Painted Little Princesses – A post about the sexualisation of young girls, by @jaynemanfredi

Cross-posted from: Jayne Manfredi
Originally published: 03.05.17

“A woman without paint is like food without salt.”

This quote, written by comedy playwright Titus Plautus sometime between 254-184 B.C, at first glance appears to be an archaic quip, unlikely to be at all relevant in our modern world. Written by a playwright whose work was overwhelmingly concerned with men sowing their wild oats, perhaps a bit of sexist, Roman “bantz” is to be expected, despite the fact that Shakespeare is said to have been heavily influenced by his work.  His point isn’t terribly subtle; that a bare-faced woman without makeup was somehow incomplete, perhaps a bit bland and unappetising. There’s also the crude comparison being made between women and food; women were a pleasure in life, existing only for the consumption and delectation of men, and therefore they had to be as palatable as possible. Still; good job we’re past all that nonsense nowadays, right?
Read more Painted Little Princesses – A post about the sexualisation of young girls, by @jaynemanfredi

Toxic best friend: Glossy magazines and me by @glosswitch

Cross-posted from: glosswitch
Originally published: 14.11.16

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with glossy magazines. The reason this blog is called Glosswatch is because I originally conceived of it as a place where I’d go to rant about the publications to which I was still, inexplicably, subscribing in 2012.

I knew how these magazines functioned. I could see the way in which, like a toxic best friend, they eroded your confidence by drip-feeding you advice on ways in which to improve yourself. I knew that the solutions they offered were to problems you hadn’t even realised you had. I knew they didn’t really want you to be happy with yourself, since a woman who is happy with herself does not spend vast amounts of money on trying to make herself look like someone else. But I bought them all the same. I’d been buying them for decades.
Read more Toxic best friend: Glossy magazines and me by @glosswitch

The Fetishisation Of Tall Women. at Rosie’s Gap Year

Cross-posted from: Rosie's Gap Year
Originally published: 25.02.15

I’ve never thought I would be forced to write an article about this, but due to recent comments I’ve been receiving on social media platforms, I want to voice my opinion on this.

I’m talking about the fetishisation of tall women by, predominantly, men.  This is more commonly known as “Macrophillia”, and to those of you who don’t know, this involves a tall woman taking on a role as a giantess, who’s main purpose is to dominate, sexually please, and crush men smaller than them.

Because of the nature of this fetish, tall women have been targeted as a cornerstone of it, whether they are consenting to being viewed in such a way or not.


Read more The Fetishisation Of Tall Women. at Rosie’s Gap Year

All Bodies are Beautiful by @MurderofGoths

Cross-posted from: Murder of Goths
Originally published: 19.08.16

She was an ugly duckling at school, teased for being bigger than the others. She wasn’t huge, but kids are cruel. She wanted to model but agencies told her she was too fat, pressured her to lose weight, but one day she had a revelation – she was beautiful! It didn’t matter what anyone else said, she knew her body was a thing of beauty, and now look at her, modelling for high street brands.. welcome our guest today.. differently objectified girl! <applause>

I’m sure you recognise the main gist of that, even if not the last sentence. It’s a story we hear over and over. A girl grows up feeling worthless because she doesn’t fit into a narrow definition of beauty, life is hard, she hates herself, then one day she (or others) redefine beauty to include her body type. And now she’s happy and confident, and an inspiration to all other women.

Or is she?
Read more All Bodies are Beautiful by @MurderofGoths

“Curvy sexylicious” vs Plus Size

Cross-posted from: Murder of the Goths

I’ve written before about how important the term “plus size” is, and why dropping it isn’t actually helpful. In fact I last wrote about it March 2015, it was one of the first posts I wrote on a plus size activism theme, and it was specifically about the #DropThePlus campaign by Ajay Rochester and plus size model Stefania Ferrario. I didn’t just write about it once either, I revisited it again to talk about the Diet Industry, and again to talk about it in relation to eating disorders, and again to refute some bizarre ideas being thrown around about those of us who want to keep the plus.

Obviously you are more than welcome to read back through all of those, but as this conversation keeps coming back up I wanted to try and draw together some of the biggest issues as I see them in to one post.

Let’s start with who is saying it.

I have noticed there is a consistency to who wants to lose the label of “plus size”.
Read more “Curvy sexylicious” vs Plus Size

I Couldn’t Love My Post Pregnancy Body by @rupandemehta

Cross-posted from: Rupande Mehta
Originally published: 21.07.15

Last week I saw a picture of a musician mother’s tummy from South Carolina on my Facebook feed. Tired of being told that she has the perfect body, she wrote,

“Everyone always compliments me on how I have such a ‘perfect’ body after 4 kids. I decided to upload this pic and leave my belly ‘unedited’ and ‘unphotoshopped’ because I used to struggle with accepting my body after kids.”

Even though my initial reaction was, “I would never tire of someone telling me what a fab body I have,” the picture made a huge impact on me. I thought about my own assessment of my body because yes, I too have struggled to accept it.

I mean, who hasn’t?

In 2012, I was in the BEST shape of my life. This is not to say I am dangeroulsy unhealthy as of right now, but back then, I fit the media’s idea of what sexy and gorgeous was supposed to look like. At 125 lbs and 5’7”, I loved the way I looked- my abs, my biceps and my tall skinny legs. Mind you, I’ve never actually had a six pack but I loved everything about myself and was proud to flaunt it. Standing tall in a size 4, I had no insecurities and was proud to admit I was one of the few women who loved their body and was comfortable in her “skin”.
Read more I Couldn’t Love My Post Pregnancy Body by @rupandemehta

#StyleHasNoSize as long as you are this size and shape

Cross-posted from: Murder of Goths
Originally published: 03.09.15

I’d like to say I was surprised when this image appeared on my timeline this morning,

Five similar size and shape #StyleHasNoSize models in Evans shop window wearing jeans and slogan t-shirts

I wasn’t though, I was disappointed, but not surprised.

