At long last: Tom Matlack's opinion on your face

Oh gosh, where to begin.

The New York Times‘ ‘Room for Debate’ started it by asking the perpetually boring and irrelevant question: “Does makeup help or hinder a woman’s self-esteem?” and then they punished us all further by giving The Good Douche Project’s Tom Matlack the final word on what you should do with your face (Whatever you want laaaaadies! You’re all beautiful to Tom!).

The question, in an of itself, is stupid. Makeup is not the thing that will provide women with or take away their self-esteem. Makeup is a product of a culture that places a tremendous focus on women’s appearances. Women, in general, wear makeup because it makes them feel presentable (And we all know who we are trying to look presentable for, yes? The ever-present male gaze? Ok good.) and, yes, more beautiful, more ‘normal’, less sleep-deprived (i.e. more attractive), etc. The only way that makeup provides us with more self-esteem is in the same superficial way that Spanx provides us with more self-esteem — superficially and, therefore, temporarily. At large, makeup and Spanx aren’t going to make us love ourselves more, but they will, temporarily, make us feel more attractive or simply less repulsive to the opposite sex.

Full disclosure time. I love makeup and I love Spanx. I think Spanx are the greatest invention next to the Internet. And that isn’t because I think Spanx are even close to empowering or feminist or good for my self-esteem in the long run. All Spanx do is make me feel I can wear dresses I wouldn’t dream of wearing otherwise (because: insecurity) without pretending that I have time to exercise in a body sculpting kind of way or be bothered to pay much attention to what I eat.

As mentioned in a previous post, I wear eyeliner almost every day. I love eyeliner. But I don’t think it’s ‘just for me’. Clearly that argument is a whole bunch of bullshit. As if I could be bothered to put makeup on if I were living on a deserted planet after the apocalypse (Also that would never happen because I would never manage to be the lone survivor of an apocalypse. I hate camping and I assume the apocalypse would be like the worst kind of camping, i.e. no Internet or cream for my coffee). I also don’t wear makeup for my female friends. I do not give two shits whether my women friends find me attractive and — let’s all please stop lying now — we wear makeup to look more attractive.

Part of the reason I mention this is not because I think my makeup habit or Spanx-love is awesome and everyone should just blindly succumb to the pressures of presenting as appropriately feminine, but because I don’t believe that pretending that the task of being an acceptably attractive women (meaning, again, acceptable to the male gaze) isn’t, actually, a task. Women spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to ‘look their best’, via makeup, hair products, clothes, anti-wrinkle cream, etc. in comparison with men who don’t have nearly the same pressures. In fact, for men, if you have money and power you can get away with looking and acting like a troll and still have women throwing themselves at you.

So the question of “Does makeup help or hinder a woman’s self-esteem?” doesn’t really allow for us to go anywhere interesting with the conversation. It doesn’t look at the ‘why’ of the issue, nor does it allow for an acknowledgement that makeup is not going to be solely responsible for women’s self-esteem or lack thereof. Superficial beauty is temporary, albeit fun (Yes, I’m afraid I do find makeup to be ‘fun’ — in that, I’m a well-trained lady/consumer kind of way).

One of the ‘debaters’, Pheobe Baker Hyde, at least acknowledges that this question is pretty useless, saying:

This makeup question (good or bad for self-esteem?) is much like the old 70’s hair question: Should a liberated woman shave or not? Both questions prettify the harder inquiry: Why—in certain quarters– does going without mascara feel as subversive as kneeling down in front of a tank and singing Kumbaya? Why do alternate approaches to womanhood still surprise and threaten us, and why, 93 years after women gained the vote, do so many of us still feel like we are making important choices about life from down on our knees, the decorative flourishes of womanhood having become a required, yet resented, battle strategy?

Others, predictably, take the classic ‘whatever-makes-you-feel-good-momentarily-counts-as-empowerment‘ position. The whole thing, flawed from the get go, is pretty silly, yes, but the worst of all is that, for some inexplicable reason (Ha! Not really. We all know that white men are experts on what women should do in order to please white men), they gave the last word to Tom Matlack, of the MRA infested, porn-loving, rape apologist Good Men Project.

Matlack compares makeup to breast implants, admitting that “it is a less extreme form of ‘beautification,'” but going on to say:

It would be easy to criticize women who get fake boobs and men who admit to liking them. But the truth is a lot more complicated than that. Who are we to judge what someone else decides to do to her own face or body?

Of course! Of course we should make sure that women obsess over their appearances above all else, hate their bodies, and spend their lives running from aging and then pretend that this conversation is all about ‘judging women’. SHUT UP WORLD. This argument is the same one that derails every single conversation about prostitution. “Stop judging me!” ensures that every conversation about male power and sexism is personalized into an “I choose my choice!” concept of female empowerment and twists ‘choice’ into something completely personal and devoid of social and political context. Criticizing the beauty industry or plastic surgery is not the same thing as ‘judging’ individual women just as criticizing the existence of prostitution is not the same thing as ‘judging’ prostituted women. This incessant individualizing of everything is possibly the most successful derail of the feminist movement in history and it makes me want to scream.

