Once upon a time, a woman named Louise Mensch was an MP for Britain’s Tory political party. Last summer, Mensch suddenly resigned [last item], saying she could not juggle her young family and being a politician at the same time.
Since then, Mensch has taken up a somewhat … surprising … pursuit: she now runs a beauty and style blog called Unfashionista in which she blogs about how someone with tomboy style can please her man.
Mensch vocally calls herself a feminist in her blog posts and in op-eds she has written for the Guardian. But heads are scratching at how feminist it is to be dishing out hair, fashion and makeup tips to achieve “What Men Want”: light makeup, tight jeans and high heels, apparently.
On the one hand, I can appreciate that Louise Mensch entertaining a no-go zone for many feminists: is it wrong to present ourselves as sexually appealing? I say it’s a “no go zone” because no feminist in her right mind would suggest we need to look sexually appealing to men … and yet most of us have dressed in a certain way or did a certain beauty treatment (i.e. performed beauty work) at some point in time because we knew our partner liked it. Sometimes we just have an inkling of what our men like — say, when he compliments us wearing skirts and dresses. But other times we know more explicitly what a man desires and we do it just for him. For example, I got a Brazilian wax at an ex-boyfriend’s behest. And then I hated it and never got it again. I never would have gotten a Brazilian without his encouragement but he really wanted to see what I’d look (and feel!) like bare down there. Not my cup of tea, come to find out. But it was a fun little adventure over all — just because your political beliefs are feminist doesn’t mean you are immune from the dance of seduction. In fact, the act of seduction through beauty work can feel empowering.
Ergo, I don’t believe that dressing or primping in a way to appeal to your partner is necessarily “unfeminist” so long as you are choosing to do so because it makes you genuinely feel happy and desirable. Wearing sexy clothes or lingerie or heels can be fun; playing with makeup can be fun; getting manicures and pedicures can be fun. If you’re enjoying it and your dude is enjoying it, then good for everyone.
What is “unfeminist,” however, is the imposition that women must perform beauty work or else we’re ugly and inadequate. And society is all too happy to encourage us to feel that way: Capitalism is built upon the idea that perfection is only a few purchases away. That’s why the standard of beauty keeps being raised higher and higher — more and more money is being spent trying to achieve it. Our sexist (and, I would argue, racist) society creates this unattainable beauty standard that demands all women, regardless of their own desires, should look fuckable to straight men. Achieving anything even approaching that look takes time, money and a pain tolerance that not all of us share or desire to share. As Mensch writes herself, “It takes a lot of work to look this natural.” As Naomi Wolf writes in The Beauty Myth, the belief that all woman must be beautiful near-constantly is the “last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact.”
So, to the extent that Louise Mensch is pushing the idea women must appeal to men by performing all this work — and she does so with advice like “Men do want to see a confident, groomed woman who is relaxed in her own skin” and “Stuff your ballet flats, you man wants to see you swing it [in heels]” — no, she’s not very feminist at all. But I suppose if those are her true colors, I’d rather have her writing a beauty blog than working in government.
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.