by Sarah Ditum
Wednesday, 26
August 2020
Reaction
15:00

Sorry AOC, there’s more to feminism than lipstick

Let's not overstretch the meaning of a skincare routine...
by Sarah Ditum
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a video for Vogue, describing her beauty routine

The most substantive decision I made this morning was whether to jam the rubbish down in the bin again, or admit defeat and take it out. But then I’m a pretty regular person. I’m not, for example, a high-profile Democrat congresswoman in the midst of the most critical election campaign in recent American history: if I were, I’d probably have some weightier issues to attend to.

Or maybe not, because here’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a video for Vogue, describing her beauty routine: “I actually think these are some of the most substantive decisions that we make and we make them every morning,” she says, smoothing moisturiser across her taut cheeks. And why are they substantive? Because (she’s onto the eyeliner now) “every time we make a decision, when you make a decision for you… I think it’s really amazing.” A substantive decision where it doesn’t actually matter what you decide. OK then.

It’s not like AOC is alone in this silliness. For years now, people have been grandly declaring that makeup, skincare and fashion are not merely completely fine things to take an interest in and spend your cash on, but actually activism. “Self-care” made the jump from the writing of Audre Lorde to consumer copywriting.

Buy this lipstick! Apply this essence! You’re not just shopping — you’re engaging in a radical act of self-care. The fact that all this self-care requires money and time (oh, the time: AOC’s routine takes up an 18-minute film, and my own twice-daily bathroom binges are not much shorter) which might be spent on other things — which men, in fact, are spending on other things — doesn’t get a mention.

“Femininity has power,” says AOC, slipping seamlessly into the lineage of the women who claim that high heels and hundred-dollar tooth-floss underwear are “empowering”. Because what could be more powerful than worrying about falling off my own shoes and spilling a nipple. Of course AOC is right that women are picked apart for their appearance, and the decisions made under that scrutiny are strategically interesting. This doesn’t mean the decisions magically become feminist simply because women are making them. Just ask Emma Watson.

Lipstick is great. Moisturiser is lovely. I wear heels to parties and some of my bras are more frill than function. I choose these things, and they give me pleasure, or at least stave off a bit of anxiety about being looked at and found wanting. But anyone pretending that their perfectly painted cupid’s bow is actually an up-yours to the patriarchy is overcompensating — because AOC must know, deep down, even deeper than the most expensive serum can penetrate, that there’s more to politics than choice.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
2 years ago

Well yes, but on the whole it is better that AOC talks about make-up than about economics or anything substantive because at least she knows something about make-up.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Oh, well said!

An American friend of mine, not particularly conservative, nails it about AOC and her ilk. He said that he and many of his friends cannot possibly vote Democrat while the Macbethian witches of Congress (AOC, Ilhan Omar and so forth) are so influential, and while the electorate votes for her kind. There are many like him ” people who secretly voted for Trump last time, and are likely to do so again.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

Yeah, it seems a tragic indictment of the US today, that such a cabal as The Squad make even the buffoon Trump seem more attractive (and probably less dangerous) than the Dems.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Beautiful! If the Dems get in, Secretary of Make-up perhaps?
(Forgive me, but it’s almost impossible to not be at least a little sexist when AOC is around).

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
2 years ago

This enjoyably frothy piece in fact reveals something very important, I believe, which is that, like many other socio-political terms, ‘feminism’ is what a philosopher might call “ill-defined”. That is to say, it does not have a fairly fixed meaning, like ‘nitrogen’ or ‘tiger’, but means radically different things depending on who is using the term, even by its self-described proponents.

In particular, ‘feminism’ is used in two key ways that are not at all the same thing. On the one hand, the majority of women (and men) who happily call themselves feminist, who mean by it no more than that women and men should be treated fairly and equally. On the other, the activist core of the feminist movement, who mean a more tightly construed set of beliefs, centred on patriarchy but stretching out to rape culture, intersectionality, phallocentrism, etc.

This causes great confusion and agitation when the two views collide. Ordinary women, who consider themselves feminist because they believe in basic equality between the sexes, are naturally put off when they hear the radical politics and post-modern ontology of the activist wing. Likewise, activists are frustrated when they hear ordinary women call themselves feminist but then act against the tightly construed doctrines that the actists understand by the term ‘feminism’.

Really, we would be best served if we could come up with a different term for at least one of these two positions. Personally, respecting as I do the passion and sincerity of the activist core, I would prefer for them to keep ‘feminism’ and have the ordinary view referred to as ‘sexual equality’ or something like that. Unfortunately, not only is the ordinary view firmly entrenched under the name ‘feminism’, it suits some activists to play a cynical “motte-and-bailey” strategy, in which the ordinary meaning is deployed defensively against critics, while the activist meaning is deployed expansively when not under sustained criticism. As such, we are likely to be left with this continuing friction between the two incompatible meanings for many years to come.

Alan Girling
Alan Girling
2 years ago
Reply to  chrisjwmartin

Nice breakdown. Thanks.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 years ago
Reply to  chrisjwmartin

Most women around the world are religious conservatives, who find value in their cultural contexts & traditions, & don’t necessarily believe these are part of some Patriarchal conspiracy against them. Although there may be many negatives in traditional roles, differences between men’s & women’s roles are often unquantifiable/ incommensurable. For liberal feminists unconstrained personal autonomy is the only value, traditions & contexts usually pose illigitimate constraints, and the majority of the world’s women are operating under some kind of false consciousness, & are all really liberal feminists deep down.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
2 years ago

But us men have to shave everyday and that also takes up time. I suppose we could all grow beards and look like tossers.

