Living? The Servants Can Do That For Us

When I was young, ladies did not urinate, defecate, take a leak, use the toilet or even do anything as innocent as go to the bathroom – the last locution now being the standard for Americans who are above the bodily functions of the multitude. No, they went to powder their noses. The euphemism became so entrenched, however, that it is easy to forget that, as well as using water closets, they did actually apply powder to their nasal organs as well. Perhaps they still do.

I wonder to how many men it has occurred to ask why. Certainly it is nothing to do with us; we are not attracted to women only to the degree their noses are powdered. Like most of the things women do with their exteriors, powdering the nose is not addressed to men, but to other women, in the fiercest competition known to nature. Its purpose, by negating sweat, is conspicuously to demonstrate that you do not work for your living, or even exert yourself.

The unshiny nose is only one of these class markers, many of which have been shared by men. Lace at the sleeves shows that you do not do physical work; if you did, it would get dirty or you would be sucked into machinery and lose an arm. Long nails show that you do not work, especially in the fields. A man I knew, 256th in line to the throne of Spain, did work for his living, but had a very long fingernail on his right pinkie only, to show what he was. Pale skin used to show the same, until the situation reversed itself, with industrial workers not getting brown like their rural foremothers and the leisured getting the tan instead. An extreme case of such class messaging is the dress or coat that buttons down the back; this signifies that you can afford to have someone else dress you in the morning. Big African hair used to mean that you did not need to carry your market purchases on your head, because you had a houseboy. Perhaps stiletto heels are not about wigglys bottom after all but a proof that you have not walked to the party like a pleb.

The interesting thing about these class markers is that generation of ignoramuses have grown up with the certainty that they were all imposed on women by an unfalsifiable metaphysical construct called “patriarchy”. People imagine that men commanded women to matt down their noses, wear lace, grow their nails, get a tan or stay pale, button down the back and wear impractical footwear for the sheer fun of the thing – as if women had no agenda of their own – and then have the brass face to talk about women being deprived of agency.

I am developing the suspicion that each and every one of the phenomena labelled oppressive of women in the European middle classes of the nineteenth century is in reality all about female social one-upmanship and class warfare, in which men are merely a tool and a way of keeping score. I think a history of these times can and ought to be written from that perspective.

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