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.

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

    1. 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


  1. 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

    1. Thank you, Barbara. Bored with it – good for you!! Would that all women would get bored with it and quit! Thank you – bless you. <3

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 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

    1. 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

  3. 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

    1. 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

  4. 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

    1. 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

      1. I agree. It bothers me when makeup, or anything, is used to define what is masculine or feminine. It promotes transphobia and sexism. Yes, enough of the gender policing. It does harm.


  5. 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

    1. 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


    1. 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


  6. 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.


    1. 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.


  7. 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.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 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.


  8. 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.


    1. 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


  9. 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

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 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

      1. Awfully good of you to say so. And though my comment was accidently off topic, it is a deeply held belief of mine. In my novel, White Monkey Chronicles, I write of choosing incarnations. Of course, that begs the question, why anyone would choose a Earth journey. I speculate that the challenge of looks easier from the etheric realms. Once we are materialized and embodied, we are sometimes overwhelmed. Understandably. But the call is a worthy one, and usually keeps on ringing.


  10. Thank you, Mariana. I understand… it can be so hard to believe that a partner would love us, would find us beautiful and perfect and ENOUGH, just exactly the way we are… billions of dollars are riding on convincing us that no one could. I wish you well, also, and I hope and pray your granddaughter and all women find sources of truth and liberation to help us all survive this porn-sick world. Peace to you.


  11. Makeup is an interesting and strange topic. I have always found performative gender to be very confusing, which I am coming to understand is very likely related to my own non-neurotypical brain failing to pick up on those cues, or understand why it would be important to conform to specific gender roles. And given that my child is an Autistic Lesbian, who at eleven has always refused to climb into those boxes as well, this probably makes sense. As an adolescent I had the vague sense that I just didn’t know how to “girl” correctly. Makeup seemed mysterious and my mother would have certainly called me sexually loaded slurs if I had experimented with hers, so I never did. Hair and fashion also was beyond me. So I am 38 and I still don’t really get it. But I have friends who use makeup as a hobby. It’s definitely not about men. And some of the amazing things they do on instagram now are…kind of amazing. Art. I fully respect a choice to walk away from focusing on your image as it relates to the male gaze, but also think makeup and clothing as a form of personal identity and expression can be separate from that? It’s all very mixed up. Like for example, most men on you tube are also wearing makeup. And gender is so much more than we understood it to be when we were young. Thoughts on thoughts. <3

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t have the energy to wear makeup and shave anymore. I got so tired of guys telling me it’s “hygienic” meanwhile their dick is covered in pubs. I recently lost majority of my hair do to COVID, I was sick in ICU (I am in my 20s) I lost all my “friends” and my “boyfriend” he would down play how sick I was it would piss me off. saying “there’s nothing wrong with you” etc through text messages. I even had some male doctors downplay me too thinking I was faking how sick I was. I’m not sure it’s because I’m a woman or because I still look like I’m 16 but regardless, something I learned during this pandemic is how tired I was, tired of my hair tired of shaving tried of pleasing men who mistreat me half the time. I disabled my Facebook page after getting out of the hospital, I would get so many messages from horny men, they saw my profile picture (before I was sick) and get this idea in their head on how I was. Men imagine how you are based on your looks then they’re quickly disappointed when they realize you’re the exact opposite. My ex said he liked me, but I don’t think he did, he would get angry with me for not paying attention to what he was saying meanwhile he would completely ignore my text while I was in the Hospital saying how “busy” he was with work but yet he could update his Facebook and Instagram everyday it was BS. I did things for men I regret, sending nudes, trying to be sexy and “turned on all the time” in the past guys would only text me for sex when they wanted to, if I tried to text them or just talk to them when they weren’t horny I got ignored or one worded replied, if I did the same to them they would call me out on it.

    I realized a lot reading your post, we are condition to be in the male gazed, always sexy always pretty always willing to do whatever the hell he wants. Its time for it to stop, I’ll be 21 soon and things are going to change today. I won’t be shaving anymore, my hair is remaining short and I won’t be dating for a long freaking time, I’m so over guys my age I know if I date again I’ll just go back to trying to please them.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Well, I don’t think that makeup infantilizes women because it often makes women seem older than their actual age. Also things like full lips, nice eyes, and clear skin are attractive traits in females during their sexual peak and are not just associated with children but also with young, attractive adults. even women ask men to shave their private parts and their body and do all sorts of things, but we do not consider this infantilizing.


  14. Enjoyed the article, and particularly your comments about Vaginas towards the end of the article – I thought of the work of Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party and Through the Flower, in which she used the vaginal image to say exactly that. I also used to use lots of make up, but gradually it disappeared from my life as I aged – one of perks, I find, of being an old woman is that men no longer bother me and I am invisible – remembering how as a young woman I always had to deal with the social and literal predation of men, it is a freedom and a relief to be invisible.


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