Sunday, September 7, 2008

Culture vs. Nature Part II: Why Women Wear Makeup

In my post on September 3, I commented on the joke Sarah Palin told at her RNC VP acceptance speech:

"How are hockey moms different from pit bulls? They wear lipstick."

Governor Palin, her face expertly made-up (including lipstick), her hair perfectly coifed, her outfit fashionable and figure-complementing, is herself an example of the division between the sexes that persists in our culture.

That women still want to wear makeup reflects a failure of the feminist movement in particular and the immaturity of our culture in general. Makeup is a mask that allows women to tap into corporate power. I don't mean corporate as in business, but rather corporate as in the power of the group versus the individual.

Men achieve this power by actually belonging to corporations - whether they are lodge brothers, corporate raiders or political standard-bearers. Women counter by painting their faces. Hiding physical imperfections or accentuating certain features makes sense only if the result is more power for the individual, whether sexual, social, or corporate.

Why makeup? The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once asked a native informant why his people tattooed their bodies. "Because we are not animals," was the reply. That women still use makeup is a reflection of their continuing status as not-quite-human. To put it in a more Lévi-Straussian mode, women without makeup are still seen as "natural," while men without makeup are seen as "cultural."

By acceding to cosmetic industry standards of beauty, women who wear makeup promote a status quo that says women are not equal to men. Men can be "cultural" just by showing up. Women, to participate in the culture, must put on a corporate mask. While a woman who uses makeup is considered "cultural," a man who uses makeup is considered absurd. Mass media meditations on masculine makeup — like Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, and Mrs. Doubtfire — are always comedies.

Madison Avenue-driven cosmetic companies have made some inroads into the use of body fragrance by men, but they have not yet found the right inducement for men to paint their faces, highlight their eyes, and gloss their lips. My suggestion is that advertisers market tattoos as acceptable body paint for men. Invent a tattoo "makeup" that needs regular renewal but involves some pain to apply, and your fortune is made.

In politics, the play of the game depends on who makes up the rules. Republicans are expert in framing arguments in their favor, in starting whisper campaigns to malign opponents while maintaining deniability and in lying with impunity to advance their candidates.

In gender relations, the play of game depends on who rules the makeup. Though it may be true that Hilary Clinton's unsucessful presidential campaign left 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, until women can be "pit bulls" without the lipstick, they will not succeed in breaking through.


artiefacts said...

"Men can be "cultural" just by showing up."

You're really obsessed with the makeup! What is this, four blogs on the same topic?

Again, do you not notice that men - you included - obviously feel compelled to wear suits (from a very narrow palette of colors) and ties, cut and comb their hair to be "cultural?" Case in point: would you vote for a man who appeared in public with visible tattoos and piercings?

Did you know that all the male candidates for president since Nixon's ill-fated debate with Kennedy have worn makeup for their televised appearances? I would venture a guess that all male news anchors, TV personalities are wearing makeup while on camera.

Again, I'll grant you that women still suffer a number of inequalities, but wearing makeup doesn't indicate a lack of humanity or division of the sexes any more than a man feeling compelled to wear a dark colored suit and a power tie to blend in with his corporate media bretheren. And our brothers are doing all this for the same reasons women wear makeup.

sapna said...

Women looks more beautiful with Make up. When women do make up according her matching Womens Wear. its looks pretty.

Robert K. Blechman said...

Hi Sapna,

Thanks for your comment. The question is why do we think women look better when they wear makeup? If the use of makeup was a mere esthetic consideration, it wouldn't be an issue. But a person's worth is determined by appearance, and for a woman, that includes extension "makeovers" including hair removal, plastic surgery to correct "imperfections" (from what norm?) and makeup. Think of the time, the cost and the potential health risks. If men were judged by the same standards at least it would be a level playing field. (I'm not saying men should wear makeup, I'm saying women should not.)

P. Gillespie said...

Interesting discussion with a number of strong points. In our patriarchal, "warrior" societies, behaviors are built upon survival strategies, most often to escape the brute force of male "gangs". Such "male" power is used as much to winnow the ranks of redundant populations as it is used to subjugate and colonize. Faced with such "corporate power", women have recourse to their own corporate stragies.

To call "lipstick" a cultural artifact however, thus raising women above the give and take of gender relations, is to over-simplify this behavior.

I'm not sure I would agree with Claude Levi-Strauss or at least with your reading of the culture-nature dichotomy, to say that lipstick is merely a differenciating cultural appendage. I think such "cultural" strategems are more a matter of survival explained as culture.

In any case I have just dug out a copy of CLS' Myth and Meaning and Pierre Bourdieu's Sur la télévision for a little "lite" summer reading.

Unfortunately, since I would not qualify as a "regular reader", your friend artiefacts will find little comfort in my agreeing with you that the use of lipstick does not a pitbull make. I suspect however, that on another level we would all agree that feminism is a social problem, not ontological.

Good luck and "à bientôt".