Saturday, December 29, 2007

no intelligent answer

One of my 9-year old daughters loves to come into the bathroom and watch while I put on makeup for an evening out. (The other prefers to wear brother's handmedowns, not giving a flip for anything girly-girl, yay). I don't wear much makeup on a day to day basis, so its quite high on her entertainment meter. She intently watches me apply each of my beauty wands, asking, "what's that for?" The other evening she asked, "why do you wear makeup at all, Mumsie?" and I was stumped. I had no intelligent answer, at least not one that promotes the image I'd like her to emulate. "Because I'm not confident enough to buck the modern feminine expectations?" I didn't want to put a pall over the otherwise warm mother-daughter bonding. And because, let's face it, I want her to learn the subtle methods of cosmetics rather than copy the dracula-esque junior high girls she so longingly admires.

This exchange with my daughter reminded me of one of the landmark books of my personal feminist odyssey: Femininty by Susan Brownmiller. In fact, I think about Brownmiller's words each time I stand before my mirror, debating whether to waste any more time applying my "war paint." Her book outlines chapter by chapter, various aspects that define what it means to be feminine. Pinker cheeks and lips, that's feminine. Dark lips of the nether region signifies arousal, Brownmiller argues. Perhaps we are unintentionally advertising our sexual readiness for prospective mates. (Most men in my acquaintance say they find makeup a hindrance. "Who wants to kiss sticky, red lips and get it all over my clean white dress shirt?" )Brownmiller says that feminine equals softer, fuller hair, sweeter smelling skin, longer, leaner legs and higher buttocks displayed to their fullest with high heel shoes. More prominent breasts. Quieter voices. Thinner waistlines. And on and on.

So why do *I* bother? Who am I trying to impress? My husband prefers me without. Am I trying to be pretty for my women friends? Why? I don't when I meet up with them for our gab sessions. I mostly seem to care when we go out in public or to mixed company affairs (men included). Do I want to attract a new mate? I don't think so. In fact, no. I can barely balance my marriage let alone add a tawdry affair on the side. I occasionally wear make up to the office. No rhyme or reason there, except that I think it helps me excude a more "polished professional" image. It's largely a mystery as to why I dab away, adding smudges on the edge of my eyelash line, shading to the side of my nose and under my cheekbones. And I'll stop trying to teach my daughter some ultimate feminist message during these make up moments. I'm going to work on just revelling in the fact that, for now, she cares what I think and wants to learn something from me. As Claytie Williams, the once-Texas gubernatorial-candidate-who-lost-to-his-female-opponent said on the eve of his defeat, "Its inevitable, so lay back and enjoy it."


Feminist Gal said...

i'll have to check it out, thanks for the tip :)

PhD in Yogurtry said...

Its a fairly easy read, as I remember. lots to think about. Thanks for posting -- you're my first commenter : )