Matlack concludes by saying:

So when it comes to makeup and self-esteem I plead ignorance other than to say women should do whatever they want. That includes my wife, by the way. As long as she knows that I love her most when she has nothing on.

So first of all: Puke. Second of all, WHY DO WE CARE WHAT TOM MATLACK’S OPINION IS ON ANYTHING? Asking Tom Matlack what women should do with their faces, only to have him respond by saying, essentially, “I’m such a progressive and open-minded guy that I think you should all do whatever you want because I promise to objectify you either way” is the equivalent of asking white people what people of colour should ‘do’ to make racism go away. “Oh just do whatever makes you happy, you guys! Just ignore little old me — I’m just part of the group that runs this sexist, racist, capitalist game anyway!”

I wear makeup as part of my performance of femininity and, yes, because I want to be perceived as attractive by men. This is not great, but it is, and I have absolutely no desire to give up my eyeliner.

I’m not going to pretend that this is what I look like when I roll out of bed in the morning and I’m not going to pretend that I am either doing it ‘for me’ or for other women. I like wearing makeup, yes, but I don’t think it’s insignificant that no men I know wear makeup or Spanx and that I ‘choose’ to indulge in both.

Women learn these things and that doesn’t make women who wear makeup or Spanx bad people, it makes us products of the society we live in. A society that Tom Matlack benefits from. What I wish is that we would just stop asking his opinion on anything. Because since when is fucking TOM MATLACK, of all people, an expert on women’s lives?


Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • Aims

    “I realize that beauty is a personal and sometimes controversial topic when it comes to men and women.”

    Such disingenuity, lumping men and women in together on the topic of beauty, as if we face the same pressures, and pretending it’s all just “personal”.

    Tom, when was the last time you thought caking your face in makeup before you went to work in the morning?

    • Meghan Murphy

      Right? Like it impacts men in at all the same way it impacts women.

  • Vouchsafer

    I love makeup too. I wear it because looking hot is unfortunately a prerequisite in being listened to by men, and because informing men about their misperceptions of womankind is something that I like to do best : )
    In all seriousness, though, if I didn’t ‘look a certain way,’ which of course includes makeup, then who would give a crap about my opinion, or my obsessive need to point out misogyny in the first place? Women are kind of in a catch 22 on this one I find, in that in order to be heard on the subject of our own empowerment, we must conform to the very rules that govern our appearance in the first place.
    Damn it. if you want to shrivel erections you must first inspire them, apparently. (joke)

  • MLM

    Another brilliant post, Meghan. Spot on! Especially this

    “Of course! Of course we should make sure that women obsess over their appearances above all else, hate their bodies, and spend their lives running from aging and then pretend that this conversation is all about ‘judging women’. SHUT UP WORLD. This argument is the same one that derails every single conversation about prostitution.”

    And Mr. “The Good (A Voice for) Men Project” gets to have the final word on the subject? Well, there’s a total surprise. (Not).

  • vouchsafer

    Omg. Just checked out the good men project after reading about it here for the first time. Read Alyssa royse’s nice guys commit rape article. So mad! What a fucking snow job her so called nice guy friend pulled on her. What’s he gunna do, shrug his shoulders and say ya I did it, so what? Of course he’s going to plead confusion. Not that anyone with half a brain would fall for it. Oops, I mean, er, well, Alyssa royse did apparently….

    • Meghan Murphy

      It’s terrible. Those kinds of articles, plus the love they get from MRA-types, PLUS their near-constant defenses of porn = puke. The fact that it’s called ‘The Good Men Project’ is just gross, in my opinion, especially considering the way they’ve attacked feminists and feminism so many times.

  • Kathleen

    Perfectly put. I’m tired of hearing men act like they’ve been hassled into giving their opinion on subjects like this. As if he hadn’t been DYING to ejaculate all over the subject. Men are so transparent on the topic of what women do/should do to placate the male gaze. ‘Don’t do it for meee do it for youuuu but stil DO IT.’

    And that comment about his wife made me sick.

    • Grackle

      Incredible analysis as always, Meghan. I LOVE that Matlack says, “Who are we to judge what someone else decides to do to her own face or body?” with no sense of irony or self-awareness whatsoever. You’re a guy, dude, that’s exactly what you do. That’s what this whole discussion is about.

    • Grackle

      Oops, sorry, Kathleen–mine was meant to be a separate comment, not a response!

  • Me

    “So when it comes to makeup and self-esteem I plead ignorance other than to say women should do whatever they want. That includes my wife, by the way. As long as she knows that I love her most when she has nothing on.”

    No one is judging what you do. You’re free to do whatever you want. What’s your choice?

    Are you paranoid or something?

    There is no pressure. You don’t have to do anything. What could I do if I didn’t like it anyway?

    Men don’t have any class power over women, and we both know it.

    What’s that you’re putting on? I don’t care how women dress and you’re my wife.

