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The Politics of Eyeliner

- January 8, 2012

Good catch by Leslie Savan:

Here’s how the New York Post’s Andrea Peyser began a column (“Jobless & Shameless Gal Going for Gold”) on one of the women charging Herman Cain with sexual harassment:

Gold diggers—unite! Sharon Bialek is 50, out of work and, according to one who knows her, she’s a smooth operator living way above her means. From the look of her heavily painted face, she’s also soon to be in acute need of a new tub of eyeliner.

Rush Limbaugh echoed the line along with all the other bile he’s been splurting at Cain’s accusers, referring to Bialek as “the woman who wears makeup by the tub.”

The makeup slam is odd, and not only because Bialek doesn’t appear to be wearing more of it than many women on TV. During the 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings (which inspired a pro-Cain ad to declare him the victim of another “high-tech lynching”), the right’s take on female makeup was: the more the better! Former Reagan and Bush I speechwriter Peggy Noonan had determined that the eye makeup worn by a witness for Thomas made her believable, was proof, even, that she was one of “normal humans,” as opposed to the feminist abnormals with unadorned eyes.

You could see it in the witnesses. For Anita Hill, the professional, movement-y and intellectualish Susan Hoerchner, who spoke with a sincere, unmakeupped face of inherent power imbalances in the workplace. For Clarence Thomas, the straight-shooting, Maybellined J.C. Alvarez…. Ms. Alvarez was the voice of the real, as opposed to the abstract, America: she was like a person who if a boss ever sexually abused her would kick him in the gajoobies and haul him straight to court.

Good ’ol J.C. (wherever she may be now) wouldn’t have bothered to file some movement-y complaint or sign furtive nondisclosure documents and get all weirdo anonymous about it. No, this populist gal would have just hauled her gajoobied boss straight to court. In Noonan’s fantasy world, Ms. Alvarez’s reputation wouldn’t be dragged through the mud, and she wouldn’t be targeted by lawyers like Herman Cain’s, who chillingly warned any potential accusers that they “should think twice” before speaking up. The judge would flat-out believe Ms. Alvarez’s word over her boss’s, simply on the strength of her real Americaness and her Maybelline.

I’ve been a fan of Savan ever since reading her book on pop language.
The scary thing is, I actually remembered that Peggy Noonan quote from when it came out! I wonder if Noonan was pushing back at all the mockery of distorted-face entertainers such as Michael Jackson and Tammy Faye Bakker.