Recently, I had a discussion with someone close to me that she is shocked and saddened that her adult woman friends, friends she has known for years, have very little self-esteem and don’t seem to love themselves. This didn’t surprise me. We discussed the beauty standards enforced upon women at an early age, the mainstream pornification of girls and women, and how our society actively promotes women hating themselves – and thus that it is no wonder grown women still struggle with self-esteem.
I was reminded of this yesterday after receiving a post on Facebook from Pantsuit Nation involving a M2T individual coming out after years of being trans. He was coming out now because he is able to pass as a woman – with a full face of makeup and great hair (so apparently no one knew he was a M2T). This is similar to Janet Mock, who, when wearing a lot of makeup and his hair down, looks like a woman. But in a picture of him with his hair back and less makeup, he is clearly male.
Everyone on Pantsuit Nations went on and on about how beautiful this M2T is, how feminine, with some women even declaring that they wish they could look as beautiful as him. That’s right – somehow on what is supposed to be a feminist site, women were reduced to talking about beauty and how they wished they could be more beautiful.
I wish I could have stated that this individual was actually a man, so please stop referring to him as a woman, as having LIVED as a woman, and let’s not turn this site into a beauty club. Because he isn’t living as a woman – he is living as an extremely feminized man. And being a feminized man is PERFECTLY FINE.
Not only would it have been inappropriate to point this out on this particular post, but no doubt people would have angrily said “How can you say “she” is a man? “She” looks like a woman, people think “she” is a woman, so she is living as a woman…” In other words, THIS IS WHAT A WOMAN LOOKS LIKE – tons of makeup, long flowing hair, dresses, high heels, etc. Woman is now defined by makeup and hyper-feminization as opposed to just having a vagina.
Where, then, does this leave women who are not feminine, who don’t care to wear makeup, who are proudly butch? How does this impact the self-esteem of women who say things like “that transwoman looks like more of a woman than me?” We have all seen and heard these comments. Laverne Cox is especially good at eliciting comments from women about how they wish they had “her” curvy body. This isn’t a good thing. Feminism was trying to pull women AWAY from stereotypes of what makes a woman a “real” woman – i.e. makeup, long hair, big breasts, tight dresses that show off curves, high heels. And by parading M2T individuals as literal woman according to their ability to “pass” using makeup and having long hair, by affording them special status due to their femininity, and by constantly affirming their beauty as “women,” we are sending a clear message to women that THIS is how one is properly a woman; that what matters is not your biology but HOW WELL YOU PRESENT FEMININITY. And for those M2T individuals who state that they do not encourage this stereotype because they do not wear heels and makeup and dresses – that is moot to this particular discussion, and it doesn’t change the fact that individuals similar to Caitlyn Jenner, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Fallon Fox, India Willoughby, etc. are quite numerous within the trans world and have transitioned partially, mostly, or solely because they want to present as “femme.” The fact that M2T don’t always wear high heels and dresses doesn’t change the fact that a big part of trans ideology inolves mimicking stereotyped sexual presentations.
There is nothing natural to women about makeup, high heels, etc. It is a social construct to keep women insecure and relatively immobile. Hell, even long hair for women only is a social construct, as men have the ability to wear their hair long and in some cultures did/do so. That is why Mock’s assertion that whenever he got a haircut “the girl was being cut out of him” is so absurd – long hair is really gender neutral, or at least it should be, and plenty of girls happily run around with short hair. I did.
Which brings me full circle to my discussion about women and self-esteem. Women daily receive messages that reinforce the patriarchal standard that femininity equals woman. I didn’t begin wearing makeup until I felt pressured to as a heterosexual teen in high school. I still only wear makeup to work because I feel pressure to do so in order to be considered professional. This was especially pronounced when I worked in retail and was chastised for not wearing a full face of makeup. Truth is, I never feel like myself in makeup. I have never felt it to be anything but social pressure. Interestingly, I randomly found an article that sums up the actual reason many women wear makeup on, of all places, Allure magazine’s website. Here is a quote from the opening paragraph:
While beautifying can be a source of relaxation, bonding, and self-esteem, for others, it’s a chore — one which can take a real toll on us.
And here is another paragraph:
Makeup is a significant cost for women, especially those on the lower end of the earning scale. A survey by SkinStore found that women walk around with an average of $8 worth of makeup and skincare products on their faces per day, which works out to a whopping $300,000 during their lifetimes. This means that, for women who are earning minimum wage, more than an hour of the work day simply covers the cost of looking acceptable enough to be there in the first place — according to our strictly gendered beauty standards, of course.
Wow. This is quite impressive for a beauty magazine. The fact that a beauty magazine openly admits that women wouldn’t wear makeup without social pressure is, well, rather surreal. In other words, makeup is not natural to women. Even though it only addresses the workplace and not that women (including myself) can also feel pressured to wear makeup when going out – despite not wanting to – the article is quite revealing.