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
2 years ago

I suppose we could all grow beards and look like tossers.

If you think that the likes of Aristotle, Charlemagne, Henry VIII, Shakespeare, Galileo, and Abraham Lincoln were all “tossers”, then you and I have a very different view of what makes a man great.

Personally, I have never understood why some men choose to effeminise themselves by trying to make their chins look as hairless as a woman’s. To each their own, of course: aesthetic preferences are one’s individual prerogative, as Miss Ocasio-Cortez’s should be. But looking like a girly-man is not for me.

jim payne
jim payne
2 years ago

I just got fed up with shaving, so while my wife was away for a fortnight I stopped shaving. Quite liked not shaving as it happens. So, have a beard. happy with a trim every couple of weeks. Have to say t****r I am not. Might shave it off, might just leave it. Up yours Warren.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
2 years ago

I never thought it would happen but an article written by SD I (almost) completely agree with.

But we all know that AOC, in common with all those who narcissistically seek power and self exposure are never overly fussy about what they have to say or do to obtain it.

Sandy Markwick
Sandy Markwick
2 years ago

How awful. She likes lipstick! She also likes dancing! Let’s focus on the horrors of that rather than her impressive impact as a young congresswoman grilling Zuck and Cohen et al.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago
Reply to  Sandy Markwick

Although I found Sarah’s article enlightening, you do have a point. In fact in the Woke era, it’s quite inspiring that AOC embraces and perhaps even flaunts her femininity. Although I don’t have much faith in her competence, I find it hard to dislike her, with her rather clumsy, ditsy girlishness. Disarmingly cute in the way she is honestly being herself, which is rare in politics.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago

A stunning glimpse into women’s psychology, much needed in the den of male energy our dear Unherd has become! Thank you – this is priceless, and gives me a greater empathy for the love/hate relationship women have with beauty and their public appearance.
[Btw: I have never seen a girl/women look more beautiful than when she is au naturel, completely free of make-up, no matter her age. I wonder how many other men (secretly?) feel this too? Are we simply all playing this make-up game for the benefit of the industry and some crass perverted idea of women’s beauty?]

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 years ago

What are we poor chaps supposed to make of all this? ‘I tell you, it’s a whole different sex!’

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 years ago

The Patriarchy !

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

Good to see her supporting capitalism through the beauty products industry.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago

I had to chuckle about AOC’s empowerment through make-up video as well. Ditto, the BLM protesters yesterday who heckled black policemen, by shouting at them, “Uncle Tom” and “c**n” whilst in full face make-up and an extra coating of mascara. It’s just too weird.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
2 years ago

Sarah, I would recommend that you just jam the rubbish down in the bin a little harder. You don’t want to take it out until you absolutely have to. Why waste your valuable writing time?

maredllwyd
maredllwyd
2 years ago

I disagree. Feminism is empowerment and if that means putting on a red lip for her then she should go for it . Being a running mate or a polaticion shouldn’t scrutinise you from conversations about beauty. In fact undermining and talking about beauty as though it is superficial and is something that is left for women who can not be politicians is definitely not empowerment .

Mark Brown
Mark Brown
2 years ago

Great articles, this one included, Ms. Ditum!

vpinney
vpinney
1 year ago

I think this is actually a very unfair piece on AOC, she is a positive influence for many women, and she knows very well that feminism is so much more than makeup. She has made her feminist views very clear in what she does. She stands up for working class which is so powerful and unheard of.AOC is incredibly intelligent, so drilling her down to something as small as the red lipstick she wears is dehumanising. She is an incredibly powerful woman, perhaps someone the generation before gen z is not ready for. Her knowledge is greater than what she puts on her face, and that is clear to see from the landslide majority she has won.

elliotf04
elliotf04
2 years ago

AOC is the future and you people aren’t ready for that so you’re trying to smother her before she can take off. AOC has the backing of not only her district but also millions of young people all over the world. Why? Because she has proven that she cares about us and her constituents. She works FOR the people not for herself.

As someone from Generation Z and ultimately the most politically active generation yet, AOC and politicians like her are the future because we are the future. AOC is inevitable.

cersei.lannisterf
cersei.lannisterf
2 years ago
Reply to  elliotf04

You are a man, so I’m confused why you have entered this conversation on AOC’s appraisal of makeup wrt feminism? You can like/admire her and still criticize some of her stupid comments – this one is especially ridiculous. No, makeup is not empowering. Most of us wear it, some of us like doing it, but it’s still something that only women have to do, it’s still part of the way men like you see us as sex objects, so please, leave this conversation. Thanks.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago

You make a good point. Thought It’s strange – I don’t find women’s make-up at all sexy. Perhaps it’s not just women who have been fooled into using the stuff, but men too.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  elliotf04

Oh purleez! The woman is a complete airhead who is in it purely for herself. She even get told what to say by her controllers.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
2 years ago
Reply to  elliotf04

Every generation was the future.
All too soon you will find your generation is the reviled older generation being blamed for all the ills. Have fun!

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
2 years ago
Reply to  elliotf04

Gen Z? I’m no proponent of alphabet generationalism, but surely she’s a classic Millennial, no? And anyway, aren’t some of the Zs now turning away from the Millennials’ fanatical politicisation of everything?
I appreciate your passionate embrace of AOC, but to me she simply has not much idea of reality, is not very intelligent and is way over her head. Although I have to agree her idealism is touching, and perhaps that is a valuable inspiration for many.