    (Try harder!)

    I don’t want to say this, but you’re dead wrong. It doesn’t please me to make you wrong. Hey, whatever! Let’s forget it!

    I love you so much.

    You know how I like you sometimes.

    Why can’t you just smile more and like sex more?

  • Kaitlin

    Thank you for this, Megan, especially the comment on the bullshit line of “women dress for other women!” that men love to perpetuate because it removes all responsibility for the standards of beauty they enforce from men.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yeah no. It’s part of that, women do this to themselves thing. People also conveniently forget that competition between women is due, in large part, to a patriarchal culture that tells them they must win and trap men into marriage and that men will leave them for younger, hotter women.

      • Sabrina L.

        I do get dolled up more when I’m with certain of my female friends, even if there are no men to be around. I also know that if it were a contest, I would be no competition for this particular group of strikingly gorgeous in a modern mainstream/almost-universal way women.

        BUT that doesn’t divorce the act of dressing up and makeup-ing up from the male gaze.

        I do the same thing while around my family. Not because I’m trying to attract my parents. But it is not separate from the male gaze.

        I have to prove to these people I’m patriarchy-compliant. In other words, sufficiently amenable to being seen as a fuck-object.

  • Francois Tremblay

    When I see a woman with noticeable makeup, I have this feeling that I should despise them, as in “they’re trying too hard”… I know it’s wrong, but that’s how I was conditioned. I think many of those “good men” are banking on that conditioning to claim the moral high ground (look, we’re so nice that we don’t even care if women prefer not to wear makeup! see how noble we are?), when actually they’re just the same as everyone else, just conditioned for a different standard of beauty. It’s a sleight of hand.

    • MLM

      What I find sort of amusing is when men cluelessly point out examples of “natural” beauty, that are actually highly cultivated – flawless but virtually invisible makeup, a sculpted physique that would require a great deal of exercise to maintain, absolutely no body hair and sometimes even artificially tanned skin (that they can’t identify because it isn’t the really obvious “orange” tinge that they know IS faked). Not only are woman required to look attractive, they are required to make it look like there is no effort involved. “Natural, you know?”

    • Me

      Have you seen those okcupid profiles where guys go how they’re sick and tired of being the “good guys” and how the “whores” never give it to them? I was reminded of those reading your comment. When you’re good you get to rape. When you’re bad you just do it. Different expressions of the same (male) hate the whole culture runs on.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Oh yes oh yes! Ah, the ‘nice guys’.

      • Francois Tremblay

        I love the “nice guys of OKCupid” tumblr. It’s awesome.

        • Grackle

          It’s gone now. :( I think the site owner was getting too much whiny bullshit from guys who are SO nice that they couldn’t handle a woman making fun of the blatant misogyny they willingly posted in their public profiles.

          However! There are 2 other great tumblrs along the same vein: fedorasofokc and okcgoldmine. Both are very much recommended!

          • Meghan Murphy

            I loooove fedoras of okcupid

          • Francois Tremblay

            I don’t really get the whole fedoras thing. Both men wearing them and the tumblr showing them. I love the “nice guys” thing though. And BTW, it seems to be back.

          • MLM

            It is back! I love it, too. Very happy to see it up again. :-)

          • Meghan Murphy
          • MLM

            Yeah. Fantastic. “Potential Prostitute” and “12 Year Old Slut” meme sites are just fine. But NOBODY pick on these poor “nice” guys. For shame!

  • yellowmarigold

    Meghan, I find it interesting that being considered attractive to men is so important to you, particularly given that your feminist views seem to be more on the radical side of things. From what I gather from your comments, by “men” you mean men as a group, the average man on the street, etc.. rather than just a boyfriend. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting your comments.

    We all want to be attractive to our partner, whether we’re women or men, so that is understandable. But wanting to be attractive to “men” in general is something different from my POV. I inhabit a non-normative body, however, so there is no chance I could ever be considered “attractive” by average male standards. Because of this, I tend to think: Who gives a fuck what men think? While most of us are socially conditioned to perform femininity and to please the male gaze, we do have some agency in the matter. I guess I’m wondering what the average radical feminist gets from being viewed as fuckable by the kind of men who don’t share our values.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Well. I’m heterosexual and therefore wanting to attract men (not all men, as a group, as most men I do not want to attract, but some men) is somewhat of a priority for me in my life. I don’t have a partner, so wanting to be attractive to said partner isn’t relevant to me at this point in my life. That said, most of my past partners have been perfectly happy for me to look however I feel like looking.

      I mean, just because I’m a feminist, why would that mean I wouldn’t want to be perceived as attractive by men? It isn’t the most important thing to me, that’s for sure (clearly I have other priorities…), but it is in there, in my mind. Comfort is more important to me than being an object, I wouldn’t go so far as to get surgery or anything crazy like that, and am unwilling to wear uncomfortable shoes, but I do wear makeup most days. I suppose it’s partly habit, and partly wanting to be perceived as attractive. I don’t find makeup to be uncomfortable or unpleasant, unlike uncomfortable shoes, clothes, or, obviously, cosmetic surgery and I don’t put time and effort into perfecting my body or anything like that, but I still feel self-conscious of such things.

