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"To be a young woman in our culture means that you exist, from an alarmingly young age, for the appreciation of others. Therefore, your every feature is fair game for public appraisal."
February 17, 2012 8:14 AM   Subscribe


 
Oh, yay! Alice is a beautiful person and this is a wonderful and important piece. I was hesitant to post it here myself when she wrote it because I know her. I'm glad to see someone else did!
posted by BlueJae at 8:33 AM on February 17, 2012


From the SciAm article comments:

Men can also face the consequences of benevolent sexism directed toward men. The “big, strong man” can feel that he must be the muscle rather than the brains on a team, or simply feel inadequate in comparison to the stereotype when failing to open a jar of pickles.

Poor Ray Palmer. First he gets booted from the Justice League, and now he's consigned to ranting on the internet.
posted by griphus at 8:37 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The summary is - little has changed for women!. It's sad that in 2012, women are still judged by what they look like, rather than by what they think or do.
In last article, the 'what not to wear' show is more about the hosts creating their own ideal of a women - for me, the show is also about taking poor and/or working class women, shaming them in public and creating their new middle to upper middle class image.
posted by what's her name at 8:43 AM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Those were excellent -- especially Alice's and Melanie's. Thanks very much for putting them up here.

I used to speak briefly with Tavi backstage at various shows and was always deeply impressed with her. It's been very nice to see her writing branch away from fashion and fluff as she's gotten a bit older, into subjects that will have a different sort of impact on her readers.
posted by zarq at 8:43 AM on February 17, 2012


"Just reading Tristam Shandy. LMFAO!" "Me, too! LMFAO2!" "I am SO SO SO SO SO SO jealous!"

I don't know about your Facebook feed, but my Facebook feed has status updates in it like this.
posted by straight at 8:43 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a young woman, I was certainly the least intimidating creature on the planet, and as such I was prey to unwanted attention from men, attention that ranged from annoying to truly scary. I know there are people who dismiss the idea that such attention is upsetting--after all, isn't it flattering that strangers think you're attractive? But it goes far, far beyond that. It was endless and exhausting and I don't think it has a thing to do with how pretty you are. In fact I often felt the comments would come fast and furious on the days I felt particularly bad about myself, like I was giving off signals or hormones, like they could smell my weakness.

This. Absolutely. Thanks for posting this ...
posted by Cocodrillo at 8:48 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


A couple of years ago, my mom made the decision to let her hair go gray. She was in her early eighties at the time. It now is a beautiful salt and pepper color and looks much healthier than it did when she was still coloring it. I think the constant coloring is common for her age group. Guess what: her efforts over the last 25 years or so to stay young-looking never netted her so much as a decent boyfriend and she was and still is a striking-looking woman.

This post is about a lot more than hair color and age, though. I'm a few years older than the author and have recently started wearing long sweaters over leggings instead of Flattering, Fitted Clothing that would meet Tim Gunn's approval. In short, I've allowed myself to be somewhat frumpier now. The lack of male attention, despite my efforts to the contrary, has been deafening over the last 10 years and I'm increasingly OK with that - or some of my denial over the results I got when I tried to maintain a "look" has gone away. If I really look at my past, most of the attention I got was unwanted and often bordered on (or skipped right over the line to) insulting. I wish I could say otherwise, but I can't, because it wouldn't be true. YMMV.

If I thought I could get away with caftans, I would do so, but since I'm in IT I am afraid to look conspicuously "old" (i.e. near or over 50) AND female. I know exactly what the author is talking about with regard to invisibility and I'm mostly right there with her, but in some job fields I think it cuts the other way.
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:52 AM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


One of the problems I see with discussions of feminism is that the words "sexism" and "partiarchy" and "male gaze" imply something done by men as agents to women as passive victims -- which is itself a sexist, patriarchal distortion, ironically.

Thank you for the interesting articles tackling some of the complexity of how girls' comments and even compliments often reinforce these problems.
posted by msalt at 8:53 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I try to be body-positive, but I don't know that I really agree with the idea that "flattering" is body policing - style can be just as much about playing up the elements that we like as playing down aspects that we don't (or that society says we shouldn't). Many of the episodes of What Not To Wear deal with people whose clothes are old and obviously worn, or absolutely shapeless because they're embarrassed of themselves. I don't think that giving them pieces that make them feel confident and attractive is necessarily a bad thing, despite the quagmire of why that's the case.

As for Alice's piece, I just read it the other day and it made me sad and angry at the same time. It reminded me a bit of the discussion a while ago about how some women don't know what it's like to be objectified like that and as a result feel a mix of relief and ... not jealousy, but the wish for attention even if it's bad attention. I know it was a really contentious thread but it also hit extremely close to home for me.
posted by brilliantine at 8:57 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Great stuff, good post.

"In last article, the 'what not to wear' show is more about the hosts creating their own ideal of a women - for me, the show is also about taking poor and/or working class women, shaming them in public and creating their new middle to upper middle class image."

Oh hell yes this. I've always been bothered by this show and never knew why. Well put!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:03 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a former girl, now woman, mother of a daughter and three sons, wife, and person, I thank you for this expansive post which I intend to share with many non-mefites, first of all my daughter who has herself contributed to Persephone.

The fact that these issues are out there being discussed is a wonderful thing.

I was lucky enough to be required to read Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in its entirety as a junior in high school. (Thank you Mrs. Hurwich, best history teacher ever together with Patricia Nelson Limerick at Harvard.) The elective was "Topics in American Social History: Blacks (sic) and Women"; the year was 1978. The school was Nightingale-Bamford (the setting of the current "Gossip Girl" books and tv show--I have only read about them, never read or seen them, but I can assure you that they are nothing like what attending there was, not in the seventies anyway.) The unofficial subtitle of Friedan's book was "The Problem that Has No Name," and at Nightingale we were expected to find the names for problems in order to look for solutions as well as learn to ask questions, first and foremost. We were also consistently told that we were just as capable as boys and to never settle for second best, but of course there was always an undercurrent of maintaining proper behavior and decorum, but that's another story.

As a teacher myself I am all too familiar with the different dynamics discussed across these articles. "Benevolent Sexism" strikes me as a particularly useful term. It is a basic tenet of early childhood education that some, even many kinds of "praise" actually do more harm than good for girls and boys alike but one would be surprised at how easy it is to fall into those traps.

That's why keeping all this stuff out there on the table is so important. So thanks again.
posted by emhutchinson at 9:16 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the problems I see with discussions of feminism is that the words "sexism" and "partiarchy" and "male gaze" imply something done by men as agents to women as passive victims -- which is itself a sexist, patriarchal distortion, ironically.

I understand what you're saying here--that we can sometimes ignore what women do to each other and we shouldn't imply women are helpless victims. But I don't think it's so crazy to imply in male-dominated culture, where men have power, men perpetuate the behaviors that suppress women and it would behoove guys to do something about it.

Yeah, the "male gaze" is something a man does to me. When a guy will not leave me alone because he feels my vagina obligates me to receive his attentions, that is a man doing that to me, a woman. Let's not go so far down the hole of over-analysis that we come out losing sight of the responsibility of different parties to police their own damn actions.
posted by schroedinger at 9:17 AM on February 17, 2012 [24 favorites]


There's some evidence that this starts /really/ young, and that telling your baby girls she is "cute" or "good girl" for no specific reason, other than they are generally cute or good can be very damaging.

Even telling your smart little girl she is "smart" all the time is (apparently) grooming them for failure later on. As an underachiever, I guess I can grok that arbitrary exhortations about how great you are did not lead to much success in my early life.

So, this stuff probably isn't so specifically gendered early on, but how we treat boys and girls (and how they internalize the treatment) probably changes quite a lot as they get older. The danger is when this gender split finally manifests as grossly sexist societal behaviour about when our young are considered "sexual" but are really in that long adolescent stage that lasts well into legal adulthood.

This is when the knives really come out for the boys and girls, with some of the results we see here. But, make no mistake, boys are fairly damaged by the time they hit their 20s. It's just that the damage manifests itself in different ways.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:24 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that a distinction should probably be made between different forms of flattery. Actually, I only see four obvious kinds: With good and poor intentions; with good and poor effects.

