'Art, literature, and philosophy are attempts to found the world anew on a human freedom: that of the creator; to foster such an aim, one must first unequivocally posit oneself as a freedom. The restrictions that education and custom impose on a woman limit her grasp of the universe... Indeed, for one to become a creator, it is not enough to be cultivated […]; the spirit with all its riches must project itself in an empty sky that is its to fill; but if a thousand fine bonds tie it to the earth, its surge is broken.'
― Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
Full orchestra. I have never seen so many strings, brass, and drums. The lights over the audience dim; it quiets. The symphony begins.
No, explodes. A sexually charged overture, heady and tumultuous. Notes of viola, saxophone. Tango spills over the bars on the music sheets, dipping briefly into a waltz, then, in an ironic, breathless twist, turns to jazz. Vertiginous violins.
Powder her Face, Suite. The composer himself is on the podium, conducting. He fills the air with phantoms of women, intoxicating velvet scents. In the audience, real women hold real breaths in as the music and tension build. Powder on their faces. Burgundy lipstick. The glisten of peacock brooches, diamond earrings.
Crescendo, then eruption. Orgasm, cymbals, drums, trombones. A musical portrait of a woman chasing beauty, fighting age. The piece tells the story of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, whose life defied society’s norms. A woman who sought freedom and pleasure, and was judged, for choosing to play her life out differently than the way she had been told.
‘A woman is not born a woman. She becomes one.’
- Simone de Beauvoir
The suite ends. A second held in silence, then… a burst of applause.
The women flow out of the gilded symphony hall, old, young, in jeans or furs. In the arms of men or other women, or in the arms of no one at all. No two women look alike, basic biology aside. Some are beautiful, feminine. Some are not. Whatever that means nowadays.
‘What it is to be a woman is socially constructed,’ with help from foot binds and corsets, foundation, concealer, tanning salons and body suits, skinny jeans, bell bottoms and high waists. Bigger breasts and smaller thighs, straighter noses, rounder butts. Lower pay for equal work, housework, children, their homework.
To be visually pleasing, but not provocative. Ambitious, but not aggressive. Vocal, but not outspoken and with the option of being muted. Career driven and married, spontaneous and fun, intellectual but with the culinary acumen to have dinner on the table each night.
And as time goes by, obediently apply more powder on their faces. Because someone once said that women should, so that is what women do.
Powder their faces, because otherwise they would actually see themselves. And then they would have to be free to decide, to define themselves, for themselves.
to create who and what a woman is, who and what she wants to be;
what she could, not should do;
what gives her life meaning;
and then decide to apply, or not, more powder on her face.