Patriarchy is a pedophile – Why else does “feminine” always mean “sexualized little girl”? **TW rape** by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


I used to love to wear makeup. My mother (Goddess rest her wonderful soul) wore a ton of makeup; she was known as a beauty – compared by friends and acquaintances to Elizabeth Taylor her entire life. So when I neared puberty, I happily reached for the mascara, eyeshadow, and lipstick, assuming this was just a natural and fun part of growing up. It being the 80’s, eye shadow was plentiful… much of it blue.

I got better at making my painted face look more “natural” throughout the 90’s, but I still wore makeup almost every day, as a routine part of getting dressed. It seemed fun, but harmless. Then I dated an abusive man for four years in college, and he encouraged (pressured, shamed) me to wear yet more makeup, in much more dramatic (sleazy) styles. To please (appease, placate) him, I was soon sporting shiny red lipstick, long red-polished fingernails, high spiky heels, bleached hair, and tiny dresses from the Frederik’s of Hollywood catalog. And lots, and lots of makeup. I perfected the posture of chin down, eyes looking up through my lashes, dainty steps and swaying hips, voice soft and high pitched. I knew at the time that he demanded I look and act that way for two reasons:

  1. he was wracked with terrible insecurity and self-loathing; whenever he could win the prize for “best trophy girlfriend,” it soothed his terrible fears of his own inadequacy and failed manhood
  2. he demanded what porn had taught him to seek, so that he could mimic pornographic sex (and, of course, rape) in the bedroom (again, to soothe his deep and abiding fears of inadequacy as a male)

When I left him, I gradually shed that pornified skin. It took time to escape those many shackles, because he (and, of course, patriarchy) had trained me so effectively to believe that I was not truly human, and my main value in society was gratifying the male gaze. Over time, as my healing journey progressed, my clothes became less exhibitionist, my makeup became less frequent and less disfiguring, my chin lifted, my stride lengthened, and my ability to see myself as human grew stronger.

But I still found it reassuring, when heading out to a social event, to add that touch of mascara so that the big eyes all my partners had admired would look more doe-like, and that bit of lipstick so my lips would look a bit lush. Reassuring to camouflage any “unsightly blemishes” with a dab of concealer, to erase or minimize “flaws” and “inadequacies.” Reassuring to know I would be admired as “pretty.” Reassuring to know I looked “my best.”

But… then I became pregnant with my first child. Trembling, I checked the pregnancy test, my heart racing as the positive result appeared. Full of joy, I sprinted through my morning routine, eager to leap into this blessed, exciting, wonderful day of new beginnings! I automatically reached for my makeup kit. My hand paused, screeching to a halt of its own volition, inches above the cute little bag.

I stared at myself, stunned. What was I doing? What message was I sending my child? My child, whom I wanted to raise to love h/erself with total compassion and unconditional embrace, to see through the lies of patriarchal misogyny… was I really going to teach h/er that I needed to disfigure my face in order to please the misogynist male gaze? That I should hide my true appearance in order to gain anyone’s approval? Was I really going to model self-rejection, self-negation, and a definition of beauty as sexual submissiveness? In that moment, gazing into the mirror, eyes puffy with morning grogginess and recent tears of joy, I realized that I had never truly understood love or beauty or liberation before.

If I wanted my precious, precious child to believe s/he was inherently worthy of love… I needed to believe I was inherently worthy of love, too.

It’s amazing how easy it was after that moment, never to wear makeup again. It wasn’t/isn’t always easy to think affirming thoughts when I look in the mirror or at photos… billions of dollars and the foundation of patriarchy depend on convincing me that I look all wrong. Sometimes that’s a painful experience. But I’m never tempted. When I look at a mascara wand, or a tube of lipstick, all I see is a sword in the hand of patriarchy, meant to murder the self-worth, confidence and sacred dignity of females.

Because – what does makeup do, in the overwhelming majority of cases?[1] Answer: it tries to make females look babyish and sexually aroused/available. Let’s break it down:

  • Eye makeup: makes eyes look bigger, like a baby animal, nonthreatening, non-aggressive, powerless, supplicating, defenseless, childlike
  • Lipstick (etc): makes lips look fuller and redder, to signal sexual arousal, sexual availability, the mouth as an inherently, constantly sexual organ
  • Concealer/foundation/etc: hides wrinkles, scars, lines, age spots, and any sign of puberty or agedness, trying to achieve the most smooth, babyish skin possible: soft, sensitive, weak, childlike
  • Hair removal of various kinds: remove facial hairs, thick eyebrows, or any other sign of post-pubescent strength and maturity, especially when those particular signs are used by patriarchy to symbolize male strength/dominance… to look childlike.

