts that a fair majority of men designers are homosexuals, and that they “exploit” women’s fashion in every way possible, going whichever way they feel like, the concept of an all-encompassing “patriarchal dress codes” becomes somewhat ludicrous.

    Fashion goes three ways: you follow the trends, you break the trends, or you forgo the trends. If you want to blame fashion of being counter-feminism, blame whoever selects the runway models. Those have a greater effect on public perception of women than individual clothing designers.

    Unless their name is St-Laurent.

  31. Really, Fetternity? You insist that homosexuals live in a vacuum untouched by the patriarchy? Not only that, but that everyday fashion is created entirely by couture fashion designers rather than television, pop stars, mall clothing stores, advertising, and so forth? To the point that anyone who says differently is being “ludicrous”?

  32. [...] for managing triggers that are not theirs. You are also defining trans women by their appearance, as if what a woman looks like somehow reflects on her womanhood, as if it’s something she can [...]

  33. i’m a young teenager as well, and i do shave my legs and wear short skirts and makeup, although i bobbed my hair. I’m really new to the feminist outlook, but i’m a strong supporter. I come from a long line of small breasted women, so i stopped wearing a bra to show my “pride.” whenever someone asks me why i don’t wear a bra, i tell them that i’m more than my body parts and that a women isn’t meant to be a sexual object.

    • Welcome, Rachael D. Always good to see a new feminist dropping by.

      Adhering to socially acceptable “femininity” rituals is as much a survival tactic as anything else – it makes it much easier to get a job and avoid bullying from others. There’s no need to drop all femininity rituals in a rush while you’re still sorting your personal feminisms out. Do what feels comfortable for you in adopting countercultural non-conforming, don’t just drop everything out of zeal for feminist purism and then feel miserable or vulnerable.

      I feel immensely free through not taking hours each day in personal grooming to make me look like a superfem version of myself. I like dressing up for special parties etc, I just can’t see the point of being expected to put that much effort into my appearance every single day. I’m clean, my clothes are clean and my hair is brushed – why should I feel any need to do more just to be considered acceptable?

      Yet other women enjoy the art of personal transformation through grooming, and there is an art to it. Some take it to a degree that makes it another way of non-conforming through being avant-garde. There is no one true way.

  34. There are a lot of older, long posts on this topic so I apologise in advance if someone’s already covered the point I wish to make.

    Feminists face many issues. Unrealistic pressure from the beauty industry is one, but there are also others, such as pay inequality, violence against women, and institutionalised sexism. A woman (or man) can consider themselves to be a feminist without campaigning tirelessly on every single issue and modelling themselves as a paradigm of feminist ideology.

    Furthermore, small inconsistencies (such as wearing makeup while protesting against the pervasive effects of the beauty industry on females) do not and should not detract from the wider argument. In fact, they serve to illustrate the point well. If even a feminist who is aware of the beauty myth still feels a strong pressure to conform to the standards of beauty in society, then this is further evidence of the pressures mounted upon all women.

  35. yeah i agree with the makeup example. i consider myself a feminist, but its impossible to be on top of your game and fighting and objecting institutions at every point of every day. i don’t have that energy, props to those who do. i still shave my legs, despite that im really lazy about it, go months, and they are hairy at the moment, WHATEVER. i mean i know hairy legged angry women is the stereotype, and that sucks. but it sucks even worse when someone is judged by whether or not they want their body hair or not. some people just dont want hair. we shave our heads, we shave our legs or our pits, we shave our cunts if we like. its one more thing that you do to your own body that should not concern anyone else

  36. On this topic, I have a consistent dilemma. I’m a guy who doesn’t find make-up at all attractive. Yet, I know that a lot of the social pressure to wear make-up comes from positive reinforcement. i.e. Men and women offering compliments to women on their make-up. I know guys who will compliment a girl’s make-up even if they don’t like it, simply because they think it’s what she wants to hear.

    At the same time, if I were to tell a girl she looks nice* when she isn’t wearing make-up she assumes I’m humouring her and doesn’t take me seriously.

    How do I go about providing positive reinforcement for not wearing make-up, without looking like I’m putting someone down for wearing it? After all a girl who has put effort into applying make-up isn’t going to be impressed if I tell her she looks better without it.

    *Complicating this is that telling a girl she looks nice is something I would rarely do anyway. For me being attractive, looking good, and being sexy are three completely different things that may or may not overlap (the first and third rarely do) but primarily that is not on my mind when I’m socialising with women. When I am socialising with girls it’s usually because we share a common interest, and how she looks has zero impact on our enjoyment of the event, and hence isn’t something that enters my head.

    This is of course fine until I begin to think that maybe my lack of positive reinforcement (with regard to presenting oneself practically rather than floridly etc.) is actually having a negative impact.

