beauty, folly, and the patriarchy

Image: from No Longer Quivering, c/o Google image search for “beautiful foolish patriarch.” The very fine NLQ was nominated for the Canadian “F-word” Blog Awards for Best Feminist Blog International.

Or: On Living In/With Bad Faith.

One of my absolute favouritest blogs ever–in the entire virtuverse–is not directly about beauty and beautification. See, all the time I’ve been into skincare and beauty products, I’ve also been into feminism. Lawks, that was a dismal sentence. I don’t mean it in a cheesy naff way. But: in a historical-event way. In that the coming to consciousness about having pale eyelashes happened at about the same time as, well, realizing I was female and had a functioning brain and therefore must be (a) feminist.

Actually, feminism probably came first: I was at kindergarten when I first realized the world was prejudiced in favour of Barbie-like little girls who smiled sweetly, twinkled, had silly “please Daddy” voices, and generally sucked up. And sucked. Then again, I was already mentally wearing black way back then–I just hadn’t figured out that rendering that figurative manifestly real was the most kick-ass way to be pale and A Ginger.

Also, all this time–perhaps to compensate for loss of religious faith and the hole that leaves in my non-soul–I’ve been tormented by the agonies of juggling feminism and beautyism.

I live in guilt.

I do get angry about other people trying to make me guilty about other things (not having a certain attribute or wonder-product), or about not feeling guilty (not giving a crap about said property or product). I get angry with people for falling for crap, though part of that is empathy; worse, not just feeling their pain, feeling pain that they’re not feeling (through blissful ignorance, non-thinking, and so on) on their behalf. Which is taking the whole deranged martyr-complex “good atheist out-ethicking religious nuts” thing a bit far.

And then I feel guilty about caring about what people think about beauty products, and about caring about beauty products myself at all in the first place. Well, calling them “beauty products” might be an exaggeration: given that most of them fulfil basic cleaning-and-grooming-and-maintenance functions, protect skin from flaking and burning and falling off (and hurting me), and have been selected so as to avoid verbiage to which I’m allergic.

But then again there’s shiny hair, and lipsticks, and of course the worst offender: mascara.

And on the other hand: ginger rights.

All of which pale into insignificance when the threatening spectre of antifeminism looms.

So: yes, if I had to choose between beautyism and feminism, I’m afraid that fun and frolics praising folly would have to go. I’d have to lay down the pretty sparkly toys and take up serious heavy weapons.

Needs must when the devil rides. Or better: it taks a lang spuin tae sup wi the deil (or a Fifer).

Gingerism: now allied with kinism. Gingers: now directly associated with dining with diabolical entities, I fear on the wrong side of the spoon (thanks Google Deities for this gem). Tsk. Warning: site from which image originates contains patriarch(al)ism and even worse extremist nutjobbery.

Fortunately, the interwebs (and libraries, and, you know, people IRL) is plentiful in the spoon-department. One of the cunningest is I Blame the Patriarchy, which I admit to reading since 2005. It has been a source of sustenance and solace in even the most trying of times. Setting me a model and high standard, the giddy heights of vitriol and lethal sharpness to which I aspire. It features some of the most witty, incisive cultural comment and criticism online. I leave the site bouncing on my chair, sitting up straighter, walking taller, frequently cackling joyously, and sometimes even whooping. The credo:

[…] Patriarchy-blaming blog that has been advancing the radical feminist views of Jill Psmith and/or Twisty Faster, a gentleman farmer and/or spinster aunt doing the butt-dance in Cottonmouth County, Texas, since 2004.

I Blame The Patriarchy is intended for advanced patriarchy-blamers. It is not a feminist primer. See Patriarchy-Blaming the Twisty Way for details.

This is what the blamer should know before commenting.

“I couldn’t get Twisty’s point. It was so longwinded.” — The Blogosphere

Twisty Faster, a spinster aunt whose obstreperal lobe is about to blow, has been bloviating about feminist issues since the last century. She became an Internet Feminist in 2004. […] 

Here follows a selection of Twisty’s posts on beauty.

First, some recent beauteous activity:

• “TV ad is puke” and “This TV ad is also puke” (2011-07-24) on a stretch-mark remover and Summer’s Eve. From the latter–I know it’s not a beauty-product by any stretch of the imagination, but the post had me in stitches–do go have a read of “Warm jets” (2011-05-11), about toilet paper.

Next, commentary on Dove advertising campaigns:

“Dove’s Tail”: on the Dove “real women” campaign (2005-08-01) and Tail, Part II (2005-08-02)

• “Scum: not the real enemy” (2010-03-30): starting out on shutting up about beauty, but mainly on Dove campaigns again, with a beautiful–sorry, the word is appropriate and non-patriarchal here–commentary, step by step. Finding beauty in your hair. Reacting to soap scum. And laying into Dove’s “wider definition of beauty”…

• “Spinster aunt continues to be irked by Dove soap ads” (2011-04-09): featuring Sarah Haskins’ “Target Women,” Dove’s Skin IQ test, and the Ditwuss Awards.

• “Be confident of your daintiness” (2011-04-17): commentary further to Slate article on a history of body-shaming ads or, as Twisty puts it, “Misogynist Advertising Ploys Through the Ages.” Featuring yet more Dove! Vintage, antique Dove!

“Pop psych mag cites evolutionary evidence for female fickleness” (IBTP, 2010-12-09)

Finally, some of her most splendid rants against beauty and funfeminism:

“Manure“: on the L’Oréal-sponsored WomenOfWorth™ shenanigans and high jinks, but mostly about “being worth it.” (2008-04-09)

• “ ‘New’ feminism: plump, luscious, and kissable“: against “fun” or “lifestyle” feminists, feminism-lite (2008-12-25). This bit has been haunting me for some years now:

Hence the sub-headline [from the original Sunday Times article under discussion, from 2008-12-21]: “Yes, you can wear lipstick and be a feminist. The F word is being rebranded.”

Rebranded, apparently, as a cosmetics marketing gambit (again). If it doesn’t involve lipstick, you can count these hipster chicks out. Because lard knows a political movement should have glowing skin if it wants to maintain its market-share in this day and age.

I wish they would rebrand funfeminism as “I Heart Patriarchyism” and be done with it.

• “I like pie” (2010-03-29) has pith for the “it’s okay to be pretty” brigade:

Not if smashing patriarchy is on your to-do list. Pretty is merely a semantic variant of feminine, which is itself a code word meaning ’subjugated, degraded, and controllable.’

Or beautifulsexy, or fuckable — it’s all the same thing: a set of behaviors indicating that the woman in question is dominant-culture-compliant. The degree of compliance is judged according to standards based on a system of male appeasement (compliance should be full and discernible at a glance).

If a woman is unable or unwilling to capitulate to male desire by cute-ing herself up according to the standards of the day, and is resistant enough to broadcast this unwillingness by eschewing beauty, boy is she in for it. The Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women state that a woman will internalize the beauty mandate to the greatest possible extent, lest Dude Nation kick her non-compliant ass.

Fear of retribution (ridicule, ostracism, harassment, abuse in the workplace) — and by extension, guilt and the imperative of self-sacrifice — is why the overwhelming majority of Vagina-Americans own mirrors and buy carcinogenic products that supposedly make them “shiny,” “radiant,” “glowing,” “pouty,” “smoky,” or “baby-fresh.” Fear of retribution is why even those women who identify as feminists cling with Revlon-coated claws to the “right” that us man-hating feminazis would take away from them: the right to be pretty (or sexy or fuckable). […We] are man-haters because we would deprive default humans of their right to pretty girls.

Obviously, I’m a nerdy fan. Albeit tortured. And would encourage all right-thinking people to be too. Both these things. More of the first, though, as it’s more pleasant and less painful. I hope the above have given you some taste of the other side to beauty… and why, bashing the BS-bashing point again, it’s important to stand up for reason and right against unreason and wrong. The greatest service that L’Oréal and Dove’s recent campaigns have performed for women has been to provide fuel for debate, discussion, public ridicule and lampooning, and legal action. They’ve brought beautification/feminism issues into the spotlight, and kept them there. Well done and thank you, L’Oréal and Unilever. See for example this commentary from The Guardian (2011-07-29): “L’Oréal’s pulled adverts: this ideal of female beauty is an abomination” (Tanya Gold, “Comment is Free” section of the online edition; the comments are also worth at least a browse–all 500+ of them…). Plenty more elsewhere online too, if you’re collecting…

See also, elsewhere, in counterpoint:

(I Blame the Patriarchy content licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence)

One comment

  1. Rose

    Awesome. I struggle with many of the same issues, looking forward to reading the links.

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