I wish I liked wearing make up ‘for me’, but I don’t. I hate wearing make up. I’m shit at putting it on, bad at choosing the colours that suit me, and guaranteed to smear half of it across my face when I rub my eyes after the second pint of the evening. So why do I bother wearing make up? I’m forced to conclude that it’s at least partly because I want to impress men.
This probably won’t come as a devastating surprise to those of you who know me. Annoyingly, it also won’t come as a surprise to people who think that the only reason women wear make up is to impress men. Just admitting that I wear make up because I want dudes to fancy me feels irritatingly like I’m playing into the hands of a misogynist world. And maybe I am.
But also maybe it’s a bit more complicated than that.
I do lots of things to impress men. And I mean a lot. If you are a man, and I like you, chances are at some point I have tried to say or do something that I think might impress you – buying you a pint, cracking a joke, smiling in a slightly flirty way, etcetera. Those are just the obvious things, though. I do loads more stuff to try and get guys to like me. I’ve given money I can’t afford to charities I don’t like if a guy I fancy is running a marathon in aid of one. I offer to carry guys’ bags or help them move house because I have known men who are occasionally impressed by the fact that I’m willing to shift a wardrobe if they need me to. I make friends with their girlfriends because I figure ‘hey, he likes her so if she likes me he’ll think I’m a cool person.’
You get the idea.
How to impress men: beauty edition
There’s this assumption, I think, that when women try to impress men it’s always beauty-related. Make-up, clothes, fitness, tanning, piercing, waxing etcetera. That’s not surprising, because by and large the message that women are given is that the best way for us to impress guys is to look pretty. There are other things thrown in, of course, like giving them sex without appearing ‘slutty’, enjoying our food without ever being fat, being intelligent but not intimidating, having a ‘good sense of humour‘ but still letting him crack all the best jokes – the list goes on and on. But primarily we’re told ‘be pretty.’ With the caveat, of course, that we shouldn’t ever look like we’re ‘trying too hard’ because that means we’ve lost the game.
There’s a whole lot of misogyny wrapped up in this. Firstly it carries the mistaken assumption that there is no possible pleasure to be gained from fashion and beauty other than impressing men. That’s at least in part why some women get so fucked off with people being anti-make-up and anti-fashion on the grounds that they are playing into the hands of the patriarchy. As they will correctly point out, make-up and fashion can be joyous pleasures in and of themselves, they aren’t there solely for the benefit of dudes. Then, of course, there’s the fact that this whole conversation is a trap. If you don’t wear make-up then you’re never going to achieve the ridiculous beauty standards women are expected to live up to (Look stunning! Be sexy! Never age!) but if you do work to achieve these standards you’ll be ridiculed if people learn that you did not achieve them by accident.
Impress men, get points, win prizes
I started writing this blog in my head a few nights ago, as I sat in my garden sweaty and exhausted and covered in a thick layer of dust. I’d been digging a hole, you see. A massive hole. A hole so big that if I’m truly honest with myself, I would have been well advised to ask for help before I picked up the spade.
But I didn’t ask for help. Initially I thought this was because I wanted to complete the hole (and subsequent Garden Project – I’m not just digging a hole for no reason, you know!) under my own steam. I am a strong, independent woman! I want to dig a fucking hole! Besides, I’m on a bit of a fitness kick at the moment and I get a thrill of pleasure when I realise the limits to which I can push my body before it collapses, gasping for a pint and a cheese platter. So I grabbed the wheelbarrow and spade and launched into my quest like a woman in control of her destiny.
For a brief period, my boyfriend helped out. This annoyed me for reasons I initially thought were to do with him muscling in on my project. “He doesn’t understand!” I thought huffily. “How could he possibly know where to dump the spare earth and what shape the hole has to be? And I bet in the end he’ll want credit for this even though I’ve already done most of it like a badass.” But inevitably, after ten minutes of digging, he got bored and wandered off to do something else, and I rejoiced in the knowledge that while he may have greater strength, I have perseverance, and when you’re digging a big hole it’s perseverance that matters most.
