Monday, January 14, 2013

So, You Have To Wear Makeup - Part 4

In which we take some advice from Vanilla Ice, and try to sum up what we have learned.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Flavia Dzodan once famously said on the fantastic blog Tiger Beatdown, "My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit."  In this context, she was talking about ensuring we include women of colour, trans women, poor women, women with a disability, non-neurotypical* women, all marginalised groups of women in feminism. But I propose we not only do this, but make the goal even broader still. We need to take the ultimate challenge and decide to include not only all these groups, but one more challenging still - people who disagree with us.
Photo by Pinti 1 on Flickr
Sometimes I feel like I’ve always been in the middle. I’m not gay or straight, but queer. I grew up in a household that was poor, but not destitute. I’m fatter than average, but not huge. My blog is very young yet, but it's already an odd creature, and very representative of my perpetual  view from the middle. There are entries showing off a pretty nail polish I bought next to posts discussing the sexist standards of appearance required of women in job interviews. There's a bit of shameless superficiality, a bit of serious philosophical pondering. It's like me - not any one thing, but pieces of many things loosely bound together. While this means it's not as popular as it could be if I just chose a side and stuck with it, I like it the way it is, because I think the middle ground has been too silent for too long, and I want that to change.

Twitter is an infophile's best friend
I got a comment  on my first “So, You Have To Wear Makeup” post, saying that reader had never worn makeup to an interview and had never had a problem. Being the nerdy little infophile I am, I decided to collect some anecdata, because this was totally contrary to my experience.
I got back some answers that were absolutely what I was expecting to hear, the ones that matched my own experience in the job market. People saying that when they were younger, and going for less financially rewarding jobs like fast food and call centre positions, that they hadn’t worn makeup, but now they were going for and getting more senior positions, makeup had become a necessity in job interviews. But there were also a lot of responses that  blew my assumptions clear out of the water. Dozens of women came back to me with tales of successful careers built while entirely rejecting makeup, and it has made me seriously reconsider whether I actually need to wear it to work after all. I heard from a lot of women who don’t ever wear makeup, and so had never considered that it might be necessary for a job interview, and it hadn’t held them back one bit. There were also responses from people that challenged my idea that “all women” think wearing makeup to job interviews is inherently unfair - some women put forward the opinion that it was ridiculous not to wear makeup to an interview, that I was just part of a workplace dress code, and no more oppressive than requiring you to wear closed shoes. One person put forward the idea that appearance was the biggest advantage women have in an interview situation, and you're an idiot not to use all the tools at your disposal to look as good as you can. Moreover, someone else suggested that considering the many studies proving that men are better at talking themselves up, and get better results when they do, it's only fair for women to use their natural advantage. Some women said they just enjoy making themselves up, that it made them feel confident, beautiful, and capable, so why wouldn't they for an interview? 

While I gathered a lot of information, I don’t really have a great many concrete conclusions to draw from it – this was such a casual study that trying to draw any definitive facts out of it would be ridiculous. However, I did discover that if you are against wearing makeup enough that you don’t feel like you could do it for an interview, it seems like the public service is the place for you. I’m pretty curious as to how this culture has come about, as opposed to the private sector where once your business hits a certain size, it does seem to be largely assumed the women will wear makeup. Nursing also seems to be relatively makeup free, although my anedata suggests this is changing and the younger generation of nurses are much more likely to “put on a bit of face”. Personally, I think I would need a little lipstick or a nice hair bow or SOMETHING to make me feel better after twelve hours of cleaning up other people’s puke, but that’s just my guess as to why it’s becoming more prevalent. On the other hand, advertising and PR seem to be industries where makeup is a requirement, and probably a fair bit of it. One source told me she’d been to twelve interviews makeup free in a row, and on the next one she wore makeup to see if it made a difference. This time she got the job. She’s an enormously experienced, confident, intelligent candidate, so while correlation is not causation, it seems like a pretty strong indicator that wearing makeup in these industries is not a choice for women. 