This was a promotional photoshoot to publicise the start of UK Plus Size Fashion Week, shot wearing the latest Evans campaign slogan “#StyleHasNoSize” in the Evans store window. What a wasted opportunity. These five models, gorgeous as they are, are very much the acceptable version of plus size.

Only a small percentage of people would look at these five and think “plus size”, they are according to the fashion industry of course, but to those who shop at Evans? Not really.

The biggest problem with it is actually not the lack of diversity, like I say, that bit is unsurprising, it’s the use of that slogan. This is a quote direct from the Evans website
Read more #StyleHasNoSize as long as you are this size and shape

HEALTH AND BEAUTY. PICK ONE. by @TheWritingHalf

Cross-posted from: Full Frontal Feminism
Originally published: 10.06.15

“I don’t usually buy magazines”. Déjà vu. I’ve started a blog with those words before. But, to be pedantic, I didn’t buy this one. It was free, so I picked it up.

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Well, why not? A magazine called ‘Health & beauty’ sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

I want to be healthy! I want to be beautiful! It’s great to be healthy and beautiful. Only, well, the thing is, I didn’t realise that they meant you have to pick one. Sure, the magazine is called Health and Beauty, but you didn’t think you could have both, did you? Boots, the brand behind the magazine, clearly doesn’t think so.

We’re off to a great start with the front cover. The model hasn’t even been re-touched, which is refreshing.

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Then again, as they say, ‘She’s totally gorgeous!’

You, on the other hand. Oh dear. You need: a light, mousse-like base; an illuminating concealer; to rock a ‘wob’ (don’t ask); filler renew hyaluronic replumping serum (I’m not joking); and to lose the ‘bacne’, to name just a few of the thousands of unnecessary beauty treatments covered in this brochure.

In case I haven’t got around to making my point: you’re ugly and require a multitude of products. She’s totally gorgeous and, don’t forget, totally untouched.

Self-confidence down a couple of notches? Excellent, let’s move on from that. Woah, woah, woah. No, I think we need to make you feel a bit worse about yourself first, before we move on. Don’t have a perfect body? ‘Can’t bear the sight of’ yourself? Well then you deserve to feel terrible about yourself. Go on, beat yourself up about it.

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Health & Beauty? Certainly not mental or spiritual health they’re talking about.

But, wait! Were you feeling bad about yourself? That’s MAD! To quote: ‘We say: enough with beating yourself up!’ ‘Sadly’, not all women love their bodies. How odd.

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It’s just incomprehensible, isn’t it? Why on earth would you be beating yourself up about letting your healthy eating habits slip? It wouldn’t be anything to do with that image on your fridge would it?

Or maybe it’s something to do with an inanimate piece of paper calling you POT BELLY.

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Maybe. Who knows? Certainly not me.

 

Living the DreamI write under the name ‘The Writing Half’ on feminist issues, from campaigns like No More Page 3, to topical events, to things I’m affected by personally as a feminist. Previously my blog covered a variety of topics, but I’m now focusing just on feminist subjects.  Twitter @thewritinghalf

On high heels and stupid choices by @glosswitch

(cross-posted from Glosswitch)

Why do women wear high heels? It’s a question men can ask but feminists can’t. When men ask it they’re being light-hearted and humorous, expressing jovial bafflement at the strange ways of womankind. When feminists ask it they’re being judgemental bullies, dismissing the choice and agency of their Louboutin-loving sisters. So it is that Ally Fogg can get away with writing a piece for the Guardian on why he, Fogg, does not like women wearing heels (I defy any woman to do this without being considered a raging femmephobe – just ask Charlotte Raven).

In said piece, Fogg tells the story of a female friend – a kind of Everywoman in stilettoes – “grumbling about the blisters and bruises being caused by her latest proud purchase”:

I muttered something about taking more care when trying things on in the shop and she looked at me as if I had started speaking fluent Martian. “I’d never not buy a nice pair of shoes just because they didn’t fit!” she exclaimed, then we sat gawping at each other while silent mutual incomprehension calcified the air.

It’s a real Mars and Venus moment, suggesting that when it comes to shoes women are a bit, well, irrational (bless ‘em). Fogg later comments that he is “more attracted to a woman who looks like she can drink me under the table then carry me home, making a sturdy pair of DMs just the ticket”

I live in hope that one day the human race will view high heels with the same horror with which we view foot-binding. Women would be spared innumerable podiatric agonies and men would, I think, just about cope. Until then I shall content myself with the knowledge that I’m right and the rest of the human race is a bit daft.

I can see the good intent here. No one wants women to have ruined feet (unless it’s feminists who are making that point, in which case ruined feet become empowering). But “a bit daft”? Really? Femininity, and the way in which it shapes women’s supposed free choices, is a little more complex than that.

The truth is, I’m really, really sick of women’s “daft” fashion preferences being mocked. Sick, too, of the way in which things which cause women pain – high heels, cosmetic surgery, excessive dieting – are treated as choices which feminists cannot analyse but which men are free to ridicule once the damage is done. For a feminist to say “you can do this but I wish you didn’t have to” is considered a terrible denial of agency. For a man to make light of what femininity does to women is, on the other hand, totally fine. We’d rather be viewed as stupid and irrational (“girly”) than not in control of our own lives. Yet the truth is we’re not in control. We live under patriarchy and we shouldn’t be ashamed of what it makes us do. We don’t make choices in a vacuum. What we should be seeking is not the illusion of agency, but freedom from the hierarchy which dehumanises us to begin with.