      I do care how I’m perceived by some people/by society, regardless of knowing better. I certainly have internalized a fear of aging, as a woman, regardless of knowing better. We’ve been indoctrinated with this stuff our whole lives and while I’m very happy for those who have risen above all that, as it is definitely a waste of energy, I think that would be quite a challenge to be completely removed from socialization. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t try, of course.

      • BK

        Makeup, 90% of what most people can afford, is horrible on the environment, animals and contains countless carcinogens and chemicals dangerous to human health, particularly women’s health… I wonder why that never enters the dialogue.

      • ptittle

        I’m so sad that you of all people (brilliant mind and analyses and all that) think you need to perform femininity in order to be attractive to men. Any man you might attract with make-up and spanx INSTEAD of your brilliance is not worth attracting. How can you not see that?

        (On a less personal note, I didn’t know what spanx was. And oh my god. Seriously? Corsets are back????!!!!)

    • BK

      I was also kind of curious about the men thing (i’m also into the opposite sex) whether you meant men in general or someone in particular because men as a class constantly think we’re objects to be looked at…and well, I thought that sucked?

      But Yeah, i’m tired of appeasing the male gaze and I would be considered by the dominant class & patriarchy to be “attractive” – I fit the normative mould in manys I suppose but no longer try to take power from it. For example, I noticed that i was treated a certain way if i wore dresses, makeup and so forth and i thought that was fucked up. Giving up the idea that I existed for men to look at or become “attracted to” was probably one of the most liberating things i’ve ever done. If a man was interested in me, i would hope he would be interested in who I am as a person, not how I look. I’d rather be alone than be with some guy who is shallow and vain anyway.

      The Good Men Project seems so ridiculous, I never really read them though – very glad.

      • Me

        I normally am not conscious of how I look, but if for some reason I’ve put on “nice” clothes because I think that’s expected of me, I start to have some anxiety and wonder if others accept how I look and what they think. That’s awful compared to not thinking about how I look at all and simply evaluating people by their reactions to me and mine to them. My mind’s eye on my forehead normally goes out into the world, but when I put on nice clothes for some occasion or for certain work, it somehow doesn’t. It just sits there anxiously, until I either put up enough of a front to somewhat forget about it, or come home and get off the spot and relax.

        The whole trying to look attractive (or in my case good) to find a partner thing is also very odd in that that’s when at least I am the least likely to evaluate my reactions to others and their reactions to me correctly, so why look good to find a partner if that makes it more difficult? Wanting to develop a trusting relationship to other people is pretty much out of the window at those times as well because I don’t feel basically safe looking good and I find the whole experience dishonest. It’s like the whole thing’s primed for failure.

        I don’t get flak for wearing functional or whatever clothes I choose like women do, and that must make a big difference to maintaining my sense of self when I’m looked at. I don’t know how long I could take being stared and stripped down by older gay men or older women and maintain my self, if I couldn’t get away from those situations. Still, I wonder about how to fight that gaze and how women fight it and free themselves from it (if you can). I’ve felt more at ease being stared at in my horrible looking cycling bibs or dirty winter gear that I’d wear when I biked to this job I had, than I would feel in my “nice clothes” up in the office once I’d changed. (And my stick-like legs are the only part of me I used to be anxious about as a teen, which the bibs brought out, but I never though anything of that wearing them.) Being downright stared at at the office before changing as I’d walk through the yard and the lobby to the locker room would mean much less to me and touch me less, than being looked at from the corner of the eye or being “noticed” when talked to in my “good looking” clothes as the young male in an office full of women. (Women my own age never gave me the look.)

        Even today in the clothes I am comfortable choosing for some good reason, which is not to look a certain way for others but something else and usually functional and work-related, I don’t have to think if it’s me or the others who are at fault if there are looks at my choice of clothes or the dirt on them or something. Anyone who gives a look I just shrug off as an asshole I don’t want to have anything to do with. It doesn’t take away from my self worth because I don’t wear clothes to make that open to challenge. With those I connect with how I look is not an issue because we connect in the first place and that’s what matters and that’s what I go by.

        I’m sorry if I’ve taken too much space with this, but I was I’m glad you said what you said, and I was wondering if my experience relates to what in any way?

        • BK

          I loved reading it! I can definitely understand a lot of the things you mentioned…

          But truly, why would I want to date or *attract* someone who is so concerned with how i look or how “ladylike” or feminine i am through my appearance and dress. Why would I want to be with someone like that? I want people to be attracted to my actions and ideas, not the red shit smeared allover my mouth or the “perfection” of my sihilouette in a cocktail dress. Why try and attract someone who has issues seeing women’s faces as they are (faces not slathered in various chemical dye concoctions.) Seriously. Fuck those guys.

