If you aren’t a woman, and your morning routine consists of brushing your teeth and throwing on a t-shirt that only has one pesto stain on it, the preoccupation with female appearance can seem a bit confusing. Men sit in bars and complain that it takes their girlfriend hours to get ready (don’t @ me, y’all know its true). Hilary Clinton, for her sins, was spot on when she discussed the makeup tax that comes with being a woman in the public eye.
The expectations placed on female appearance are largely predicated on the omnipotent male gaze. The male gaze is oppressive in two key ways. Firstly, it teaches women that they are to be looked at, because they are objects to be desired and then consumed. I was recently sitting at a hotel bar, yawning. A man walked by and said ‘Wow, that looks nice’ as if my sole purpose in life is to look as beautiful as possible for the benefit of strange men I’ve never met before.
The male gaze also oppresses women in the opposite way, in that it suggests that the female body is dirty and sinful and should be covered up. This is the mentality that blames rape victims for wearing short skirts, enforces ‘no bare shoulders’ policies at high schools, and blurs the female nipple on Instagram.
Amazingly, these two facets of the male gaze manage to coexist. You have to be sexy, because that’s all you’ll ever be, but not that sexy, that poor man on the bus can’t concentrate. Cover up, you slut. But not too much, you frigid bitch. One of my favourite things about misogyny is how self-contradictory it is, it literally makes no sense.
Women’s appearance is constantly being policed. Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all time, has been told by the French Open that she can’t wear her black Nike cat suit because it’s disrespectful. It takes real guts to tell anyone to take off a medical outfit designed to stop their blood from clotting and put on a small white mini skirt instead.
It always dazzles me how hijabs seem to bring out old, racist white men’s inner feminist freedom fighter. “Hijabs are oppressive’ they scream, ‘and there’s no place for them in Britain!’ Ah yes, Britain, that gender equality utopia. If hijabs are oppressive, so is makeup, so are high heels, so are waist trainers and lip injections and push up bras.
And yes, all the things I’ve listed may have begun as a means of controlling female appearance. But women are allowed to reclaim these things and use them as a form of empowerment. I feel pretty unstoppable in a mini skirt. Some women feel most powerful in a hijab. Women are smart enough to decide what is personally empowering for them. If you don’t like what I’m wearing, please write your feedback down and pop it in the suggestion box, which is handily located very close to your prostate.