Sunday, August 09, 2015

You simply cannot "makeup" such social standards

A few years ago, back when I used to practically nag my mother to make walking in order to get soaked by the sun-rays a part of her daily routine, I suggested that she could do it before the day heated up--the time after her morning coffee and before the kitchen work began.  She said she could not walk then.  Why?  Because she thought she would not look presentable enough.  My father jumped into the conversation, which is when my mother, very much unlike her calm and quiet nature, quickly cut him short with, "but you are a man. People don't comment about men like how they do about women."  Yep, my father could step out with his veshti and even a frayed undershirt, but there is that expectation that a woman even my mother's age has to keep up her appearances within that traditional settings.

I was reminded of that conversation when I read this at The Atlantic:
On July 20, Hillary Clinton conducted a Q&A session on Facebook, and Facebook staffer Libby Brittain posed an unusual Q to her:
“Every morning, as my boyfriend zips out the door and I spend 30+ minutes getting ready, I wonder about how the ‘hair-and-makeup tax’ affects other women—especially ones I admire in high-pressure, public-facing jobs,” Brittain wrote. “I know these questions can seem fluffy, but as a young professional woman, I’d genuinely love to hear about how you manage getting ready each morning (especially during your time traveling as Secretary of State and now on the campaign trail) while staying focused on the ‘real’ work ahead of you that day.”
“Amen, sister,” Clinton responded, because she’s relatable. “You’re preaching to the choir. It’s a daily challenge. I do the best I can—and as you may have noticed, some days are better than others!”
The issue is for real, in the old country and here in the US alike.  For young and older women.  Especially here in the US, where starting from their junior-high school years, girls begin to spend time grooming themselves, while boys barely spend a couple of minutes getting themselves ready.  I would think that shaving the hair on their legs and armpits alone takes up quite a bit of time.  In my classes, male students rarely ever look like they are at work, while most female students come to class well groomed.  (And, btw, most female students outperform the males, which then makes me wonder what the males are doing with their time!)
Makeup works by enhancing facial contrast—the color difference between your lips and nose, for example. Facial contrast is closely associated with femininity, and femininity with female beauty, in Western cultures. In a study I reported on last year, both male and female participants thought “regular” women looked best when they applied a moderate amount of makeup. Another study found that subtle makeup made women seem more competent, likable, and attractive.
Years of research has shown that attractive people earn more. Thus, the makeup tax: Good-looking men and good-looking women both get ahead, but men aren't expected to wear makeup in order to look good.
As much as I am thankful that I am a man, even if not a good looking one, I recognize that there is something seriously wrong here.  

Of course, this is not the first time that I have blogged about this issue.  Blogging often seems to be a Yogi Berra-like "it's déjà vu all over again."  I read a political story and is all too familiar.  Or a cultural issue that makes me think, "hey, didn't I already write about this?"  And then when politics intersects with culture, it is like instant recall of something I had blogged about before.  Ok, enough about me, eh! ;)

Consider this excerpt from a post dated October 21, 2012:
Hillary Clinton was routinely made fun of for her pantsuits, but it is totally ok for Barack Obama to wear nothing but grey and blue suits.
I recall Hillary Clinton remarking--during the primaries--that Obama could allocate time for a workout because he didn't have to set aside time to get ready: no hair-dressing, no makeup, means that he has that much more time at his disposal compared to Clinton.
When Clinton went without her face all made-up, the photos and the jokes went viral, which says a lot about the atrociously different treatment we give men and women:
Of course, if this was a male politician, few — if any — would focus on whether he had primped before his public appearance this deep into an overseas trip. It would only become a headline if Joe Biden suddenly started wearing eyeliner and lipstick.
But we aren’t accustomed to seeing female politicians and politicos without camera-ready makeup and, God forbid, showing wrinkles. 
That was in October 2012.  And now it is August 2015.  The more things change, the more they look the same!

The real world offers even worse:
He may have agreed to take her for better and for worse, but for one Algerian groom, seeing his new wife without make-up was a step too far.
The husband was so shocked after seeing his bride's face the morning after their wedding that he failed to even recognise her.
He even accused her of being a thief that had broken into his house.
After realising it was in fact the woman he had married only yesterday, he decided to take her to court - accusing her inflicting 'psychological suffering' by 'cheating' him with her make-up.
The groom is now seeking $20,000 (£13,000) damages.
I am all the more convinced now that The Onion was on to something with this product! ;)


Mike Hoth said...

