man-pleasing and feminism: how much is too much when it comes to “dressing for him”?
Former politician turned blogger, Louise Mensch likes to dress up for her husband. Saying so, she writes on her blog Unfashionista, is a feminist ‘mortal sin’. Op-eds jumped on that single comment in an interview with the Guardian. Her twitter feed and inbox were flooded with comments revoking her capital F feminist card.
Mensch, who moved from the UK to New York last year, took to her blog and addressed some of her critics. She argued that her attempt at keeping her husband happy by keeping groomed and well dressed wasn’t one-sided.
‘He lifted weights for me because I like muscles, and I thought it was an act of love for a husband and wife, who had committed to each other, to keep themselves looking as good as they can.’
She also scoffs at the idea that “man-pleasing” is a terrible, soul-sucking chore.
‘Most women want to be attractive to men. It doesn’t mean you do everything they say, even style-wise,’ Mensch writes on a post entitled, ‘What Men Want: Face’
The vitriol thrown Mensch’s way may have been harsh and (to a degree) reactionary. It’s a fine line between critiquing feminism and policing it, but for many, the concept of dressing up for one’s husband is decidedly un-feminist. Mensch sees nothing wrong with taking a man’s taste into account when getting dressed in the morning, but says her commitment to her husband’s preferences has a limit: she refuses to cut her hair, though he likes it short.
She concludes her post with tips on how to look natural while still wearing make-up because, ‘ask any guy’ and surely he’ll tell you that a woman in too much make-up is unattractive.
The problem isn’t Mensch’s feminism per se (which is hard to determine from a single blog post, even her entire site) but her advice is something women have been fed for generations. What makes women attractive to men, according to her and many before her, is completely shallow. It doesn’t matter if you love your job, enjoy travelling, are a good friend, partner, mentor: can you apply make up to look like you’re wearing none at all?
Can you be a feminist and still aim to please a man, asks this news.com headline.
Without venturing too much into a debate on good and bad feminism, even if women disregard Mensch’s advice on subtle eyeliner and BB cream, the most basic of women’s grooming habits are designed around the male gaze. Shaving and waxing are considered reasonable grooming but neither is any more necessary to our health than eyeliner. We have, in essence, been trying to please men since puberty, which is why Mensch’s comment didn’t have a prayer of going over well, especially among feminists.
There is an exhaustive list of rules to which women are expected to adhere in order to be considered feminine enough to attract male attention. Among the superficial things Mensch endorses (including wearing heels instead of flats because ‘your man wants to see you swing it’) we also have to worry about perfect hair, flat stomachs, and something called vocal-fry.
Men, too, are coached and instructed on what’s attractive to women and what they want.
No one likes to be told how to be and what they like and women certainly have enough to worry about besides the never-ending upkeep, which is likely why Mensch irked so many readers – not that she aims to look good for her husband but that a feminist was adding to the list of “rules”.
Should Mensch’s feminism be negated by her problematic relationship advice and affinity for make-up? No. In fact, a look through her blog and Mensch has plenty to say that many of her detractors might agree with (her slideshow celebrating women over 50 in a youth-obsessed culture, for one). But a distinction should be made between welcoming your partner’s unsolicited advice about your appearance to being actively concerned that your choices aren’t good enough for them.
There are only so many hours in the day worth spending trying to please someone who isn’t you.