The Accidental Feminist recently directed readers to an article by Walter Kirn (author of Thumbsucker) in Elle magazine. The article is somewhat confusingly titled Pieces of You and is one man’s Ode to the Plains. Plain women, that is. I think the article is intended to be empowering for women, but, on the contrary, I thought his venom-filled diatribe against painted ladies smacked a bit of misogynism.
For those of you who do not know me in Real Life, I have a confession to make:
Hi, my name is Laurie and sometimes I wear make-up.
There are days when I roll out of bed, run my fingers through my hair, throw on a pair of jeans, and am ready to face the world. And there are other days when I spend 18 hours blow-drying my hair and applying an arsenal of creams and powders that could supply an entire okiya. In the immortal words of my friend Anthony: “That’s just how I roll.”
My last boyfriend– who is a wonderful person and still a dear friend of mine– practically forbade me from applying lipstick, waxing my eyebrows, or wearing heels while we were dating. The resulting feeling wasn’t empowerment, it was repression. I felt like I couldn’t be pretty for me, I had to be pretty for him. I was still conforming to a man’s ideal of beauty, just in a different way.
The Elle article is interesting because Kirn not only lambasts the poodles of the world, but he is (in my opinion) unintentionally insulting to the ‘plain’ women he claims to adore.
“… she caught my eye while walking toward me down an empty hallway. Straight hair, straight posture, straight in every way. Flat, too. And wearing glasses. Yet she was provocative as hell, like a stripper who was working under deep cover. She had a disciplined, stealthy sensuality that seemed to whisper to me as she slipped by: ‘What you see isn’t half of what you’ll get.’
I set out to get it, whatever it was, confident I would face little competition.”
This theme is repeated throughout the article. Kirn seems to take great pride in the idea that he’s attracted to women that no one else wants. First of all? I seriously doubt that’s even true. I bet lots of men are attracted to these ‘provocative’ and ‘sensual’ women, whether they conform to standard beauty ideals or not.
Secondly, throughout the article, I got the distinct impression that Kirn is attracted to these women not because they are ‘provocative’ and ‘sensual’ but because he thinks he’s the only one who thinks so. Maybe he’s insecure and fears competition or maybe he gets off on the power of being with a woman who’s grateful for his attention– it doesn’t really matter. The fact is that if a dude ever told me, “Hey, I’m the only person on earth who finds you attractive. Don’t you feel lucky?” I’d probably slap him.
It’s interesting to me that of the people I know who are openly judgmental of women wearing make-up and heels, all of them are men. I know plenty of women who don’t own a make-up bag or a razor, but they don’t criticize other women for doing so. They embrace the notion that femininity can be defined and expressed in a myriad of healthy and appropriate ways and that some of those ways may include the use of curling irons.
And yet I’ve known many men who feel strongly that women shouldn’t wear make-up or style their hair and who are very vocal on this subject. These men insist upon it with their girlfriends and lecture on the topic to any women within shouting range. They see their anti-lipstick stance as a form of ’empowerment’ for women, but is it really ‘power’ if it’s being forced upon you by your so-called liberator?
What do you think, Gentle Readers?