Which brings me full circle to our stunningly made-up M2T individual from Pantsuit Nation. Women will see this individual and, even though they are giving him positive messages, judge themselves as women by how much of a woman HE supposedly looks like. It will no doubt be unconscious, as is much of the internalized self-hate women experience is taken in from the world around us, from the messages present in every aspect of society – including how we must be perfectly polished with makeup or we are unacceptable to go to work. If femininity can and is what makes a male truly a woman, how are everyday ACTUAL women supposed to feel comfortable in their own skin? How are they NOT going to internalize this, unconsciously or not, as a clear message of gendered beauty standards? And how are women who are not feminine going to feel included as women when the message is clear: that femininity is what makes you a woman?
Well, we can change this narrative by simply saying “no,” putting on makeup does not make you a woman. This will not “erase” the existence of M2T individuals – Jenn Smith, for whom I have a lot of respect, is an example of a feminized male who, despite presenting as “femme,” still considers himself to be male because he recognizes the harm to women in saying that makeup, dresses, and high heels make a woman – and that saying he is male is not what causes violence against trans individuals.
And this does indeed do harm to women – just visit my post “Kick Ass” and listen to two “masculine” women explain that all that should matter in whether or not you are a woman is your biology. They explain that they never wear makeup or high heels despite societal expectations, and in defining men as women according to feminine performance by definition excludes women such as themselves – while affirming society’s gendered beauty expectations of what it means to be a woman. As one of the women’s pin says, “A woman is not a feeling.” A woman is not only NOT a feeling, but a woman is also not a gendered, hyper-feminized presentation.
As an aside I feel I need to address, the M2T invdividual on Pantsuit Nation states that “like all women” he has been sexually harassed – which has been used to justify M2T individuals as women (although the same people will claim that not all women experience sexual harassment, so women as a sex cannot be defined as a class because our experience as women are so different). Men mistaking a man for a woman and then sexually harassing him does not make him woman; similarly, a F2T experiencing male privilege is not suddenly a man. All these situations reflect is how the impression of someone’s sex leads to vastly different life experiences. It still doesn’t mean, however, that a M2T is now literally “living as a woman” or that a F2T is now “living as a man.” Furthermore, sexual harassment, over-sexualization, and sexual assault are present in every aspect of women’s lives as soon as they are born, and have determined the trajectory of women’s history and women’s future lives, so I do not believe sexual harassment of M2Ts justify claiming that women and M2T are one and the same, nor does it mean “we are in this together” as one M2T claimed online. Black Lives Matters makes it clear that despite that all races and ethnicities experience police violence, black people (and other PoC) still experience it in a unique manner that whites do not and thus deserve a movement in their name; it is the exact same concept regarding sexual harassment, women, and M2Ts.
Anyway, I digress.
Women have enough problems with pressures to present as flawless, to present as skinny and young, without the added twist of womanhood being attached to a presentation of hyper-feminization. I do not believe that this won’t have a further negative effect on the self-esteem of women which is already so attached to physical presentation. In fact, I find it kind of ironic that this post was on Pantsuit Nation, an obvious reference to Hillary Clinton – a woman who has been put through the shredder for not being feminine, i.e. womanly, enough. Feminism has been trying to MOVE AWAY FROM defining women as women according to makeup, hair, and how well we present as feminine. We cannot both liberate women from oppressive beauty standards while upholding feminization of women as a definition of what makes a women – which is what we do when we affirm M2T individuals as woman due to their outer presentation, according to their “passing.” Many M2T will say that they, too, are pressured to wear makeup in order for society to believe they are women – but this is not the same thing at all. First of all, many M2T transition because they relate to this femininity and, like Janet Mock revealed in her book, believe this relation makes them literal women. But more importantly, people don’t think they are women because they are NOT ACTUALLY WOMEN BUT ARE MALE. For women, people will think they are not women enough DESPITE ACTUALLY BEING WOMEN. In other words, women will never be good enough as themselves in this society, and to equate whatever issues MT2 individuals have with “passing as women” with oppressive beauty standards for women is misappropriation. To truly liberate women and allow us to love ourselves we must completely divorce ANY definition of womanhood from the presentation of femininity – regardless of whether it hurts the feeling of MT2 individuals or threatens their “gender identity” by stating that no, you aren’t a woman no matter how “feminine” you appear. What makes you a woman is your biology, no matter how “feminine” or “masculine” you present. Does this leave out M2T individuals in the definition of women? Yes, because they are male. But we must do this, WE MUST divorce ourselves as women from definitions of beauty because we cannot truly be liberated if we don’t love ourselves. And to do so, we must put ourselves, not the feelings or identities of men, first and foremost.
Many feminists are now starting to come to this conclusion – a conclusion I recognize radfems came to along time ago. So this article may be redundant and preaching to the choir. But with every incident such as the one on Pantsuit Nation (which I have since stopped following because I just could not swallow all those affirmations of beauty on a feminist site) we must, MUST reiterate how important it is for women to reclaim the definition of “woman” for ourselves, according to OUR biology, and not some social construct of beauty or some abstract feeling in a man’s head.