In the infuriating and seemingly endless debate of femininity vs. feminism, men and women constantly feel the need to evaluate the validity of female beauty habits.
In “Paint Your Nails With Patriarchy!”, an op-ed for the New York Times, columnist Vanessa Barbara railed against misogynist nail polish names, complaining that major brands’ marketing strategies “seem to imply …that there’s only one reason for a woman to paint her nails: grabbing the attention of a good, handsome man — maybe even a millionaire.” In Ms. Barbara’s view, beauty companies are anti-feminist when they market colors such as “Man Hunt”, “Gold Digger” or “Domestic Goddess” because they assume women are “vain, daydreaming creatures with a weak sense of humor and no ability to perceive they’re being manipulated.”
Coincidentally, I stumbled upon Barbara’s piece while scrolling through articles on my phone, while waiting for my newly touched up gold glitter nail polish to dry. On my desk sprawled at least 20 bottles of polish from which I had chosen this particular shade. The op-ed struck a nerve not only because I suddenly felt guilty for ogling my sparkling nails with such glee, but also because I was immediately angry at myself for feeling guilty.
I am fundamentally repulsed by the idea that a woman who picks up a bottle of OPI’s “Never Enough Shoes” or Essie’s “Shop Till I Drop” at her local Target has been manipulated by an anti-feminist marketing strategy that propels her to embrace her true identity. Or that if I happen to buy a bottle of “Trophy Wife”, “Steal His Name” or “Show Me the Ring”I am subconsciously embracing the life choices Essie assumes I will choose anyway. If I was excited to purchase a bottle of OPI’s “I Believe In Manicures” am I just a silly girl? Or maybe, just maybe, I happen to love robin’s egg blue and that is my human right? Is it so unfathomable that perhaps I made a conscious decision to have pearly teal or iridescent black or pale pink varnish on my nails? Am I really destined to be manipulated by the cleverness of corporations because I am a woman who happens to hate plain nails?
According to Barbara, women should beware the “darkest shades of sexism and misogyny” that are “on the display racks of the nails salon.” However, in her cherry picking of “anti-feminist” polishes, the author fails to see that her logic can be used to expose hidden nuances in most nail polish names. At the end of the day, nail polish, like any product, is marketed to excite and entice. Why is it that somehow only products used primarily by women inspire such debates?
Painting my nails with Ciate’s “Mistress” subconsciously encourages me to have an affair about as much as China Glaze’s “Recycle” incentivizes me to pursue an eco-friendly lifestyle. Yes, I indulge in “Gossip over Gimlets”, and sometimes I want “Champagne for Breakfast” and I’m even occasionally guilty of being “Baroque but Still Shopping.” I’d be “Lost Without My GPS” but that doesn’t mean I can’t be “Miss Independent” or that I don’t embrace “Intelligence, Integrity, Courage.” Just because “I Know What Boys Like” doesn’t mean I won’t be “Using My Maiden Name” after he “Shows Me the Ring.”
Society has an annoying tendency to gravitate towards a formulaic view of the female. You are this, you look like this, you have this job, therefore you must like and do x, y and z. Yet, every single woman I know, including myself, is an amalgamation of perceivably contradictory interests, habits, beliefs, experiences. We can be complex, weird, intriguing, infuriating, flirtatious, grumpy, challenging, sporty, minimalists, hoarders, healthy, high maintenance, low maintenance, etc. Just let us BE.
Insinuating that the marketing teams that come up with these silly nail polish names and puns are somehow contributing to the “anti-feminist global movement” is just as absurd as insinuating that my decision to put a certain color on my nails holds some greater significance than my personal color spectrum preferences. Not everything has to evoke a deeper meaning. To embrace the idea that women should be insulted by names of nail polish that encourage a vision of female activity, hobbies, and desires that one woman considers “anti-feminist” is to completely misunderstand the point of feminism.
Women have to right to “Marry A Millionaire” as much as they have to right to want a “Madame President.” We must reject the notion that there is only one true feminist or female experience. Feminism, is by definition the struggle for women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality. To ascribe a “feminist” or “anti-feminist” label to something as trivial as a nail polish is to severely undermine this point.
I could go on and on about how I feel just fine about having a horde of beauty products rivalling that of a professional make up artist, and how I also feel like that doesn’t impede my belief that women and girls should be valued for more than their appearance. And I could mention that I possess not only 100+ bottles of nail polish, but also a M.A from a great university, and I’m an avid supporter of equal rights and could school anyone in a political debate. The point is, I shouldn’t have to. As brilliant writer and self-proclaimed style maven Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out, “feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.” Women should finally be liberated from constantly feeling like they need to justify why they like or dislike things that our society labels as feminine.
“We the Female” should be able pursue our careers, dreams, goals, love, bargains, kids, cars, recipes, sports, degrees, or whatever the hell we want, with or without manicures, and certainly without fear of retribution. At a time when our government is openly championing sexist policies, I’d warrant to guess that most of us are more concerned about say, our reproductive rights, rather than “misogynist nail polish names that are not only silly, but also reinforce sexist stereotypes.” Silly indeed.