I can certainly see how perfectly well-intentioned compliments could cause harm - the classic example that comes to mind is somebody who has just gone through an illness and lost a lot of weight being congratulated.

Another form of "compliment" that is likely to lose me friends in the future is negging.

Re: "benevolent sexism" the article that finally explained things to me in a manner that actually broke through: From IndignantFemistrants.
posted by Neuffy at 9:24 AM on February 17, 2012


And on the desire to be intimidating: I have found a welcome aspect of strength-training is the addition of muscle mass. Most women avoid strength-training because they are terrified of looking "manly", like they'll blow up like a bodybuilder. This is terribly silly, the percentage of women who are able to put on bulk with ease is terrifically small, and getting truly big generally requires years of training and steroids.

But I have found that I am one of those women who has a large frame and puts on muscle size pretty well. It bothered me at first but now I regard it as a blessing because of the drop in the number of random dudes physically harassing me or trying to intimidate me. Guys still scream at me from across the street or their cars, but I do not get nearly the same number of dudes who approach me, "accidentally" bump into me, or try to follow me down the street to get my number. I cannot emphasize enough that this is INCREDIBLY AWESOME.

But also scary, because it really highlights how much of that harassment is based in the perception of the victim's physical weakness.
posted by schroedinger at 9:25 AM on February 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


In last article, the 'what not to wear' show is more about the hosts creating their own ideal of a women - for me, the show is also about taking poor and/or working class women, shaming them in public and creating their new middle to upper middle class image.
posted by what's her name at 11:43 AM on February 17


Yeah, there are huge class issues at the heart of "what not to wear" - basically, it should be called "Don't wear working class fashions, wear upper-middle class fashion even when it's stupid (like heels at the park)".

I love costumes, I love fashion, I would be a fashion designer if I could draw or sew - but I hate what they do on that show. It's not about finding the best clothes for that person's personality and body type at all. I, for example, know that I look awesome in ankle length A-line skirts - I bet they don't even have those in their cupboard because they aren't in fashion this century.

Also, high heels should ALWAYS be optional, not mandatory. How much heel your shoe has is such a personal thing - you may as well tell people what shape of underwear to wear.
posted by jb at 9:37 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bodices laced up the front also look great on me. Basically, I should have lived in the 18th century - except for the small pox.
posted by jb at 9:38 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


the words "sexism" and "partiarchy" and "male gaze" imply something done by men as agents to women as passive victims -- which is itself a sexist, patriarchal distortion, ironically.

....How....so?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:40 AM on February 17, 2012


schroedinger - you're absolutely correct. The alienation of women from their bodies as functional tools and the societal pressures that result in women being physically weak, unused to violence or confrontation and uncoordinated due to lack of practice are major contributing factors to unbalanced gender roles and harassment/assaults. The tendency for men to wear functional clothing and women to wear restricting clothing doesn't help either.

That's really a horrible myth. Steroids wouldn't be necessary for most women to start to look overmuscled, but a huge amount of effort and dietary change would be. Hell, strength training for chest mass tends to make women look _more_ feminine. For bone density, let al resistance training is essentially mandatory for all people not working in physically intensive occupations.

In terms of actual preferences, I think there's a mismatch between what some magazines say women should look like and what prospective relationship partners actually want. While taste varies wildly, I know very few (although some) men who want women to be ultraslim, and far more who prefer the range from athletic (see: Women's Fitness) to Rubenesque. Actually, body dysmorphia goes for both genders: Women tend to prefer men ranging from athletic (see: Men's Fitness) to Rubenesque, as opposed to Flex-Magazine mass monsters. The male bodybuilding community is absolutely rife with body dysmorphia.

Very simply, the vast gulf in physical strength and prowess between men and women is largely a societal construct that really needs to be torn down.
posted by Neuffy at 9:43 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was wondering about gray hair: I have an acquaintance who is in her 60s and who colours her hair to cover up the gray. However, she says that she does so to maintain her authority in her high level management position - she fears that she would not be taken seriously or listened to if she had gray hair, which would sort of be the opposite thing that it is for men (I feel like men with gray hair are taken more seriously - but maybe I'm wrong).

What is the affect of hair colour on authority for women? Are younger-looking women taken more seriously than older-looking women? (research or anecdata welcome)
posted by jb at 9:48 AM on February 17, 2012


What is the affect of hair colour on authority for women? Are younger-looking women taken more seriously than older-looking women? (research or anecdata welcome)

All anecdate, but I'd think in women age is associated with being a serious matron, while youth is associated with being a hot piece of ass. I'd say people are more likely to listen to the hot chick than the serious-looking chick, but that's not because they take her seriously, it's because she's hot and that's what's valued in women.
posted by schroedinger at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


What is the affect of hair colour on authority for women? Are younger-looking women taken more seriously than older-looking women? (research or anecdata welcome)

I suspect is has less to do with sexiness and more to do with societal norms. Understanding the rules of the society in which you live is an important tool -- it proves that you know how to fit in, that you want to fit in. Perhaps more importantly, it proves that you care about the comfort level of the people around you.

So, a 50ish women who leaves her grey hair grey is saying, although quietly, "fuck the patriarchy! fuck the society that says I must look 30 when I'm 50!" That makes people -- especially corporate, management-type people, very uncomfortable. Thus, it makes them less likely to think highly of her.
posted by AmandaA at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the "male gaze" is something a man does to me. When a guy will not leave me alone because he feels my vagina obligates me to receive his attentions, that is a man doing that to me, a woman. Let's not go so far down the hole of over-analysis that we come out losing sight of the responsibility of different parties to police their own damn actions.

I completely agree with this. I think msalt's point is that "male gaze" is also a term for the wider social context that makes some men think that they can get away with this kind of behavior.

It also refers to the idea that our society teaches people to look at women (regardless of who is doing the looking) from a (hetero) male point of view, as a default.

This is pointing out some of the cultural problems here, not excuses for any man's behavior.
posted by straight at 9:57 AM on February 17, 2012


These are good pieces with lots of food for thought, but I have to say that as a man reading these I do get a kind of sinking "what the hell can I possibly do?" feeling. I love giving people compliments. I'm very attentive to "design" in almost all its aspects, so I tend to notice interesting clothing choices or jewelry or what have you. So I'll often tell people (of either gender) "hey, that's a beautiful sweater you're wearing" or "Oh my god, look at those amazing shoes!" or whatever. To my mind nothing about that feels at all like a come-on (I'm about the least "flirty" person in the world)--I just enjoy the aesthetic choices that person has made and it seems like they'd like to hear that other people share their taste.

And yet, when I read pieces like this I start to wonder "wait, do they read those exchanges as me objectifying them? Is this a 'public appraisal' that renders that person a mere aesthetic object for the 'appreciation of others'?" It seems to me that that's not at all what is going on from the "sender's" perspective (in fact I'm addressing them precisely as aesthetic agents--praising them for the aesthetic choices that they've made), but it could easily be the way the message is received.

I guess that it all goes back to one of the things I've always thought was the most pernicious effect of social inequities of all kinds which is that they can potentially poison almost all transactions, even absent any prejudicial intent. I've often thought that one of the most appalling things about living in a racist society, for example, is that every single time you get treated badly, if you're a member of a stigmatized group, you have to wonder if it's because of who you are. One of the great privileges of being white is that when you go into a shop and the clerk is a contemptuous jerk you can just say "wow, what a contemptuous jerk!" and forget about it. If you're black and have exactly the same exchange you're at least going to wonder if it isn't about race; you're going to suspect that you were singled out and that if you hadn't been black you'd have received very different treatment.

Similarly, I think there's a lot of stuff in our sexist world that gets labeled as "sexist" behavior which needn't, in itself, be freighted with those meanings. That is, if you could wave a magic wand and eliminate sexism from the world, you probably wouldn't see so much in the way of radical changes in people's behavior as you would see radical changes in the implied (and inferred) meanings of that behavior (as well as the implied and inferred threats that lie behind that behavior).
posted by yoink at 9:59 AM on February 17, 2012 [14 favorites]


yoink - I similarly like to complement people on their clothing/shoes/etc, which is a bit easier for me as I'm a woman and thus less threatening.

But even so, I figure that if I always focus on the actual object ("awesome shoes!" "cool jacket") rather than the person, they are much more likely to hear the comment as it was intended: as a compliment of their taste and selection of the object and/or expression of my desire for something similar.