What have I forgotten? It’s been so long since I wore any makeup, and I avoid misogynist “fashion” magazines so assiduously, that I’m sure our culture has invented countless more ways to torture and disempower females by disfiguring us. Just as the vast majority of pornography depicts men degrading and abusing women and girls, makeup reinforces the message that females exist as chattel to be used for perverted male gratification.

To be clear: I am not shaming women who wear makeup. As I said at the beginning, my own beloved mother wore lots of makeup, and I wore it for decades, as well. Also, our sexist culture tries to make wearing makeup seem like a female requirement in many settings. I am pointing out a system, analyzing at the level of class-based oppression. Females, as a class, are conditioned by patriarchy to submit to and even embrace our own disempowerment in many ways. This is one such way.

But I want to end with a message of gratitude. First, I am grateful to the lesbians I have known, especially the butch lesbians, who showed me that to be female does not have anything to do with makeup, with looking disempowered and sexually available (a.k.a. “feminine”), with hair length or uncomfortable clothes, with pornified degrading sleaze, or with giving any fucks whatsoever about pleasing the male gaze or pleasing any men whatsoever. I have known quite a number of truly wonderful, powerful butch lesbians, and they have my eternal gratitude for modeling liberation to me, even to this day.

And second, I am grateful to my two daughters, who even as I birthed them, they birthed me into a far more brave, honest, and authentic female self. As I have written before, vaginas are incredibly powerful… and we never, ever need apologize for who we are. Imagine if women and girls everywhere all tossed out the makeup, and tossed the vaginoplasty and labiaplasty, too! No misogynist disfigurements. Imagine if we understood, truly understood: we vaginas are gloriously, divinely powerful, perfect, and worthy of true, reverent, sacred, joyful love. Goddess doesn’t wear makeup… or any other shackles. She offers us freedom. We don’t need to try to look like Goddess; that’s the Grace of being born in her divine image… we just do.

[1] Some women (for example in goth subcultures) use makeup differently, in an attempt at subversiveness, trying to achieve a more formidable appearance. I understand that this topic has nuance that can’t be squeezed into a short blog post. Let’s keep talking.

 

Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.



Categories: Body, Embodiment, Feminism, Gender, Patriarchy

Tags: , ,

27 replies

  1. Wonderful post…this developing awareness of the ways we sexualize ourselves and are sexualized is the way through…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sara… yes, isn’t it interesting how much of our humanity ends up centered on our sex and sexuality. I agree, awareness is key. Bless you. <3

      Like

  2. I can’t even remember when I quit using makeup. I was bored with it. The points you make about how we sexualize ourselves using makeup are excellent. Thanks!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks for this post! I have a friend who loves makeup and declares she wants to die wearing red lipstick. I’m pretty sure she’d find a way to make a feminist case for makeup. Maybe someone will in these pages. I wouldn’t know how to. I haven’t worn makeup since a brief experiment with eyeliner at age 15. I quickly decided it was too time-consuming and demanded too much hand-eye coordination.

    I am sure as a young woman, I liked or wanted to be attractive, but only on my own terms. If I felt comfortable in my clothes and in my skin, I felt attractive. I also want(ed) my face to be my own. I love costume jewelry and it may enhance my appearance, but it is clearly an accessory not something designed to make me look younger or more alluring. I now have very thin hair and feel more comfortable in bandanas than with patches of scalp showing. I get to play with color. If the weather is warm, I like my clothing to be minimal, and I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m too old to wear a tank top. Being happy in my body is the priority. And I will say I do enjoy being too old to attract or give a flying fuck about the male gaze.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Blessed be, sister! I love what your words and the affirmation of your body – YES!

      Liked by 4 people

    • Elizabeth – thank you for sharing all that. I’m always happy to hear about women who were never enslaved by makeup, or by the socialization toward pleasing men with our appearance. For some women it is makeup, for some hair, for some size, or skin tone, or shape, or some other aspect of our appearance that we are taught to find fault with. Liberation is such a beautiful, precious gift. Bless your journey, and may other women follow your lead! <3

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Awesome post. I love (well actually hate but love the way you put it out there) the way you show how make-up adds to the child-like visage of we females.

    Made me think about high heels. While it doesn’t feed into the child image, it does hobble our feet (ala Cinderella) making us more dependent, shorten our Achilles tendons and forces us to arch our backs, none of which is healthy from a physical POV. I always joke (but its true) that my way of dressing up is to wear clean sneakers.

