A Gentle Rebuttal to Jezebel

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

Changing women’s behavior in those contexts (adjusting how we ask for a raise or how we walk) nets us nothing, because women’s behavior is not the problem. Sexism is the problem.

But grooming is different. Deciding to spend less time with a curling iron and a bottle of surf spray is not the same as deciding to change how you ask for a raise or how you walk. Time and money are fungible—the half hour you spend jabbing at your face with an extractor is time you could spend on some other part of your life; the $139 you spend on a facial brush could buy something useful or at least fun. Skip the hair removal treatments that involve any kind of burning, shocking or yanking, and you are absolutely going to see a net gain in hours and dollars. My article, at heart, asks what would happen if women spent less time grooming and more time living.

Moore points out that men waste time and money on “sports, cars and porn and still manage to get the promotion,” and that this is because of sexism. True. But grooming isn’t a dumb hobby on par with sports, cars, and porn. It’s a largely non-optional response to external pressures to present a feminine appearance. It’s a classic double standard: “appropriate for work” means one thing for a man and another, more expensive, more time-consuming thing for a woman.

Moore says my article falls into “the trap of wondering why women can’t just rise up and rebel correctly enough to change the tide.” But grooming is a case where rebellion is warranted; in fact, rejecting burdensome sartorial and grooming standards has a long feminist history, from suffragettes in bloomers to flapper Irene Castle bobbing her hair; from Helen Hulick refusing to wear a dress in court to Hillary Clinton in pantsuits. “Rebelling correctly” is, in fact, exactly what effects cultural change.

Finally, briefly, Moore says the following things, and they are all true: Not all women succumb to a burdensome grooming routine; many have got an easy, speedy uniform down pat. Yes, many women like primping (I’m guilty of primping! As she points out, a good lipstick can be very satisfying). And yes, men spend time on their appearances too—marketers will exploit vanity and insecurity wherever they can.

No one is going to completely abandon grooming; I’m not suggesting we all head out tomorrow looking like Animal from the Muppets. But we have to admit and address the fact that there is a vast gulf between “masculine” and “feminine,” and that that gulf swallows up a lot of money and time. We have to recognize when the very human desire to ornament one’s self, and to be admired, tips into a cultural pathology that privileges one group over another.

Photo: flickr/m01229

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