Every day women have to make decisions in a world that hates women. Moreover, since the maintenance of such a world requires that everyone pretends the hatred does not exist, it’s no wonder that the rational choices women make can end up seeming foolish. “Silly” women don’t ask for pay rises because they know that they are far more likely than male colleagues to suffer negative consequences.  “Unambitious” women don’t seek promotions because they know that the cost of being seen as a powerful woman can outweigh the benefits. “Vain” women starve themselves or binge and vomit, fully aware of fully aware of the social and financial costs of having “excess” flesh. “Stupid” women stay with men who abuse them, knowing that trying to leave would put them at greater risk of violence. “Daft” women wear shoes that damage their feet because they know that wearing their vulnerability on their sleeve might attract less male hostility. These are all sensible decisions in the circumstances, but they’re also decisions which allow anyone ignorant of misogyny (and plenty of people are) to portray women as their own worst enemies.

Last month the press reported on how Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama have “pared down” wardrobes so they can concentrate on “the important things”. Good for them, but would a woman ever be able to do the same? As we also found out, a male newscaster can wear the same outfit every day for a year and no one even notices. The world does not work like this for women. As Cordelia Fine writes, “the same career entails greater sacrifices for her than for him”, but these are sacrifices we don’t acknowledge. Would a woman going to work dressed like Mark Zuckerberg be seen as ambitious, focussed and unfussy? Or would people be more inclined to see her as at best lazy, at worst unnatural?

Most of the time it’s just easier to play the femininity game so why fight it? Even within feminism a failure to be sufficiently feminine is treated with suspicion, particularly given the trend for replacing the identification of structural oppression with a far woollier, non-challenging accusation of “femmephobia”. From the way some women defend their right to be “a girly girl” and wear #feministheels you’d think that second-wave feminism had forced all women to walk around barefoot in hessian sacks. Websites such as Transadvocate delight in portraying “TERFs” as ageing, short-haired, drab, flat-shoed “ugly” women (basically no different to the “masculine women” of anti-suffragette propaganda a century ago). I’ve seen women complain about “the Birkenstock tendency” of older feminists, a neat way of combining antipathy towards lesbians with a dig about the “wrong” shoes. Basically, if you are a feminist it is far, far easier not to be vilified by the mainstream if you aren’t too butch. This is treated as a form of bravery – look at me! I wear lipstick and dresses and you can’t say I’m not fighting the patriarchy! – but it’s really a piece of piss (I do it all the time and have never once felt the cold, hard grip of femmephobia upon me). Being a “feminine feminist” isn’t a contradiction in terms; it’s not even hypocrisy. It’s just a sensible thing to do given that you’ve got serious battles to fight. Who has time to be mocked for their sandals and accused of bigotry just because she thinks footwear that causes actual physical harm might, you know, be a bad idea?

That said, I don’t think appearing “femme” is always that much of a sacrifice. High heels are a total pain (which is why I rarely wear them) but dresses – particularly stretchy, non-tailored ones – can be pretty convenient. It’s only one item of clothing to worry about and there’s no pesky waistband if you happen to stuff yourself over lunch. Putting on a simple dress is no more effort than putting on a t-shirt and yet no one ever asks “why does Mark Zuckerberg bother with trousers? If he’s so bloody efficient, why doesn’t he just make his top longer, say, down to his knees?” It’s taken as read that men have to dress in whatever a particular culture deems to be a “masculine” way. Unlike women, men are not believed to make “irrational” clothing choices at all. They might occasionally indulge in a little self-pity over the fact that their choices are more restricted but they never actually doanything about it. Whereas women are pressured to be feminine and then mocked for it, men’s complicity in the maintenance of masculinity is rarely questioned. We know that men who present in a feminine way do so at a high cost yet this doesn’t lead us to see “masculine” men as the dress-up dolls that they, too, are being.  We don’t see “masculine” men as foolish because we accept that under patriarchy, it’s safer for a man to present that way. But this is also true for women and femininity.

Men aren’t more practical or less vain than women. They’re just more respected and valued, and their decisions are not subject to constant scrutiny and mockery. They play the gender game just as much as we do only because they’re the winners, no one cares (unless they actively reject masculinity – then they, too, get to fail, and we notice). Women, meanwhile, always are forced to play a game they’re destined to lose and then ridiculed for having taken part at all. Wear heels or don’t wear heels. Ask for equal pay or don’t. Stay with him or leave. Be femme, butch or anything in between. Declare yourself cis, non-binary, agender. Whatever you do, you won’t win and you won’t be permitted to sit it out, and it’s not your footwear – or your choices – that are causing the problem.

GlosswitchHumourless Mummy, Cuddly Feminist [@glosswitch]

Mini Monday: The Right Shoes? by the Bungling Housewife

(Cross-posted from the Bungling Housewife)

Shoe love

‘Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world’, but which shoes are the right shoes? Sure it’s sexier and definitely more beautiful-spy-on-the-side-of-justice-esque to pull on some killer high heels for your boost of shoe-based confidence but is it practical? I mean, how many real women do you know who actually sprint around the urban jungle in stilettos like it ain’t no big deal without breaking an ankle? What real police detective/FBI Agent actually comes to work in high heels that will probably reduce her feet to a painful throbbing mess 6 mins into the first chase-the-bad-guy-halfway-through-the-city-on-foot event of the day (there’s several of these in a normal detective/agent’s day right? Those crime dramas I watch so much of aren’t lying to me, right?).