The only time I would ever make reference to how an object makes a person look would be in cases when I a) know the person extremely well (e.g. my SO, my mother) and b) know that they would like feedback on how clothes look on them.

generally, even strangers seem to react well to compliments directed towards their possessions - they certainly look happy when I mention how wonderful I think that their Doctor Who Tardis Socks are.
posted by jb at 10:14 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yoink-- I love hearing nice things about my jewelry and shoes, because I make some of my jewelry, and I spend a lot of time considering shoes. To me, those are nice comments (and not that gendered) because they reflect my own choices and taste and decisions! It means I'm not invisible, and it generally means you're focusing on something other than my cleavage. (I mean, compliments, anyway, like the ones you're talking about. Comments about my shoes and their apparent implications of my likeliness of being "slutty" are different.)

In contrast, when it comes to nasty comments from strangers, I didn't choose my cup size or any of the rest of it. I didn't choose to have to deal with comments about how skinny I am, or how I should wear more makeup, or just anything about my ass. Compliments do not mean I avoid those stores or streets, but dissections of my body under my clothes definitely do.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:17 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, dude, you can't go around worrying about this stuff, it'll drive you crazy.

Something important to remember is, offense is taken, not given. As a man, 90% of the women I meet are happy - genuinely, honest to goodness, happy, not some societal-norm drive facsimile of happy - to have an honest compliment about appearance given, in a straightforward, non-suggestive manner. Some women like the suggestive manner, too, but that's a topic for a different subject.

But there are always going to be those wrapped up in intellectual angst, who question the motive of every man who says something nice. Sure there are cretins and creeps out there who say "something nice" and it's perilously close to abusive. And I know this article isn't about that - it's about the fundamental structure of gender relationships to begin with. It's about the idea that a man can give a compliment to a woman and it's okay, but not to another man - and that somehow, that discrepancy betrays the fundamental inequities. It does - and there are inequities.

But trust me. You don't want to strip it down to its fundamental meaning. You don't want to strip away the complex facade that our society constructs, including those legacy applications of manner, caste, and class. That's what modernist architecture does. It strips away the facade of ornamentation to reveal the fundamental structure of a building. And it only succeeds in a few places - more often than not you are left with a hideous abomination that commits the worst sin of all - boredom. The grotesqueries of ornamentation hide that, and help us live in a world that's much more livable, even if the structure underneath is flawed in scale and proportion.

Vive la différence!
posted by Xoebe at 10:26 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, my niece just turned 15, and my mother-in-law stated that it was time for her to learn how to put on makeup and wear heels... luckily, my sister-in-law put her foot down and flatly refused.

As a guy, I find make up totally repulsive; I have since I was a little kid kissing my grandmother on the cheek. It tastes and smells horrible. Heels are just bizarre, they make the legs look unnatural and gross... and I won't even get into cutting open your chest and putting bags of water inside your body.

As far as compliments, my wife tells me that even guys who tell their wives that makeup doesn't matter, that heels don't matter, many of them see their wives all made up and tell them how nice they look, and so reinforce the wearing of that stuff anyway. She says she appreciates that on those rare occasions when she does wear makeup, I tell her I don't like it and that she looks (and smells) better without it. YMMV.
posted by Huck500 at 10:33 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is the affect of hair colour on authority for women? Are younger-looking women taken more seriously than older-looking women? (research or anecdata welcome)

I've got fictional anecdatum for you: there's a scene in Y: the Last Man in which a naval captain soliloquizes about dying her hair in a dying world. Her claim was that it wasn't a matter of vanity for her, but a virtual necessity for holding the military unit under her command together. Because it would be terrible for morale if they were reminded every time they saw her that they were under the command of an old woman.
posted by baf at 10:33 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


It means I'm not invisible, and it generally means you're focusing on something other than my cleavage.

Well, sure, "wow, great tits!" is a pretty unambiguously creepazoid thing to say and obviously I'd never say anything like that. But the line does get blurrier. If someone is wearing a fantastic dress, for example, which also happens to be pretty low-cut and you say "wow, what a great dress!" do they hear "he really appreciates my taste in clothes" or "he really appreciates how little this dress impedes his view of my tits"? Even the things you instance as "safe" can be problematic. If someone who doesn't usually wear very "fem" clothes turns out in high heels and a dress for some posh soiree and you say "wow, those shoes are gorgeous" I know it can sometimes seem to imply "at last you're dressing like a woman ought to dress and not in the tedious frumpy way you usually dress."

Even more inherently complex are things like hair (after all, the look of your hair is partly deliberate aesthetic, partly just the way your body is). And what about when you know that someone has been really working hard on getting fit, say. Is it o.k. to say "wow, that exercise regime has really been doing wonders for you!"--I mean, that's a deliberate aesthetic "shaping" of the body. I wouldn't hesitate to say something like that to a guy friend--I'd be really hesitant to say anything of the kind to my women friends.

I guess it all goes into the "people are complicated and messy and when you lived in a fucked up society it just ramps up the possibility for unhappy exchanges fiftyfold."

Just to throw in a little further complication: I do know a 50-ish woman who feels really saddened by the fact that she thinks she no longer draws any sexual interest or attention from male passersby. Personally, I think she's extremely attractive and that this is mostly in her head, but I know it's a real problem for her. She dyes her hair and we've talked a number of times about whether she should just let it go gray. I vote for letting it go gray because I think she'd look great with gray hair. She, on the other hand, feels (and many of her other friends--both male and female--have said this more or less explicitly to her) that if she lets her hair go gray then she's just "given up." Now, this person is one of the smartest, take-no-bullshit, ultra-competent women I know who is a major figure in her professional field. She is nobody's "victim" of the patriarchy and would fillet you six ways from Sunday if you tried to suggest that she was.
posted by yoink at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as compliments, my wife tells me that even guys who tell their wives that makeup doesn't matter, that heels don't matter, many of them see their wives all made up and tell them how nice they look, and so reinforce the wearing of that stuff anyway. She says she appreciates that on those rare occasions when she does wear makeup, I tell her I don't like it and that she looks (and smells) better without it. YMMV.

I'm guessing that those guys do that because of the work that goes into getting "made up." I'm definitely with you on the make up front and on the few occasions where my wife has worn make up, I haven't mentioned it, mainly because she rarely wears make up that isn't applied by someone else(our wedding is basically half the times I've seen her in make up). On the other hand, if she had spent hours putting on make up and getting it perfect, even though I don't really like the look of it, I'd probably tell her it looked nice so that she didn't feel like she'd done all this work for nothing. It's kind of like how I think my wife's weight is fine, but I know she would like to be trimmer, so if she notices that she's lost weight then I'll probably say something positive about that.

All that's not to say that it isn't reinforcing bad gender norms, just that those guys who say they don't like makeup might genuinely feel that way, but tell their wives they like the makeup for other reasons.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:43 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, yoink, don't let this put you off of giving compliments! I love giving compliments, and receiving them as well. I think people need to say more nice things to each other in general. If you compliment someone in a non-creepy manner, odds are that person will appreciate it. Odds are also good that someone, occasionally, will take offense. But the few such incidents you're going to come across are so very, very outweighed by the number of times that your "I love your coat!" will probably brighten someone's day and send them along with a smile. Then, I also take the time to look up not-very-famous people whose work I have enjoyed and send them little notes of appreciation about that. (The famous people will never get my letters, so I do not bother.)

I'm just enough of a dark cloud that I enormously appreciate little things that make me smile. Enough small negative things get passed along from person to person that I'd hate to see the positive ones diminish as well.

I mean, obviously don't be creepy. But it doesn't sound like you are. So, hooray! Compliments!
posted by Because at 11:07 AM on February 17, 2012


As a guy, I find make up totally repulsive...As far as compliments, my wife tells me that even guys who tell their wives that makeup doesn't matter, that heels don't matter, many of them see their wives all made up and tell them how nice they look, and so reinforce the wearing of that stuff anyway. She says she appreciates that on those rare occasions when she does wear makeup, I tell her I don't like it and that she looks (and smells) better without it. YMMV.

See, this is so...insulting to me. I'm sure you mean it to be nice, to your wife of course and probably, if you're like other men I've heard say this, to women in general. But comments like this are infuriating to me (which on its own is pretty embarrassing that I even care, but...)

Makeup, and here I'm not talking about bright colors or anything applied to be noticeable or artful, allows me to look what passes for normal. I hate the word normal in this type of discussion, but what I mean is this. I have, or have had at various times in my life, acne, rosecea, surgery scars, dark circles under my eyes, oily areas, and very pale skin. I can look red/blotchy/spotty, exhausted, ill, drab, sad, and shiny, or I can spend 5 minutes with some stuff from the drugstore and look awake, not sad or drab or ill, with nothing like scars or red spots to divert attention away from, say, my smile, eye color, what I'm saying, what I'm doing, etc. If the world was suddenly rid of makeup by men who either believe that makeup = the evil patriarchy or that women just look better without it, I'd lose that. I am not a shallow person but I would really, really hate to leave the house if I couldn't have my five minutes and my drugstore stuff to make me look like...myself.

So what I think men are saying when they say stuff like this is, "I like women who were born flawless, and luckily have stayed that way. Women who don't need any "correcting," any outside "help" to look closer to the way they feel. I like those who are naturally beautiful, and therefore those who are not naturally beautiful, or those who are not beautiful at all, can go..." I don't know what. I'm sure you don't mean for anything bad to happen to us. But the result is that we'd be even less visible. I'm glad y'all have perfect wives, that must be great for you and for them! And of course it's the right of any man to choose not to be with a woman who prefers a little brightening up before she goes out into the world. But men being against makeup feels very close to some dating "survival of the fittest" rule, in a game I would lose. (I'm losing already, anyway, even with my minor little skin problems covered, but still.) It's like saying, "I don't like women who eat healthy and work out to stay slim, I only like naturally slim women." Well OK, but where does that leave the rest of us? The anti-makeup thing reads to me like just another well-meaning way of telling women what they should look like and how they should get there.

So yeah, I guess my M does V.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 11:15 AM on February 17, 2012 [35 favorites]


Because: Unfortunately, a user comment on "If It Looks..." nailed creepiness: "I’ve never met a woman that thought a man they found attractive was being sexist, and likewise if they find a man unattractive his wishing a “good morning” is often construed as harassment. (Men are not exempt from these unintended duplicities.)"

It is by no means universal (some sexism or other comments at too blatant to ignore, and some people are more attuned to linguistics and meaning), but it's very, very common. And therein lies the complimentary (!) individual's comundrum: Am I attractive enough to compliment this person or not?
posted by Neuffy at 11:29 AM on February 17, 2012


I'm glad y'all have perfect wives, that must be great for you and for them!

I'm not who you're responding to, but I also voiced a generally pro-no make up position, and I'm not really sure why you're assuming that my wife doesn't have "acne, rosecea, surgery scars, dark circles under my eyes, oily areas, and very pale skin." There are plenty of things about her skin that a lot of women would cover up with make up. She doesn't, and I happen to prefer that, not because she her skin is perfect, but because I prefer the "imperfections" to the appearance and feel of makeup.

I agree that it would be a problem to hate makeup, but demand perfect skin, but I'm not sure that that's the case for most men who don't like makeup.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:36 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


So what I think men are saying when they say stuff like this is, "I like women who were born flawless, and luckily have stayed that way. Women who don't need any "correcting," any outside "help" to look closer to the way they feel.

The "no makeup" look isn't, at all, the same thing as the "flawless skin" look. A woman who has "put on her face" doesn't look remotely like a porcelain-skinned 16-year-old, even if that was the effect (in some abstract way) that she was going for. The "full makeup" look is a particular aesthetic effect. It's not simply a subtle erasure of "blemishes."

So if a man or woman says "I prefer women with no make up" he really, really isn't saying "I only find women with flawless skin attractive." He really is talking about two entirely different ways of presenting yourself to the world.
posted by yoink at 11:38 AM on February 17, 2012


@Neuffy: There's some evidence that this starts /really/ young, and that telling your baby girls she is "cute" or "good girl" for no specific reason, other than they are generally cute or good can be very damaging. . . .
So, this stuff probably isn't so specifically gendered early on


It is. It definitely is. Baby girls are praised for being pretty, baby boys are cooed over for being active. Baby girls' onesies say "Princess" and baby boys' onesies say "Team captain." When our kids were both resisting getting dressed, my sister-in-law and I simultaneously said to them, "But if you don't get dressed..." I told my son, "... you'll be cold." She told her daughter, "... you won't get to wear your pretty sweater." Even if you're aware of it, it is actually hard to avoid praising a girl for her appearance because we're so conditioned to do it.
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:42 AM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


So what I think men are saying when they say stuff like this is, "I like women who were born flawless, and luckily have stayed that way. Women who don't need any "correcting," any outside "help" to look closer to the way they feel. I like those who are naturally beautiful, and therefore those who are not naturally beautiful, or those who are not beautiful at all, can go..."

This really nailed it for me too. I was born with hyperpigmentation on my face -- darkened skin in patches under my eyes, like gigantic freckles. I can live with it, I don't hate it so much that I would want laser surgery for it, but it makes a huge difference to my face to put on a bit of Dermablend before I go out -- literally a transformation. My boyfriend is one of the few people I'll show my unmakeup-ed face to, because he shows me every day that he loves it with all its flaws.

When I hear that men (or other women) say that they hate makeup on women, what I feel they mean is that they hate effortful beauty -- the greatest trick is to look beautiful, and make it look like that's what you look like when you fall out of bed -- naturally slender, naturally perfect skin, like a Maybelline ad. And what they may mean is they hate the full makeup look, but that's not usually what they say.
posted by peacheater at 11:53 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


So what I think men are saying when they say stuff like this is, "I like women who were born flawless, and luckily have stayed that way.

A more charitable reading is "I don't think women need to be flawless to like them." I'm a big fan of my wife unmadeup. I know exactly what flaws she's covering up when she puts it on, I just happen to think that her flaws are part of what make her who she is. However, I'm also not willing to ask her to look a certain way just to make me happy. If she wants to wear makeup, that's her choice. She's the same person either way.

I completely understand how "I prefer women to not wear makeup" can come across as "I prefer my women naturally perfect." As somebody pointed out earlier, that's part of institutionalized inequality, it poisons all the wells of interaction, because you can never be sure who's bought into it and who hasn't.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:53 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Baby girls are praised for being pretty, baby boys are cooed over for being active.

There's a great classic sociological experiment where they take a bunch of babies of both genders and dress them first in pink and then in blue and get groups of people to describe them. When they're dressed in blue it's all "he's such a strong little guy, he's going to grow up to be a football player" and when they're in pink it's all "she's so cute and pretty, she'll be such a heartbreaker when she grows up."

I have several friends who've had kids in recent years and it just amazes me going into most big department stores and looking at kids clothing how almost satirically over-the-top the stereotyping is. You never have even an instant of wondering "are these the boy clothes or the girl clothes." On one side of the store it's an ocean of pink, on the other side it's cowboys and rocket ships and cars. Truly horrifying.
posted by yoink at 11:59 AM on February 17, 2012


chickenmagazine: " It is. It definitely is. Baby girls are praised for being pretty, baby boys are cooed over for being active. Baby girls' onesies say "Princess" and baby boys' onesies say "Team captain." When our kids were both resisting getting dressed, my sister-in-law and I simultaneously said to them, "But if you don't get dressed..." I told my son, "... you'll be cold." She told her daughter, "... you won't get to wear your pretty sweater." Even if you're aware of it, it is actually hard to avoid praising a girl for her appearance because we're so conditioned to do it."

We specifically praise my daughter for being smart, telling us stories and puzzling through problems. Too many people think that the best praise for a young girl is that she's "cute," "pretty" or "beautiful.' Which she is, without a doubt. But it's important that she be proud of her brains, too.
posted by zarq at 12:00 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gygesringtone: "A more charitable reading is "I don't think women need to be flawless to like them." I'm a big fan of my wife unmadeup. I know exactly what flaws she's covering up when she puts it on, I just happen to think that her flaws are part of what make her who she is. However, I'm also not willing to ask her to look a certain way just to make me happy. If she wants to wear makeup, that's her choice. She's the same person either way."

