Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Beyond guyliner

As a matter of principle, I must approve of the fact that the most enthusiastic makeup-and-skincare routine "Into The Gloss" has yet covered belongs to a 16-year-old boy. Male beauty! Gender equality! And yet, I can't imagine that too many women, if a boyfriend or husband announced his plans to begin each day exfoliating with some kind of hi-tech exfoliation machine, and then carefully blend "Armani Luminous Silk Foundation in #2 and #5," with "Givenchy Lip Liner #3" on dressier occasions, would consider that a welcome development. Some - it takes all kinds - but as much as I believe straight and bisexual women do care what men look like, we really have been socialized to find makeup on men (with the exception of eyeliner on rock stars) unappealing.

But who's to say this is about the female gaze? (Not, alas, that I could imagine terribly many gay men wanting a partner with this routine, either.) As it happens, Harry Brant, the 16-year-old socialite in question, says just that: "I don’t know a lot of guys outside of fashion that wear makeup, but I know hundreds [emphasis in the original] of girls who complain about guys that don’t." In other words, Brant's vision of makeup-for-dudes is not about men/boys signaling their lack of interest in women/girls - which is, I would say, how most women/girls would interpret it.

Of course, 16 is young, and despite Brant's extensive participation in fashionable society (his mother's a supermodel, his father a gazillionaire), he's also a kid in high school. Regardless of his sexual orientation (a similarly dandyish older brother is apparently out; Gawker somewhat jumped the gun in calling the both of them gay role models), regardless of whether he personally wants to appeal to girls (and maybe he does!), he may feel some pressure, in an interview, to make this be about pleasing girls.

And quite apart from the gender-and-sexuality angle, what Brant has would be a ton of ridiculously expensive makeup for an adult, and so is noteworthy from that perspective as well. I don't quite know if the fact that gender norms are being subverted means we're required to ignore the whoa-such-spoiling angle. As in, I'm really not sure. Maybe?

Anyway, I read the profile and came away from it first thinking, gosh, this kid probably looks just fine without all the goop. More power to him if he wants to sparkle, or to present an androgynous appearance, but nude eyeliner? Does Brant come across as almost pathologically insecure because of the amount of attention he pays to getting his cover-up just so, or because we don't expect this of a boy? Or: would a girl who was similarly concerned with her skin feel obliged to pretend that she didn't wear much makeup at all, because that's part of the script, whereas a boy in makeup, well, once you've made the leap, there's not much point pretending you're lower-maintenance than you are?

4 comments:

Shybiker said...

It is hypocritical to believe women should be free to look and act in masculine ways and deny men the freedom to be feminine. There are pleasures in using beauty products that should not be restricted to one sex. Besides, socially-constructed gender expectations should not be one-sided; it's retrograde to think that way.

In answer to your hypothetical, there *are* straight women who love men with a feminine side. For good reason. They make superior partners.

Phoebe said...

Shybiker,

I acknowledge high up in the post that some women go for men in makeup. I also acknowledge that the discomfort the majority probably feel with this comes from socialization. So I think we actually agree here.

Still, I'd be wary of conflating 'men in makeup' with 'men who have a feminine side' - after all, plenty of feminine women don't wear makeup. And it's not as if men who don't wear makeup are this misogynistic monolith, and more androgynous or gender-bending men inherently progressive regarding women, inherently more agreeable about going 50-50 when it comes to chores, child-rearing, etc. There should be a way of saying it's great for men who wish to do so to wear makeup, that doesn't require us to call such men superior.

The only other aspect of this, apart from the vague "socialization," is that women may believe a man in makeup is a man who's not interested in women. How much of this is false, evil stereotyping to be denounced, and how much it's the kind of reasonable, quick assumption one might make when dating (without this ruling out being open to dating a man in makeup, should he turn out to be straight/bi), I'm not sure. There probably are misconceptions out there about what it means when a man partially or fully cross-dresses (Dan Savage, my only source on this, is always saying that men who cross-dress are by and large straight).

And... the reason for this post was partly that as much as I do think it's important for women to assert themselves in demanding that their male partners be people they're physically attracted to, I don't think this has to mean striving for a world in which precisely equal numbers of men and women wear makeup. For some women, this sort of self-assertion will mean demanding that a man wear makeup, but I suspect that this is unusual.

caryatis said...

It would be nice, wouldn't it, if men who don't act in traditionally macho ways were also feminist men and also good partners? They'd be easier to find. But I don't think it works that way.

On another topic, what is he going to do with his skin when he's 50? How could you possibly ratchet up this level of effort?

Phoebe said...

Caryatis,

"what is he going to do with his skin when he's 50?"

I read his routine as basically a mix of gender-bending and anti-acne obsession, and more the latter than the former. I don't think it's at all unusual for teenagers with acne (including not-especially-androgynous teen boys) to care more about their skin at that age than they ever will later in life.

Of course, a wealthy 50-year-old also has the option of addressing the vanity concerns of that age with Botox, surgery, etc. An escalated routine wouldn't necessarily mean more hours exfoliating each morning.