          Makeup is part of a huge, unethical, capitalist industry that thrives on women’s low self-esteem, it’s sickening – truly.

  • Vouchsafer

    I agree. Sometimes I think there’s also an element of self-protection in it, as in, now I’ve got my game face on, I feel less defenseless in the world.
    I feel shy of saying this, but doesn’t it almost partially block the viewer (male gaze) from seeing and therefore judging or rejecting the real person inside by stopping their focus at the surface level? It’s like a thin layer of protection, if this or that person acts hatefully to me then because I have already composed my face during the makeup application process then I am less likely to crumple in front of them.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Interesting analysis. But yes, there may be some truth in that…

  • pisaquari

    A man’s opinion of make-up, at long las-zzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • Quesadilla

    I find it is always telling to put up a pic from a performance of mine or a “glamor shot” a friend did on a social networking site. The “nice guys” and Christian(=whiny loser) bros from my past suddenly friend me.

    Naturally, I accept the request and then write a flamin’ ass paragraph about how “I know I’m so hotttttt in my makeups, boys. Look how you all came running. Just remember I am way out of your league. Thanks.”

    Then I post some radfem images and links for their not-enjoyment.

    Wearing makeup means performing, so anymore it only goes on when there’s a performance to do. Music performance is steeped in misogyny. Wearing heavy, hard makeup makes me feel scary. I see the impressed looks and desire when I show up to play music at a bar, see the dudes get nasty lil boners, and then I snap those fuckin boners in half with a word.

    But as far as “the natural look”- no way. To suggest (just a suggesssstion, ladies!) that women wear makeup but not look like they are wearing it is psychological terrorism, I tell you. And to think that it’s advice oft provided by grandmothers and mothers, alongside “beauty is pain”. Because patriarchy expects it, of course. And you don’t want to be raped and/or have the shit kicked out of you for the ever-contagious non-compliance.

    My. God.

    • Grackle

      “But as far as “the natural look”- no way. To suggest (just a suggesssstion, ladies!) that women wear makeup but not look like they are wearing it is psychological terrorism, I tell you.”

      I think it’s like most other beauty mandates for women. You’re expected to look effortlessly beautiful–emphasis on the “effortlessly”–but you’re walking a very fine line and a misstep onto either side can set you up for ridicule.

      • Meghan Murphy

        It’s true. All the work that goes into properly performing femininity is supposed to be invisible, ergo: ‘natural’.

        • BK

          properly performing femininity is super oppressive because it requires us to throw money, time, energy into preserving this socially constructed and restrictive notion of how women SHOULD look. We put chemicals on our skin, toxins into our bodies and squeeze our flesh into saran-wrap leotards, restricting our circulation, to conform to some ridiculous beauty standard that mostly middle-class to upper-class people have access to anyway? What does consumer culture (i.e makeup and body modifying clothing) have to do with attraction? Really?

          I mean, if people don’t like the way my body and face looks without manipulation or chemicals smeared all over it, they’re not worth my time. Also, If we don’t care what guys (like Tom) think about women wearing makeup, why care about attracting men with makeup? I don’t get it.

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  • Radiant Sophia

    I realize that this may be from a privileged position (I am an asexual in a committed partnership), but the whole makeup thing is VERY odd. I don’t think my partner (who is male-bodied) would care one way or the other if I wore makeup (although he might question the sudden change).

  • sporenda

    I wear make up all the time, and I love it, but not it’s not at all because of the male gaze: most of the time, and except if I have a date, I couldn’t care less.
    I wear make up because aesthetic matters to me: I spend hours agonizing about chosing drapes, I get up at night if I think a painting is not hung at the right place, when I was younger, I even spent a whole night repainting a room whose color I didn’t like.
    I like to see beauty around me, I like to be beautiful, well dressed and smelling good. I wear make up because I have to look at mirrors several times a day, at home and in the streets, and I want to like what I see when I see my own reflection.
    I wear make up for my own narcisstic gratification, it’s a totally selfish thing.

    • BK

      Makeup is selfish when you actually think about it. And its anything BUT beautiful Why? because it is made by workers who breathe in the toxic crap all day long for middle class “consumers” to smear it on their faces, not to mention the destruction on the environment caused by most cosmetics (most that the average person could afford) and the abuse of animals involved in the production. Also, did you know that the majority of cosmetics, particularly expensive stuff like Clinqiue and Estee Lauder test on animals, use carcinogens, lung scarring fragrances, and hormone disrupting chemicals? Makeup is far more than a “choice” issue or an issue of being socialized to preform designated sex roles. We support the cosmetic industry when we buy into it, we financially support animal testing, environmental destruction and our own exposure to harmful chemicals.

      If you’re interested, you can search up how hazardous your cosmetic products and self-care products are on this website

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thanks for the links BK. Another good resource re: advocating against toxins in cosmetics and personal care products (and advocating for stronger cosmetic regulations) is Femme Toxic

        • BK

          Thank you! I haven’t seen that site before

    • BK
    • MLM

      ” I wear make up for my own narcissistic gratification, it’s a totally selfish thing”.