Csi

Of course not! That’s exactly how real detectives dress for work!

It’s true that beautiful shoes, which, let’s face it, more often than not are high heels, make you feel beautiful and confident. Hell I’ve done more than my fair share of drooling over painfully beautifully but impossibly overpriced heels in my life, and I do wear heels every chance I get. If I’m going to conquer the world though, especially as a mother, I’ll need something a bit more comfortable and long lasting. Perhaps I’ll even throw in an in-sole if the world is going to take longer then a few hours to ‘conquer’. After all, I want to be able to walk without wincing after I’m Queen of Everything, right?

So yes, it’s true enough that give her the right shoes and a girl can conquer the world, but the ‘right shoes’ may not be the ones that you’d expect.

Killer heels

These are for the after party

Bungling Housewife: I’m an Anthropologist by training, a housewife by choice, a voracious reader, a lover of fantasy fiction and Sci-Fi, a new mommy, an observer of human nature, a closet optimist and a cupcake enthusiast. I write about all of the above and anything that might strike my fancy :)

In the coming year, I have ambitious plans to expand AROOO, including a full professional blog redesign to increase accessibility and optimise sharing of individual bloggers’ writing across multiple social media platforms, as well as publishing feminist reviews of books, radio, television, and film. I also want to expand outside of traditional blogging platforms and start a chat forum. In order to do this, I need to raise £ 3000 so that I can pay the women web designers for their work. The work I do for AROOO is out of love for women and their writing, art, photography and lives. My tech skills simply aren’t adequate to develop AROOO to its full potential. The women involved with AROOO deserve to have their work shared to a larger audience and this requires financial support. This platform will remain non-profit, and advertising free, but the amount of work to redesign the site is substantial. Even one pound makes a huge difference to my ability to support feminist writing by creating a professional platform for feminists by feminists.



On Fake Hair and African Liberation by @EstellaMz

(Cross-posted from Uncultured Sisterhood)

Recently I came across a comment along the line,

Africa would be better off if the money spent on fake hair was spent on books.

It caught my interest for reasons; as an African, a woman, and someone who finds great pleasure in books. While I agree with the sentiment that spending on resources such as books provides an enduring return, the statement left a bitter taste. There is a fair amount of unflattering commentary about ‘fake hair’ – at one point the subject of a popular song here in Uganda. But is ‘fake hair’ the most trivial expenditure in Africa? Are there no pursuits on which money is vacuously spent by African men to the detriment of their families and communities? Or is it Africa as mythical Eden; the bastion of success only to fall at the arrival of women and their ‘fake hair’?

Seriously though, is money spent by women on face, hair, body ‘wasted’ in a society in which keeping up with the strict ever-evolving requirements of beauty, as fake as they may be, is life as many know it? Where beauty practices are considered (by women and men) a normal aspect of womanhood?

We are bombarded on a daily basis with images of ‘ideal beauty’. For black women on the continent and in the diaspora, concepts based on whiteness as the standard, such as light skin and straight, flowing hair, are in our faces 24/7. Whereas the reality of a vast number of female bodies, those classified ‘typically African’, are largely disapproved of, boxed in the ugly – except in some circumstances, and that’s when on a white woman.

In one of the several online articles explaining why Africans have ‘larger’ lips, a writer begins with the disclaimer: there is nothing racist about this post or the topic.

That caution is necessary because in a western-dominant world where features and cultural expressions categorized as African (of black people) are considered inferior by default, big lips are undesirable.

But hey, they are sexy when on Angelina Jolie.

In the same way that “bold braids” were taken to a “new epic level” by Kendall Jenner.

This month Vogue magazine caught itself at crossroads with women, in particular western black women, after it ran a story proclaiming that We are officially in the era of the big booty’The article is a roll call of white women – the liberators of booty. Backlash was inevitable due to the fact that international fashion magazines have historically portrayed women’s beauty in mostly white, thin, big-booty-free bodies. The mainstream effectively marginalized the booty’d body, long celebrated in black/African culture. Until now; because some valuable people are embracing their behinds. Yet it remains a thing of caricature for performers like Katy Perry.

And going back in time, we are reminded of the enslavement of Sarah Baartman, a Khoikhoi woman from South Africa. She was transported to England and taken across Europe on display under the stage name Hottentot VenusIt was tagged a freak show starring her body, with special focus on her  buttocks and labia; dehumanized to feed the curiosity of the European eye. As an object of African femininity, considered abnormal (white women being ‘the normal’ according to white supremacist nonsense), her body was prodded and gawked at, in addition to suffering poor upkeep and disease. Sarah died in 1815 at the age of 25. But even in death, the inhumane use of her body prevailed; consumed as a museum exhibit in France. Only after condemnation in South Africa, and at the behest of then-president Nelson Mandela for her remains to be released, did France relent. It was not until 2002 that what was left of Sarah Baartman was repatriated.

Suddenly, now that the gods of vanity have given the green light, women must reconsider the dimensions of their derrières, as cosmetic surgeons sharpen their scalpels ready to mutilate more female bodies, and vendors of butt implants (‘fake butts’?) prepare for a business boom.

Fake hair is one of many must-haves directed at women. Reasons as to why we buy into it include to look good, for convenience, to protect natural hair, confidence issues, and so on. This fuss is inevitable when an otherwise  neutral feature like hair is politicized into a marker of difference between women and men, sexualized into a symbol of beauty among women, and commercialized as a pathway for the individual woman to gain advantage over another. It follows that we are told hair is a woman’s crowning glory. Who determined this?

