Dear Men, your time is up: The relationship between women's makeup and patriarchy
July 6, 2020
Shot by Carlota Guerrero

It’s 10am and our beautiful, fierce, independent woman is strutting to work in the humid London heat. Her hair bounces as she strides, and she catches everyone’s eye. Not for her accolade as a successful working woman, not for her stunning choice in heels or suave blazer, but for her face full of makeup. They wonder how early she had to wake up to achieve her look, and who she’s wearing it for, is there some dashing man at work that she feels she needs to impress? But why doesn’t anyone consider that she’s doing it for herself?

Alex Prager, Ian (after Philip Lorca diCorcia), 2016


It’s no question that we have exceeded beyond the need for a patriarchy in society. Women across the world have embraced a new liberation, for which they do not need to do anything to impress men. Whilst it is unfortunate that in many countries, patriarchal structures continue to oppress women, Western society has proved that the feminist model of equal genders is successful. Beauty is no longer prescribed to women by men, and this is a reminder to all the cisgender straight males out there that makeup is not worn to impress, seduce or satisfy men.


The connection to women’s use of makeup and the desire of men has been inseparable for many years. Historically, women who wore makeup, most specifically a red lipstick, was attached to the idea of prostitution. Makeup and adornment were seen as the single commodification of a woman to make her more appealing to the man’s eye. In the 60s and 70s, in the age of second-wave feminism, women were encouraged by the leaders of the liberation movement to stop using anything that men used to objectify them.

March for Women's Liberation 1960's


But why didn’t women take ownership over makeup and subvert the connotation that it was worn solely for reasons legitimised by the patriarchy? It was for this exact reason that women did not necessarily stop wearing makeup after they were advised to. Instead, women used makeup to find their confidence, express themselves and redefine what makeup once was. They could make themselves look sexy if they wanted to, it didn't have to be because someone else wanted them to.


Now, women, men, and non-binary people are making use of makeup for their own personal reasons. We’ve probably seen or heard plenty of men say they prefer women without makeup, or they like when their girlfriends get dressed up ‘for them’, as if their opinion on a girl’s makeup should matter. Even in quarantine, we are seeing people do their makeup for no other reason than to make themselves feel good, or because it is part of their daily routine.

Instagram @kevin.cordo


The beauty industry has, too, relinquished their sexist advertising of the past. Brands such as Seventeen, Max Factor and even Maybelline were culprits of a twisted marketing style that encouraged women to buy their products to mainly to make themselves more attractive to the male eye. Sure, this was in a time where society placed the role of the woman as the house wife, who’s one purpose in life was to get married and have children.

Maybelline advert from 1942

This is not a universal trope, for women’s opportunities are seemingly limitless. And makeup is not a necessity for women to get these diverse roles in different industries. Some women don’t want to wear makeup at all which is just as powerful as wearing make up for ourselves. Since then, brands have ditched the patriarchal narratives behind their products and decided to go for a more liberative approach. Even if women want to wear makeup to make some effort for their partners, or friends, or anyone besides themselves, it's on their own accord.

Audrey Hepburn photographed by Per-Olow Anderston applying makeup on set of War and Peace 1955


So, to those of you men out there who this concerns, please stop thinking that the makeup industry thrives because women want to wear makeup for you. There are far too many possibilities with makeup for it to be worn, experimented with and used for expression for it to be trivialised as being produced and sold just for men’s benefit.