My freshman year in college I had this professor who loved to play devil’s advocate. For the first ten minutes of class he would ask his students questions, just to stir the pot. I remember one day he started class by asking why men felt the need to have systems in their car. An idea was given here and there, but our professor was not satisfied. So he moved on to his next question; why do women wear high heels? Numerous people raised their hands; some said self-confidence, others said to feel pretty. But yet again, our professor did not seem satisfied. Eventually, I raised my hand and he called on me. With much certainty in my voice, I answered: “For attention.” A smirk came across our professor’s face, as if he finally received the answer he was looking for.
Now before some of you criticize my answer, let me give you a little back story. First of all, I was a self-righteous 18-year-old. Second, throughout my college years, my best friend and I would go on make-up fasts. The first time I participated in this fast was because I didn’t like how my confidence and comfortableness was dependent upon how much makeup I was wearing. For a brief period of time, I even was one of those girls that would get up hours before her 8am class to beautify herself. During that first make-up fast, I was trying to confront my insecurities. In all the following fasts however, I was trying to confront something beyond myself.
As some of you readers already know, I went to a small, private, Christian college. While there were some amazing men that went to my school and broke the conservative Christian male mold, there were quite a few who fit that stereotype very comfortably. I found that those type of men would base their attention on how well put-together I was. If I was groomed, hair done, makeup on, dress flowing, I was acknowledged. After having this realization, I began fasting anything purely feminine to confront the male students’ perspective of what a woman deserving of acknowledgment looked like. I stopped wearing frilly dresses, I stopped putting on mascara, and I stopped wearing high heels. I didn’t want to be associated with that kind of woman.
I detested these men, as I watched them gawking at each glamazon walking by. But most of all, I detested these women who, I felt, were just being patriarchy compliant. I would be walking to class, and seeing these girls with pounds of make-up on, I would instantly deem them not worth talking to. If I heard the clacking of their heels coming my way, my eyes would roll, and I would just sigh in disgust. “Here comes another M.R.S. degree-seeking student,” I would say to myself. But, what made me any different than the men at my school? These guys ticked me off, because they would dismiss me for not being well put-together. Yet, there I was judging each woman who was!
When my professor asked why women wear high heels, I thought I was so right in saying to seek attention, because I judged any woman embracing a very feminine look to be doing just that. I also thought I was better than these women, and a better feminist, by claiming to not care about how I looked. But, neither of these thoughts are true.
There is this notion that feminists cannot be feminine, or that they cannot care about their appearance. My 18-year-old college self would have bought into that, but who I am today no longer does. I believe a woman adorning red lipstick and high heels has the ability to be as much of a feminist as the woman who chooses to embrace her more natural state. Just because a woman wears makeup, does not mean that her heart, and what she stands for, cannot identify with feminism. This also means if a woman chooses to have hair on her legs, it does not inherently make her a feminist. I think there is a real problem if we try to say our outward appearances determine the level of feminist we are, because feminism is not about how we look. We need to stop caring if a woman slaps on a pair of heels in the work place, or if a woman choses to go bare-faced in public. What we should care about is if someone stands for the equality of women, and better yet the equality of humanity.