      That’s an interesting choice of words, given that it plays into another patriarchal chestnut about women “just being vain” for choosing to groom themselves in particular ways and be so focused on their own physical appearance. Maybe, for you, it genuinely is just a “selfish” thing. Which is fine. But maybe you should also ask yourself why you framed your choice using words like “narcissistic” and “selfish”. “I want to like what I see when I see my own reflection” – don’t we all! But why is it so hard for women, especially, to be able to do that without measuring up to a certain patriarchal standard? That’s well worth examining, isn’t it?

      • BK


  • marv

    BK, I deeply appreciate the way you weaved together your care for women’s health, the biosphere and animals which to me is a recipe for genuine and necessary self love (not selfishness). On the other hand I also realize women are afflicted with compassion fatique for those outside themselves and therefore need to focus on their own needs primarily. You and the other feminists (and profeminists)in this blog never cease to expand my vision of justice and compassion for all beings.

    • marv

      I failed to note that most women on the planet don’t have the material conditions to ensure their self interest. No choice in the matter.

  • Missfit

    I used to wear make-up for years and have stopped doing so. I do not doubt that there are women adopting this ritual who genuinely enjoy it, playing with the colors and looks, but it was not my case. It became to feel like an obligation, a time-consuming chore which I did in order to be ‘presentable’, thinking things like ‘I can not go out looking this pale!’. Never heard of a guy thinking that; always envied their freedom from such concerns. I tried to put some again for Christmas, trying to look a little ‘chic’, but did not like the feeling of it on my face and thought I looked like a clown. I got use to my face without it, which is a complete reverse situation for me. I guess I also cared about being find generally attractive by men. I don’t any more. Don’t think it is worth it.

    I feel it a bit condescending for people to resume everything to a matter of individual choice without recognizing that some people are more vulnerable than others for various reasons or have less options, and while omitting how patriarchy affect women generally. I am not just talking about make-up, or shaving, both of which a lot of women feel socially coerced to do (and which are problematic for that reason), but more harmful practices like deciding to prostitute oneself or submit oneself to plastic surgery, both of which I did. Yes, I chose to have breast implants. That was before my radical feminist awakening and I feel very sorry for what I have done to my body. I hate it! I was looking at a documentary recently about women in Senegal using products to whiten their skin and the health consequences they faced (as well as aesthetic problems a lot of them suffered , such as stains on the skin). But hey, no one put a gun on these women’s head, right? Their choice!

    How can someone limit their analysis to individual choices when it is disproportionately women who submit themselves to harmful beauty practices? I hear that it is up to women to learn to accept and love themselves as they are. This is assuming that hating ourselves is the default position we start from. What we have to do in fact is to unlearn the messages we receive that we are gross and defective in our natural state.

    • Meghan Murphy

      “I hear that it is up to women to learn to accept and love themselves as they are. This is assuming that hating ourselves is the default position we start from. What we have to do in fact is to unlearn the messages we receive that we are gross and defective in our natural state.”

      Yes! I get this all the time! People think that feminism is about primarily accepting and loving themselves ‘as they are’ (which is great and all, don’t get me wrong), but don’t take into account that society makes it practically impossible to do so. I’ve had a number of conversations with people who felt that, somehow, I wasn’t properly ‘qualified’ to be a feminist because I had insecurities about my body and whatnot. I mean, isn’t that part of the reason many of us become feminists? Because we see these woman-hating messages, have internalized them, and understand how they’ve impacted our lives and the lives of other women?

      Arguing with people about ‘individual choice’ has begun to feel like a fruitless endeavour to me. I spent too much time last week in an argument on Twitter with a woman who kept insisting she wore makeup ‘for her’ and even said that she would put makeup on when she was home sick, just so she could feel better about herself (which, quite honestly, I really don’t get). The conversation went nowhere, of course, because trying to convince people that the choices they make aren’t all about them in this period of neoliberalism is like fighting a tidal wave.

      • Radiant Sophia

        I need to respond to this. I am asexual. I have been repeatedly criticized for my (lack of) sexuality. This is ALL ABOUT ME. I am not “a man-hater”. I am not a “victim of purity culture”. There is nothing wrong with my choice not to have sex. It conforms to my sexual desire. My choice is not political. Please do not tell me that society makes my choice not MY choice. People “trying to convince people that the choices they make aren’t all about them” have repeatedly told me I am wrong or defective.

        I assume you are a good person. I have no reason to assume otherwise. I have no reason to think that what you wrote would apply to me in this situation, but that line of reasoning is very familiar. It has been used against me.

