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Techsploits

Wear It, Bitch

By Annalee Newitz

NEXT TIME somebody tells you loftily that differences between the sexes are grounded in biology, you have my permission to slap them with a judicial case. And I mean that literally—just print out the late-December ruling in the Harrah's Makeup case (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/data2/
circs/9th/0315045p.pdf), roll it into a hefty tube and smack that person hard in the head with it.

One of the highest courts in the land, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, has determined that it is legal for an employer to fire a female employee who refuses to wear makeup. Think this through slowly and carefully, girls: if you live in the 9th Circuit (which covers California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Montana), you could be fired tomorrow if your boss decides that your "uniform" for work includes makeup. Supposedly, this ruling does not run afoul of discrimination law because it doesn't impose an "unequal burden" on women. Do you want to know why, ladies and germs? Because a rule for women enforcing face paint is "equal" to a rule forbidding men from wearing it. Now there's some real smart logic. Presence is the same as absence! War is peace! Yup, it's the kind of analysis that's gotten very popular in the United States recently.

And guess what? It comes to you entirely from culture, not nature. Never again is anyone allowed to give me crap about how women naturally want to adorn themselves with makeup, as if there's some genetic urge to look fake that's wended its way here on the sparkly pink path of evolution. This ain't biology. This is your government, endorsing your corporate lackeys' creepy-ass urges to make me turn my happy, natural face into a twisted parody of comeliness. This is some cosmetics executive getting rich on state-enforced gender norms.

Most importantly, this is a woman who worked for Harrah's casino for more than two decades, with glowing recommendations from both customers and supervisors, getting fired for refusing to put red dust on her cheeks and pink grease on her lips. Darlene Jesperson brought her case against Harrah's Casino in Reno in 2000 after the company created a "personal best policy" which required all female workers to get an "image consultation," which included a makeover.

Photographs of the post-makeover women were taken and placed in their supervisors' files as a "measurement tool" to determine whether the women were properly made up for their job. If a woman failed to live up to her post-makeover self, it was grounds for termination.

Jesperson, who said that wearing makeup while bartending at a sports bar "forced her to be feminine" and made her feel "dolled up" like a sex object, argued that cosmetics undermined her effectiveness as a worker and "took away [her] credibility as a person." When she refused to wear makeup, her supervisors suggested she apply for a job at Harrah's that didn't require makeup; then they fired her.

Let's not get into the question of whether it's degrading or sexist for women to wear makeup. Sure, it might be for some women—but there are plenty of politically aware girls out there who like to get dolled up for fun or because they choose to do it. The question here is whether women forced to wear makeup when men are not can be described as experiencing gender equality. The 9th Circuit's opinion acknowledged that makeup costs money and takes time, but dismissed this point as "academic." If these costs are so insignificant, then why not require Harrah's to pay to keep all its female employees looking as if they had just had a makeover? Maybe they could even pay these women for the half-hour per day required to keep their faces clad properly.

You and I know that's not gonna happen. Now that the most liberal circuit court in the land has paved the way, I can just imagine the proposed federal legislation: no woman shall appear in public without covering her face.

Someone once told me that she worked at a cosmetics company where they used pig fat in the lipstick soup. She had been told to inform customers, if they inquired, that the bright little sticks contained "porcine products." I feel about that euphemism the way I do about the ruling in the Harrah's makeup case. The judges can use whatever legal lingo and bizarre logical loopholes they want to try to cover up what they're really saying. But I hear the real message loud and clear: Wear it, bitch.


Annalee Newitz (pigstick@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who was once forced to wear makeup and almost threw up.


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From the January 12-18, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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