    Thanks for writing this.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Janet. I know what you mean about love-hate… it is satisfying and cathartic to get all this off my chest, but so frustrating and depressing that it needs to be said. I agree about high heels… my ex made me wear high heels all the time, and it permanently damaged my feet. it is so unhealthy and meant to be such a signal that females exist for the visual gratification of men, at the expense of their own comfort and health. I will never forget the line in Good Morning Vietnam when Robin Williams is joking about the word “Dyke” and he says “we’re not allowed to say ‘lesbian’ anymore – it’s ‘women in comfortable shoes.’ I saw that movie in high school… I wish I could have understood the power of that line at the time!!! Thanks agin, and bless you. <3

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What an awesome post.

    This post makes me think about gender and fashion too (something I’ve thought about, on and off). Namely, what is it about lipstick and makeup that makes it inherently for girls and women? Not that I need or want makeup in my life (it seems like a lot of work) but it is worth asking those questions about those arbitrary yet unnecessary double standards when it comes to gender and fashion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Brendan. I agree with you… it is an arbitrary and unnecessary double standard. Except not arbitrary in that it is part of the oppression of the female class by patriarchy, so it is all too concerted and logical within that systemic violence. It really bothers me when makeup is used as a way to define whether someone is masculine or feminine… as though a butch lesbian who doesn’t wear makeup must be a trans man, and a man who wears makeup must be a trans woman. Why must that be true? To me, makeup shouldn’t have anything to do with gender, because if it does, that makes feminine gender all about looking like sexualized little girls, as I describe above. I think it really insults trans people who have body dysphoria, to say that the simple act of putting on this pedophilic, sexist makeup turns a man into a woman. That is transphobic to me, as well as misogynist. So to me, women NOT wearing makeup and men WEARING makeup should all be equally acceptable as the reverse – and have nothing to do with “gender” in any way. Men who wear makeup are often the victims of hate crimes by other men who police gender, and that is just another form of misogyny– because it is the “sexualized little girl” aspect of makeup, which is considered “feminine” rather than “masculine” and therefore a breach of the gender binary, and a threat to toxic masculinity and to male dominance over females. People should be able to wear whatever they want, with no implications about sex or gender – that would really reduce misogyny and transphobia if we could get to that place. I had a number of male friends, gay and straight, who wore makeup growing up, and I know they were bullied because of it. And I know butch lesbians who were similarly bullied for not looking “feminine” – a.k.a. submissive. Really not ok, gender policing of any kind, imo.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. As always, thank you for having the courage to say what needs to be said. Having children also changed me, made me so much more courageous. I think it is terrifying for women to buck this cultural trend/pressure. Maybe if more men wore it, it would actually help. Also, your points about pedophilia are so important to highlight in this conversation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Tallessyn. It’s amazing to me how having children makes me so much more afraid… and therefore, so much more brave. I agree that it is terrifying to defy patriarchy in this way and in many ways. The more I think about the pedophilia aspect, the more it enrages me. Watch out, another poem may be brewing!!! Bless you. <3

      Like

  7. Great and courageous writing, thank you Trelawney. I have known these places – the lost places and the pathways out. It’s so good to see it spoken as it is.

    Like

    • Thank you, Glenys. I hope that if enough of us tell the truth together, we can build a pathway out to a better future. Bless you. <3

      Like

  8. It was wonderful to read this post, having given up makeup decades ago not only for the reasons listed, but another that no one has mentioned: the abuse of animals. When I was still wearing a bit of mascara, it was important that it contain no animal ingredients or testing, and those products are so much more expensive.
    Another aspect of altering of our body that no one has commented upon is the shaving/waxing of pubic hair. I can’t think of anything to make us look more like a little girl than that. I understand there might be a generational component? But I still don’t understand a woman volunteering to look like a pre-pubescent girl, as it seems quite creepy to me.

    Like

    • Thank you, Leanne – I agree about animal abuse and pubic hair. I did mention hair removal in the post, and that definitely includes pubic hair. I love Eve Ensler’s treatment of this topic in the Vagina Monologues. Very creepy to remove pubic hair – the porn industry has driven this trend.

      Like

  9. I appreciate your perspective. I stopped wearing makeup and shaving my legs for several years when I first became a feminist. I understand the tyranny you describe and the attempt to disempower women by infantalizing us.

    One day when I was in my parents’ home and lying around in my pjs, my mother asked me to get dressed and put on makeup. I said why, we aren’t going anywhere. She said, for me. And now most days even when I am not planning to see anyone, and years after my mother died, I get dressed and put on makeup for my mother. I don’t wear a lot of makeup and it only takes me a few minutes but it makes me feel good to look my best as my mother would have said.

