I’ve appreciated this passage from bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center since I first read it, and its importance only seems to ripen:
One form of power women exercise in the economic sphere is that of consumption. Boycotts have not been used often as a strategy, successful in educational if not economic terms. If women all around the United States turned off their television sets for an extended period of time and purchased no products other than the very basic necessities to protest exploitation of women (e.g. increasing representation of violence against women on tv), these actions would have significant political and economic consequences. Since women are not thoroughly organized and are daily manipulated by ruling male groups who profit from sexism and female consumerism, we have never exercised this power. Most women do not understand the forms of power they could exercise. They need political education for critical consciousness to show them ways to exercise the limited powers they possess.
The popularity of social media has intensified the hold, the spell almost, of consumerism on women so rapidly from the time I first read From Margin to Center in college. In an instant — really, within the timespan of a few years — feminists making strides online in criticizing everything from wages to the sorry state of access to reproductive care (myself in the early 00s haggling with my insurance company to cover the cost of my pill) to the marketing of hypersexualized children’s toys was transmogrified to “feminist makeup tutorials” as the pinnacle of womanhood.
I don’t include the lattermost example as something fleeting, as much as the maker would like to claim it is satire. This practice of “making up” to be a fierce feminist freedom fighter, to “slay” (figuratively while lending support to women in power who actually slay the poor and defenseless all over the world) and be seen as empowered, has resulted in massive rollbacks of sexual freedom. Sexual freedom is not merely expression for, particularly, working class women: it includes the ability to exercise bodily autonomy and integrity; to be a private person whose being isn’t presumed to be community property; to have access to the legal system to protect oneself from sexual predators; to have the healthcare necessary that aligns with the very DNA, our “building blocks” as individuals to live a full life that allows for the possibility of earning a livelihood independent of the patriarchal micro-structures that remain in society.
It’s not simply a “class” of men who wish to see women never have these things. It is the extremist, near omnipresent misogynist practice of the ruling class, that is made up of many women too, to keep female workers in servitude to their ordering of society by enticing them into one scheme or another which includes myriad channels of chauvinist conditioning of males to make them appear to be faultless, and, as the dialectic of feminism has pressed on against patriarchal societal norms, without agency of their own. Enter in the backlash of our making up.
The once less-practiced clownishness of crudely painting on poorly formulated and sometimes dangerous cosmetic product has become refined ghoulishness in the internet age to mask the void in many women caused by early abuse that has become more rampant with the fostering of revanchist attitudes about how “difficult” girl infants and children are and the feelings of worthlessness that result. Various trash media promote an accelerated mindless promiscuity enmeshed with violence rather than freedom and knowing oneself, one’s desires — hell, even knowing how to reach orgasm and being comfortable with it. Girls being raised online are exposed to “influencers”, or those “lesser” who vie for such popularity, who can rattle off endless cosmetic brands and their equally as infinite primers, setters, veils, and other products that didn’t exist until the internet took off. Themes these venues rarely include are developing one’s inner life to be an interesting person who wants to experience things beyond variations of “live laugh love” quotations that make up “living your best life”.
There appears to be a contingent of feminist-minded women online who can appreciate what hooks and others promote as tactics to exercise the limited political power proletarian women have. They can speak the language of liberation and they experience everyday aggressions and have learned how to maneuver around them. Due in part to those repeated boundary violations and having few spaces to vent these in, they retreat into this world and the ways in which to shop are never ending as the internet has become a much more closed and cordoned off containment zone. The term beauty or skin “regime” is alarmingly fitting as far as what this cuts off in girls trying to become women. It turns them off as people and turns them on to being animated billboards and walking, talking commercials.
Makeup, making up, can be fun, or else this billion dollar industry couldn’t be what is now. It can be a bonding ritual among young women coming of age, developing social lives (does that even happen now outside of the virtual?), who grew up toying with their mothers’ fascinatingly packaged products. Personally, I love doing up my eyes before going to work — it feels like doing a bit of magic on yourself that can enhance the outward presence of what actually burns inside. To look coordinated and well put together with confidence developed independent of how much you could have paid for whatever newest line can feel empowering that may transfer to how skillfully — or, perhaps, artfully — a person can carry out their duties. As much as I am annoyed by how often this cliche is repeated, it is what it is — and nothing more. As far as I can see, this boom of cosmetic consumerism has done nothing for wages or healthcare or the sexual slavery that more women on earth are subject to than we may ever know in our lifetimes.
What about the opportunities that the greater emergence of makeup artistry as a legitimate field can afford? one may ask while reading this which is reasonable. I have nothing against that, and I think everyone wants to feel extra special on a memorable occasion that marks a new chapter in their life by looking their best. But we have competing ideas of what making a living is versus being seen online as an authority — and many are conditioned to desire the latter for no other reason than to be valued in that sense. In creep the “exciting business opportunities” that await someone, anyone, who it feels right for.
