News to no one: It costs more to be a woman. We're charged more for goods and services, are more likely to take time away from work to care for kids or aging parents, and live an average of 5 years longer. We also have to do more stuff to maintain femininity. But would cutting back on grooming change anything?
It's an interesting idea proposed by Leigh Anderson in a piece at Café.com that was originally titled, at least when I came across it yesterday, "Don't Braid Your Daughter's Hair. It Could Cost Her $1.4 Million" (a parenting forum pasted it on their message board as such). Today, the piece appears to be titled less prescriptively and is now called "Can You Guess How Much More It Costs to be a Woman Than a Man?"
Either way, it intrigues me. Anderson rounds up the differences in basic grooming standards required of men versus women from her vantage point on the playground. She writes:
The dads are still in their 2009 jeans; they sport t-shirts celebrating their favorite bands from the late '90s; maybe they shaved last Tuesday.
The moms are in jeans and casual tops too, but the fourth pair of jeans they've bought since the first pregnancy. Blouses are loose, meant to flutter over rather than cling to the post-baby stomach, and sport a bit of asymmetrical flair—anything to divert the viewer's attention from the sad, wobbly, drunk-clinging-to-a-lamppost state of our midsections. Makeup is minimal but present.
The boys are carbon copies of their dads in (mostly neat) jeans and sneakers; the girls, while still dressed for play, are a notch up in terms of style: They're in little poplin frocks with mint-green bicycle prints and matching bloomers; they wear soft gray dresses and citron leggings and Mary Janes. With very few exceptions, the boys have short hair, mercilessly shorn by the silent Israeli barber for $15, and the girls have long hair, cut for $25 at a salon where one can sit in a large plastic duck. In my family, my two sons and husband are out the door in 15 minutes flat compared to my 30 or 40—those asymmetrical blouses need to be ironed, and my hair requires some minimal attention to not look like a meth addict's. My husband uses the time he spends waiting for me to work or play the guitar.
From there she launches into a sobering array of facts about the time they spend versus us, and you know how this is gonna go: Women groom 15 minutes more per day (45 minutes total) than men do (30 minutes). Women who spend another 45 minutes on their appearance (an hour and a half in total), Anderson notes, earned less by 3% than the so-called average groomers. The kicker: Over three decades of working, assuming you make $50,000 annually, that's $1.4 million less overall.
Now, my first thought is—an hour and a half a day? What on earth are you doing, burning your face off and re-growing it? But then one focuses on the puzzle of it—why does more grooming mean less money? Certainly some grooming is necessary, especially for jobs that are public- or client-facing. Good grooming signals conscientiousness, a commitment to the workplace, being "on top of it." But what tips the balance to punish the women who are primping more? DeLoach posits that perhaps bosses penalize women for looking overly fussy; I posit that whatever subcultures are encouraging their women to look an hour and a half removed from their natural state are not the subcultures directing their women toward high-paying professions.
But it's not just the everyday stuff. Anderson delves into what she calls the "prep work" of femininity — not just the products we slather on our faces each morning, but the maintenance of our bodies, the mani/pedis, the salon time, the waxing, the shaving, the haircuts and color, the exhausting, constant acquisition of work-appropriate clothing for anyone with a job with a dress code.
And when Anderson quotes friend Sarah, who works at a tech company, it actually made me wince when I recalled every lesson I'd ever heard or read about what it's ok to wear as a woman at every age, phase, event and season.
Men don't have age-appropriate [clothing] issues… As a guy, you can wear a button-down shirt and pair of cotton-blend pants from ages 20-60 and be perfectly presentable at nearly all work events these days.
While it's important to note that someone enjoy all the grooming — a lot — while others don't and probably don't apply to be spokeswomen, either — she does bring up a consideration that I believe many women have probably given pause to at one point or another in their existence: What if I just did only what men do to my appearance? Then what? I myself have dreamed of a uniform in triplicate — black jeans, white T-shirt, black flats. Ha, dreamed. Wearing it now.
Anderson concludes that it would be perceived as letting yourself go, not doing the work, and that you'd be penalized either with gossip, bare-minimum, up through not getting that promotion for not looking polished enough. Again, that is likely true for many women, but certainly not all.
She calls it an inequity, a "cultural theft of time" that begins at an early age for girls, whose mothers braid their hair, dress them pretty, detangle and clasp and barrette, and so on. What if — she suggests — we just didn't?
I'll admit it's a seductive idea, and I've long wrestled with my feelings about grooming and femininity, and often feel differently about it from day to day even. But I think it's seductively dangerous. I think Anderson's piece is wonderfully, passionately written and worth a read, but I also think the problem with it lies in not the facts, nor the tone, nor the frustration, nor the wishful thinking, but rather with the resignation that the answer is, always, to change something about us, always us.
This pitfall is tough to avoid. We are all probably guilty of it at some point or another, myself included. It's the trap of wondering why women can't just rise up and rebel correctly enough to change the tide. If we could just solve this puzzle, crack this mystery — we are smart, we are good, we are well-intentioned. Can't we just work hard enough to "fix" sexism?
But that's oversimplified and pointed in the wrong direction. For one, men do have to shave, and get haircuts, and primp and groom — now more than ever.
For two, and this is a big TWO, men aren't paid more because they groom less or spend more time being qualified or smart. They are paid more because they are men. It's not about merit. It's about bullshit. To make a sweeping generalization for the sake of a point, men sure do waste hella time on sports, cars and porn and still manage to get the promotion. That is sexism. The more you realize this, the more freeing it is.
So sure, I get it. We probably do waste time on primping for no good end other than feeling good or complying to some predetermined idea we barely consider anymore when we swipe on another coat of mascara. But make no mistake: It doesn't matter if we groom or not. We have a vagina. We present as female. That is reason enough for sexism. Always has been. Always will be.
That said, my personal goal is to dress my daughter as quickly as possible in cute clothes. We braid her hair sometimes, but I've spent so long doing two things at once that I could braid her hair while making a coffee and emailing a friend. If only the world valued that as much as absent-mindedly scratchin' a pair of balls, we'd all be up $1.4 mill at the slot machines of life.
So I think that if we're going to all collectively stop doing something together that we imagine holds us back, here's my prescription:
Stop painstakingly pinpointing what we need to do differently or more or less to be good enough (how we speak, talk, ask for raises, dare to walk down the street, etc.) for sexism, especially when history has proven that it's all pointless effort to combat a shapeshifting set of criteria that will be forever one step ahead, and will change the second we do anyway. Bias always has a good reason. Framed that way, spending your time in search of a good lipstick is a much more rewarding, and much better use, of your time.
Image via Getty.