Lipstick vs Feminism

Rosie the Riveter’s makeover

“You’re the kind of feminist I like” more than one man has said to me when discovering that I have a degree in women’s studies, yet have long hair on my head and none on my legs. In an ideal world, a feminist can be butch or feminine or gamine or sporty or granola or whatever, but in this world a woman who calls herself a feminist invites weird stereotypes, or simplistic labels like “lipstick feminist”.

Yes, really.

Yet my experience seems to suggest that a woman’s politics can be as radical as can be and that, as long as she looks pretty in a skirt and heels, she can attract a man. In a way, it’s sort of encouraging — equal pay, reproductive rights, the freedom to live without violence — most middle-class Canadian men seem to be with the program. So why is there still a fear that feminists are castrating hairy-pitted ugly bitches?

Actually, I think I might be more interested in another angle to that question — Is feminism supposed to free us from the pressure to look feminine? My answer: I SURE HOPE NOT!

My lips: go red or go home

I’m not saying I think we should all be trying to look like Stepford Wives, I’m saying we should be encouraged to express our femaleness in a way that feels comfortable to us, individually. And I don’t hate that there are beauty standards; I reject parts of the standards and adhere to others. We all have different tastes that we can measure against the canon.

I know women who have clearly decided they are not playing the game. They might stay fit for health, but they do not wear clothing that are anything other than comfortable, clean, and appropriate for the occasion. They don’t fuss with their hair, maybe they’ll put on some lipstick for a really special event. Because of my aesthetic sensibilities, I tend to want to give these ladies a makeover, to get them back in the game. But I should just back off. Not playing the game is a valid choice (unless you really want to play but are being held back by some fear). And there are plenty of men who think the game is stupid and gravitate toward the gals on the sidelines (however, be warned, these men are not exactly MVPs either, but if you don’t mind messy beards and corduroy…).

The original Stepford Wives, a horror film about “perfect” women

The rest of us are playing the game, but some of us haven’t been given the rule book. As a former makeup artist, I’ve encountered many women who wanted to look their best on a daily basis, but just didn’t know how. I would show them how to even out their skin tone, enhance their eyes, and add a rosy glow to their face. Often times, they would tear up a little because they hadn’t known that those markers of femininity were attainable to them! They were losing the game because no one told them when practice started and the coach ignored them (and this is why I should probably avoid sports analogies from now on).

The first step is admitting you have a problem desire: Yes, I want to look attractive. For men. (Or for women; I’m a hetero in a hetero world, here.) And people in long-term relationships are not immune to this either — Got to keep heads turning and the self-esteem up!

And I’m not so convinced by the “I do it for myself” stuff. Do I shave my legs in the dead of winter when no living creature aside from my cat sees them? Yes I do. I feel better and more put-together when under my jeans, wool tights, and winter boots are a pair of smooth legs. I feel more attractive, but do I do it for myself? Hmm, I think how I would look to a man is probably somewhere in the back of my mind and that’s ok.

My femininity is an essential part of who I am; it makes me feel alive. I get a lot of joy from trying to look cute and taking care of myself. No women’s studies major has ever criticised me for wearing makeup or looking too girly. Feminists, by and large, get it. We’re all on the same side, we just make different personal choices. Hurrah!

What makes you feel feminine?


  1. Great post!! I love your lip color in it as well =) Please check out my beauty blog as well ^__^

  2. Actually, I do dress up, put on make-up and shave for myself first. I am the type of person who wants to feel sexy and good about myself before she can even think of getting together with a man. How do I know this? Simply because my husband doesn’t care if I am hairy or I don’t have makeup. He thinks I am beautiful all the time. I don’t get it, but I always tell him—I can’t get intimate unless I feel good about myself!

  3. Oh, he appreciates the effort, but it is not always necessary for him.

  4. LOL

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