Makeup and the Liberal Feminist

I aligned wholeheartedly with liberal feminism from my discovery of feminism up until pretty recently. In fact, I never even seriously considered anything else as having any validity. I still agree with many aspects of it, but came to the realization that some things just don’t make sense to me when I really think about them instead of just accepting them. Currently, I am trying to learn more and figure out my true views on each issue within feminism. Although I do not completely agree with all of liberal feminism anymore I feel that I have a solid understanding of it.

First, let’s address what liberal feminism is. Liberal feminism is the most common type of feminism and is hugely popular right now. Basically every feminist post you see on social media is liberal. For some reason feminist views on Tumblr are commonly attributed to radical feminism, but the users are overwhelmingly liberal and actually anti-radical. One of the prime ideas of liberal feminism is that women’s ability to to make their own choices will liberate them.

This means that liberal feminists are very pro-makeup. Liberal feminists point out how everything that a woman can do is criticized by someone out there no matter what, which is true. For this reason, liberal feminists believe a woman should do whatever they want and that any choice is empowering and feminist, extending to exploitative and dangerous things like prostitution. For many women, makeup makes them feel powerful, confident, and beautiful, which are all good things. So, makeup must be good.

This logic doesn’t totally hold up. Liberal feminism fails to look deeper and ask why does makeup make us feel better about ourselves? This ideology does not take into account that our beliefs are shaped by socialization and don’t just exist within ourselves as an individual.  Furthermore, how do our own actions contribute to perpetuating to this culture? Does my happiness with my choice help women as a whole? Liberal feminist typically prioritizes the gratification of an individual rather than the group.

Radical feminist Meghan Murphy brings up a good point in”Choice feminism: how our rallying cry got co-opted and why we need to take it back”, an article I accessed through my college database. She is going off of the example of sex work, but the idea applies: “Viewing prostitution as a personal choice frames it as an empowerment exercise and, in so doing, erases the context of male domination and female exploitation in which it typically occurs”. If feminism says that choosing to participate in patriarchal systems is positive, how do we combat sexism? If we say that women are fully empowered and free to do whatever they want, how can we maintain that we even need feminism?

Liberal feminism is accessible and easy. It tells us to love ourselves, which is great, but while never questioning any of our thoughts or actions. It allows women to continue conforming to patriarchal standards with the belief that doing so is feminist. Unfortunately, many liberal feminists see any real discussion on these topics as misogynistic for criticizing women’s actions. General points are taken as personal judgments. A true feminist, they would say, supports a woman’s choice to do anything. I believe that ultimately women should be able to choose whatever they want to do. But, as Meghan Murphy says, this does not mean that every choice is feminist.

I am not saying we need to go out and burn our eyeshadow palettes. I’m certainly not saying that we should start yelling at other women for choosing to wear makeup. However. I do think think that we need to start thinking more. We need to learn to reasonably discuss this without ignoring someone’s valid points because they take a critical stance. It is difficult to face the fact that your choices may be harmful and a product of your society rather than just yourself. I make the deliberate choice to wear makeup every day, no one is literally forcing me to and I don’t consciously do it with the mindset that I must or that I’m trying to impress men. I love to do it and it makes me happy. Perhaps that means that I should continue wearing it; I honestly don’t know. But at the very least I must be willing to think intelligently and look at the larger picture.


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