Warning: Feminist Wearing Makeup Ahead. Look Both Ways Before Crossing


By Quinn Davis, Intern (2011)

“The only way I’m staying with you is if you stop wearing mascara.”

Sure, I had dated some d-bags before. But this guy competed for it in the Olympics, won the gold and then spent the next six years touring the country so that hopeful up-and-coming d-bags could look up to someone. Plus, some cereal could capitalize on his success (Shredded Douche!).

(Word to the wise: If you’re dating a woman who has a future in writing, has thought about writing or has written anything ever, you should consider treating her with more respect than your collection of Kerouac books. Cheers!)

Okay, back to the Cosmetic Conundrum. Count Douchula and I had been dating for a year or so when he decided to inform me that I was “just not interesting.” This morphed into me begging him to stay with me, which morphed again into him demanding that I make some changes, including my makeup.

Was he allergic to the product? you might ask. Did he feel insecure about his own lashes next to my lacquered ones? Did his mother die while driving under the influence… of mascara?

The answers were no and, shockingly, no and no.

Now for some background: I’m not some spineless leaf floating around waiting for someone, anyone, to pick me up and call me their own. The short way of explaining why I was in this relationship to begin with is that I wasn’t in a good place during my first two years of college, and Monsieur D’bag took this as an opportunity to practice for the Big Leagues.

I could go on and on about this relationship and all of its advantages, but I’m waiting to get Oprah famous before I allow karma’s spiked tail to strike – for the betterment of all the rest of us, believe you me. Besides, it’s difficult to explain why a woman stays in a physically and/or mentally abusive relationship; that subject needs a discussion or two million of its own. Instead, I’m going to use someone who used me (schadenfreude is not dead) to illustrate the fine line that feminists walk: Fighting socialized norms while following them.

It was the spring of my sophomore year, and I had just dipped my toe into the pool of feminism. It was exhilarating. Every word I read felt like someone else was describing me – to myself. I finally understood why things didn’t feel quite right when middle-aged men commented on my appearance. I got how fourteen-year-old boys learned to have the gall to look me up and down whether I stood alone or with my parents.

And – most importantly, at least in this piece – I saw how the desire to wear makeup was socialized into me as completely and concisely as a cult.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my foray into feminism was the start of the disintegration of my relationship with Snap Crackle Douche. It helped me realize what a crap-tastic situation I was in. However, at the time of the Cosmetic Conundrum, the full realization was just a glimmer in my eye.

“If you’re such a feminist, how can you buy into the very things that are used to oppress women?” he asked.

To tell you the truth, I had no idea how I could. I mean, I liked wearing mascara. When I put it on, my eyelashes were transformed into these incredible, feather-like things that made me feel like a magical being. I was a friggin’ unicorn. Bam.

Of course, I now knew that this idea was tainted. Somewhere along the line, I soaked up the idea that unicorn eyelashes were what beautiful women had, and that being a beautiful woman is very, very important. All that shiz was subconscious, which is exactly why it was successful. Would it really work if someone came up to me and actually said the above sentences to me? Uh no, and it’s not just because I would have thought that whatever “unicorn eyelashes” were, they would make me look like a drag queen.

So here I was, caught up again in douchery, trying to explain why I did what I did. I lost the argument, spent the next month trying to find a satisfying lie (“It’s just a bet, and if I win, I get a pony!” <-not a finalist) and yearned to unveil the HOLY CRAP!-worthy lashes I had been blessed with.

A month and a half later, I sat in my feminist psychology class, trying to look and sound as awesome as the seniors next to me. Once again, feminism decided read my mind and explain myself to myself. My professor explained:

“It’s hard enough to feel forced into making a decision without being punished for making it. Believe it or not, a lot of people actually do like whatever thing society is telling them to do. You can’t socialize someone into liking something and then ostracize them for liking it. I know the media and beauty industry made me think that I needed mascara. I’m a feminist! But now I love it. I love it for me. I can go without, sure, but I just love the way it looks.”

FaBLAM! In case you’re confused, that was the noise of the logic bomb that went off in my head.

The point of feminism isn’t to proclaim how women should be. In fact, that’s the opposite of feminism. Feminism is about people choosing for themselves, without societal, familial or any other pressures getting in the way.

If you’re only aware of societal pressures on a subconscious level, it’s damn near impossible to make a truly feminist choice. I certainly didn’t when I first started to wear mascara.

But now that I was able to choose what I wanted while recognizing those pressures, I realized that mascara was one of my forms of expression. I loved my unicorn lashes, polka dots and pigtails not just because of how they made me look, but because it broke people’s stereotypes. They would walk in, see me as a harmless puffball and then be hilariously confused as the cuteness started swearing like a sailor, calling the shots and kicking anyone who touched her junk (yes, really).

Once I figured all this out, I went back in my mind to that argument I lost, just like everyone does. I would tell him that as a feminist, only I would choose the way I present myself, as long as it does not harm myself or anyone else. If I choose something that I’ve been socialized to like, I am no less a feminist than my Burt’s Bees and Birkenstock-wearing sisters.

And best of all, I would have actually said it, batting my unicorn eyelashes the whole way.

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  1. […] 1 Makeup, and Feminist Guilt, at 13 2 Nash, K. (2010) Contemporary Political Sociology. p22-23. 3 Bartky, S.L. (1988) ‘Foucault, Femininity, and Patriarchal Power’ in Diamond, I. and Quinby, L. (eds) Feminism and Foucault. p.65-71. 4 Warning: Feminist Wearing Makeup Ahead. Look Both Ways Before Crossing. […]

  2. […] Warning: Feminist Wearing Makeup Ahead. Look Both Ways Before Crossing […]

  3. […] Warning: Feminist Wearing Makeup Ahead. Look Both Ways Before Crossing […]

  4. […] on Adios Barbie, Quinn Davis questions (and answers) whether you can be a feminist and wear mascara. What do you […]