Makeup by the Young Lords

I get the feeling the Bronx Museum’s programming on the Young Lords Party (YLP) is huge. I get the feeling that their insertion into a more prominent historiography of modern New York City activism is one of those slow but groundbreaking endeavors that rewrites history. But it is not only for the dusty record books; new historiography gives their political heirs today a proper inheritance to work with. I want to acknowledge their activism and their accomplishments. I need to talk about their stance on women, starting with the reprints of Palante at the Bronx Museum.

The makeup and beauty page reprint begins by mansplaining that “we live in an economic system called capitalism” and that “capitalism is based on selling things for profit.” What could be dismissed as either lost in Spanish-to-English translation or thought-to-language translation, a.k.a. “insensitivity”, grows impossible to ignore as we read on. There is the evisceration of female agency, desire, and capacity to negotiate as we are to understand that any and all use of makeup constitutes somehow both the mysterious cognitive inability of Third World Women to recognize the powers at play and our lack of will to resist. To explain this weakness of will there is even an appeal to the honorable tradition of scientific sexism that females just want to breed and thus wear makeup to “find a man”. It’s too bad women of color are not so obsessed with giving birth and becoming secretaries. If only we weren’t, maybe then we can have a place in the next ‘radical’ revolution.

To be clear, I am not in need of either

· Mass media imposed standards that will accept my gender but on condition of embodying, through makeup, late capitalist or neoliberal subjectivity OR

· ‘Radical’ revolutionaries who will ‘save’ me while calling me stupid[1],[2]

Revolution, if there is to be one, should be intersectional from the beginning. It shouldn’t alienate and leave behind, like so many others have. There is no such thing as trickle down feminism.

Footnotes

[1] While objectifying me — you can read more about the YLP’s fraught relationship with women including their objectification of senior female party leaders in Nelson (2001). Point 5 of their 13 Point Program, “down with chauvinism and male machismo”, was not only added belatedly but its subjects, chauvinism and machismo, are I think actually more male-centric than misogyny.

[2] I want to assume this article was written by a man, or someone who has never worn makeup, because its blanket denial of the opportunities for struggle and empowerment would be untenable if its author knew the minutes spent putting on makeup as I do. It could be written by a woman, either someone who just really doesn’t get anything out of makeup, or a subjectivity that has been produced to know herself as he knows her (Roy 1998, 39 in Nguyen 2011, 376). But this latter guess is too akin to my critique, the evisceration of agency, so I refrain from guessing at the writer.

Citations

Fernández, J., and Y. Ramírez, curators. ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York. 2 July to 18 October 2015. Bronx Museum, New York City.

Nelson, J. A. (2001). “Abortions under Community Control”: Feminism, Nationalism, and the Politics of Reproduction among New York City’s Young Lords. Journal of Women’s History, 13(1), 157–180.

Nguyen, M. T. (2011). The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror. Signs, 36(2), 359–383.

Images

The YLP’s 13 Point Program, which GGR382H students read out loud. Bronx Museum.
A reprint of Palante. Bronx Museum.