A Pride month post on the ugly truth behind the hate of men in makeup.
Update August 1st, 2019: Delighted to share that “Femmephobia” has been my most-read piece yet, having drawn hundreds of views a day. Despite it being a crowd pleaser, it’s cost me many business relationships. There’s still work to be done, friends: support allies and non-cis businesses. Question the world around you. Say ‘yes’ more, to that makeup you want to wear, to the way you want to look, to the life you want to live. xx
Sometime in recent years, never mind the brand, a makeup artist trainer of mine approached me on the job: our boss the founder, she informed me, happens to be of the opinion that while a little concealer is condoned, the further wear of makeup on male employees is not permitted. The founder “hates when men wear makeup.”
Plainly, the founder is of the opinion, “Men should look and act like men.”
Considering that she was speaking to a me, a man who wears makeup everyday of his life, I found the notion to be incredibly rude and invalidating and stupid.
“Oh, but don’t worry,” my trainer conceded. “Yours is fine.” To her, my makeup was tolerable and different because it was “imperceptible,” natural, and very “pretty.”
“But—” she continued, “there is one employee [at the store down the street] who wears so much mascara his lashes always look too long and girly. I’m going to have to tell him to stop.”
See the problem in her implication, whilst she stared dead into my own mascara-framed eyes? An employee can be a man working in beauty and makeup, and a gay man even, but only if his looks do not overtly resemble a woman’s. The subtext at play in this double standard was that a male-presenting man and his makeup, worn woman-like or “pretty,” are only ok if gone unnoticed and invisible, not when overt or ‘in your face.’ Worse: having effeminate features myself gives me a pass in her eyes, because even without a made-up face I would never be able to be ‘one of the guys’— to hell with that other guy and his lady-eyes though.
More insidious than homophobic discrimination in the workplace and said with the tenacity to imply this was not just an acceptable opinion but a popular one (was she wrong?): femmephobia, the hatred of all people who are perceived as femme, feminine, and/or effeminate regardless of their gender, leading to prejudice, discrimination, and gender policing.
I had to express to her why the phrase was toxic all considering, especially since I was the brand’s long-held reigning top performer and known for wearing makeup very liberally. That a man wearing makeup bears no hindrance to success. That a comment like that in this day and age is unacceptable. That I couldn’t allow her to say that to me or any other gay man or person.
Occurrences that challenge my effeminacy are everyday, which I no longer take personally, but I have to wonder: what is the idea, exactly, of how a man should be? Where was that phrase first learned, “men should look and act like men,” and who lied to you? That narrow definition is what hegemonic, toxic masculinity is built on. Men come in all shapes and sizes, and conforming to one idea of how men should be is burdening and detrimental. Sex (what is between your legs) and gender (your identity) are not synonymous; men can wear makeup because makeup is genderless and without restrictions. Makeup is a tool of freedom (more on that later).
The answer to why we police gender and effeminate men, especially with makeup, lies in intersectionality, the occurrences in which individuals experience oppression or privilege based on a belonging to a plurality of social categories.
Having grown up a man, and also a racially mixed man and gay, I think men inherit sexism and misogyny along with the white cis-hetero patriarchy. Women are not immune from perpetrating this, and neither are the LGBTQIAP+ community, but men in particular are taught early in life that women are emotional and unreasonable, and that men are superior for their strength and practicality. When the male imperative is to dominate and conquer as alpha, what can be said then for men who defy social norms and conventions, shirk their social destiny and take up domains commonly held by women, like beauty and makeup: they are perceived as inferior and weak and hated for it.
We know this androcentric dogma (men ‘looking like men’) to be false when given that at the heart of feminism is the fight for equality. When we fight for the rights of some but not the rights of all— including men effeminate or otherwise— we lose. Gender essentialism: the “attribution of fixed, intrinsic, innate qualities to women and men.” Gender essentialism also argues that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” and that women cannot be trusted with the autonomy of their bodies when their sole purpose is for reproduction.
Moreover, makeup hasn’t always belonged to the realm of Woman. The history of makeup happens to be steeped in gender politics; in fact, it was only until about the 18th century that makeup stopped being genderless: the kohl-rimmed eyes of Ancient Egypt were adorned by all classes and genders; the silken faces of 16th century Venetian elite belonged to men and women; the pale-privileging powdered wigs and faces of the 18th century French aristo-crazy a la Marie Antoinette saw no gender.
The Church in Middle Age Europe deemed makeup as deceitful, devious, dissenting and dishonest— like women— and perpetrates gender norms still today. Summarized: Judeo-Christian ideology teaches us there are two genders, man and woman, Adam and Eve, but this is a fiction meant to indoctrinate. Again, sex and gender are not synonymous.
After Queen Victoria sanctioned makeup as deceitful and condemned it to the likes of the marginalized, makeup remerged in the 1920’s Tut-mania craze as a female device. Men and makeup have been relegated to actors and musicians until the contributions of the recent beauty-influencer boom of YouTube and Instagram. CoverGirl’s first CoverBoy spokesmodel, James Charles, is a monumental step forward in men and makeup representing a mass-market brand, transversing the homes and makeup bags of many Americans and consumers alike, some who may never have even imagined a boy in makeup let alone seen one in person.
On this day, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots here in New York City, femmephobia is as pervasive as ever. In my own day to day, I often see cisgender hetero (meaning, corresponding their personal identity to their birth sex)(transgender means a person whose personal identity does not correspond with their birth sex)— often white— people with platforms, privilege, and power making choices on behalf of entire communities without being informed enough to represent the desires of those people. In LGBTQIAP+ circles, this cis-hetero-white rubric is often even more rampant, where we as a divided community traverse uncharted territories, which few before us have paved the way, on the march toward social equality. And in the realm of women that I impede on, like in makeup and beauty and the fashion world bubble I straddle— or even in public, in private, out for dinner, at my front door— I encounter those who seek to keep the world solely as it is and forfeit the possibility of change for the better.
Makeup is a tool of freedom. I know this because I live it everyday. Makeup allows me to take control of my narrative— to live, not the trappings I inherited, but the one I choose to live out on my own terms instead; like a privacy screen (not a facade), to say today I am not broadcasting post-acne scars and sun damage; today, my makeup says I have skin confidence and am an image of vibrant health: full, lush lashes and brows, bright and awake. It’s the best version of me. Sometimes my makeup is not about skating through life unnoticed; more so, the point is that I want others to see that I’m wearing makeup. Freedom in ourselves can help others find their own liberation. I wish more men knew makeup’s power.
While my experience is unique, I am not alone, which is why I continue to advocate for equality when I say makeup can be a powerful feminist tool, even in the face of adversity. Every move you make for women, by women or as a woman— like men in makeup, people lumped up just the same— can progress the equality of all.
Happy Pride xx