        • Meghan Murphy

          I would never, ever, ever argue that there is anything wrong with choosing not to have sex. But we’re talking about makeup and the performance of femininity here. Generally, society pressures us TO have sex — telling us that having sex and sexual desire is ‘normal’. It also teaches us that femininity is ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ and tells us that, as women, we have myriad of flaws we must fix via cosmetics, surgery, dieting, etc. Asexuality challenges dominant ideology. That isn’t to say that you chose asexuality for political reasons, but I think that when we talk about ‘choice’ not existing in a bubble, we are often talking about choices that conform to dominant ideology or we are talking about choices that are clearly tied to gender stereotypes. It also isn’t necessarily true that asexuality is a ‘choice’ – it could be completely biological, unlike the ‘choice’ to wear makeup. Whether asexuality is a choice or not a choice, for you, I can’t say. Either way, it is perfectly fine and good, which isn’t necessarily to say that the conversation around choice or ‘not choice’ isn’t relevant, but that, either way, it’s ok.

        • Francois Tremblay

          Sorry, but it’s not your “choice.” No one makes “choices” because we don’t have free will. What we think are “choices” are actually the result of our ethical intuitions being strongly molded by the incentives and threats presented to us by institutional power. We all have to cope with the fact that we live in an evil society, and whatever we do is necessarily a reaction to that. The personal is the political, always.

          That being said, this is true of everyone, so it’s not about singling you out. Of course there is nothing wrong with asexuality (and as an antinatalist, I am very friendly to asexuality). But that doesn’t mean it has to be your “choice.”

          • Meghan Murphy

            I’m also unsure what you’re arguing — are you saying it is your ‘personal choice’? But not political? Or that it is simply how you are, biologically, therefore not a choice? Not that it matters to me, but your argument is unclear. Also, why does it matter what combination of biology and choice have led you to asexuality? No one here is criticizing asexuality, either way.

            On an aside, the reason people might criticize your asexuality is because we’ve been socialized into compulsory sexuality, so that criticism and your fear of being criticized is due to socialization and patriarchy.

            If it was your choice (i.e. not biological), it’s likely that you made that choice due to *some* outside circumstances. Which, again, is perfectly fine. If you are arguing it’s purely biological and, therefore, ‘all about you’, then why do you call it a choice?

          • Radiant Sophia

            The choice I am referring to is to NOT have sex. This is acting in accordance with my asexuality (which is a result of processed experiences and biology). One of these is, in fact a choice. I make a distinction between how I am, and what I do. I’m sorry if I’m not good at explaining it (thoughts come faster than I can type).

          • Meghan Murphy

            Right. I totally understand that this is a choice that you’ve made and think it is perfectly reasonable and good (not that it really matters what I think about it), but I would say that, likely, part of your experience which has led you to make this choice might have something to do with social structures/culture?

          • Radiant Sophia

            Meghan Murphy,
            Sorry for the knee-jerk defensive. I think you are probably right in that (conflicting) social structures/culture contribute to the who (asexuality). It would be wrong to say that didn’t precipitate the what (abstinence).

          • Meghan Murphy

            No worries. I react in the same way often.

          • Radiant Sophia

            Francois Tremblay, your comment angers me. Which usually means that there is some truth to it. I think that there is a lot more that goes into molding our choices than that, but I don’t think you are wrong.

          • Francois Tremblay

            A lot more? Like what?

          • Me

            What you’re saying reads a lot like the “free will arguments” I’ve been hit over the head with before. Just saying. Whenever that’s been done to me, it’s always been about a double standard, about taking a free pass to throw out anything of mine the attacker decides by his manipulation of what a choice is (to the exclusion of my point of view but not his), and it’s also been about singling me out in practice while denying it in theory. My first reaction was always to want to hit them in the teeth, but sadly I never reacted that way, and I’m sure they would’ve called that my choice 😉 So maybe a different choice of words that’s not so destructive of relationship?

          • Francois Tremblay

            I’m not sure what you mean. I’m talking about social constructionism versus “choice,” I’m not talking about any double standard, and this is not related to sex or relationships or anything like that.

          • Me

            Well, I wasn’t sure exactly how to say it, but I meant something like what you just said. :)

            I got it that you meant social constructionism, but I remembered a fellow who used to club me over the head with about the same thing. Basically change the tone in “What we think are ‘choices’…” to have it mean “What you think are your ‘choices’ … your ethical intuitions…” It becomes condescending and about a double standard. Not how I thought you meant it, but I thought maybe Radiant Sophia read it like that.

          • Francois Tremblay

            My intent is not to trivialize RS’s thoughts but to argue against her on the “choice” issue. I don’t think the absence of “choice” trivializes what we believe. Our beliefs are, after all, part of the causal chain that leads to our actions.

            I understand using “choice” in a metaphorical sense, but the fact that she said
            “My choice is not political. Please do not tell me that society makes my choice not MY choice”
            Seemed to me to denote a particularly strong belief in free will. Because the personal IS the political, and “society” (whatever that means) DOES construct our “choices.” Ignoring that, I think, is extremely dangerous, especially for radicals like us who are supposed to examine institutions and how they mold individual decision-making.