In the final analysis, beauty practices are taught, policed, and have been normalized in different cultures for women’s survival in a male-dominant world.

And men are the topmost beneficiaries.

Women are under considerable pressure to look good in order to attract men, hold on to men, or get back at men, and other women – over men. We are objectified, subdivided, and pitted against each other by men and fellow women; white/black, light/dark, fat/thin, beautiful/ugly, old/young, fertile/infertile, womanly/not, sexy/not, hot/not. And it is men who benefit from the tension.

We are on our toes in service to the visual interests of the supreme sex. Sweating under layers of chemicals. Heels tormenting feet. Restless about what to wear tomorrow. Broke in the process.

Is ‘choosing’ these discomforts that we have somehow learned to bear really choice?

Just because some women claim not to have any problem whatsoever with living under the demands of beauty qualification, that it is a ‘normal’ part of a woman’s life, or an exercise of agency – my choice, doesn’t strip the pressure or desire to look good of its oppressiveness to women as a class.

Women’s freedom to do with their bodies what they want, when they want, is a core tenet of women’s movement toward liberation from the evil that is sexism. But in a male-dominant society where ‘femininity’ is constructed in deference to men, and the pursuit of beauty, and maintenance of it, enforced as ‘rituals’ of womanhood, women are constrained in the options from which to choose. There is an unwritten requirement to choose wisely in order to be found worthy under the male gaze. And there are penalties for non-compliance.

Looking good in accordance with patriarchal dictates of beauty can be, in some situations, the difference between securing employment and being jobless. It is the currency through which many women access shelter, food, and clothing. Add the culturally-prized husband to this list. We need to be honest about the politics of looking good to see the hypocrisy in one-sided, (often) male, criticism of women’s adherence to beauty practices, and the oppressive reality of these demands on women.

Moreover even from a shillings perspective, many of the major beneficiaries in the global industry, from beauty products to media, to hair-dressing to clothes etc, also happen to be men.

On the Forbes list of Top 10 Beauty Brands  only Estée Lauder was established by a woman. In Uganda, these are firms like Movit and Samona – the latter set up by a man, maybe even both. While in Taihe in China, home to hundreds of companies in the billion-dollar business of hair extensions, Fu Quanguao, the man who ‘pioneered the trade in the 1970s’, waxes about the money-maker that is women’s hair issues.

Growing up in the eighties, it was to Loy that my mother and I, as did several others within the neighborhood, made the pilgrimage to have my hair plaited – black African hair, no extensions. Today, walk into a hair salon in Kampala; many of the celebrated fake hair implanters are men. Men who, like Fu, with extensions in tow, are cannibalizing the business of hair plaiting – one of the few professions in Africa for women, by women (predominantly), and through which many African women not only earned a living, but also built community with their sisters. Loy is no longer her vibrant self; the income source from which she raised her children, one of whom had followed in the profession, almost a thing of the past. Her frustrations drove her into the neocolonial hellhole of second-hand clothes hawking.

That men benefit greatly from this beauty stuff is evident without even going into the matter of chest-thumping dudes heaping endless praise on their gorgeous-when-beweaved; directly or indirectly putting pressure on women to keep up with the performance of beauty.

Therefore, in the age of viagra, for men to be the ones constantly picking ‘fake hair’ as this major money-drain, one powerful enough to hold back a continent, is intellectually dishonest. It is akin to blaming a slave for their fate; and for sure many are enslaved by the fashion-beauty complex. Crucially, it ignores the vast wealth lost via theft committed mostly by men at all levels of power across Africa.

It isn’t women’s fake hair rendering our hospitals drugless. It isn’t fake hair causing deaths from hunger and disease. Fake hair isn’t robbing Africa of its natural resources. And it is definitely not fuelling these endless wars. That there is a need for fake hair is unfortunate, but we mustn’t ignore the entire picture.

No group can be liberated if some of its members are trudging along under the heel of oppression – a good chunk of it dished out in the name of ‘preserving’ African culture.

It is easy to focus on fake hair and in effect throw jabs at women whilst ignoring the system which demands conformity to beauty standards. Perhaps a more productive exercise would be to objectively critique all the different systems holding us in a cycle of poverty and perpetual dependence. In doing so, we must examine our own complicity in keeping these ideologies in play. And ultimately, put into action those revolutionary measures which will deliver us, as individuals and society, from the grip of the forces draining us – women and men – of our wellbeing and wealth.

Uncultured Sisterhood:  I am a Ugandan feminist, based in Uganda. The blog, unculturedsisterhood, started out of extreme personal frustration with the state of affairs for women in my country, outside of it, in pretty much every area of life. From a feminist theory perspective, I critique topical, community, and cultural issues in Uganda (and the wider continent) as they relate to women. Hoping one or two sisters read/engage and join in as we work toward liberation. Category: Feminism; AfroFeminism; Radical Feminism Twitter: @EstellaMz

Catcalls are only one part of a bigger problem by @TheJadedLadies

  (Cross-posted from The Jaded Ladies)

Paris Lees wrote a piece recently declaring her enjoyment of getting catcalls as she walks down the road. It was universally criticised by feminists of all persuasions – quite an achievement in itself – for having displayed an astounding disregard for the lived experiences of many women and helping to bolster the harmful attitudes of those who consider it ‘no big deal’.

I don’t know at what age Paris Lees first got her breasts.  I was nine and that’s when it all started.  ‘Training bra’ is such an apt name for the type of underwear you need at that age and how symbolic; getting breasts meant I had to start training for the role of ‘adult female’ that I would be expected to fulfill from then on.  We do not live in a ‘culture that infantilises women’, Paris, but a culture that sexualises girls and then raises them to be sexual objects for the enjoyment of men.

Unwittingly, one soon learns that under the new rules of ‘life as adult female’, it must be the males that initiate action; that the permitted emotional output of any behavioural interactions between a man and a woman is a zero sum game.
A woman is expected only to react, and then only complimentarily, equally and oppositely. To give when he is wanting; to be receptive when he is opining; to be instantly available when he is needy.  That this works in strictly one direction only is another lesson to learn.  That one must never respond in kind, lest it upset the currently ‘peaceful’ dynamic, is another.

The list goes on and must be stuck to with vigilance.

When a man gives a ‘compliment’, she must accept it graciously.
When a man stares at her in the face, she must avert her eyes.
When a man spreads his legs on the bus, she must shrink away to accommodate him.

Ask any woman the price to pay for deviating from these rules.  Violence.  Threats of violence.  Humiliation.  Disempowerment.  Everything man himself fears.
These are formative experiences; lessons she doesn’t choose to learn but has to.  Often, she will put things in place to protect herself in times of perceived transgression.  Subsequently chastened over the years, I have learnt these lessons so well that these habits of defence are completely ingrained in my very existence.  I rarely even realise I do them: the compulsion to carry my keys in my hand when walking alone in the dark; the rape alarm I bought and attached to said keys; the insistence that yes I really am gay/married/too affected for you, leave me alone now please; the step down into the curb, out of the way of the oncoming man; the hesitance at correcting a wrong but professionally superior male… I could probably go on forever.  I don’t consider myself a potential victim at all, in fact I don’t even think about it.  I am trying to break these habits but it’s difficult and contravention of all the above certainly doesn’t make for an easy life.  But that’s what feminism is trying to achieve.  A tearing up of this bullshit rulebook.  Paris, you may well enjoy what women have been socialised to fear since they were children, but then keep it to yourself; you’re not helping anybody here.

But back to unsolicited appraisals from strangers on the street.  They form only the vocal facet in the bigger picture; the rape culture that the petri dish of society breeds.  Along with the unachievable standards of beauty; the unrelenting objectification of women in the media; the gender pay gap; cultural femicide in our biggest institutions, whether banks or schools; the vastly disproportionate under representation in power and finance (link opens a pdf), the vastly disproportionate overrepresentation in the lowest paid jobs, despite women outnumbering men at universities; the 1 in 3 chance a woman has of becoming a victim of domestic abuse and the fact that women constitute a majority of those in unpaid caring/domestic jobs that if assigned ‘monetary value, [would] constitute between 10 and 39 per cent of GDP’; the fact that after becoming a victim of any of this, the woman herself will no doubt be blamed.  All this is background noise to women; many have tuned it out and don’t notice it anymore.  Others are fighting back, trying to change things for the better.

So for some, Paris, a catcall may well be flattering- a confirmation of their acceptability and compliance with patriarchally set standards of existence.  A resignment that in this situation at least, she can be noticed.  For many others, it is a flashback of all these lessons and the emotions that came with them; another reminder of their perceived lesser personhood; that their role is as ‘appraisee’, nothing more.

And there is nothing enjoyable about that.

 

The Jaded Ladies: 4 friends blogging about feminism [@TheJadedLadies]

Deodorant For Breasts…Really?! at Beauty de Beauvoir

(Cross-posted from Beauty de Beauvoir)

Breast deodorant. Yes, it’s happened. And if your reaction to that statement is “Oh good, at last!” then you should probably stop reading now, because this is not going to be a positive testimony. And what’s incredible is even The Telegraph and The Daily Mail are questioning the need for the latest patronising launch from, upsettingly, not just one but three different companies. Two of these have as vapid a name as you’d expect from a business trying to flog mammary antiperspirant – Bust Dust and Boobalicious‘s “You Bet No Boob Sweat” if you’re wondering – and if the other, “Fresh Breasts” from Fresh Body, at least sounds practical, then just wait, because that particular company appears to have invented a term for the shameful condition of breast sweat. SWOOBS. It’s swoobs. Why…why.

Fresh Breasts® was scientifically created to keep you and your “girls” dry and unchafed so there’s no more of those uncomfortable and awkward arm-crossed encounters. Women can now rest easy; we’re replacing “swoobs” – dreaded boob sweat – with smiles!

Oh for goodness sake. Since when has it not been okay to sweat from the chest area? This is possibly one of the most ludicrous developments the beauty industry has tried to force on us in recent times, trying to make women believe that something perfectly natural and normal is in fact disgusting or embarrassing. Not since I discovered that women shaving arm hair is a thing have I felt such chagrin. Not only are we not allowed to be hairy, we’re not supposed to sweat from ultimately inconspicuous areas that are in the main only noticeable whilst exercising? Well sod it. Just sod it. Because in my view breast deodorant is one step too far.

