Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Does anyone else feel like issues related to feminism are front-and-center in the collective cultural conscience these days? There seems to be unending chatter right now about things like rape culture, the various brands of woman-shaming, and this concept of “safe spaces.” Women are told that we should be concerned about the way men speak to/about us, and about the expectations patriarchal society places upon us. To me it appears to be a repackaged form of the classic feminism espoused and promoted by Betty Friedan and her contemporaries, reworked and made applicable for modern times.
And, frankly, much of it is good. Just as it was once necessary for American women to rise up and fight for the right to vote, we women certainly deserve better than how we’re being treated today! Justice has not been served when a wealthy white university student, convicted of rape, only spends a few months in jail. It is a scandal that doctors continue giving out hormonal birth control like candy, without warning of its potential for causing depression—especially among teenage girls. Famous celebrities get a pass when it comes to sexual assault. Even in 2016, fifty-three years after The Feminine Mystique (with all of its secular promises and admonitions) was published, women remain terribly vulnerable to a coarse and increasingly sexually oppressive culture.
But equally disturbing is the handful of issues that self-described modern feminists don’t seem to want to talk about, things that ought to be objectively offensive to women but which are at odds with progressive ideology. These things won’t ever draw the collective feminist ire, but they are just as insidious and detrimental. They obscure our femininity, blur the lines of gender, and misappropriate the mysterious and incredible characteristics of what it means to be a woman.
Did you know, for example, that Cover Girl’s latest cover girl is, actually, a boy? At just seventeen years old, James Charles has his own YouTube channel, multitudes of followers, and is now apparently representing one of the largest cosmetics companies in the world. I am incidentally in the market to buy some more makeup, but honestly? This latest advertising campaign is, uh, not really doing it for me.
I get that they’re no doubt wanting to make a statement about inclusivity and acceptance, which is fine. My guess is that as a young and out gay man, James Charles has struggled quite a bit with identity issues and the like, and the intentions on the part of Cover Girl are probably good—even if misguided. (Giving the benefit of the doubt here. The company is also surely motivated by potential profits, and interested in promoting a particular agenda.) But I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that, even granting the very best of intentions, this is ultimately an affront to women.
If this man (who’s actually an accomplished makeup artist himself) wishes to paint his eyes and lips in purple glitter, that is certainly his choice, and I do not wish to make any points about that here. What I am addressing, though, is the idea that regardless of how anyone tries to spin it, Cover Girl is marketing these products for women to women, by embracing Charles’ caricatured representation of women. And if that doesn’t go against everything feminism has taught us, I don’t know what does.
Contrary to what some would have us believe, women and men are not interchangeable. Women are created by God with a unique set of characteristics, gifts, and abilities—like, you know, bearing children. It is a profound joy to be a woman and bring forth life, and to live my vocation as God has called me to do. I love the special relationships I have with my daughters and with my sons, my role as a wife living in complementarity with my husband, and the distinct place I hold in my family. So yes, a man can certainly wear lipstick just as readily as I, but the fact is he remains a man. He will never truly know what it is to experience life as a woman, as I do.
This is appropriation of the worst kind, in my opinion. Some of the makeup giant’s other models include Katy Perry and Pink, obviously both very strong women who are hugely successful in their field. What does it say, then, when a man is now held up alongside them, as some sort of equally-important example to the rest of us? Doesn’t it imply that women can’t have a place, or a “safe space” if you will, where we are enough? That we somehow need male representation when it comes to shopping for products that would enhance our appearance? That we can’t have a domain that is both one hundred percent feminine and one hundred percent strong?
Feminists should take notice, and women should demand better from the companies that depend on us for the almighty dollar. James Charles may be Cover Girl’s first male spokesmodel, but he does no—and will never—speak for me.