Underneath my yellow skin

Insidious gender norms

Gender is a hot topic right now and it’s something that I’ve reached an uneasy alliance on. I’ve settled on genderqueer, which, while it’s not exactly what I want, is the closest. That’s my M.O. for many issues, by the way. Close enough for government work.

But, there is much food for thought in the subject, obviously, and it’s having a moment right now. Especially with all the terrifying legislation being crafted such as the Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida. Which, is totally not about being queer, claims the Republicans, which is obvious bullshit.

The thing, though, is that as frustrating and infuriating as those bills are, there is another level of gender bullshit that is more insidious–gender norms on the level of ‘women must wear makeup’. Ask A Manager’s readership is overwhelmingly female. Something like 70-80%. They are also progressive, white, high-paying, and white collar. They are very much feminists, but for whatever reason, there are a few pockets of ignorance or refusing-to-see that just annoy the fuck out of me.

The number one is that anytime a woman or female-presenting person writes about not wanting to wear makeup at work, but worrying that they may be penalized for it, without fail, commenters offer ways to wear a little bit of makeup, but, honestly, it’s not really wearing makeup. Like only foundation. Or only mascara. Which, it’s still fucking makeup! I don’t understand how ‘I don’t want to wear any makeup’ keeps getting read as ‘Maybe you could wear a little makeup?’. I say that, but it’s rhetorical. I know why it’s happening. Patriarchy. The idea that it’s not possible for a woman to have her face be all naked and shit! Horror!

In this case, it was a letter by someone who identified their pronouns as they/them. They work in the luxury beauty industry, mid-level, and have gotten comments about their skin that they find intrusive (including suggestions for hiding bags under the eyes and acne) whenever they go into the office. They are female-presenting and uncomfortable with the idea that they may need to conform to gender beauty norms and asked if not wearing concealer may harm their opportunities at their workplace. They also noted that they don’t like wearing makeup now for many reasons. They just wanted to know if they had to wear concealer when they went into the office.

The very first comment asks why they took that job in the first place whereas the second one uses the wrong pronoun for them. Then there are several comments suggesting tinted moisturizer (!), sunscreen (!!), and other makeup-adjacent solutions. Which…I mean…just, no. They clearly state that they don’t want to wear makeup and just wants to know if it’ll negatively impact their career.

There were a few people pointing out that this was sexist in that men would not be asked any of these questions, even in a luxe beauty industry. Also, that that doesn’t mean makeup and that the OP might not have a client-facing role. Some commenters also pointed out that you can work in an industry without personally using the products.

But there were still several commenters who wanted to suggest products to deal with the bags and acne, which was not the question the OP was asking. At all. It got so bad, Alison had to put a blue note at the top (her box is blue) saying that these suggestions were unwelcomed. She included an add-on comment by the OP, who clarified that they were a queer BIPOC who was in IT and had been recruited by the company. It wasn’t a makeup brand, either. And that their immediate team was lovely. These comments were made by people from other divisions, who they only saw when they went into the office once a week or so.

A few people did say that they thought the disconnect was because some people viewed skincare as not being part of makeup whereas other people did. I thought that was an insightful comment. There were a few people who pointed out that skincare as a concept and industry was bullshit and that you really didn’t need to do anything other than splash it with water, which has been my own skincare regime for, well, my entire life.

Bottom line is, the OP was not asking for tips on how to deal with acne or eye bags. They wanted to know if their lack of makeup use would hurt their career. All the people justifying why they should be allowed to offer these tips really got on my nerves. But it happens every time there’s a question about makeup use. I’m an old feminist and it makes me sad that in 2022, women and female-presenting people are still fucking expected to wear makeup. And, no, ‘just a little’ doesn’t make it better when you don’t want to wear any at all. It’s fascinating (but also frustrating) that a commentariat that is usually so thoughtful about gender issues is so ignorant on this one. Not everyone, of course, but much more so than on any other issue.

The only time I can remember this much prejudice is the manager who admitted to being biased against her attractive report. There was a dedicated minority of the commentariat who were suspicious because they report had brought this to the attention of her manager’s boss, and the boss went to the manager asking if she was jealous of her report. This dedicated minority were outraged that the report thought so highly of herself as to point out the jealousy, even though no one actually know how that conversation went. They only got the summary from the OP, who was not an unbiased party. Plus, she clearly stated that she was jealous of her report. But, to the dedicated minority, it was suspicious that the report 1) knew they were attractive and 2) openly said they noticed the jealousy.

Both to me were ludicrous because you can absolutely know that you’re considered conventionally attractive by the way you’re treated. Which is also the same with jealousy. I could absolutely tell when other women were jealous of me for my looks, even if I didn’t agree that they had anything to be jealous of. Plus, the OP freely admitted that she was jealous and treated her report as such. It was wild to me that this dedicated minority tripled and quadrupled down on their sexist assumptions.

The whole makeup debacle showed me that this is such a deeply embedded sexist belief in our society. It’s being upended, thankfully, by the fact that gender is being whirled all about and more male-presenting people are becoming interested in makeup. Still. Men are not expected to wear makeup and as pointed out in the comment section, executive men in luxe beauty probably aren’t required to use their products.

It’s fascinating from a sociological point of view, but frustrating from a personal point of view. I wish we as a society would be better.


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