Of the three companies flogging this stuff, only Bust Dust appears vaguely serious, claiming its product is a cure for hyperhidrosis the technical name for breast sweat, whilst the other two struggle to keep a straight face. USA online and Etsy shop “Boobaliciouss” sells their roll-ons for £4.91 a piece, with tasteless names for the different scents varying from “Crazy Coconuts” and “Hills of Honey” to “Marvellous Melons” and “Perky Peppermints”. And Fresh Breasts – they came up with “swoobs” remember…”swoobs” – are even worse than Boobalicious in  my view, because the kind of language used to market their products is not only patronising but encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the beauty industry. As if the block quote above didn’t encapsulate the smug, condescending manner of their product pushing, the seemingly casual: “Let’s face it, how many more times can you walk into a room and let your boob sweat-soaked shirt make the first impression for you?” shows just how impressionable these companies think women are. As much as I don’t buy the medical tone of Bust Dust, this tongue-in-cheek marketing approach directing breast sweat towards fun-loving, cheeky gal pals is too much to bear.

Describing breast deodorant accurately as the ‘latest joke from the beauty industry’, Jill Filipovic’s recentarticle in The Guardian is really illuminating, discussing many of the issues covered in Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, a book I’ll be writing about here very soon. Although breast deodorant might seem like one unnecessary beauty product too far, and can be dismissed easily, it’s these problems and debates relating to the marketing manipulation of women by the beauty industry that need discussing by beauty fans and foes alike, and what this new section on Beauty de Beauvoir, ‘Beauty Myths and Realities’ will focus on, every Sunday. Uncovering the tricky relationship that sometimes exists between beauty and feminism seems an apt section on a blog that advocates that the peaceful coexistence of these two seemingly contradictory concepts is possible, if not always uncomplicated. It’s also a section I’m really keen to get some debate going on, so please leave your comments below about your views on breast deodorant or any of the brands and articles featured in this post.

 

Beauty de Beauvoir is a blog that proudly places beauty and feminism side by side. Driven by the notion that an enjoyment of fashion and beauty is in no way incompatible with support for the current feminist movement, this website encourages open-mindedness around the relationship between feminism and beauty. Beauty de Beauvoir is in essence a normal beauty blog, with daily reviews of beauty products and guides on various aspects of make-up and skincare. In addition, there will be weekly pieces exploring the beauty industry and society, and introductions to icons of both the feminist and beauty worlds. Discussion is greatly encouraged both on this site and my many social media outlets, particularly on Twitter, where you’ll find me as @BeautyBeauvoir.

Red Lipstick Feminism: An “Each To Their Own” Plea by @BeautyBeauvoir

(Cross-posted from Beauty de Beaviour)

Many people – men and women – declare a distaste for lipstick, specifically red shades, for a variety of reasons. This post explores why this is the case, what connotations red lipstick holds, and whether we should care or not.

My partner, who will openly and proudly declare himself a feminist to anyone who asks, doesn’t really like red lipstick. I happen to like it a great deal, and go through phases of wearing it frequently, especially on evenings out, special occasions or when some sort of public speaking is involved. He can never put into words exactly what it is he doesn’t like about it, but it doesn’t bother me as his not liking it does not affect my liking it: he would never dream of asking me not to wear it, or try to make me feel bad or crude for wanting to do so. It would be nice to believe that in this world no one’s partners, friends or even family would make them feel negatively about their choice of lip colour, but sadly it appears “each-to-their-own” does not apply to mouths.

As if it wasn’t bad enough to have people saying whether or not people should wear a certain shade of lipstick, instead we – both men and women – are subject to constant new “studies” in how each sex supposedly responds to red lipstick according to psychology and, you guessed it, science. This Refinery 29 article on one of these scientific studies that claims red lipstick as allegedly the colour of mouth most likely to snag you a man – “for anyone who wears red lipstick for purposes other than to ensnare some dude, this “scientific” information is largely irrelevant” – hits the nail on its ridiculous head.

It’s as easy if not easier to find information on how much men supposedly hate red lipstick than like it, and – of course – how that relates to how women are supposed to feel about it. And sometimes brands don’t help with names of lipsticks – Soap & Glory has a bright red lipstick called “Mantrap” (which is a shade I own and like aside from the name); NARS a similar hue entitled “Manhunt” – that perpetuate the hyper-sexuality of the woman who wears a red lip. But the notion that a person wears a particular shade of lipstick, whether only on dates, special occasions or even everyday, only to attract, intimidate or overpower a member of the opposite sex, is insidious and vastly untrue. The majority of women who wear red lipstick will do so (hopefully) whether or not they are looking for a partner of either sex, or whether or not they are in a relationship with a partner of either sex.

For I conclude that the enemy is not lipstick, but guilt itself; that we deserve lipstick, if we want it, AND free speech; we deserve to be sexual AND serious–or whatever we please; we are entitled to wear cowboy boots to our own revolution. – Naomi Wolf

There are some who wish to limit the choices open to people who choose to wear bright colours of lipstick, or at least to dictate how red lipstick wearers should be viewed in society (ie. “sexy” or “slutty”). But what  tenuous reasons are given for not liking red lipstick? I propose the following responses if you ever encounter these ideas:

  1. “It makes women look like clowns.” – Maybe it’s clowns copying the red lipstick wearer, not the other way around. In which case, imitation is the highest form of flattery. 
  2. “It looks like too much effort has been made/high-maintenance” (or similar condescending remark)– Bit arrogant to assume any level of effort is being made for you, sir/madam.
  3. “I prefer the natural look.” – Yet patriarchal indications suggest that, to please men, women should wear make-up. You also expect to be able to dictate the colour palette? How very dare you. 
  4. “It hides a woman’s true beauty; often they’re more attractive without it.” – Let us be the judge of that, and who says lipstick is necessarily about enhancing beauty? That relates to the assumption that make-up is all about trying to be more attractive than women naturally are and, since beauty is entirely subjective, women are being set up for a fall. Make-up is for expression, creativity, statement, and fun, not to please men.

