Thursday, 31 January 2013

Paint me evil, paint me cruel

A woman boarded the Northern Line at Balham one evening, and settled into her seat. As the train rumbled toward central London, she pulled out her makeup bag and, peering into a small mirror, began to pat foundation onto her skin. One by one, as her skin absorbed the colour she applied, the men around her began to convulse, arrest and drop down dead beneath their seats. The woman stepped off the train at Camden Town, radiant, leaving a pile of dead bodies in her wake.

A friend of a friend opined on Facebook today that few things offend him more than women putting on their make-up on the train. I've heard this before (and it seems to be men that it annoys, rather than other women) and so this morning I canvassed some opinions on it. What is it about it that winds people up so much though? Unless it's something pongy like nail polish, surely it doesn't actually affect anyone other than the cosmetic-wearer herself? Yet it seems to provoke such ire, and it confuses the hell out of me.

Some put it down to an old-fashioned sense that one should just do one's grooming at home; that there's something inherently vulgar and indiscreet about making one's preparations in public. To that, I'd retort that if that's the most vulgar thing people are likely to see all day, they're doing bloody well; I can't see how it even compares to men (or women!) weeing in doorways or people getting fuckeyed and hurling across the street or the tube platform. I see those things every week in London, and I rarely hear many folks actually complaining about it - yet there seems to be something about the public application of concealer that really needles people. If someone's plucking their eyebrows (or nose hair...!) or clipping their nails in public, they'll be leaving residue about the place, and that's just not cricket - no-one wants to park their arse in a pile of fingernail clippings. But unless she has the hand-eye co-ordination of a toddler on a trampoline, make-up leaves no trace except on the wearer.

Another popular whinge is 'she should have gotten up earlier and done it before she left the house' - this hot indignation that someone has chosen to manage their time in such a way that they can sneak 15 minutes extra in bed, and do their final prep on the train before appearing at work looking fresh and composed. Jealousy, is it? It seems to me absolutely no-one else's business how anyone manages their time, unless it actually affects the people around them. I'll react sharply to anyone impertinent enough to suggest that I should have left more time at home to do it; maybe I'm coming straight from work. Maybe the electricity failed at home and there's no light. Maybe a giant panda ate my house before starting on next door. Maybe......it's none of your business and I don't owe anyone else excuses.

Or perhaps it has more to do with the notion that a woman should ensure she's presentable before she leaves the house and inflicts herself on the world. Why? Will men turn to stone or projectile vomit at the sight of a woman without a protective layer of slap hiding her pores? Or is there something unsettling for some folks, seeing women apply that layer in front of them?

I think this latter suggestion is closer to the truth. The kind of men that are honestly offended by it don't want to see women demystified before their eyes. We are, apparently to some, still meant to be pretty, flawless (blow-up) dolls. But it has no basis in logic. Chaps! Have you ever had a girlfriend? Have you ever sat and enjoyed a cup of tea while, beside you, she puts on her make-up for the day? So...you know what she looks like without make-up then? Here's a secret: lots of women look like that without make-up. Women don't have a duty to be beautiful in the first place; in this here century we don't have to preserve our reputations by winching in our real figures with girdles and corsets any longer, unless we want to, and nor do we have to wear make-up at all (funny how it's gone from the being regarded as whores' facepaint to something the media pushes us to wear for dignity's sake) - we get the choice to present ourselves however we wish, much to the noisy chagrin of misogynists, magazine editors and pre-feminist dinosaurs everywhere. Many do choose to wear it, and the world keeps turning. Love and romance and attraction and all the hokey shit that makes people have babies and carry on this argumentative species won't grind to a halt if men see how women make themselves prettier. We aren't goddesses, and this isn't illusive Oz; a woman darkening her eyelashes on a train is just that, no more or less.

There's a lot of talk at the moment about the fetishisation of women's looks (from the ugly furore that surrounded Mary Beard recently, to the Onion's razor-tongued skit on the objectification of women - Teenage Girl Blossoming Into Beautiful Object) and frankly we can't win; we're either wild-haired, unpresentable toads or stupid sluts who'll get what's coming to them. This bitter logic forgets that, actually, we can look however we goddamn want to - and we'll go about our business regardless of the hateful comments of small-minded mouth-breathers who let down awesome men everywhere. Dudes who loudly demand that women sport the "natural look" are plying a special brand of bullshit, because they don't really want to see a girl's spots, they want a perfect girl-next-door cliché. You don't want a woman to stop wasting her time wearing make-up, you just don't want her to apply it on your time. Tough tits - your time and our time have nothing to do with each other, because if you're whinging about a woman on a train she's probably someone you have nothing to do with. We aren't illusions or Athena poster girls, we're people who sometimes run out of time getting ready to go out, and if we can manage to apply a well-practised straight line across our eyelids on a moving train, I don't see what business it is of anyone else's. When was the last time a woman spilled a full bottle of foundation across your lap on the 38 bus?

There's nothing disgusting or offensive about a woman applying make up in public. If it offends you that much, divert your attention elsewhere - she'd probably rather you weren't staring at her in the first place.

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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Who's afraid of Mary Beard?

One thing strikes me amongst all of this arguing about the misogyny directed towards Professor Mary Beard and her strident and composed response to it; everyone's got so het up about the internet abuse that followed her QT appearance, that no-one's talking about what she actually said on Question Time.

Which is exactly what the bullies want.

Isn't the whole point of shouting someone down, abusing their looks or character and trying to hurt them, to shut them up? To shut down a discussion they don't like? You beat someone back into their corner in the hope that they won't be pert or strong enough to spring back up and continue to assert their thoughts. You see it in the playground as a child, and across Twitter on a daily basis, and in extreme scenarios like women who are subjected to physical violence to keep them in their place, be they wives in any country in the world with abusive husbands, or Malala Yousefzai, whose bullies were so scared of a child defending her beliefs that they thought shooting her in the head was a proportionate way to deal with the situation.

This week's trolls didn't like what Mary Beard had to say. But instead of combating it with fair argument and reasoned responses, they opted for "Well, NER, you're ugly, so there" sophistication and sexual threats (baffling, considering their stance on her looks, but let's remember, rape [real or threatened] is about power, not attraction - moreover, these people are idiots). In the wake of that, some have praised her for standing up to them, while others (women, no less!) have, missing the point somewhat, suggested that she's letting herself down by whinging about it something as insignificant as violent verbal misogny.

I'm immensely pleased that Mary has had the grace and guts to defend herself in the manner that she has. Her combination of personal unflappability and a frank refusal to accept that women should face such misogyny is exactly what the situation merited. I refuse to accept that the kind of verbal abuse she has faced should be the inevitable consequence of an intelligent woman expressing her views on a television show, and the fastest way to stop it is for women to stand up for themselves when they encounter misogyny, and for the men in their lives to support them in doing so.

But let's take a moment to recall the points she actually made; her opinion was as valid as anyone else's on that show, and for it to disappear under the mire of internet trolling and insults that had absolutely nothing to do with the televised discussion is wrong.

On the subject of a new ruling to allow Romanians and Bulgarians free movement within the EU, she spoke about a report by by Boston Borough Council on economic migration in the area, and said that it was a myth that the economic migrants in Boston, Lincolnshire, were overrunning the town. She suggested that they were actually benefiting the borough, and that local public services could cope with the incoming migrants.

And just so it's clear; in reposting what she said, I'm not registering my agreement or disagreement. My point is simply that, as an invited guest, she had as much right to contribute to the discussion, because unlike what her bullies loudly suggested, her looks have, again, absolutely nothing to do with the televised discussion.

Oh - and for what it's worth, I don't see anything wrong with Mary Beard's looks. Maybe it's irrelevant and even counter-productive to state that, but some of the defences I've seen for her have been, essentially, "she has the right to be ugly". That she does. But she isn't.

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