Sometime in March this year, I had made a Facebook post about a man commenting on my makeup and how “You look better without makeup. I prefer if you don’t wear so much”. This started a huge facebook war on my comments section which got pretty ugly.
To summarise what had happened, there was essentially two sides to the argument, one side fighting for the right for women to put on however much amount of makeup they want and that man should keep their sexist comments to themselves and the other more conservative side claiming that such women are “too sensitive” or that such comments made are simply rude and not sexist.
It’s been many months since then and I’ve had time to properly think about how such a seemingly innocent comment could spark such outrage. While I’m starting to understand the conservative argument more, I still stand by my belief that such comments and “suggestions” on a woman’s appearance is still considered sexist due to the patriarchal society we live in.
What is the difference making a rude/insensitive comment versus a sexist one?
A sexist comment stems from the fact that a comment about a woman’s appearances comes from the patriarchal society that we are brought up in. Therefore, the patriarchal connotations of those words are not simply “rude” but it comes from men being associated with positions of power in all aspects of a woman’s life. Society may be changing and while patriarchal associations in Singapore isn’t as bad as it once was, much of our actions still come from following a male authority as it has always been a cultural norm for most of my friends that the father is the head of the household. That said, a small group of my friends do live in a matriarchal household, and have to abide by the rules of the mother figure (but that does not mean that the female figures do not continue to perpetuate patriarchal beliefs on how a woman should appear and behave).
Something I would like to focus more on the patriarchal standards that a woman’s appearance is meant to be a performance for man to enjoy.
Experiences by three women I spoke to shows these unspoken rules of how a woman should appear. “My dad, he thinks (having bright hair and bold makeup) is disrespectful to my family and culture.” she said. Aside from being criticised by her family, she recounts on the moments when men have used her appearance as a way to insult and attack her. Therefore, a woman’s appearances has become a weapon used by men to bring down a woman’s confidence if it does not abide by their own standard.
“It doesn’t suit you”
Another friend recounted on how her ex-boyfriend had commented on her choice of lip colour and that it was “too bold”, “unnatural”, and “it doesn’t suit you”. In this instance, not only are the comments seen as rude but the comment of “it doesn’t suit you”, reveals that he is imposing a standard of how she should look by his standards, and any deviation from it is seen as unattractive.
“You look wild”
A friend also spoke of how her father casually commented on her wing-liner and that such a makeup look was not putting across the right message to others, “My dad told me that wearing wing eyeliner makes me look wild and that girls should not look wild they should look demure.” If the assumption that a woman should be “demure” is not considered sexist than I don’t really know what is. Most of such comments are often said without much seriousness as the patriarchal figure often doesn’t consider these comments as insulting, they consider it more of a cultural norm in which woman should follow.
For a man to be saying this shows how it has normalised the rights they have to comment on how a woman should look. The challenge now is that much of our cultural norms, if not all, stem from the standard imposed and created by men. They also assume that a woman’s choice of clothing and makeup is always meant to be a show to gain men’s appreciation and attention.
However, for woman now that is no longer always the case. Therefore, rather than having to follow these imagined norms, we have now learnt more and more that our body and our faces are ours to reclaim.
So no, I don’t care what you think of my makeup. Call it “rude” or “sexist”, whichever definition you prefer but it won’t change how I’m going to put on makeup. Because my makeup is my self-identity and any attempts to impose your standards on me is not going to work. I’m going to be confidently going out in my bold lipstick and winged eyeliner, till I die. So do I look better without makeup? I think I look better being me.