What if women weren’t judged primarily by their beauty?

When I was in middle school and high school, there were (as I’m sure is the case in a lot of schools, both then and now) so-called “cool” or “popular” kids. And there were less-than-cool or even “loser” kids. I was definitely in one of the latter two categories, depending on whom you asked. I think a lot of teenagers waste a lot of time trying to either become cool new selves or to re-label their current selves as cool. For most people, once you go to college or the working world (and beyond), you realize that “cool” just doesn’t matter as much as you thought it did back in your adolescent years.

The fight to have different kinds of teenagers considered “cool” is, I think, a worthy one, as long as these uncool teens don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a temporary time of the cool and uncool, and that better times are on their way.

But sociological problems do tend to come in complementary pairs. For example, if someone tries to insult you by calling you (or worse yet, insinuating that you are) gay when you are straight, there are two problems. Problem #1 is using “gay” as an insult. Problem #2 is insulting you. But by calling you gay as an insult, that person is perpetuating both of those problems. Likewise, if you create yet another movie in which a good straight white man saves the poor abused Asian woman from the evil Asian man, you are perpetuating both (#1) that white men are more desirable than Asian men are and (#2) that women are just pawns in a racial game of winning-losing decided by men.

Right now, as far as beauty and women goes, there are two problems that are intertwined. Problem #1 is that the media and those of us the media affects (almost 100% of us in varying degrees) continue to have a very narrow view of what defines a beautiful woman. Problem #2, which is less talked about, is that women are primarily (or at the very least secondarily) judged by their beauty.

So when I see Pretty ugly: Can we please stop pretending that beautiful women aren’t beautiful? talking about how sitcoms should stop pretending conventionally beautiful women are ugly and should show more less–conventionally beautiful women as beautiful, or when I see Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty; I applaud those efforts. Yes, we do need to redefine beauty. There are diverse kinds of beauty. Beauty isn’t just a tall, skinny, blonde (or maybe light brunette), white, straight woman with narrow cheekbones, and tiny nose. Lots of women are beautiful. That’s important for us to get straight.

Let’s not lose sight of the big picture, though. There is still a second problem. Why do we care how beautiful women are or aren’t? Why do newspapers always have to mention how female political candidates looked or comment on how fashionable or unfashionable their dress is? They’re politicians, not runway models! Kathryn Bigelow looks great. Sure! She’s beautiful and her arms are buff. I agree. Uh, but why does that matter? I thought we were awarding her for best director, not best-looking director.

I will, like many other feminists, continue to celebrate and appreciate different kinds of beauty. Still, I cling to the hope that one day we will all graduate from the high school of life, and we’ll see that beauty isn’t what it’s all about.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Tirade about makeup

Over two decades later, my mom still tells people the story of how I told her (this was back when I was a wee child) she wasn’t a “real woman” like her sister because my mom didn’t wear makeup or paint her nails. My mom has a habit of rubbing in my face stuff I said when I was younger that I no longer believe. But back then I fell for society’s message that gets hammered into both little boys and little girls: real women wear makeup.

Well, it didn’t take me very long to grow to detest makeup, especially as I embraced feminism and even more so after reading Susan Brownmiller’s Femininity. What surprised me, though, was how many women (even feminists) seemed to like makeup—not just tolerate it or indulge in it every now and then as a guilty pleasure. Every woman I’ve talked to about makeup has unequivocally defended her decision to wear it (as Charlotte from Sex and the City would say, “I choose my choice. I choose my choice!”).

I remember one time I was shocked to encounter a makeup defender I thought didn’t even wear makeup. She said, “All women wear makeup. Sometimes it’s just a little bit. Sometimes you can’t tell, but all women wear it.” I was devastated. I couldn’t believe it. All women wear makeup? Of course, what she said can’t literally be true. There have to be some women who don’t wear makeup, even if they’re only three out of three billion. But I’ve generally found she’s right.

My wife is a feminist and a strong one at that, but she wears makeup, too. Sometimes she wears it. Sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she doesn’t wear much. Sometimes she wears a lot. I always tell her she looks better without makeup, which is true. As Harry Connick, Jr. says in “Just Kiss Me”:

Don’t worry with your lipstick. I’m going to kiss it all away. Throw away your lipstick. That’s not your color anyway. My lips are your color, so lips, stick with me.