          • marv

            Yes. At the risk of being redundant and mistaken I would claim that there is neither free choice in a culture of inequality nor in a culture of equality. The latter would give us all relatively equal choices but not free in the sense of doing whatever I desire. Social engineering is never absent. What precisely we would become in a radical feminist society is unknown to us. We can speculate but that is it. Sure there would no longer be the social fabrications of gender, race, class, colonization, species and so on. As well I have a hunch sexual relations would not be central to human fulfillment. Another thing we do know is that equality life would bring more collective power, abundance and rejoicing (within ecologically sustainable limits) than we have ever had in history. At the same time there would probably be people who prefer inequality because they lose perceived privileges under equality. My gist is that individual pursuits would still be constrained by social equality imperatives and institutions. Thus we would have structured fair choice not abstract free choice. Right now we have advantaged choices for the powerful and disadvantaged options (or none) for the powerless.

          • Francois Tremblay

            Yes, I agree with what you said regarding egalitarian societies. But the main point regarding “choice” is that all institutions, by their very existence, structure incentives and impose values on the individual. We can try to minimize this fact, but we can’t escape it. Freedom, if it means anything, would mean to minimize the impact of institutional incentives on the individual, I think.

          • Me

            I agree that institutions impose values, but I think I don’t agree with what that means for freedom. I do think freedom is an important concept. It’s true that in an evil culture like this, freedom often comes from minimizing the institutional impact on the individual. But I think it’s also true that not all institutional incentives are bad or detrimental to freedom.

            Freedom as I see it could also mean rewarding altruistic behavior that benefits the whole group. I would, and do, experience and enjoy incentives like that as “freedom”. It could mean helping “individuals” revel in the happiness and successes of the group, even to the point of fostering a sense of self that’s not fundamentally individualistic. Freedom to me could mean a deepening of my sense of interrelatedness to all beings, human and nonhuman, and a deepening of my sense of mutual respect and responsibility as the substance that binds everything together.

            Having said that, I have no respect for abusers and abusive institutional practices, and they’re not included in the living network of “all beings” that I think of. They represent a death culture to me that is antithetical to life (which is why it’s killing it). These abusers I want to get rid of, not for the sake of increasing my freedom, but for the sake of dismantling them to live up to my responsibility as a human being.

            Freedom to me would mean a deep trust in the processes and sustaining power of life, a deep sense of belonging, and culturally overcoming the basic fears of death and abandonment. This evil culture is both incapable of trusting and incapable of belonging and hates everything that reminds it of either. But not all cultures have been like this and still aren’t.

            To me the freedom that comes from the deep trust and sense of belonging would mean a complex and highly developed set of human incentives within the group. I’m fairly sure I will never live in a human group like that, but I get a sense of the possibility of that, and a sense of something like that existing around me, when I try to listen to the land around me and listen to those who inhabit it. They’d be free if industrial humans didn’t kill them wholesale and change the climate, and to me they certainly seem to have institutions and incentives and intelligence and choice. It’s most humans who don’t want to listen and belong, and who think of their freedom as being opposed to responsibility and a sense of belonging.

          • vouchsafer

            Just live that way, then, Me. It’s what I try to do. Your free to choose not to purchase items whose production and shipping are responsible for damaging the climate.
            I wholly disagree with the concept that there is no free will. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t be able to choose to reject the patriarchy in the first place.
            You can’t reject it on behalf of everyone, but you can reject it for yourself. I have.
            To think otherwise runs the risk of defeatism.
            Yes, this society is evil, but we still can refuse to let it corrupt us.

          • Francois Tremblay

            Yes, ultimately personal freedom and social autonomy are two sides of the same coin. Egalitarianism is merely the recognition of that basic political fact. This is why our society is broken down: interconnectedness of individuals is dangerous to the status quo. Even love has to be commercialized and compartmentalized.

          • Me

            Yes, I agree about what you’re saying.

            I liked the initial comment by Meghan to which Radiant Sophia responded. I didn’t see cause in that for the kind of response RS made, but still, I read her reply differently and didn’t think it was as stern as maybe you did, despite what she said. I wanted to point out that if she saw a kind of bludgeoning, dictatorial stance in Meghan’s comment, then I would understand how she’d see the same in yours. It was a bit bulletproof what you wrote ;P (not that that has to be a bad thing), and I liked the clarifications you’ve made. Thanks!

          • marv

            I love the way you articulated your definition of freedom:

            “Freedom to me could mean a deepening of my sense of interrelatedness to all beings, human and nonhuman, and a deepening of my sense of mutual respect and responsibility as the substance that binds everything together.”

            We are on this planet to create communion and equality. One can’t happen without the other. Nothing else matters. True joy would emanate from the social realization of this truth. Thanks to feminism for this epiphany and singularity – the light of the world.

  • Vouchsafer

    Thank you to Meghan and everybody that contributed to this discussion. It’s led me to swear off buying makeup and hair products, and it led to a post on my own blog, Self Sufficiency.
    Here is a link to my article, which your excellent view points in this conversation contributed to.
    Thank you again!!

  • Grackle

    Thought you might appreciate the goofy-ass MRA take on make-up:

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