Why am I specifically latching onto red lipstick, you might be asking? People also criticise women who wear dark or colourful eyeshadow: another prompter of the “clown” argument, but there is something about what red lipstick symbolises that’s quite different. I’d argue there is not the same societal aversion to eyeshadow or blusher as there is to lipstick. Lipstick – particularly red – has been a symbol both of patriarchy and feminism at different points in time and today, it seems, to be a symbol of both and neither simultaneously. For you find as many claims that women are unfeminist for wearing red lipstick just to please men as you see claims that women are unfeminist for not wearing red lipstick just to please men. Feminists come with many different beliefs: those who wish to eschew make-up entirely, and those who want to redefine make-up not as a man-pleasing tool but as an expression of self, of which red lipstick is merely one part. One unifying element is key whatever your feminist specifications: choice.

Many of the thoughts gleaned from fora and so-called studies are encapsulated in this piece from the Huffington Post, an article about how men apparently “really feel” about lipstick. There’s the usual stuff about what men don’t like about lipstick as summarised above, but then there was a section to show supposedly positive views of men who do like lipstick, which can be seen just as, if not more, condescending than the negative views. For example: “As long as it doesn’t look CRAZY on her, it’s attractive in my book.” How vague and subjective, not to mention downright patronising, is that? First of all, at what point does lipstick application go from “attractive” to “crazy”? Is there a grey area betwixt these two extremes? Second, on what principles is this guy’s “book” based; are there exceptions to the vague tenets he so flippantly provides? Another claimed: “[Lipstick] can look gorgeous, but needs to be accompanied with limited smiling…” Erm…“limited smiling”? I for one was not aware there was a lipstick to smiling ratio; how enlightening. Now lipstick wearers can gain some closure about why a date might have picked up and left off without any apparent reason. Too much smiling outweighed the lipstick. Right.

Perhaps foolishly, I turned to Twitter for more answers, and I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s quite incredible how many people – men and women – take to the tweets to portray their contempt for red lipstick. Most of the tweets I uncovered giving various inane reasons were too vulgar or offensive to embed here, but should you find yourself interested then take a gander yourself.

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This person gets my sympathy for terrible (step)fathers. 

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I question your knowledge of statistics.

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“Oops?” Is your sexism accidental, sir?

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I really do hate sexism and incorrect use of plural nouns in everyone.

Lipstick is such an important symbol in women’s emancipation that there is even a strand of feminism named after it, known as “lipstick feminism”, which advocates the idea that symbols of women’s sexuality – lipstick, high heels, short skirts, etc. – all previous tools of the patriarchy can be appropriated and reinterpreted as feminist tools of strength and freedom. If you’re interested, you should read this excellent post on the subject by Autumn of The Beheld for a more in-depth exploration of this. I agree with lipstick feminism in principle – hell, so much of it is entirely what this website is based on – but don’t really see why this requires a strand of feminism by itself: in fact most of the women I know who describe themselves as feminists feel this way.

Often the most sensible notions about lipstick are those of people who are experts in the beauty industry and define as feminists. In an excellent piece about red lipstick and feminism in Never Underdressed, make-up artist Georgina Graham is quoted as saying: ‘To me feminism is about choice, so choosing to wear a red lipstick can be perceived as a feminist statement and I think women wear red because of how it makes them look and feel.” REFRESHING.

Another incredibly inspiring red lipstick wearing feminist, and one of my personal icons, is Poppy King, creator and face of renowned specialist lipstick brand Lipstick Queen. In this Telegraph article from August 2013 “Dispelling Beauty Myths”, King shows concern around the hyper-sexuality normalised and expected of women and propagated by the beauty world – always a healthy thing in one involved in the beauty industry, I think –  and commends women who follow their own style. “And by the way, men usually say they hate lipstick. Women who wear strong colours are generally doing it to please themselves, whereas the pornified beauty we see everywhere is about female passivity…” Now, I challenge you to point out something unfeminist about that.

As one of the most iconic symbols of womanhood, and stands as the beauty equivalent of the high heel in the story of women’s emancipation, the role of red lipstick and its meaning today is complicated at best, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s clear and it’s sad that for many people, both male and female, that wearing bright lipstick brings up perceptions of who they are, whether a a man-trapper or, heaven forbid, a slut. I’d like to see a time when a slick of colour on the mouth is just that: it might convey how the wearer is feeling today, an expression of creativity or because they like the way the colour looks and feels. Lipstick, worn or unworn, does not define who anyone is, and to assume something off the cuff about someone who wears it – whether seen as attractive or ugly – is detrimentally unfeminist.

As Naomi Wolf states in The Beauty Myth (1991), it is not an inherent issue with lipstick being too slutty or sexy, but the guilt society makes us feel, that is the problem. Lipstick should be, and is, what we want it to be, and what we make it. So let’s just wear it if we feel like it, or not wear it if we don’t, and sod what everyone else thinks until it’s clear to them that their opinion makes no difference to the colour of our lips.

 

Beauty de Beauvoir is a blog that proudly places beauty and feminism side by side. Driven by the notion that an enjoyment of fashion and beauty is in no way incompatible with support for the current feminist movement, this website encourages open-mindedness around the relationship between feminism and beauty. Beauty de Beauvoir is in essence a normal beauty blog, with daily reviews of beauty products and guides on various aspects of make-up and skincare. In addition, there will be weekly pieces exploring the beauty industry and society, and introductions to icons of both the feminist and beauty worlds. Discussion is greatly encouraged both on this site and my many social media outlets, particularly on Twitter, where you’ll find me as @BeautyBeauvoir.