But it was only as he was wandering off that I realised I wasn’t doing this solely for me: I was partly doing it for him. My blood sweat and tears weren’t just the by-product of personal empowerment: they were the direct result of my desire to impress men – this man in particular. If my boyfriend weren’t occasionally in the garden, watching me work in 25 degree heat, would I have dug the hole at all? No. As evidenced by the fact that when I lived alone I did precisely no gardening whatsoever. And by the fact that my heavy lifting activity has drastically increased since he told me I looked sexy after doing manual labour because – and I quote – “you’re so badass you look like you fought your way out of a zombie horde.”
I was digging this hole to impress him just as blatantly as I sometimes put on make-up to welcome him home on a Friday night. The same way I race ahead of him when we’re cycling so he can see that I have calf muscles. Just as I read blogs about things he’s interested in so I can drop nuggets of stimulating conversation at his feet, like a cat proudly gifting him a dead bird. I feel comfortable with him, of course, but I also often perform for him: jokes, stories, meals, ideas, blow jobs, you name it.
These things might be done more accurately and specifically when it comes to my boyfriend, because I have a better idea of his tastes than I do for other people. But that doesn’t mean I just do it for him: I do it for loads of men.
I want to impress men.
This is a hard thing to admit because obviously it makes me sound like a terrible, shallow person. It certainly makes my feminist credentials look shabby if I publicly admit that many of my actions are – at least in part – driven by a desire to be desired by dudes.
How to impress men and also get on with your life
When we have the conversation about make-up, the focus seems to be on an ‘either/or’: you’re either slapping it on just for yourself – in which case you go girlfriend! – or you’re doing it because you want to impress men – in which case you’re a naughty girl and you need to have a stern word with yourself. But can’t it be both? Can’t it be these things plus also the fact that your crush told you this eyeshadow looked awesome so when you put it on you remember the compliment and it gives you a warm glow? Or that you bought this last week and you really want to try it out? Or that you just find it satisfying when the lipstick goes on just right – perfectly tracing the lines of your lips and giving you a thrill of joy?
People have complex reasons for doing most stuff. Very rarely can our behaviour be explained by just one thing. I might eat an entire cake because I’m really hungry, and also because I like cake, and also because it’s my birthday and I want to treat myself. I might also eat an entire cake because it will impress a guy I’m with: I defy any of you to resist the urge to fuck me when you’ve watched me destroy an entire lemon drizzle.
But it doesn’t feel like a massive deal to admit that my physical, intellectual or … umm … gastronomical efforts are done in part to impress men. That’s not shallow or odd, it’s just a fact of my personality. I like men, I want to fuck them, and even if I can’t fuck them, I still want them to want to fuck me. Most people who like fucking will admit that respectful desire is a hugely flattering thing: that little spark of interest from someone that gives you a spring in your step and reminds you that you’re a sexy badass. I want to feel this even when I’m not on the market.
Women get more shit if they’re perceived to be doing traditionally ‘femme’ things to impress men – wearing make-up, donning sexy outfits, writing blogs about how much they love sucking cock, etcetera. Likewise dudes I know tend to get mocked more for bench-pressing weights they’re not ready for in the gym to impress nearby women, downing 6 Jägerbombs or taking part in other activities that use ‘masculinity’ as the hook to try and land a sexy fish. Maybe what matters, though, isn’t the fact that someone’s trying to impress, it’s the way in which they’re doing it. If you’re trying to impress people by taking your normal badass qualities and just playing up to them a bit more to show off what you’ve got, why the hell should anyone criticise you for that? It’s a sensible strategy if you’re looking for companionship – whether a lover, a life partner, or a brand new best friend.
The people who are impressed by you are probably exactly the kind of people you’ll enjoy hanging around with. Whether they’re admiring your beauty, favving your selfies, or complimenting your gigantic garden hole. Some things I do are good because they make me happy. Others because they bring me money or new friends or those retweets I’m so fucking thirsty for. And some will also bring me the attention of men who might or might not fuck me. I can no more stop trying to impress men than I can pick apart exactly how much of each activity is done for their admiration or my own sense of achievement: I try to impress men because it’s what I’ve always done, and it is so ingrained in who I am that it’s hard to know where the showing-off stops and self-confidence and pleasure takes over.
Sometimes doing cool things brings in money, gives you pleasure, or makes the world a better place. But sometimes it’ll impress someone too – and often it’s only through other people’s eyes that we realise how badass we can be.