Saving Face: Girls Girls Girls (and everyone else)

The first question I asked last week when I started the Saving Face project was about gender inequality in the skin care industry. Things might be a bit different for children and preteens now, but here is a brief summary of how I understood things in primary school:

Girls wore products and makeup as a rite of passage in our teens even if it pissed off our conservative parents and even if we were much more interested in spending time and money on things we actually gave a shit about. If we didn’t, we were tomboys and/or lesbians. If we wore a lot of visible products when we were young, we were slappers. Boys shouldn’t wear make up because it’s effeminate, so if they did they were gay. They should, however, take pride in their masculinity and buy products to look like a proper dude.

Aside: did anyone else have the playground rumour that boys having a pierced ear on a certain side made them gay?

Thank God for rock ‘n’ roll… and exposure to the Internet. Men can use products. Women don’t have to. The gender binary is actually a spectrum, and cosmetics shouldn’t be gender-specific because a man will not morph into his wife if he borrows her face cream, and a straight woman will not turn gay if she starts using men’s razors (she will, however, save a lot of money. More on that in the next post).

I’m less inclined to buy into early-2000s school gate ignorance now, but my biggest issue with cosmetics has lasted for years, and I’m not sure if it’s a gender equality issue or just me. Remember when Ellen and Isobel gave me a makeover? It was a lot of fun, but I resented hints that I should always straighten my hair, or wear make up more regularly. The way compliments about how I look get phrased always seems to be “you look great with that make up/hairstyle/clothes on, you should wear it all the time!” Wait, so I don’t already look great? I’m way too stubborn to cave into those implications (especially when it’s from friends and family who are paying me compliments that I might just be incapable of receiving) but pressure from friends and family can have a detrimental effect. Maybe it’s not just me, because someone’s even made a video about it:

This post was nearly done, but then I went on the ‘natural hair’ Tumblr tag and found this (along with some brilliant examples of afro hair):

BLACK shesgotsomuchsoul.tumblr.com

It made me sad, because it’s true. We are all taught to be dissatisfied with what we have so we’ll pay to change it. Women seem to be targeted more, and at risk of sounding like a disenchanted radical, I reckon it harks back to that pesky opinion that men are naturally perfect and women naturally inferior. But it’s evolved into a race inequality issue, because the companies selling products need to make us all feel as though there is something wrong with our natural aesthetic, so we’ll be willing to pay for something new. We’re made to want what everyone else has while despising what we have.

The funniest part is, we can dye our hair or wear a product to express ourselves, to tell a story, to make us feel more confident. If you’ve got acne that you dislike or hair somewhere that makes you shy or insecure, you can buy concealer or get hair removal. But what they don’t tell us is that you should do it because you want to look good for you. Not for a boyfriend who wants you to shave your bikini line, not because an advert has implied you’ve got the wrong hair type or skin colour, not because friends of family have hinted they prefer one ‘look’ over another. The writers over at Rookie are doing an amazing job of explaining and demonstrating that cosmetics are a brilliant way to help you be yourself, but that attitude seems pretty limited to the Internet.

I feel like I’ve asked more questions than I’ve answered. Why aren’t all women of all races, or backgrounds, or hair types or whatever, telling the media and social opinion to go fuck itself and concentrating on complimenting each other’s natural look?  Am I overreacting to people’s compliments when I do my hair differently? Are men targeted by the cosmetic industries as much as women? I can only speak from experience as a cisgender girl (told you I read up on the spectrum!). I kind of feel like companies use consumers’ ignorance (and maybe indifference, actually) to sell products we don’t need, and it’s fueling social inequality.

Scoffed at the HeForShe Campaign? Right, Let’s Talk

If you haven’t seen it already, the next thing you should do today is watch the entirety of Emma Watson’s UN HeForShe speech. There has been a lot of news articles quoting it, but some of the most interesting parts weren’t cherry-picked as far as I remember, and watching and listening coveys her emotions a lot better than just reading:

Just to get it out of my system, let’s all take a moment to admire that intense outfit.

Okay, moment over.

By show of hands, who here considers themselves a feminist? Good for you. Who doesn’t, or didn’t before watching that video? That’s fine too, because Emma’s right (can I call her Emma? I always think anyone who works with or at the UN should be addressed more formally). Feminism has become a dirty word and synonymous with hating men, because it’s so easy for people to hate oppressors and turn to violence or extremism, which is of course the only aspect of any social movement that gets noticed by the general public.

When I was growing up, I thought vaguely that feminists didn’t shave their underarms, burnt their bras and hated their boyfriends. Thankfully I live in Britain in the 21st century, am moderately intelligent and have had access to education and evidence to the contrary. I now know that if someone doesn’t want to shave their underarms, likes to burn bras or hates their boyfriend, that’s their choice. None of the above are my gig, personally, but if I have a problem with a woman who does any of those things, it’s my problem. I can judge from afar, get grossed out or even ask them to explain their reasons but it’s not my place to tell them what to do. When I learnt the dictionary definition of feminism, I automatically knew I was one. Why wouldn’t I want the same rights as men?

From bbcone.tumblr.com
From bbcone.tumblr.com

Women who declared they didn’t “need” feminism upset me, because there really isn’t a country in the world where women have the same rights as men. When I was writing the ad that’s now on the sidebar for examples of indifferent ignorance, using “women who think we don’t need feminism” as an example was an obvious choice because one only needs to read about the girls raised as boys in Afghanistan or the women in India attacked for refusing a marriage proposal, or see the realities of gendered marketing, to understand that no one in this world is created equal.

The interesting thing is, I’ve never particularly not wanted to be a girl, because I like ‘girly’, things. I like to wear colourful dresses (they’re pretty) and a load of silver rings (they’re shiny), I like getting my hair done (it feels nice) and sitting around a table in cafes and restaurants, looking damn cute and chatting to people (I like people watching). But I live in a country where I’ll only be heckled or refused a job because of my gender. I won’t be forced into an awful marriage or refused education or abused; it’s not too dangerous for me to be myself.

That being said, I’m typing this wearing a three-day shirt and four-day jeans (I’m not going out), having only partially brushed my hair (I lost my favourite brush, and I’m not going out) and sitting in a room which really, really needs cleaning (cleaning is a lot of effort and it’s boring). I very rarely wear make-up because I’m highly affronted by the suggestion that I don’t already look perfect. I also grew up with a strong dislike of most beauty products, because they promised a different version of perfection, one that involved spending half an hour every morning painting my face. I’d rather be asleep, thanks.

Those traits are traditionally seen as ‘masculine’, or at the very least ‘not feminine’. My favourite example of society’s warped perception is my mother blaming my brother’s disgustingly messy room, refusal to put crockery in the dishwasher and inability to move his school or boxing bags from the hallway on the fact that “he’s a boy”. What, and the Y chromosome renders him incapable of clearing up after himself? He doesn’t do it because he knows my mum will do it, because she likes a tidy house and because she was raised in a society where women do the tidying. My brother’s not a bad person, and when he tidies he does it just as well as my mum – and probably far better than me, because I have the attention span of a gnat and always find something more interesting than housework.

But if my brother openly enjoyed dusting, or wearing lots of silver rings or colourful dresses, he would be abused heartily by his peers, our parents and the media. If I gave in to my desire to never vacuum again or started boxing or never replaced my hairbrush, I would be abused heartily by my peers, our parents and the media. That’s stupid enough, but what’s really strange is that I’ve never actually met a man who displays solely ‘masculine’ traits or a women who displays solely ‘feminine’ ones. I know girls who love make up and cooking but never clean. I know boys who like to keep their bedroom spotless and worship football. I know men who do the ironing and women who earn the most in the household. If straight couples have got any sense, they split the household chores and cleaning equally depending on each person’s strength. It works for gay couples, or the intelligent ones at least.

From moseisleywelcomingcommittee.tumblr

So I’ve given my two cents and now it’s time for you to. If you’re a bloke and you’ve got even the slightest inclination to agree with Emma or me or any of the feminists you know, you’ll sign up for HeForShe. If you already have or are a lady, you can email me your examples of inequality-based indifferent ignorance at transmissions@indifferentignorance.com. I’ll always change names and I might go off on a rant… I’ve collected a tonne of feminist/sexism/equality material to show you guys and I want to ask more questions about gender-based issues and social conventions.

What are your thoughts about HeForShe or any of the topics I’ve discussed? Leave a comment below or email me. If you’re happy for me to cite you in a blog post, contact transmissions@indifferentignorance.com; if you want things to stay private send them to tobequitefrank@indifferentignorance.com.