Not an accurate depiction of the nursing profession
I wasn't annoyed to by the information I gathered that conflicted with my own experience - I was delighted. I've long believed that if you only surround yourself with people whose views match your own, your social interactions just turn into a massive circle jerk. Besides if I only ever listened to people who entirely agree with me I would be listening to a recording of my own voice all the time.
I actually don't entirely agree with either end of the spectrum of responses I got. As with so many things my opinion is somewhere in the middle. I will continue to wear makeup to job interviews, because I think it gives me an advantage that outweighs my other disadvantages. But  I'm delighted to learn that women who fucking hate makeup and refuse to wear it have the option to do so and be successful. I’m also pleased that there are other women out there who don’t like wearing makeup, but are happy to do it for the sake of getting a job, that I’m not some massive traitor for doing so. I’m pleased to learn there are other confident, self assured women who enjoy wearing makeup as a bit of fun, just as I do.  

But I didn’t ask the question in order to try and form some sort of declarable conclusion - it's the discussion that fires me up. The fascinating influx of information I wouldn't have gotten otherwise, the viewpoints I had never considered. I didn’t exclude or dismiss the women who disagreed with me - I thanked them for their contribution, and added their anecdata to my research. I looked at ALL the answers I had gotten before trying to reach any sort of conclusion. If anything, I wish my question had been able to get out to a more varied sample of women. I feel like the more points of view I can get on something, the closer I can get to something like truth. 

However, I think we need to accept there is no such thing as one truth for all women. Caitlin Moran has been copping a lot of flak lately for some decidedly non-intersectionalist views she put forward in her book, "How To Be A Woman", and I think she deserves to be questioned about them. Her dismissal of pole dancers claim to feminism particularly got up my nose. But I also think she had an excellent point when she rebutted these arguments by pointing out that she never wanted to be a spokesperson for ALL women. As trans and whorephobic as she is, she's right about this. No one woman can speak for all women - there is simply too much variety in experience and situation for this to ever work. I have only ever worked in the private sector, so I’m not going to presume to tell women who have only worked in the public sector what they can and can’t do at work. Instead of only listening to ourselves and those who agree with us, how about we stop for a minute and have a listen to other women's truths, whether we agree with them or not? I want to encourage a conversation within feminism -  with this blog, I want to draw together the people who think lipstick is oppressive, and the people who never wear pants, and get them talking. It’s only a little topic in the grand scheme of things, I know, but it’s what I can do.

Not a feminist, not particularly surprising.
I think that infighting and "oppression olympics" (a style of arguing where everyone else's experience is invalid because no-one has ever had it as hard as you) within the feminism community is totally counterproductive, and has lead to the rise in younger women rejecting the title of feminist altogether. I think we need to not only tolerate dissenting voices, but really consider what they have to say. When a woman - ANY woman - says, “Don’t call me that,” your response should be simple - stop, listen, and then don’t call them that. Don’t tell them to get over it because you don’t understand why they’re upset. Try and understand why they’re upset. Ask questions. Listen. Maybe they are picking fights for no reason, or as we on the internet say, troll-lol-lol-ing. But maybe they have an objection based on a point of view you hadn’t considered. When this culture of dismissing the unfamiliar extends to a situation where people like Julie Birchall feel free to write out-and-out hate speech addressed at trans women just because they asked a friend of hers not to say things that made them feel like shit, feminism has a serious fucking problem.

Other people with much more experience than me have discussed this disgusting situation elsewhere, so I will make my analysis short. This "war" started because Suzanne Moore wrote a column in which she made what I feel are some excellent points about the state of feminism currently, but also included an off-the-cuff dig at trans women. They understandably asked if she could not use that word next time. Instead of taking a minute to listen to them, she launched into a series of justifications for her language, and then her BFF dogpiled on and said these women should be grateful that they weren't called worse.(Serious trigger warnings on this link, BTW. It's some hateful, vicious stuff.) All it would have taken is for Moore to stop, listen, think, and then say "Hey, sorry about that. I didn't realise my word choice was so hurtful. I won't use it in future." That's it. Instead of complaining that no-one saw the point she was trying to make past her use of a word they found really upsetting, she needed to deal with the fact that she made a mistake. But she wouldn't. And now it's a shit fight, becoming more vicious every day, all because she simply refused to listen to experiences other than her own.

Image from xojane
I am honestly baffled by her reaction - I've been wrong before. I've fucked up. I've said and thought things that were based entirely on my own experience that, as it turns out, were totally wrong. For example, when I first went into the sex industry I didn't realise some sex workers had a problem with people who were not sex workers using the word hooker. I heard them calling each other that, and thought it was okay to do it myself. When I was asked not to, I asked why. The workers I spoke to explained that it was their word for each other, and they didn't feel I had the right to use it. I didn't tell them I would say what I wanted because there was nothing wrong with the word from my point of view. I didn't tell them to get the fuck over it because other women have bigger problems. I apologised, and referred to them as sex workers or working girls from them on. I just cannot grasp why Moore couldn't just own her poor choice of words, apologise, and then not fucking do it again. It's not rocket science. 

Don't be this guy
There are so many questions to be asked of so many different women with so many different experiences, and I sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who actually wants to hear what everyone has to say. If I can take the time to stop, collaborate and listen on a topic as relatively minor as whether to wear makeup to work, then I really feel like more prominent voices than mine can take the time to listen to other women about crucial, life changing stuff. While the internet has been an incredible boon in terms of finding allies, it also means we have an unprecedented ability to limit the number of dissenting opinions we hear and engage with. All too easily your Twitter feed can become the psychological equivalent of a manky hotel room somewhere in nothing but socks on to protect your feet from the sticky floor. And if that's your thing, well, I suppose go for it. But I would prefer my social world to be more like a great big party - some people are arguing, some people are getting it on, some people are just enjoying each others company. Will you come to my party and at least have a drink with us?

*neurotypical refers to anyone with a "normal" brain, ie no discernible emotional, mental, or learning disorder - non-neurotypical is everyone else. 


  1. great article, i love your exploration of "truth for all women" and how it relates to your curiosity.

    must say i disagree with you on moran, though - i wouldn't characterize her comments/attitudes as "decidely non-intersectional" - that's putting it far too gently. moran has made it clear that she does not care about women of colour, isn't concerned about making problematic statements about rape culture, or saying/believing transphobic things. if it were one statement, once, i might feel more lenient but i am reminded of these words by Michelle at The Untitled Teen Mag: "While I’m working to create new and better spaces for those who are left behind, I’m making sure that those who opt out of helping me and others in our quest will never live it down. My feminism is vicious for those who cannot be."

    i wrote about some of my own feelings on her statements and missteps earlier this fall...

  2. "must say i disagree with you on moran, though - i wouldn't characterize her comments/attitudes as "decidely non-intersectional" - that's putting it far too gently."

    That's a very fair call. Interestingly my boy asked why I was going so easy on her in this article too, since he's heard my impassioned ranting on her totally unhelpful attitude to anyone who doesn't agree with her. I guess I just didn't want to make this article about the problems I have with her specifically - that could be an entire other series. I also wanted to take a minute to pull what little good I could from the steaming pile she is making of her public conversation. I don't think she's a particularly good feminist role model, but I think she once made a good point.

    1. you're totally right. i'm also more interested in shifting the conversations towards feminists worth lauding - like harsha walia, laurie penny, sarah nicole prickett, etc - instead of attacking famous ones. if moran opens someone's eyes to feminism who otherwise never would have considered it, i like to think it's not an entire loss. i just hope they don't think she's the only version of feminism out there.


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