The Relativity of

Feminism

By ANNA LEA JAKOBS | October 16, 2019

 Cover photo by Raphael Lovaski / Unsplash

The reasons behind wearing makeup – or choosing not to – are different for every woman.

Being a woman in 2019, I see it as a privilege to not be obliged to wear any makeup. Seeing teenage girls painting their faces almost orange or brown, I wrinkle my nose internally. Push-up bras and make-up is, in my definition of feminism, a sin; a confirmation of gender norms that continue to perpetuate our current society. Emancipation is manifested in the fact that women can decide not to wear bras and show their pimples publicly. 

Through my mother, I got to know Maram, a 21-year-old university student in Palestine. She loves make-up and has products in all forms and colors that I didn’t even know existed. While staying over at her house, I agreed to Maram and her sister doing my makeup. The result: my hair was as straight as spaghetti, my eyes glittered in a dark black shade and my lips were obscenely red. Maram then said to me “You look strong”, which struck me for a while. However, after an interesting discussion with them, I understood that in Palestine, some women use makeup as a form of resistance and emancipation, a tool to become visible in a literal sense. This visibility in the public space is extremely important in a country where women are often told to cover themselves. 

Going back in time to around 4000 B.C, kohl and malachite powder were widely used in Egypt for eye makeup. Both men and women were wearing it, not only to protect the skin but above all, to imitate the gods. Make-up was therefore, not only a source of beauty but a source of power. During the period of national socialism, putting makeup on became incompatible with the function of women within society. Women primarily had to work as birth giving machines. Those who still wore make-up were implicitly negating societal norms. Historically speaking, make-up can be a source of strength and a make-up free society can be a manifestation of patriarchy. 

As I was confronted with Maram’s perspective, I started to realize that my narrow definition of feminism puts women under a dictate of how to behave and what to wear, decreed by and for women. Marjane Satrapi describes, in her graphic autobiography, Persepolis, how shortly after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, many women were working for the Islamic religious police in order to enforce Sharia Law on the streets. Women who dared not to wear the hijab were punished without mercy by other women. In short: women were suppressing other women just because they were women. This concept of internalized patriarchal oppression among women is not part of post-revolutionary Iran, it can be found in any society. 

Women always take what is known to them when searching for tools of resistance. Feminism was, is and will always be contextual. For my mother, this meant to hitchhike for hours to the Women Movie Festival in Cologne in 1984. For me, it means not to wear a bra to school in order to normalize female nipples in the public space. For Maram, it means to fight against the invisibility of women by putting eyeliner on every morning. Some women wear the hijab as an act of emancipation, others rebel against the headscarf as a form of patriarchal oppression. Feminism is relative to time and space.

Anna Lea Jakobs is a bachelor student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

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