Hmm. AC sent me this interesting article comparing makeup and veiling. The main idea is that there are some cultures in which women feel they can’t leave the house without makeup and some in which women feel they can’t leave the house without veils– and that this similarity is significant. Although this is certainly right, the article made me feel a bit uneasy and I think I now see why. The comparison, which is clearly directed at an audience that is more familiar with makeup than with veiling can be used in (at least) two ways: (1) to make veiling, which seems strange and foreign and “other”, is more comprehensible than it might initially seem; (2) to show that makeup, which may seem just fine to us, is really oppressive, just like veiling. The author does (2). What bothers me is the author’s unexamined assumption that veiling– of whatever kind, done for whatever reason– simply is oppressive. (And I do mean ‘unexamined’– the article hardly discusses veils at all.) For some good discussion of the complexities of veiling, see Hoodfar 1993, “The Veil in Their Minds and On Our Heads”, _Review of Feminist Research_ 22 (3-4): 2-18.
Still, the analogy is well worth considering, and there’s some interesting stuff on the history of makeup (or at least of claims about makeup). Apparently, “in 1964, sexologists Harry Benjamin and R.E.L. Masters claimed that lipstick wearing had its origins with prostitutes in the Middle East as it was “supposed to make the mouth resemble the vulva and it was first worn by those females who specialised in oral stimulation of the penis.”” Interesting if true.