It wasn’t until I delved more into the world of multilevel marketing (aka MLM) that I started to think more about how absolutely bonkers it is that makeup is seen as an expectation for women. Men do not worry about such a daily routine — unless they are actors (or some other kind of television personality). Very curious once you take the time to think it out! Especially because we have reached a point that when women complain of things happening to them that they don’t want to happen there is at least a legal obligation that they are to be taken seriously, that we aren’t automatically passed off as property from one male owner to the next because of our sex. That is a phenomenal development, yet we are to present ourselves to the rest of the world we face every day as made up.
The worst of the worst, those who prop up “direct selling” (also MLM) through various fronts, prey on the vulnerabilities of those who haven’t been able to rise with the tide that supposedly keeps us all afloat with jobs and all the rest that is supposed to go with that — healthcare, paid time off, reimbursed business expenses, etc. They thrive in rural and more sparsely populated areas in which young women may find themselves trapped by early motherhood and other patriarchal familial care-taking roles, excluded from the waged workforce. People who see better naturally want to do better but they have very few means to make that happen, especially in contrast to perfectly made up “presenters” who proliferate as the norm to make people want to buy in. And you have to buy in — MLM “independent consultants” are the ultimate suckers if not only for the fact that they don’t understand how they are servant consumers the minute they sign up. Over 99% of those who join an MLM to sell do not make money and they often lose it, including their “investment” that was never one to begin with.
I have hot and cold feelings toward the “antiMLM” sector that has sprung up in defense of how they think society should function normally. I am thankful for all the ways in which they shed light on the different tactics of deception that the consultants are trained to work on their friends and family. Deceit typically has disastrous effects on social relationships; programmatic deceit financed by the likes of Trump, Buffet, Soros, and Gates is a psychological and social cancer. The fact that they miss how “normal society” is also ordered in a way that resembles three sides with power concentrated toward the tippy top of it can be exhausting when you look through all the criticism out there.
I am convinced that MLM is a way forward for the very rich to tell the rest of us that we can all have the advantages of, well, being a capitalist — choosing one’s hours of activity and having your initial injection of capital providing returns on the backs of others — while rolling back the advances of organized labor. The wiser among us realize this is not the case by a long shot, and “the dream” is sold to the gullible without any benefits or perks of a waged job. In spite of what those on the ultraleft might tell you, this too was a phenomenal development, to have guaranteed compensation for your labor versus servitude or enslavement. As the screws of the fascized bourgeoisie tighten, these schemes are only going to make themselves more known, sometimes very cleverly disguised to draw people away from typical waged work, even to those who have more secure positions in the hierarchy.
We see this already with the emergence of the “gig economy” as it’s called. In reality, people drawn in have to work all kinds of weird and extra hours to make ends meet. Independent contracting means fewer protections for workers, however they came to find themselves stuck in such a position. As much scorn and mockery there is to heap on those who flock toward these “exciting opportunities” in an attempt to sidestep the rest of us who ally with each other and unionize, there are reasons to find compassion because it all depends on where you start and how you are manipulated to try to take off from that lowly position you were given through no fault of your own.
A reported 75% of MLM “direct sellers” (consumers, actually) are women. For some of the reasons I mentioned above, the products pushed by MLM companies are also predatory in nature and often subpar to what you can find on the “open market”. MLM companies peddling weight loss, makeup, skincare, and hair care products will top the list of complaints among the antiMLM set. What is heartening about the surge of antiMLM critics that seem to pop up as often as a new scheme is devised is that they understand the underlying fears of women that are targeted by these parasites — don’t be ugly or fat, the worst attributes any woman could have! And to attain that status of not being the worst, you just have to sacrifice personal relationships and those that might be in search of a downline to make you rich beyond your wildest dreams.
In looking through many of the stories of these female direct sellers, I came to the sickening realization that they are selling a made up lifestyle they don’t actually live to do this — to consume shit in perpetual debt to the single supplier convincing them they are an independent “boss babe” running their own business. They revel in “perks” such as typical corporate swag for bringing in, in some cases, $14 or less a month. There is nothing independent about independent consulting for over 99% of people who join an MLM.
To me, the lure of mastering makeup through social media that serves as a larger business channel for the dozens of products that can be promoted in just one tutorial video is just larger scale MLM in the light of day. The seedier companies whose products aren’t showcased in salons and the like that have evolved as socializing grounds for women as well as established waged workplaces have exploited this larger pool of interest to make it seem exclusive to a supposed chosen few who have the unique ability to accept such an exciting “business opportunity”. Likewise, the people who’ve locked in to these influencer positions are going to be by necessity a very few; not everyone can make it to the upline. We cannot be blinded to what we already have, what is yet to achieve, only to chase elusive concepts of beauty that are anything but — the burst of cosmetic consumerism in this day and age will only provide momentary satisfaction for its adherents who want it to be so much more and ultimately fills the coffers the parasites who work tirelessly to see the rest of society only in their own image.