In every discussion about feminism in which I engage, the topic almost always seems to steer toward the Male Gaze. Specifically, the insidious and toxic ways that the Male Gaze worms its way into our collective consciousness and (negatively) affects our day-to-day activities and interactions. As I came to fully understand all of the different intersections and dynamics of feminism, I was able to pick apart things in my own life which may or may not have been influenced by societal pressure to conform and perform femininity, beauty, and professionalism. I started to ask myself vital questions like “Why do I wear makeup every day?” “Why do I style my hair like this?” “Who am I trying to impress? And why?”
When I came out as a lesbian and started to explore and develop my own queer identity, I (naturally) gravitated toward other younger members of the LGBTQ community for friendship, companionship, and support. Most of the people with whom I hung out vehemently opposed the oppressive forces of our white hetero-patriarchal society. This manifested in not only their politics, their music, and their relationships, but also in their personal styles. Even now, most of the queer kids (I say “kids”, but really, we’re all in our twenties now) I know loudly and proudly announce themselves and their social identities by shaving, buzzing, spiking, and cutting their neon colored hair into pseudo punk rock styles, stretching their earlobes, and piercing and tattooing every inch of their skin. They all seem to be so obsessed with sticking it to the patriarchy and rebelling against social norms that every queer event that I go to ends up looking like a costume contest.
I think at this point, I should stress that I am in no way condemning the LGBTQ community, nor am I making fun of people who are exploring their personal styles and identities. People have different ideas about what looks attractive, some people don’t care who finds them attractive, and some people genuinely enjoy being visibly queer and being around others who are too. That’s entirely their prerogative, and if it makes them happy, then all the more power to them.
I, on the other hand, am not visibly queer. Every straight man who has ever told me that I am “too pretty to be a lesbian” has drilled this into my head. I am not visibly queer. I do not announce my identity through clothing and wild hair styles. Through all accounts, I look completely normative.
That’s my own rebellion.
I figured out, long ago, when I was still a kid, that if you look conventionally attractive, looked like you cared about your appearance, and your hygiene, and how people perceived you, you would be more likely to get what you wanted. I figured out that if people thought you were pretty and if they thought you looked approachable, they would be more likely to want to engage in a conversation with you, which would in turn, allow you to solidify your worthiness in their minds by displaying your intelligence, sense of humor, and kindness. Basically, if you looked good, people would probably be good to you. Honestly, who hasn’t learned this by now?
As an adult, I exploit this on a daily basis. Every day, before I go outside, I make sure my outfit is flattering and fits properly, my makeup is on point, and my hair is flawless. I make great efforts every day to look as conventionally attractive as I possibly can. Yes, it’s conforming to social standards of beauty. Yes, it is most definitely pandering to the Male Gaze. Yes, I understand that to be judged by one’s physical appearance before their intellect and personality is a gross flaw in our system that society just cannot seem to shake. But no, I will not actively rebel against that.
As a woman – as a gay woman– I am already at a place of disadvantage socially, economically, and politically. Every day, I live with the fact that I am less likely to be hired for a job, much less to be paid equally, than my straight male counterparts. My civil and human rights constantly hang in the balance, subject to the whim of heterosexual male politicians. I am automatically at risk of being the victim of violence. So wouldn’t it make sense for me to use every tool I have at my disposal?
Getting hired for a job and being taken seriously is hard enough without having to justify outrageous and immature fashion choices. Looking conventional can be boring and may be seen as succumbing to a world of heteronormativity and patriarchal beauty standards, but isn’t that better than sitting around complaining that no one will hire you because you look unprofessional? Truth be told, I’m sickened by the sexist ideologies and constant pressure to look conventionally pretty. But if abiding by those unwritten laws and standards helps me carve out my own place in the professional adult world, then I’m more than ready to be the most normative, most conventionally attractive person I can be. To win the game, you have to play the game.
Game on, motherfuckers. Game on.