Well said. I feel the same way.
posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on February 17, 2012


And what they may mean is they hate the full makeup look, but that's not usually what they say.

I think this is a lot of what's going on. I don't care one or another if my wife decided she wanted to start wearing a tiny bit of makeup to cover up acne or whatever; I don't think she needs to do it to be attractive, but if she wants to do it and it's not too expensive, it's no skin off my back. The full make up look is what I actually object to, the other I just find unnecessary, even when covering up what would generally be seen as significant "blemishes."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:03 PM on February 17, 2012


When they're dressed in blue it's all "he's such a strong little guy, he's going to grow up to be a football player" and when they're in pink it's all "she's so cute and pretty, she'll be such a heartbreaker when she grows up."

To the extent I'm doing this, it's in order to not piss off the parents. I never know what to say to parents about their little blobby people so you have to just kind of guess. And if you accidentally call a baby boy beautiful (it occassionally happens that babies are beautiful) watch out!

Our country is getting more gender-oriented by the minute- it's like the 1950s all over again, only the 1950s, from what I understand, was a deliberate movement, to get women back in the house after WWII.

People at the dog park even get upset if you don't relate to their DOG in a gender appropriate fashion.

I am so grateful I grew up when/where every kid wore brown corderoy overalls.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:35 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read something about a female musician (maybe Larkin Grimm?) who grew up in some sort of commune situation, and whose mother forbade (successfully) anyone around her from commenting on her appearance in any way, positive or negative. She credited her relative lack of body image issues to this.

This is in no way practical or possible for most parents. But I think about it a lot.

There are (at least) two interrelated things here: the gender policing and the reduction of women to their appearance. As a parent, I actually feel pretty good about my ability to combat some of the former b/c of who I am and where I live. If my kids see Daddy put on makeup once in a while, and hang around with all the wonderful flavors of non-traditional gender presentation we have here, I figure it has to do at least some good. I feel much more at sea about the appearance thing. Even in kindergarten it can hit pretty hard.
posted by feckless at 1:02 PM on February 17, 2012


My experience with wearing make-up has always been this. EVERY. TIME.

I like makeup and wear it 99% of the time I'm out in public. Not particularly colorful, but the so-named "natural" look. I had a close friend who once went on a campaign to convince me that wearing make-up is patriarchal, that I'm a victim of the system, the whole spiel...culminating in her telling me that I'm wearing a "mask" to conceal my true self. I seriously wanted to turn around and ask her what made her so sure she wasn't wearing a mask herself. We all have social personas, self-conscious ways of presenting ourselves to the world. Some of them have to do with looking attractive to certain people, others not. The problem with giving/receiving compliments has to do with society's overemphasis of one aspect of a person's self-consciously constructed public persona -- physical attractiveness. Whether or not those physical aspects are "natural" (born conventionally beautiful) or "contrived" (wearing 'flattering' clothing, putting on make-up) is irrelevant and is missing the point.

So I honestly don't like these appeals that rest on those strands of feminism that equate "natural" with "good/autonomous/sincere" and "unnatural" with "bad/coerced/insincere". It's what's led feminists astray in dismissing transgender women as not being "real" women and to pointless nitpicking about whether wearing short skirts or striving for 'slimming' outfits or wearing makeup is a sign of patriarchy or empowerment.

I think it's perfectly fine for men to have a personal preference on whether they find a makeup-less faces attractive or not and I'm certainly not trying to pick on anyone in this thread or attribute thoughts to them. I just figured, since we're on the topic of make-up, I wanted to air this opinion out, since I hear all too often from men that "women look so much more beautiful without make-up, when they're natural". I honestly think it's unfair that men aren't allowed to wear make-up, and kind of wish our society would take a hint from other cultures and let men wear that sexy kohl eye makeup (or more, if they want).

In sum, I think it's not so much whether we pay attention to how women adorn their bodies, and compliment them on it, but how much we do it, and whether we use it as a crutch for ignoring other more important aspects of their humanity.
posted by adso at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


I agree. To me the point shouldn't be that make up or heels are bad (though that's my mom's generation's version) but the less clear-cut/ harder to define "do what you want- men AND women, but don't feel obliged to do so."

I like make up and I like heels. I also like it when women dress "butch" and men wear make up and heels.

Unfortunately, all these adornments have inevitably become symbols of a bigger fight against gender roles. I don't see a way around that.

The silver lining is that their gender symbolism is a lot of what makes them so fun and sexy to subvert.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:48 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, hearing that a bunch of men prefer women without make up doesn't make me feel any more empowered than hearing that a bunch of other men prefer women with make up.

Now, hearing that a bunch of men decided that women can adorn themselves however they like, without being critiqued by men in any way--that would make me feel empowered.
posted by milk white peacock at 1:53 PM on February 17, 2012 [20 favorites]


Why do these things always get turned into "I'm a man and this is what I do/don't find attractive"? You see this in threads about overweight women, too. "I love women with love handles!" The whole fucking point of the article is that women are constantly told what is/isn't attractive about them, and that affects their self-esteem.
posted by desjardins at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2012 [41 favorites]


desjardins, I always notice that, too. Unclear on the concept!
posted by small_ruminant at 2:12 PM on February 17, 2012


Now, hearing that a bunch of men decided that women can adorn themselves however they like, without being critiqued by men in any way--that would make me feel empowered.

There aren't all that many people alive who have no preferences when it comes to how people look. I'd be pretty happy to bet that there are guys/women who you think are attractive and guys/women who you consider unattractive. I'd also be pretty happy to bet that there are guys/women who you think would be more attractive if they did X (make up/no make up/these kinds of clothes/those kinds of clothes). If we define the problem as "people having any opinion at all about what is or is not more attractive" then we seem to be setting up rules for people who aren't human beings.

The problem is, surely, thinking that your preferences should have any claim over anyone else's behavior. I happen to prefer the minimal-to-no-make up look (mutatis mutandis). On the other hand, I think it's entirely up to my wife to decide whatever the heck she wants to put on her face. I think, as a general rule, women and men should wear whatever the fuck they want to wear. But that doesn't mean some people won't make choices that make me think "yeah, right on!" and others won't make choices that make me think "Dude, WTF?"
posted by yoink at 2:13 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't say nobody's allowed to have an opinion. I said I'm not interested to know whether or not I confirm to your preference.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:16 PM on February 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


The problem is not what you think, or that you have preferences. (And don't think I'm singling you out.) The problem is that "I do/don't like X" in a thread like this, where X is some facet of a woman's appearance, is concern trolling.
posted by desjardins at 2:17 PM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I didn't say nobody's allowed to have an opinion. I said I'm not interested to know whether or not I confirm to your preference.

So we come back around to my initial question: if I say to you "wow, that's a cool coat you're wearing" is that "letting you know that you confirm to my preference" and therefore an act of objectification?
posted by yoink at 2:21 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The question about what it means that some men say they don't like makeup flowed very naturally out of the conversation about compliments and it was never about whether or not individual men find makeup attractive, but whether or not making the statement that you don't find make up attractive exerts its own sexist pressures; the conversation you're complaining about isn't happening.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:21 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fair enough, it's been a rotten day.
posted by desjardins at 2:29 PM on February 17, 2012


Yoink, not to my mind, no. But a better analogy to the make up question would be a remark like, "I prefer it when women wear that type of coat," which I think you probably would not say, at least in person.

By the way, your reconstruction of my typo doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:40 PM on February 17, 2012


Why do these things always get turned into "I'm a man and this is what I do/don't find attractive"? You see this in threads about overweight women, too. "I love women with love handles!" The whole fucking point of the article is that women are constantly told what is/isn't attractive about them, and that affects their self-esteem.

For what it's worth, I was trying to add to the conversation about how the culture surrounding these things can make it impossible to tell which actions are innocent and which are part of the problem (as in this comment).