    In regard to pottery and weaving it seems that women have always created things of use and beauty combined.

    So while I understand what you are saying, I choose to wear a little makeup every day. And I am typing with red fingernails and fingers enhanced by beautiful rings.

    Like

    • I know the feeling. My beloved mother occasionally asked me to do things… she tried to teach me how to act “ladylike” and look “my best”– as her culture and generation had taught her to define those terms. Crimethinc has a great quote I love so much it has been my email signature for years: “Beauty must be defined as what we are, or else the concept itself is our enemy.” That’s been my guiding principle for about 25 years now. It has helped me avoid many traps of self-rejection as my appearance, size, and abilities change with time.

      Like

    • I didn’t know your mother was a patriark.

      Like

  10. Thank you for this thread. I was never really an adept of the beauty culture—never very skilled at putting on make-up. It was not something my mother taught me. But when I look back over the years I did try to engage with make-up, it realize that I didn’t wear it to appeal to men. I wore it to mask my true inner self from other women. Having always felt different from the average woman of my age—too smart, serious, eclectic & spiritual—make-up for me became a kind of protective coloration that allowed me to feel like I didn’t stand out among the wives of my husband’s colleagues. At age 69, when I do wear make-up now, it is because I’m teaching or preaching about the Goddess and I want to do her honor by looking my best and enhancing the visibility of my eyes behind glasses.

    Like

    • Thank you, Mary. Interesting how we all have our journeys within the patriarchal soup! Different paths navigating the cultural pressures. I used to care deeply about looking “my best” as patriarchy defines “best” –which included making my eyes as visible as possible. It’s been liberating for me to symbolize Goddess as honored by looking like the opposite of what patriarchy tells us. Bless your journey! <3

      Like

  11. On a personal note, I had a difficult mother. And because I am bent towards redemption, I am my mother’s redeemer. I have made her Extraordinary. I have some idea how nutty this sounds. But if we think of time as nonlinear, then it becomes possible to redeem the past. Not only possible, but a necessary art. And at its essence, this art changes our fate, changes the future.

    As an avid cinephile, I am increasingly dismayed to see the women actors wearing masks of make up and botoxed, surgically-altered faces with fiber-filled lips. Recently, I watched Brad Pitt in Ad Astra, graying, wrinkled, whiskery. Then his ex-wife appears, the lovely Liv Tyler. Her lips looked like they ballooned considerably since she appeared in the TV series, The Guilty Remnant. I could only come up with one older female actor with an unaltered face. Meryl Streep. Bless her.
    As a playwright, I understand masks and the theatricality of make up, Goth girls, ritual, and masquerade. But it strikes me that women are voluntarily veiling themselves. Call it cosmopolitan burka, or metro purdah. The subscript is the same: the the female face is unsightly.

    Even sadder, is the sexualization of young girls. Human trafficking in young girls is, globally, one of the fastest growing businesses. It’s here, in our cities and towns. There is evidence that this taste for young girls, has been exacerbated by advertising, movies, magazines, cellphone screens. Women are marching for the right to bare their breasts, while we are losing our ability to bare our faces.
    Thank you, Mary, for sharing your personal journey

    Like

  12. This sooo embarrassing!! Forget that first paragraph, if possible. It was part of another post. It’s sounds even nuttier here, than where I originally intended it to go. Gosh.

    Like

    • Isabella I found your comment very thought-provoking and insightful. This statement “women are voluntarily veiling themselves. Call it cosmopolitan burka, or metro purdah. The subscript is the same: the the female face is unsightly.” is just brilliant. Rage on, sister.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you Mary for sharing your experience and how having your two daughters “birthed me into a far more brave, honest, and authentic female self”. You have given us much to think about in this highly-sexualised, porn-addicted society. When I reflect on why I wear a splash of lipstick and eyebrow pencil (eyebrows at age 71 have lost a few hairs/line) I know its because I want to look my best to attract a partner! I’m also an artist and paint women’s faces so love to get the proportions right!
    We’ve all been socialised to seek the gaze, to feel desired and loved by adorning ourselves in a variety of ways. I hardly ever wore high heels so didn’t have to give them up as I prefer comfort over fashion, but am amazed on seeing intelligent women, and feminist ones in the media and elsewhere, totter around on them, causing themselves possible harm, for the sake of fashion. The porn industry has much to answer to and it disturbs me that women and girls are feeling the need to change their bodies to fit in.
    Wishing you well and thanks for this valuable post that I’ve shared with my grand-daughter and others, but in my experience, most will scroll past.

    Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: