One week to go in the FEMMEbruary challenge! I promise, dear readers, that I continue to wear skirts and heels and lipstick, and moreover that I continue to think about what it means to be “feminine.”
Here is some photo proof of my continued fidelity to this goal:
My “Italian girl driving a Vespa” look.
Experimenting with what felt like a much better French Twist than it turned out to be.
The elusive Twist Braid.
I actually gave myself a bad headache with too much screen time on Saturday, between watching “House of Cards” and scouring Pinterest for hairstyle ideas. I tried out several, with only middling results. Part of the problem is that in my last haircut I asked for long layers; nice for adding volume and shape when you wear your hair down, but when you’re trying to do a braid or anything that requires you to make all of your hair into one unit, the shorter bits tend to get pesky and to peek out wherever they can. Ah well. That’s what bobby pins are for.
I’ve also been continuing to think about the trappings of femininity, as my feet get accustomed to heels and my lipstick application becomes more deft.
Here’s a quotation by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, upon seeing a cousin wearing bloomers instead of a cumbersome series of skirts and petticoats. I think the woman in the bloomers still had on a corset or at least a girdle of some sort.
“To see my cousin with a lamp in one hand and a baby in the other, walk upstairs, with ease and grace while, with flowing robes, I pulled myself up with difficulty, lamp and baby out of the question, readily convinced me that there was sore need of a reform in women’s dress and I promptly donned a similar costume.”
(Source: A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn, p.119)
This quotation gets at the heart of my hang-up with the appearance that we deem “feminine.” I am all for feeling graceful or attractive or professional by dressing up. I’m all for people being able to explore different looks for themselves; to experiment with hair and makeup, to try different styles, to see themselves in a new way, to gain confidence. But let’s not ignore the fact that all of this comes from a place of privilege. The people who can obey the dictates of feminine dress and comportment today without issue are able to do so because:
-They don’t need to be able to run fast or often (or even be on their feet for too long)–implies that they live and work in neighborhoods with low crime rates/risk of violent crime and have white-collar jobs
-They can find the time that it takes to apply makeup, curl hair, slide on stockings, and adjust earrings
-They have the money to buy outfits, a variety of shoes, stockings, hair products, and endless cosmetics and accessories
-They don’t have to exert themselves to the point where a nice hairstyle or careful makeup application would be ruined
The problem is when the women who have to be quick on their feet or have to stand all day, when the single moms without the time to “put themselves together” unless they rob themselves of an hour of needed sleep, who don’t have the money for the expected products and who do need to physically exert themselves to the point where makeup or hairstyles get in the way are expected to conform to the example set by the privileged people who enjoy participating in the appearance of femininity.
This is really how I’m feeling at this stage in the game: That it can be fun to try new Pinterest hair styles, to wear skirts and heels, to try not to slobber lipstick all over everything you own, but that taking part in the performance of femininity is a skill that takes time, effort, and money, and that too often we are expected to take part in it when we would rather use that time, effort, and money elsewhere.
I mean, what’s a better argument against makeup/heels/skirts and dresses/hairstyles/wearing jewelry/what have you being innately feminine than the fact that I have to learn how to do it?
My mom is lovely. She is a plenty feminine lady, and she wore blush and mascara and dresses and heels to work. She also grew up as a tomboy, and she didn’t have many “girlie tricks” to teach me about wrapping my hair in a towel like a turban or French-braiding or anything like that when I was a kid. I don’t begrudge anyone the time I’ve spent learning how to use a bobby pin or apply eyeliner, but I’d like it recognized that I did have to invest my time into it, and I could have been spending that time learning Spanish or how to code computers. Also, the beauty industry is mildly terrifying–it took me all of one minute to drop $50 on a hair curler, one tube of lipstick, one ($3) pair of fake eyelashes, and one compact of foundation. That’s less than half of the makeup/hair equipment I put on or use each day when I’m making myself up. There’s always a new product, always a new shade of lipstick or a new applicator that keeps your lipstick fresh longer. Once you buy in, you just keep finding more ways to spend your money.
So I’m claiming solidarity with all of those who want to look inward for the definition of what is “feminine.” In my last few days, I’ll put on false eyelashes at least once, but I’m going to try to meditate on what makes women unique biologically and psychologically, and think about the value of qualities like softness and gentleness.
I don’t mean to be a hypocrite when I say that for all of my rhetoric above, I intend to occasionally still wear lipstick and skirts and heels after this month is over. I feel like I’m better at doing it now, and I do feel that putting on this costume (because let’s be clear that that is what this is) sets me up to be more focused and behave more professionally during the day. What I want to be very clear about, though, is that I do it as a conscious choice, and that I’m aware of the privilege I have in being able to adhere or not adhere at my will, and nobody else’s, to these standards.
Thanks for staying with me!