News & Politics

Wear It, Bitch

This ain't biology. This is your government, helping cosmetics executives to get rich on state-enforced gender norms.
Next time somebody loftily tells you that differences between the sexes are grounded in biology, you have my permission to slap them with a judicial case. And I mean that literally: just print out the late-December ruling in the Harrah's makeup case, roll it into a hefty tube, and take a swing at their head.

One of the highest courts in the land, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, has determined that it's legal for an employer to fire a female employee who refuses to wear makeup. Think this through slowly and carefully, girls: if you live in the 9th Circuit (which covers California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Montana), you could be fired tomorrow if your boss decides your "uniform" for work includes makeup. Supposedly this ruling doesn't run afoul of discrimination law because it doesn't impose an "unequal burden" on women. Do you want to know why, ladies and germs? Because a rule for women enforcing face paint is "equal" to a rule forbidding men from wearing it. Now there's some real smart logic. Presence is the same as absence! War is peace! Yup, it's the kind of analysis that's gotten very popular in the United States recently.

And guess what? It comes to you entirely from culture, not nature. Never again is anyone allowed to give me crap about how women naturally want to adorn themselves with makeup, as if there's some genetic urge to look fake that's wended its way here on the sparkly pink path of evolution. This ain't biology. This is your government, endorsing your corporate lackey's creepy-ass urge to make me turn my happy, natural face into a twisted parody of comeliness. This is some cosmetics executive getting rich on state-enforced gender norms.

Most important, this is a woman who worked for Harrah's casino for more than two decades, with glowing recommendations from both customers and supervisors, getting fired for refusing to put red dust on her cheeks and pink grease on her lips. Darlene Jesperson brought her case against Harrah's in Reno in 2000 after the company created a "personal best policy" that required all female workers to get an "image consultation," which included a makeover. Photographs of the post-makeover women were taken and placed in their supervisors' files as a "measurement tool" to determine whether the women were properly made up for their job. If a woman failed to live up to her post-makeover self, it was grounds for termination.

Jesperson, who said wearing makeup while bartending at Harrah's sports bar "forced her to be feminine" and made her feel "dolled up" like a sex object, argued that cosmetics undermined her effectiveness as a worker and "took away [her] credibility as a person." When she refused to wear makeup, her supervisors suggested she apply for a job at Harrah's that didn't require makeup; then they fired her.

Let's not get into the question of whether it's degrading or sexist for women to wear makeup. Sure, it might be for some women – but there are plenty of politically aware girls out there who like to get dolled up. The question here is whether women who are forced to wear makeup when men aren't can be described as experiencing gender equality. The 9th Circuit's opinion acknowledged that makeup costs money and takes time, then dismissed this point as "academic." But if these costs are so insignificant, why not require Harrah's to pay to keep its female employees looking as if they'd just had a makeover? Maybe the company could even pay these women for the time it takes to keep their faces properly clad.

You and I know that's not gonna happen. Now that the most liberal circuit court in the land has paved the way, I can just imagine the proposed federal legislation: no woman shall appear in public without covering her face.

Someone once told me she worked at a cosmetics company where they used pig fat in the lipstick soup. She had been told to inform customers, if they inquired, that the bright little sticks contained "porcine products." I feel about that euphemism the way I do about the ruling in the Harrah's makeup case. The judges can use whatever legal lingo and bizarre logical loopholes they want to try to cover up what they're saying. But I hear the real message loud and clear: Wear it, bitch.
Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World