  37. I can definitely see the dilemma, and admittedly some girls are hard to please when it comes to this topic. But if someone told me I looked really nice without makeup, I don’t think I’d automatically take that as someone trying to humour me. While a girl might respond by saying ‘yeah right’ or ‘no way – I hate the way I look without makeup’, in most cases she will still feel stoked with the compliment, and it may change the way she thinks about her makeup-free self.

    And yeah, if I’d put a lot of time into my makeup and someone said to me ‘you look better without it’ I’d probably be pissed off, but only because the timing of the ‘compliment’ would be way off and lacking tact. The best bet would be to compliment a girl for a lack of makeup when it occurs rather than when it doesn’t. So, compliment a makeup-free face, but keep quiet when her face is made up if you don’t want to ‘reinforce’ the makeup wearing.

    That’s my advice, anyway.

  38. Thanks for that double, that’s useful. I have another question related to this topic.

    A high-heel shoe is a garment that restricts movement and causes injury (http://www.ynhh.org/healthlink/womens/womens_6_01.html) in favour of a stylised ‘sexy’ look. It seems to me it’s the epitome of everything feminists fight against.

    Yet I’ve had a feminist tell me that for her wearing a high heel is just as much a statement of power as her friend choosing not to wear them. She says that’s what she wears to say “I’m a girl and I’m awesome.”

    I mean I agree that she should have the freedom to wear whatever she wants, and that that’s a basic tenant of feminism, but I guess I’m confused as to why she would choose that particular item as one representative of feminine power.

  39. This one I don’t really have an answer for. I don’t see how wearing high heels could possibly be a statement of power. They are far less comfortable than ordinary shoes. Most girls that I know who wear high heels do it because they think they are sexy, or because they make their legs look longer. Neither of these reasons are particularly empowering. Perhaps the only power-enhancing factor is that they make you taller, so you command more attention.

    I think, if anything, the idea that powerful women wear high heels is a stereotype from the corporate world. It’s a myth. I struggle to view high heels as a representation of female power.

  40. Kandela – If you agree that she has the freedom to wear whatever she wants, then why do you need to understand why she finds high heels powerful? Maybe she associates them with the corporate businesswoman look. Maybe she associates them with King Louis XIV and other powerful rulers who wore high heels. Maybe she just likes the way her legs feels in them. There is no way to know but to ask, but it frankly isn’t your business.

    It’s important not to confuse the practice of thinking critically about patterns of fashion and cosmetics and what they say about our culture, and the practice of thinking critically about individual people’s choices of fashion and cosmetics and what they say about an individual person. The former is crucial to understanding how gender codes are perpetuated; the latter is not your responsibility, although you are welcome to think critically about your own choices.

  41. tanglethis – Well, I want to understand for a couple of reasons.

    Firstly, I introduced the topic in a feminist context. I was trying to make a point about how culture perpetuates gender schemas and the influence this has on the male:female ratio in traditionally male jobs (in particular physics and engineering). I didn’t criticise her choice in wearing heels (she doesn’t always wear them and this conversation was carried out electronically at a distance of about 15,000 km so I had no idea what she was wearing at the time) but said that the proliferation of an image that wearing shoes that restrict movement and cause injury was undesirable. Basically my argument was that the disproportionate marketing of impractical garments at women reinforced the stereotype that women weren’t practically inclined, and that this had an influence on male:female ratio in practical fields. The result was that I was accused of telling women what they couldn’t do and was accused of being sexist.

    Secondly, perhaps I have it wrong. Perhaps I’m not correct in my assumptions about the reasons for certain patterns in fashion. If so the only way to really determine this is by talking to individuals and determining their individual motives. The girl in question is actually quite short, maybe this is the reason she likes heels. Women are on average shorter than men, so it follows that perhaps all women view heels as equalling the height playing field. I doubt this is the case but I may be wrong. (And in any case I would argue that there is nothing wrong with being short, and that pride in being short is a better remedy than high heels.) If the assumptions of society about why women wear heels are incorrect then the first step in educating people of the actual reasons is to determine what the reasons actually are.

    Patterns are made up of a collection of individual choices. Often the same decisions are made for different reasons. As time passes the majority reason for a decision may change, if we just look at the result of the decision it’s easy to miss that the reasons have altered. If we fail to examine those individual choices then we are in danger of not only lumping everyone in together but worse, misperceiving the entire trend.

  42. I think the whole feminists are “ugly” thing is just another way to silence our cries for change. Sexism DOES exist and it isn’t going away if we don’t recognize and do anything about it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel beautiful without the make up. Having cut my hair back a couple months ago. I cut it super short, and was told I looked like a boy. I kept getting many comments from [male] peers about how they liked longer hair better. Its just what the media has placed in their heads. The sexy vixen with silky long hair, with big boobs in lingerie and high heels. I guess overall I’m just outraged that adopting so called ” male attributes” makes a woman ugly? If we’re ugly with hairy legs, then what are they? Do they know how much pressure women go through in terms of looking as the ” ideal woman”? Plastic surgery, make up, fashion, you name it! They spew it!

  43. I am a feminist, but I do shave my legs. Not because I like it, actually, it hurts and I really wish I could NOT do it. But I really don’t want to be continually told by my friends (girls and boys) and family that my legs are so hairy, so ugly, why don’t I shave them?
    I’m a teenager, and the boys at school would really start harassing me, so it’s just more trouble than it’s worth.
    Demonstrating how much feminism is still necessary.

  44. I remember this one incident when I had just started secondary school (I’m in the UK). In my school we have to wear school uniform, but while most girls choose to wear tights, in the junior years girls are allowed to wear socks with their shoes, as I did. I was walking towards the library during lunch time, minding my own business, when all of sudden behind me I hear two guys saying something like, “Ew. Get shaved.” I turned around to face them and they were sniggering, and then they sauntered off elsewhere. I stood still for a few seconds, quite shocked.
    Being about 12 years old at the time and not being a particularly ‘conventional’ girl, until that moment I had never seen body hair as anything repulsive nor felt the urge to shave my legs. I wasn’t even sure how I would go about doing it. It was just part of my body. Hair was hair was hair. I had never encountered anything that suggested otherwise in primary school, or if I had, I hadn’t bought it. So why all of sudden could people just comment about it so idly? Just what about it was so disgusting? Why were they even looking at my legs in the first place? Confused and upset, I carried on with my day and tried to not think about these new doubts, when indeed the following evening my own brother said something along the same lines. My older sister thankfully gave him flak for that comment, but the damage was done, and shortly afterward I shaved my legs for the first time and have been quite neurotic about it ever since.
    Looking back on it, it feels like the moment I was considered a teenager; being a child no more, I could no longer hide my apathy towards my gender and I was entering a world where everything about me could and would be scrutinized, and where everything was much more detailed, but for all the wrong reasons. It was the first in a long line of such comments, telling me how I should look, although much more subtler: You walk quite inwardly. Your hair is getting dry, wash it. Your face is too pale, put this blusher on. You’re getting chubby. Your eyebrows are quite thick. That dress will look better on you when your chest fills out. You’re turning into a lady, wear these high heels. And so forth.
    With great irony I remembered that incident again when a few years later, a few guys in my class had for some reason rolled the bottoms of their trousers up to their knees, exposing both their conspicuously bare legs and the strange looks from everyone else in that room. I could hear people whispering things like, “Check out the legs!” Having been in the same situation before, I was agonizingly aware of the double standard.
    It’s only been during the past year that I’ve really investigated and thought sincerely about gender, sexuality, sexism, feminism and the like, and a part of me really resents that I’ve let these comments and attitudes go unchecked and influence me. Whether my legs are shaved or not matters exactly nil. Whether the legs of anyone else are shaved matters exactly nil. Whether I care about make-up or not is a complete non-issue. I like to think that if I had the same views as I have now when I was 12, I could have had the words and the will to confront those guys and give them exactly what they deserved, and perhaps I might have turned out to be quite a different person.

    tl;dr: Gender expectations fucking suck.

  45. Dylan,

    That’s a sad story and I have a similar one. I was probably about 11 when I realised that my body was not my own, but was public property – open to scrutiny and comment – within the patriarchy. It was then when I was first informed that the (blonde, downy) hair on my legs was offensive, and that I should shave it off (not in those words, either). As you pointed out, that trend just continued. The amount of makeup I wore, the type of clothing, the size of my arse – none of these things were personal decisions any more. I’m only just beginning to reclaim some of these rights now.

  46. [...] “all feminists are lesbian” myth is often coupled with the myth of all feminists being hairy legged/flannel wearing/mannish/ugly. Neither of which, it’s noted over and over again, is a bad thing. The problem is that these [...]

  47. Another thing to consider is that not all women are 100% tomboy or 100% girly-girl. In fact, I would guess that a vast majority of them are not. Probably most of them have some masculine interests and some feminine interests. I don’t think femininity is inherently a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be considered the only option for females.

    Personally, I happen to really love hard rock and heavy metal (stereotypically masculine) – but I also happen to really like the colour pink. To me, I just think it just looks pretty.

    As far as social norms go, I am all about breaking social norms – gender-related or otherwise. I think, in the end, everyone should just be free to be individuals.

    Great site, BTW! :)

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