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On Why Makeup Choice Matters

I am saddened and confused by the overwhelmingly ignorant tone of the piece on the mainpage today about no makeup being a trend, in which Callie goes off on a long rant about how silly that is, because not wearing makeup doesn't have to mean anything.

Well, that's wrong. It's categorically wrong. It's sociologically wrong. It is factually in the world as we know it wrong. Not wearing makeup is a choice, just as wearing makeup is a choice. Uniquely, women are judged for either of these choices. Both are "marked" for women in a way that they are not for men.


Before we get to the brunt of what I found problematic with the article, lets stop for a second and talk about the idea of markedness and what it means. "Marked" is a linguistic term that has been around for a while that refers to the default state of a word versus a modified state of the word. Cook versus cook(ed). Cigar vs cigar(ette). Modified pieces of information that tell you more about the word itself.

Where it starts getting more nefarious is when we look at other types of modifications of words. For instance, the default assumption of most words in English is that they describe a man. We can tell this because the marked versions tend to describe a woman. Actor versus actress. Aviator versus aviatrix. We can see it in the default words we use; "He" is the default pronoun we use that can describe both genders (i.e. a medical guide might say "if a patient does not take his meds"); "she" means we are only talking about women. "Man" (as in mankind) can be used to describe all genders; "Woman", only ever one.

A fantastic specific example of how this idea of markedness impacts women more than men linguistically is the Mr/Mrs/Miss phenomenon. Men use the honorific Mr. There is only one default choice there; it is unmarked. Women used either Mrs or Miss; neither one was the default option, and both choices were marked. Both choices told you something about the woman than the same terminology for a man did not convey (specifically in this case, whether or not she was married). We now fight to use Ms, which is theoretically unmarked, although I would argue that it comes with it's own, different set of markedness in terms of how you judge a woman that uses it.

Now back to the subject at hand, sociolinguist Deborah Tannen was one of the first to bring this concept of markedness over to more strictly sociological observations and she has done brilliant work discussing the way men and women's choices involve markedness differently. I strongly suggest checking out this piece here (and pretty much all of her stuff, she's quite good), but she discusses specifically the difference in appearance and sartorial choices between men and women.


To riff off of one of Tannen's examples, think about a woman and a man who get up and get dressed in the morning for a business meeting. A man puts on a suit. That suit has pants. No one will judge him for wearing pants, because that is an obvious default, non marked option. A woman puts on a suit. That suit has either pants or a skirt. A woman will likely be judged on whether she wears pants, or whether she wears a skirt; we've set it up in our society so that each of those things means something. Both choices are marked. The woman does not have a default option that is the norm.

So let's talk about makeup, specifically. Men do not wear makeup. That is the default choice. A man that did wear make up is definitely marked. However, there is no default for women. Again, either choice is marked; it tells us more information about the type of woman you are. Wearing makeup sends one message; not wearing make up sends another. Is this wrong? Yes. But is it true? Sadly, yes.


I'm sorry that Callie feels like

It's terrifyingly overwhelming to think that everything a woman does has some kind of big hermeneutic repercussion


But the fact that that overwhelms her doesn't mean that it's not necessarily the case. And writing an entire article where she proclaims that not wearing makeup "doesn't have to mean anything" is, quite frankly, bullshit. It does mean something. It sucks that it does; it shouldn't mean anything. And it may not mean anything on a huge scale, but it absolutely has implications in the way the individual wearing it is treated and those cannot be denied. And trends in the way women as a whole are dealing with it are definitely noteworthy; if say, not wearing makeup became a default, non marked thing for women it would be different.

Imagine if she wrote an article proclaiming that not taking your husband's last name didn't mean anything. It does. We all know that it does. And to say that it doesn't is to minimize what women deal with on a day to day basis and to belittle the thought and care that we put into our decisions knowing they will be judged.


So saying things like:

"Seriously, though — some ladies don't wear makeup because they literally don't think about it ever!"


Is nonsense. Please correct me if I'm wrong, and tell me if there is a GTer or acquaintance out there (makeup wearer or no) that has literally never thought about makeup ever. I don't wear makeup; but I still think about it pretty frequently. And I definitely thought about it in depth at least at certain points in my life when I realized what not wearing makeup meant or could mean and how I would be perceived differently when I did. Hell; show me a 15 year old girl out there that has never thought about makeup and whether or not to wear it.

In some cases, she's guilty of overthinking it:

To posit that there must be some kind of big cultural reason for women to reject makeup-wearing is to imply that everyone sees makeup as a requirement of womanhood; to say that it's lazy intimates that it's a Female Duty.


It's not that makeup is a requirement of womanhood; it's that makeup or the lack there of makes a statement of your particular kind of womanhood.

the trend is about rejecting the notion that one has to make some kind of big, identity-affirming statement through his/her clothing.


Actually, since everything we've just discussed (as well as basic, human common sense) tells us that yes, what we wear and how we look does matter and it matters more for women than men, a choice you make is an identity affirming statement.

But we're not all required to wear makeup — so opting out isn't necessarily a statement.


And simply because something isn't a biological necessity does not mean that it is not a cultural or situational necessity - nor does the fact that whether it is a necessity or not does not mean that your choice to do it or not means nothing.

It could just be the result of disinterest in something that some women like to do and others don't.


And this is where we get to teh crux of the issue with the logic of the post. The entire point of this rant (and the work of Tannen and many others) is that women are not allowed to be disinterested. If you believe we are, you are not living in a realistic world. Whatever we choose, we have to spend time thinking about that choice and dealing with the judgements and consequences based on it. And that's not to say men don't deal with similar issues, but it is on a much narrower scale and it very much disproportionately affects women.

As Tannen says,

I felt sad to think that we women didn't have the freedom to be unmarked that the men sitting next to us had. Some days you just want to get dressed and go about your business. But if you're a woman, you can't, because there is no unmarked woman.


And it's true. This article upsets me, in no small part because while we can shrug and say "eh, makeup! superficial!" the same type of idea of markedness applies to so many other choices women make in their lives; the damned if you do, damned if you don't choices. Do you take your husband's name or not? Do you have a career or are you at stay at home mom? In some ways, the biggest current failing of feminism is not that we haven't succeeded in getting ourselves more options, but that we are still judged for these options in a way that men are not. Understanding that women and their choices are currently inherently codified and important in a way that men's are not is core to feminism and the almost complete lack of denial of actual implications of what she was speaking of when writing the post was infuriating to me. In case you guys didn't notice.

Here is Jamie Lee Curtis re-enacting me writing this piece:

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