I don't really expect my preferences to matter to the conversation, but I thought the makeup thing was was an apt example of possible intentions versus possible interpretations. Heck, THIS is an example of that. I should have been more conscious of the fact that this is an issue where my words don't just exist in the context of what I say, but of all the crap women have had to put up with. I apologize.
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:40 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The question about what it means that some men say they don't like makeup flowed very naturally out of the conversation about compliments and it was never about whether or not individual men find makeup attractive
Yeah, no offense, but if it's not about whether individual men find makeup attractive, then guys really shouldn't say shit like:
As a guy, I find make up totally repulsive; I have since I was a little kid kissing my grandmother on the cheek. It tastes and smells horrible. Heels are just bizarre, they make the legs look unnatural and gross... and I won't even get into cutting open your chest and putting bags of water inside your body.
Because seriously, whether he meant it that way or not, it comes off as yet another voice informing women what we need to do to avoid being repulsive and bizarre. And honestly, I just am not particularly interested in random strangers' opinions on that matter. Is it that hard not to discuss this topic using that particular tone?
posted by craichead at 2:50 PM on February 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


By the way, your reconstruction of my typo doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.

Typo? Sorry, I don't see what you're talking about.

Yoink, not to my mind, no. But a better analogy to the make up question would be a remark like, "I prefer it when women wear that type of coat," which I think you probably would not say, at least in person.

Well, I might very well say "I really find trench coats attractive." Or "I love cloche hats." And by extension if I say that I love cloche hats I'm saying that I enjoy it when women wear them. Any aesthetic judgment appeals to some extent to types and makes distinctions between the desirable and the undesirable. I've certainly heard plenty of women express strong preferences about men's clothes; actually, thinking about it, I've heard more women express strong preferences about men's and women's clothes than I've heard men express preferences about anyone's clothes. I tend to talk clothes with my women friends because the conversation usually peters out pretty quickly with my male friends.

There is something invidious, by the way, about the phrasing "I prefer it when women...." It suggests that I'm making a normative claim about women ought to do, when in fact I'm simply making a claim about what I, personally, find attractive. The last thing I want to live in is a world where everyone's aesthetic taste is the same as mine. I have strong preferences when it comes to literature, but that doesn't mean I want everyone who writes the books I don't enjoy to stop writing. Or that the artists who produce the paintings I don't like should burn their studios. I prefer it that women and men express themselves however the hell they want to express themselves. I'm just going to enjoy some of those forms of expression more than others.

I mean, I do understand your point (why should I be subject to male preferences in general in terms of how I present myself--and any retail expression of preferences always slides into that overall cultural nexus). And, in fact, I would never, ever, say to my women friends who wear a lot of makeup that I don't like the effect (unless, I suppose, they were to ask me point blank). Partially because make-up tends often to be a fairly fixed matter of personal style--unlike a particular dress or top or earrings or whatever, most women I know do much the same thing each day when it comes to makeup (unless they're going out for a night on the town or what have you) so it feels like a more personal comment than a comment on an item of clothing.

But the sensitivity that this thread has brought to the fore is a good example of the general "poisoning of the well" effect that I was talking about in my first post (although I think I'm stealing that exact phrase from a later poster). In an ideal and non-sexist world, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with someone saying "Hey, my personal preferences are X, Y and Z"--because in that world it would be simply self-evident that that was nothing but a personal aesthetic statement and that it could hold no claim to cultural hegemony over anyone who heard it. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world. And in this world when someone says something as anodyne as "don't you look lovely tonight" it can often prompt an entire evening of gnawing self-doubt. Which just sucks.
posted by yoink at 3:12 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


men have a right to express their make-up/no-make up preferences for anyone who expects them to kiss them. So my SO has a right to say "perfume smells bad to me" or "your lipstick tastes bad". I might still wear it, because I'm selfish like that, but I forfeit kisses from him. Not from other people, of course...
posted by jb at 3:32 PM on February 17, 2012


Context matters, and bringing it up in a thread which is specifically ABOUT how frustrated women are about being told by other people what asthetic choices makes them valuable or not is maybe not the best time.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:33 PM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


In an ideal and non-sexist world, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with someone saying "Hey, my personal preferences are X, Y and Z"--because in that world it would be simply self-evident that that was nothing but a personal aesthetic statement and that it could hold no claim to cultural hegemony over anyone who heard it. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world.

Why is it necessary to say "Personally, I like it when a woman doesn't wear makeup", or anything close to that, to a bunch of internet strangers in a thread that is SOOoo not about "Do guys prefer make-up or not"? In this unideal and sexist world, what is the down-side to not stating your personal preference on other people's style choices?
posted by 23skidoo at 3:36 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why is it necessary to say "Personally, I like it when a woman doesn't wear makeup", or anything close to that, to a bunch of internet strangers in a thread that is SOOoo not about "Do guys prefer make-up or not"?

You're acting like people started talking about this out of the blue, but they didn't. The conversation wandered a bit, like any other, but it flowed out of the topic at hand. Someone used guys who say they don't like makeup, but compliment their wives on it anyway as an example of the behavior that the thread is about. I offered an opinion on why that might happen, someone else offered the opinion that saying you don't like makeup is the basically saying that you want a woman with perfect skin, I disagreed, and we discussed for a bit is meant by "I don't like makeup." There aren't really any major jumps there, especially for the standards of internet discussions. The thread hasn't gotten more "off-topic" or been more derailed than 95% of other discussions on this site. No one is sharing anything that's further from the topic at hand than what gets shared in 95% of the other discussions on this site, but we never get the "why do you have to talk about that" line in those conversations.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:46 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


yoink, I think you hit the nail on the head in summing up the situation.

I feel like a lot of the dilemmas that present themselves when it comes to gender are kind of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenarios where everyone is screwed in some way or other. And yea, I think it's perfectly reasonable for men to have aesthetic preferences when it comes to bodily adornments of women (personally, I hate it when men wear white sneakers)....the problem isn't aesthetic preferences, it's the aggregate of all these aesthetic preferences that weigh down on women constantly through the system of complimenting/not complimenting their appearance every time they're out in public.

To make an analogy, giving someone a slice of cake is a nice gesture. Determining someone's self worth by the number of cake slices they have is a bad idea. Trying to live off of cake slices and nothing else is also a bad idea.

Also, I think we should give yoink a break. Ok, he expressed an aesthetic preference about women. Maybe not the best place for it, but he was trying to make a point, and it's hard to to make a point without drawing from personal experience. And it is an interesting point:

So we come back around to my initial question: if I say to you "wow, that's a cool coat you're wearing" is that "letting you know that you confirm to my preference" and therefore an act of objectification?

In other words, how does a person have personal aesthetic preferences, and express those preferences, without having coercive implications? It's an interesting impasse, I think.
posted by adso at 3:48 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


On one side of the store it's an ocean of pink, on the other side it's cowboys and rocket ships and cars. Truly horrifying.

This has been one of the minor yet persistently crazy-making things about the parental-consumer complex: How stridently gendered most mainstream, affordable children's clothing, toys, decorations, furniture and miscellany is.

You even find the whole "girls wear this color while boys wear this color" nonsense in clothing vendors like Hanna Andersson who are aiming at the kinds of buyers that Charles Murray would dismiss as liberal elites. (Look at where Andersson's retail outlets are -- Maclean, Virginia, White Plains, NY, Bellevue, WA -- for a hint at who their customer base is.)

It takes real time and effort to find child-related stuff that's not overtly gendered. And I still think I'm lucky in that I have a daughter: something tells me it's a hell of a lot more acceptable for a toddler girl to waddle about in a navy peacoat, waving her little hammer and wrench around, than it would be for a boy her age to be wearing a lavender hoodie and toting a stuffed bunny.
posted by sobell at 3:55 PM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why is it necessary to say "Personally, I like it when a woman doesn't wear makeup", or anything close to that, to a bunch of internet strangers in a thread that is SOOoo not about "Do guys prefer make-up or not"? In this unideal and sexist world, what is the down-side to not stating your personal preference on other people's style choices?

I didn't raise the topic, I addressed it after it had (quite organically) come up in the conversation. I felt it was relevant to express my own opinion because I was trying to address a distinction between (individual) matters of personal preference (which we all have) and normative claims about what people "should" do.

I am interested that the make-up thing hits such a nerve. As I say, I suspect it's because make up style tends to be so hard-wired that it feels like an extension of the body. If I'd said "I really don't like pill-box hats" I doubt the thread would be full of pill-box hat aficionados saying "why do you think you have a right to express any hat preference at ALL?"
posted by yoink at 4:00 PM on February 17, 2012


something tells me it's a hell of a lot more acceptable for a toddler girl to waddle about in a navy peacoat, waving her little hammer and wrench around, than it would be for a boy her age to be wearing a lavender hoodie and toting a stuffed bunny.

Well, certainly in middle class, intellectual circles. Girls who like "boy" coded stuff tend to get a lot of positive feedback. Boys who like "girl" coded stuff (especially girls clothes) seem to engender lots of angsty "I don't want to impose gender norms but I'm really worried about how he's going to find it when he gets to school" reactions. All quite understandable, of course (I mean, the school anxiety is entirely reality-based), but very troubling.
posted by yoink at 4:03 PM on February 17, 2012


Girls who like "boy" coded stuff tend to get a lot of positive feedback.

Not if they like it too much.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:05 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not if they like it too much.

I guess it depends on your social circles, obviously. In the academic/intellectual crowd I hand out in, I really can't imagine what a girl would have to do to arouse the same kinds of anxieties I've seen over "girly" boys. I mean, I guess if she were speaking overtly about thinking that she had been born into the wrong gender it would elicit a similar concern; but I can't think of a set of behaviors (clothing, recreational preferences etc.) that would be so "masculine" that the response wouldn't be "right on!" In fact, I see a lot of the opposite--a kind of hopeless apologizing for "girly" girls. I have close friends whose daughter has become obsessed with ballet (at age 3) despite all their overt attempts to raise her without any gender stereotyping etc. It's always very important to them to explain that it wasn't their choice and they didn't push her into it etc. etc. (which, god knows, is completely true). If she were obsessed with, say, woodwork or something, you can bet that there'd be none of the same apologetic tone.
posted by yoink at 4:26 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the "male gaze" is something a man does to me. When a guy will not leave me alone because he feels my vagina obligates me to receive his attentions, that is a man doing that to me, a woman.

Of course. But the problem is, "the male gaze" -- in feminist theory -- does not mean a creepy guy staring at you. It has a specific meaning relating to visual theory; here's Feminism 101's take. My shorthand is, it's the idea that movies, TV, etc. are shot with the camera taking a man's point of view, and so normalizing the male experience and making the female other and object.

So one reason I think these discussions often get ugly is that terms mean very different things to people. The plain English meanings of "male gaze" and "patriarchy" are very different from their coined meanings, so it's very hard to get anywhere in a discussion.
posted by msalt at 5:02 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


>>the words "sexism" and "partiarchy" and "male gaze" imply something done by men as
>>agents to women as passive victims -- which is itself a sexist, patriarchal distortion, >>ironically.

>....How....so?

How is that a sexist patriarchal distortion? Because it says that women are not involved in the transmission of culture, that men are the only active social force, that women are passive and weak and have no power to change anything.
posted by msalt at 5:31 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Personally, I like it when a woman doesn't wear makeup"

One of the things that drives me crazy about this statement (or similar ones like "I like women wearing long hair better" or "I like women in skirts") is that it conflates me as an individual who wears trousers, short hair, and cosmetics with the Archetypal Perfect Woman. I am not "a woman", I am me, an individual human being, and I get to have my own opinions about what looks good on me. To borrow a contested term, I don't think bare face and long hair flatter me, and I get tired of being told I should conform to people's ideals of Woman instead of dressing and picking a hairstyle and making up for myself.
posted by immlass at 5:36 PM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


>>the words "sexism" and "partiarchy" and "male gaze" imply something done by men as
>>agents to women as passive victims -- which is itself a sexist, patriarchal distortion, >>ironically.

>....How....so?

How is that a sexist patriarchal distortion? Because it says that women are not involved in the transmission of culture, that men are the only active social force, that women are passive and weak and have no power to change anything.


And to take the point further, it implies not only that they are powerless, but that they lack individuality and accountability for their actions. That they're simply reflections of their environment, rather than people who can affect society for better or for worse.

It's true that society exerts pressure on women, but women can also choose to resist those pressures to a certain degree, as much as any human being can resist societal pressures. It's not just a feminist issue. It's the fundamental question that asks what are the limits of free will, and who knows if we'll ever resolve that question.

Women are capable of making choices, and many of them are really bad choices. This is why there are plenty of women out there who are far, far more sexist than certain men.
posted by adso at 5:46 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Using the word flattering to describe someone's clothing is at best like the vague harassment of near-strangers with the line "What do you do?" and an unbidden "Good luck." When used on friends, it translates as ill-concealed hostility.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:47 PM on February 17, 2012


I see it like this - it's good to be aware of your own privilege in relation to other groups. If you're not black, asking a black person "ooh your hair looks so soft, can I touch it?" is a whole different ball of wax than asking a white person the same question. (Although, it's kinda creepy either way.)
posted by desjardins at 5:57 PM on February 17, 2012


Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short and wear shirts and boots because it's okay to be a boy; for girls it's like promotion. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, according to you, because secretly you believe that being a girl is degrading.

― Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden
posted by desjardins at 6:15 PM on February 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


and I get tired of being told I should conform to people's ideals of Woman instead of dressing and picking a hairstyle and making up for myself.

What is unclear to me is how you get from "personally I like it..." to "you should conform to my ideals." Personally I like white as a house color, but I strongly believe everyone should paint their houses the way they want--I don't want to live in a world where all houses are painted white. Personally, I like tacos, But I really don't give a hoot if you choose to eat them. The claim to have a personal preference seems to me to be the very antithesis of a claim to absolute normativity. You would not say, except ironically, "personally, I don't think that people should commit murder." If you genuinely believe that something is an ideal for which everyone must strive "personal" likes and dislikes really don't come into it, do they?
posted by yoink at 6:44 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is unclear to me is how you get from "personally I like it..." to "you should conform to my ideals." Personally I like white as a house color, but I strongly believe everyone should paint their houses the way they want--I don't want to live in a world where all houses are painted white.

Well, the house and the tacos can't hear you, and have not made any deliberate personal decisions regarding their appearance, and they don't care, because they're inanimate objects.

But consider this, if every time you visited someone's house that was not white, you felt compelled to point out that you personally like white houses, it would start sounding pretty judgey, no?
posted by desuetude at 7:30 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yoink, I really respect how you're trying to sort all this out, and how respectful you've been in doing so.

In a non sexist world " I like this" wouldn't equate to " you should conform to my ideals". Unfortunately, that isn't the world most of us inhabit. Women are constantly being reminded that we are expected to be decorative above all else. When men (or other women) make grand sweeping statements about how they like women to appear, it's a reminder that our job, first and foremost is to please others, not ourselves, and that there is no room for individuality.

Some women hate wearing makeup, others use it to conceal perceived flaws, there's even a few like me, who see it as a creative exercise. There's room for all kinds, isn't there?
posted by peppermind at 7:42 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way this post about women's experiences morphed into a post about men's preferences is a very good example of what the "male gaze" can mean. Hey guys: I wear what I wear for my own reasons. It's comfortable, I like the color, it was on sale. It's not for you, it's not about you in any way. It has nothing to do with you. I have no interest in your opinion. If you find it attractive, that's your problem--keep it to yourself, please, and let me go about my day in peace. Who says I want you to find me attractive? I am am not a decorative object. I am not here for your amusement. Get it yet?

And I love this gem from the first link: "penis fairies"! Yes, it's lovely when they disappear after you reach a certain age. I think I'm going to really enjoy this business of being an old lady. Whoot!
posted by Corvid at 7:48 PM on February 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


The articles linked in this FPP are more about women (and girls) complimenting other women (and girls). Are you interested in their opinion, Corvid? That seems to be the issue.
posted by msalt at 8:16 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, hearing someone else express a preference I don't conform to is like a cold slap in the face. On the other hand, what the other person prefers isn't really about me, it's about them.. and I'm checklisting myself against their expectations due to my own insecurities.

"Compliments" are weird, I think sometimes a person wants to say something nice to someone. Socially, there is the idea that a woman's value is apparent and a man's value is demonstrated. Complimenting a woman's appearance implies that she passes inspection, maybe.

I think people like to receive polite compliments. I know I do. I also sometimes think it might sometimes be nice to get compliments just for existing without having to do anything.

Any compliment paid a stranger who isn't actually demonstrating any value is only going to be superficial.

I'm only talking about polite compliments and I'm using your definition of polite, not my own, I'm not talking about catcalling, harassment, or telling people they're doing appearance wrong; none of those things are polite. I'm also not talking about telling any kind of person that they're ornamental and should just sit there and be looked at.

I guess I'm looking at the question "why isn't a polite compliment received and reciprocated like a random high five that bolsters both people and then they go about their business?"
I also guess that I've already read the answer(s) here and in the linked articles.


By the way, I've found all of your discussion of this topic valuable.
posted by TheKM at 1:45 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, the two responses to the first linked blog post are both interesting.
posted by TheKM at 2:16 AM on February 18, 2012


But consider this, if every time you visited someone's house that was not white, you felt compelled to point out that you personally like white houses, it would start sounding pretty judgey, no?

Well, yes: except that wouldn't be parallel to this situation, would it? What would be parallel would be if, in a thread about house painting, I were to express my personal preference for painting houses white. Somehow I don't think that the response would be an outpouring of people feeling hurt and upset that I had "judged" their own choices about house painting.

In a non sexist world " I like this" wouldn't equate to " you should conform to my ideals". Unfortunately, that isn't the world most of us inhabit.

Yes, exactly. I still think that this is the essence of this. I was thinking about this a little more last night and I suddenly realized that there's an almost exact gender-reversed equivalent to the "make up" thing, which is facial hair for men. Ask any man who has ever thought about growing a beard or who has actually done so whether it's hard to get women to express a personal preference on this issue. Or have a look at this Metafilter thread: it's full of female mefites announcing their personal preferences. And why shouldn't they? Why shouldn't women have a personal preference about this? It would seem bizarrely hypersensitive if any man in that thread had piped up to the effect that this was "objectifying" men or imposing some kind of normative standard on their self-presentation.

And yet, the preference is pretty much identical in form to a man's preference with respect to make-up: it's a combination of "how it looks" and "how it feels." Now, the reason it's unproblematic for a woman to say "I prefer clean-shaven men" or "Ooh, I love beards" is because of the structural social inequality that lies in the background which forces women to worry about their choices with regard to personal presentation as somehow essentially bound to their value as women while for men listening to opinions about facial hair, it's obviously just women expressing personal preferences that do not impact the men's essential understanding of their identity as men.

Hey guys: I wear what I wear for my own reasons. It's comfortable, I like the color, it was on sale. It's not for you, it's not about you in any way. It has nothing to do with you. I have no interest in your opinion. If you find it attractive, that's your problem--keep it to yourself, please, and let me go about my day in peace.

And again we come back to my starting point in the thread. It would seem, from this, that there are women for whom a simple "hey, what a gorgeous jacket!" or "wow, those earrings are fabulous" is an entirely unwelcome slap in the face. Which I can understand, but which I also find just saddening.
posted by yoink at 6:56 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Somehow I don't think that the response would be an outpouring of people feeling hurt and upset that I had "judged" their own choices about house painting.

There is no history of thousands of years of male (or any group) privilege when it comes to house-painting. Again, I point to my example of touching a black person's hair (if you're not black).
posted by desjardins at 9:31 AM on February 18, 2012


Honestly, touching somebody's hair unbidden regardless of the races/genders involved should get you punched in the face, so I'm not sure as to how I'm supposed to view it as any different if race is involved.

I think a lot of this discussion is coming back to the same thing that Trigger discussions do: To what extent is one required to act as though their actions (regardless of intent or actual meaning) may adversely affect the damaged and vulnerable. What kind of allowances should be made, and what exactly should our priorities be?

While unwilling to commit to this, I'm inclined to say that it's not worth dismantling useful social conventions such as casual, friendly compliments even if they hurt some people.
posted by Neuffy at 10:58 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


yoink, I think most women I know appreciate being compliments on their jewelry, or jacket, or shoes, or something. What they don't appreciate is when that compliment is clearly a passive-aggressive jab, and usually it is pretty clear when that's the case. If one normally dresses in jeans and a sweatshirt, and an acquaintance sees you in dressy clothing and says "You look so nice, why don't you dress like that more often?" then that is not terribly complimentary.

If you are complimenting a woman on a dress that happens to be low-cut and you are staring directly at her breasts while doing it, then no, she is not going to take it as a compliment about her fashion and taste. It is all about delivery, and for a guy who is sincerely interested in not offending or being creepy figuring out the delivery is not hard If you are not undressing her with your eyes when you compliment her sweater, then your compliment is probably well-received.

I don't know any of these women who despise men who give compliments about clothing and stuff that are honestly given in a non-creepy manner. Does anyone know these women? I feel like that is a strawman argument.

Also, the two responses to the first linked blog post are both interesting.
posted by TheKM 8 hours ago [+]


I found the first one pretty offensive. The author essentially accuses the original author of lying and argue other women should be happy to have guys masturbating in front of them, and if they don't like it they should say something because how else are guys supposed to know they should not be masturbating in public? Then at the end she sticks in some vague accusatory "woman power" argument, like women who react to guys sexually harassing them with terror instead of violence are weak and a failure. The fact that it is a woman making these arguments does not make them any less terrible. I guess this is an illustration of how women actively promote sexist culture themselves.

posted by schroedinger at 11:19 AM on February 18, 2012


I'm reminded of the Schrödinger’s Rapist thread (also known as Hi, Whatcha Reading?) in that it's not the stray, well-intended compliment that causes offense or misgivings, it's the accumulation of a lifetime of not-so-well-intentioned "compliments" that makes it occasionally difficult to distinguish between the two. I think that's hard to understand if you haven't been the recipient of the more insidious "compliments." However, I think the vast majority of well-intentioned compliments are taken as such, and I think that Neuffy's comment about "dismantling useful social conventions" is a strawman argument that no one has brought up.

NOTE: In order to prevent derailment, I am most certainly not saying that men who compliment women are likely to be rapists.
posted by desjardins at 11:29 AM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, yes: except that wouldn't be parallel to this situation, would it? What would be parallel would be if, in a thread about house painting, I were to express my personal preference for painting houses white. Somehow I don't think that the response would be an outpouring of people feeling hurt and upset that I had "judged" their own choices about house painting.

That's not parallel to this situation either. At all. In a thread about house-painting, feel free to talk about house-painting. In a thread about make-up, feel free to talk about make-up. In a thread about how certain seemingly-positive comments can make women feel crappy, talk about THAT.

This isn't a thread about make-up. Just because compliments ABOUT make-up make sense in this thread doesn't mean that this thread should be about anything that has to do with make-up. "Personally, I like make-up on a woman" makes about as much sense to talk about in this thread as "tips for getting the perfect smokey eye".
posted by 23skidoo at 11:31 AM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The author essentially accuses the original author of lying and argues other black people should be happy to have police harrassing them, and if they don't like it they should say something because how else are police supposed to know they should not be harrassing black people? Then at the end she sticks in some vague accusatory "black power" argument, like black people who react to police harassing them with terror instead of violence are weak and a failure. The fact that it is a black person making these arguments does not make them any less terrible. I guess this is an illustration of how black people actively promote racist culture themselves.

Someone did the race/gender analogy thing above and I read all the comments after that, including a response to my comment with that in mind.

This is an edit of schroedinger's comment at 2:19pm on February 18. It's not an attack on schroedinger or on anyone else. It also is not a rhetorical point in the service of any agenda. I generally hate the race/gender analogy, but I tried this substitution on while I was reading and thought I would share it.

posted by TheKM at 10:52 PM on February 18, 2012


"It means you can't look sad or even neutral in public because a stranger, a man, will inevitably order you to smile."
I know this has been covered on Metafilter before, but seriously this.

It's been a more recently development that men at my work tell me to smile. One would think that being in an extremely stressful and demanding job would allow me to look naturally determined in my work, concentrating on the task at hand, but no. I tend to walk fast and focus, eyes forward, occasionally giving a courteous little nod and half-smile at people passing by, but I still get told to smile at least once a week, by military and civilians both.

Amusingly, I've found that if I want to stave off the almost exasperated "smile!" comments, I have to wear makeup, which seems to create a balancing effect. I mean, if I'm going to have a cold and distant chronic bitchface, I should at least be a beautiful frigid bitch, amirite?
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:04 AM on February 19, 2012


blargh *recent development
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:06 AM on February 19, 2012


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