I’d like to think that, in being a woman today (and I use the term ‘woman’ lightly because I’m only 20 and let’s be real), I have it better than my mom did. She grew up in a time before mine, before the revamping of feminism was recognized as a serious movement. After all, she was twenty in a different century. I am twenty in the age of feminism (!) and the fight for equal pay (!) and…double standards (?)
When my younger sister was assigned with a paper on what oppresses her late in her sophomore year of high school, she found herself in a bit of a pickle. The question, she felt, was a bit silly to ask. What kind of oppression had she — an upper middle class white girl attending an all-girls private school in Manhattan — come under? She sat with my brother at dinner one night and discussed.
“Well,” he’d said. “Why don’t you just walk by a construction site and let me know how you feel?”
My brother was commenting not on the oppression Olivia felt based on her race (to her, there was none) but on the oppression she felt as simply being born a girl.
“How about when you put makeup on in the morning?” My brother continued. “When I do not?”
This was a point neither Olivia nor I had thought of.
I’ve been wearing makeup since I was fourteen. Every morning I wake up and slather on layers of foundation and concealer and eyeliner and bronzer and mascara to make myself look ‘socially acceptable.’ Even with my loaded college schedule, makeup-free days are few and far between. In fact, makeup-free days make me feel more self-conscious and more self-aware than I would feel had I put the makeup on. Taking the fifteen minutes out of my morning to beautify myself is when I make myself recognizable for the public. A makeup-free face is meant for the indoors, for the private.
But my brother, born and raised male, has never had to wear makeup in his life. As he told my sister that evening in December, he feels it’s because capital-S Society has never told him that his face was unacceptable. But, for some reason, Society told my sister and I the opposite.
Makeup isn’t a big deal — It’s a little eyeliner and a little extra primping — but the message it sends casts a much larger net. Makeup is a billion-dollar industry banking on women’s insecurities. Men are allowed to go out as they are, under eye bags and all. But not women. Purple circles under one’s eyes are a no go when they’re on a woman’s face.
The double standard, as my sister learned that night , extends beyond makeup.
One night last week, my boyfriend decided not to accompany me on a night out. I wore a v-neck shirt that dipped to a few inches below my breast with lacing up the front. The lacing was so thick that you could hardly see any cleavage even in my most scant bra. I didn’t see a problem with it: I looked good and the shirt was new. So, I went out with my friends.
Does your boyfriend know you’re wearing that shirt? The comment came from one of my girlfriends before I left my room. I told her he did, but why did it matter? She shrugged. We went out.
Later that night, I found myself talking to one of my friends’ friends, a boy whose name I couldn’t hear over the music. We were talking about our upcoming midterms when I saw him glance towards my chest. I immediately became aware of how he inched his body towards mine. I was against a table and backed myself onto it so that I could separate our bodies. He inched forward, and I placed my hand on his chest to keep the distance.
“I have a boyfriend”
“Not in that shirt you don’t.” He smirked.
It took everything in me not to shove him to the floor. I pushed past him to find my friend so we could call an Uber and leave. I called my boyfriend from the car and ended up running into his room when I got back, full of frustration.
“Do you have a problem with my shirt? I demanded.
“No, it looks good on you. I like it.” He said. And then more calmly — perhaps sensing my nerves — “You wearing that shirt doesn’t mean you’re unfaithful.”
And there it was: faith restored. He didn’t care that I’d worn it in the first place because my shirt didn’t mean anything. The clothes I chose to wear did not any way correlate to my ability to stay faithful to him, nor were they indicative of my character. But they appeared that way to that boy at the party. And for that, I felt upset for subjecting myself to the comment. But, it wasn’t my fault at all. Shirt or no shirt, I wasn’t slutty or promiscuous or a cheater. I was just wearing a new shirt.
There’s an apparent issue in the way that men and women are viewed by society today. I’m not the first person to write about this, and I will not be the last. Unfortunately, I do not have it much better than my mom did. Just like her, I will be called a slut when I wear a low-cut shirt. I will be cat called when I walk around in a skirt. I will be taunted for having the body I was born with. I will continue to purchase hundreds of dollars in makeup. I will not feel safe walking around a quiet neighborhood at night.
I am not free of the double standard women of my mother’s generation have worked so hard to relieve me of. I, like her, am going to be judged off my sartorial choices. And my life choices. And any choice I choose to make.
And, for better or worse, I will have to comply to someone else’s rules of how I should be.
I’m sorry, Mom.