Nevertheless, like all the other feminists I know, she still wears makeup.

I just don’t get it, on several levels. First of all, jewelry, clothes, shoes, hats, and bags are all adornment. They drape or hang. They are not plastered on you. Your face is who you are. Your face is how people identify you. How can you do that to your face? Secondly, when I’ve seen my wife without makeup, she always looks much better than when she has makeup on, and I’m sure she’s not the only one for whom this is true. Thirdly, most women put on too much makeup. If you put on so little makeup that other people can’t even tell you’re wearing makeup, maybe you’ve gotten away with it—maybe that’s the whole point of makeup, to fool people into thinking you don’t look like yourself. But for a lot of women I’ve seen, I can tell you’re wearing makeup, you’re wearing too much makeup, and not only does it not make you look more beautiful than you normally do—it makes you look terrible.

This is particularly true at events, fancy dinners and such. That’s when women who ordinarily wear so little makeup as not to be noticed (or no makeup at all, if that’s possible) will cake it on and look terrible while their friends tell them, “Oh, you look amazing!” (which I translate to mean, “You ordinarily look terrible. Good thing that makeup is all over your face to hide what you really look like,” but somehow that’s a compliment, I guess).

In my mind, makeup is designed to accentuate facial features. Thus, its ideal applications are for situations in which people will see you from far, far away (say, 50 feet away) or for situations in which you are in a photo shoot/movie set with very careful lighting and expert makeup artists. Neither of those situations is a fancy dinner party, where most people will be seeing you from two or three feet away.

Even though most of my friends are women, and I generally identify with women in most things in life, makeup is just one of those things I could never understand. And if there are any feminist women (or even non-feminist women) who don’t wear makeup, feel free to pipe up here. It’d be great to know you exist.

Life Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

A straight guy at Sex and the City

Ever since I saw the first preview, I’d been dying to see the big screen version of Sex and the City. My wife wasn’t that excited, but I was. And the friend we saw it with yesterday told people she was going to go see it with her married straight male friend just to amuse them. I didn’t realize what a novelty I was, of course, until I went to the bathroom after the movie was done—women’s bathroom across the way, totally full; men’s bathroom where I was, totally empty.

Granted, I’m a bit more “sensitive” than most straight males I know, but if women can see a male-targeted film like Iron Man, why can’t men see a female-targeted film like Sex and the City? I’ve never drooled over Gucci, Louis Vuitton, or Manolo Blahnik. I’ve never had the kind of dating drama these women have had. I’m not white. I’m not rich. I don’t live in New York City. I’m not a woman. I’m not in my 40s.

Then again, I’ve never been captured by terrorists in Afghanistan and forced to make weapons in a cave. I’ve also never been an archeologist professor adventurer.

Contrary to what the lackluster reviews might have you think, Sex and the City was an entertaining movie, one of the most engaging I’ve seen all year. I don’t have to relate directly to it. It’s funny (yes, even with its bad puns) and involvingly dramatic.

Maybe I’m just coming from a different place. I know some people (both male and female, of various sexual orientations) can directly relate to a lot of movies. I don’t think I ever have. First of all, as an Asian-American who enjoys movie-going, I usually have to force myself to identify myself with main characters who are White or Black Americans or with main characters who are Asian (as in, from Asia). And, no, I didn’t feel as if the nerd-thugs from Better Luck Tomorrow were like me at all. Never have I come across characters who are feminist Christian males. Rarely have I come across slightly effeminate straight males. I’m okay with this, though.

I know for some others, movies are about speaking for the speechless, offering a voice and identification to various groups. I applaud these efforts. I’d love to be more represented in films (independent or mainstream), but I go to movies for the same reason people went to them during the Great Depression: I go to escape. Movies, for me, are about entertainment. I like a good explosion and chase sequence. I like a good joke or gag. I like relationship drama and yelling. I like some good character development and maybe even a little tragedy. I like to think. And I even appreciate a bad pun every now and then (Sex and the City, both movie and TV show, has this in spades).

I may have been the only straight guy at SATC yesterday, but it was a good movie, and I think a lot of guys missed out on some fun.