It really is a shame how our culture chooses to prioritize the look of a woman over her many other attributes. It is no more apparent than when surrounded by college students, I have found. As the only engaged man (or realistically, the only one thinking about marriage at all) in my dorm at Western, I was surrounded by people who saw the women around them as skin-deep. Many of the students, and a couple professors, could not wrap their minds around the fact that my fiancée and I were not sleeping together. That was the topic that never failed to arise. Not her interests, hobbies, what her major is or anything that actually drew me to her, but her physical aspects and my reactions to them.

But is it really so surprising? We are barraged with images of the perfect female body from a young age, and this pressures young women into an attempt to fulfill this role and tells young men that physical appearance is paramount when choosing a mate. I've actually had to convince my bride that I prefer to see her rather than a coat of paint! It's a programmed response to groom oneself when a male shows interest.

And by the way, you should know very well what those male students are doing to cause them to fall behind in their studies. They're looking at all those well-groomed females!

Anne in Salem said...

One initial comment in response to Mike, but there may be more response later.

"It's a programmed response to groom oneself when a male shows interest" is only half correct. It is not just for men that women apply makeup and style their hair and shave their legs and armpits. We do it partly for ourselves; we also think we look better with a bit of makeup. We do it partly for strangers; we want them to think well of us. We do it for our coworkers; we want them to have a more pleasant view than we would present without our makeup, etc.

Everyone wants to feel attractive and likes to receive compliments. Most women probably feel this is attained by complex grooming habits.

Sriram Khé said...

Indeed, there is a great deal of grooming that women do which for themselves. (Set aside the comedic punchline that women really do things for other women to notice because men are duds who don't notice any damn thing!) But then how much of that behavior is "natural" and how much of that is a result of social conditioning? If it is largely thanks to explicit and implicit social conditioning from the time they were kids, and if young boys were not conditioned that way, then ...?

It is one thing to voluntarily engage in grooming--nobody pressures me to trimming my beard, yet I have always done that. But, studies repeatedly confirm that there is a huge cost that women end up paying if they are viewed as less attractive--the ‘hair-and-makeup tax’ that the blog is about.

BTW, Mike, you will be a well-groomed groom for the big day, right? ;)

Anne in Salem said...

Yes, men are clueless. I wear a bit of makeup most days, and two men I dated, neither of whom ever saw me without makeup, swore I didn't wear any. I just chuckled.

I don't wear the makeup to attract the men but to cover flaws. It is the same at work. I joke I wear the makeup to protect the unsuspecting visitor from having to see my middle-aged skin and tired eyes. If I know no one will be in the office that day, I will skip the makeup to save time.

How much makeup application is natural and how much is social conditioning? That may depend a bit on age, but honestly I have no idea. Younger women, who have the least reason to wear makeup, often wear the most, and I would assume that is societal conditioning. Older women, who probably wear makeup to hide aging and skin flaws, probably wear it more for themselves and less because of societal expectations.

Relative to a hair and makeup tax, it would probably be better to ask someone who doesn't work on a farm. I don't even have to wear clean clothes to work. I have read that less attractive women don't earn as much, get promoted less often, etc., but I believe there is also a bias against the beautiful women. Aren't they frequently assumed to be less intelligent, less capable? I know I am a Pollyanna in wishing appearance didn't matter a bit, that only ability mattered. Someday . . .

Anne in Salem said...

I meant to add this to the statement about bias against pretty women. There is a hashtag trending recently - #Ilooklikeanengineer - that began when an engineering company used a photo of a pretty female engineer to advertise for job openings, and the public assumed she couldn't be an engineer because she is too pretty. The woman was insulted and enlisted friends to add their pictures to hers to prove that female engineers can be pretty and capable at the same time.

Sriram Khé said...

Looks like this post triggered comments that are more than "skin deep" ... it went to the very "foundation" ... the commenter even went rogue, er, "rouge" ... muahahahaha ;)

Yes, that was an interesting hashtag-discussion, which then birthed this hashtag: #ILookLikeAProfessor
More at the link here: