Should men tell women to wear makeup at work?

Seemingly small moments of discrimination often pass unnoticed.

  • While the #metoo movement has focused on sexual misconduct, there are many ways discrimination pervades society.
  • Wearing makeup should be a choice, not a male-directed demand, many women stated in an informal survey.
  • Since going makeup free in 2016, Alicia Keys says it has been empowering.

Two weeks ago, a friend told me about a work training she had recently attended. During her company's national meeting, which included a few hundred employees, a comment by one motivational speaker stuck out. While discussing best practices at work, the male speaker looked at the predominantly female crowd and, in an effort to discuss the parameters of their roles, mentioned, "and make sure to put on makeup every morning."

Innocuous, or so it seems to some (such as that man). Yet his directive points to a problem, at least in a few informal surveys I conducted on my Facebook pages. It has become such a common utterance that makeup equals presentable that we never pause to reflect on such "wisdom."

The 100-plus responses I received were varied, as can be expected. While I asked that only women reply, a few men inserted themselves, though mostly in support of female choice. Men feeling the need to voice an opinion when it doesn't concern them is a driving and under-discussed factor in the #metoo era — under-discussed, at least among men. Which is the problem.

A few women that replied feel makeup necessary in their workplace. Most declare they enjoy wearing it. I noted in the question that this was not a screed for or against makeup. The ability to choose for yourself, as well as, in my mind, the broader issue of what's required to be "presentable," was the intention of the question.

Alicia Keys On Going Makeup-Free, Life: ‘I Just Want To Be Honest With Myself’ | TODAY

While this was effectively a public poll given that my Facebook pages are not private, I will not quote anyone by name out of respect for privacy. That said, here are a few sentiments by the women who spoke them.

A number of responses included an eye roll, which wasn't necessarily gender-based.

"It makes me feel the equivalent of an eyeroll. There are still plenty of women in the workforce who feel the same as that man, though. I would feel the eyeroll if a woman said it, too."

A consistent point was that "showing up" does need need to require makeup.

"The speaker was an airhead to pose it that way — he probably just meant go out looking like you care what you look like. . . well groomed would have been too male oriented; maybe he should just have said 'take some time to make sure you are showing your best face to the world.'"

An equivalence was entertained by a few.

"Did he also mention a 'shave your face' or some other gender equivalent that is an esthetic choice?"

"It's like telling men they must shave & have short hair. I get "look presentable" and offering perimeters that serve everyone. Telling women they must wear make up or dye their hair is sexist."

"We should be celebrating natural beauty. Makeup masks/augments to fit societal norms. So that's a hard NO. If he wants me to wear makeup make sure he recommends putting a sock in his drawers to augment things too."

Perhaps the most honest equivalence of all:

"If we take this to its logical conclusion all men better be going to work naked because the origin of makeup is to emphasize the lips to remind men of the female vulva in order to attract for purpose of sex. Also emphasizing the eyes so they appear bigger and make her look younger and therefore fertile. Therefore the only equivalent advice would be for men to emphasize their entire body and go to work buck naked."

More simply put,

"Get pec implants."

Of course, certain professions demand it:

"Unless the job he is referring to is as a circus clown or a performer of some type where makeup is necessary for the job regardless of gender, then this is outrageously offensive."

For one, it's about "showing up" as an inner feeling.

"Not all women-identified folk wear makeup to feel badass and some men-identified folk do wear makeup to feel badass. Totally personal and totally inappropriate to continue to gender things in this way. I'm so over it. Badass people show up in many kinds of ways."

Really, though, it comes down to one thing:

"Although I do feel more 'put together' (appearance wise) when I wear makeup, I can kick ass with or without it and I certainly don't want anyone telling me that I SHOULD wear it, especially not a man. If a woman wants to wear it and feels better about herself when wearing it, good for her!"

Perhaps no sentence better sums up the overall sentiments than this:


Alicia Keys sports a makeup-free look at the 61st Annual GRAMMY Awards on February 10, 2019 in Los Angeles. Photo credit: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic

Commenting on a random Facebook post is one thing, yet this sentiment is being expressed broadly. Alicia Keys turned up at this year's Grammys sans make-up, a decision she made three years ago. Keys has consistently used her popular social media platforms to express her feelings on the topic.

Articles often conclude with a pithy synopsis of the topic at hand, yet this one — the broader question of men telling women what to do — will likely continue for the foreseeable future, though that too is changing. The fact that this and similar questions are being taken seriously is a positive step forward.

Maybe we're simply overthinking this, though. Perhaps it really is as simple as one anonymous meme that floated around last month after an entire contingent of men became irate over a razor company supporting the #metoo movement: "I guess Gillette razors aren't so good for sensitive skin after all."


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Want to forge stronger social bonds? Bring beer.

New research shows that a healthy supply of locally-sourced beer helped maintain Wari civilization for 500 years.

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  • A new analysis of an ancient Wari brewery suggests chicha helped maintain the civilization's social capital for hundreds of years.
  • Civilizations throughout the ancient world used alcoholic drinks to signify kinship, hospitality, and social cohesion.
  • The researchers hope their findings will remind us of the importance in reaffirming social institutions and sharing cultural practices — even if over coffee or tea.

Beer is history's happiest accident. Though the discovery probably happened much earlier, our earliest evidence for beer dates back roughly 13,000 years ago. Around this time, the people of the Fertile Crescent had begun to gather grains as a food source and learned that if they moistened them, they could release their sweetness to create a gruel much tastier than the grains themselves.

One day a curious — or perhaps tightfisted — hunter-gatherer hid his gruel away for a safekeeping. When he returned, he found the bowl giving off a tangy odor. Not one to waste a meal, he ate it anyway and enjoyed an unexpected, though not unpleasant, sensation of ease. By pure happenstance, this ancestor stumbled upon brewing.

That's one possible origin story, but we know that our ancestors learned to control the process, and beer took a central role in Fertile Crescent civilizations — so central that Professor Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that beer, not bread, incentivized hunter-gatherers to relinquish their nomadic ways.

Beer may also be proof of a God who wants us to be happy (Dionysus?), because the beverage* would be independently rediscovered by peoples across the ancient world, including those in China and South America.

One such peoples, the pre-Inca Wari Civilization, made beer, specifically chicha de molle, a critical component in their religious and cultural ceremonies. In fact, a study published in Sustainability in April argues that the role was so important that beer helped keep Wari civilization intact for 500 years.

Brewing social capital

Twenty years ago, a team of archaeologists with the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, discovered a brewery in Cerro Baúl, a mesa in southern Peru that served as an ancient Wari outpost. The brewery contained original equipment, clay storage vessels, and compartments for milling, boiling, and fermentation.

The team recently analyzed these on-site vessels to uncover the secrets of the Wari brewing process. Removing tiny amounts of material found in the spaces between the clay, they were able to reconstruct the molecules of the thousand-year-old drink. They then worked alongside Peruvian brewers to recreate the original brewing process.**

Their molecular analysis revealed several key features of the beer: The clay used to make the vessels came from a nearby site; many of the beer's ingredients, such as molle berries, are drought resistant; and though alcoholic, the beer only kept for about a week.

These details suggest that Cerro Baúl maintained a steady supply of chicha, limited by neither trade nor fair weather, and became a central hub for anyone wishing to partake. The Wari would likely make such trips during times of festivals and religious ceremonies. Social elites would consume chicha in vessels shaped like Wari gods and leaders as part of rituals attesting to social norms and a shared cultural mythology and heritage.

"People would have come into this site, in these festive moments, in order to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state," Ryan Williams, lead author and head of anthropology at the Field Museum, said in a release. "We think these institutions of brewing and then serving the beer really formed a unity among these populations. It kept people together."

The Wari civilization was spread over a vast area of rain forests and highlands. In a time when news traveled at the speed of a llama, such distinct and distant geography could easily have fractured the Wari civilization into competing locales.

Instead, the researchers argue, these festive gatherings (aided by the promise of beer) strengthened social capital enough to maintain a healthy national unity. This helped the Wari civilization last from 600 to 1100 CE, an impressive run for a historic civilization.

Bringing people together (since 10,000 BCE)

A Mesopotamian cylinder seal shows people drinking beer through long reed straws. Image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of course, the Wari weren't the first civilization to use beer to reaffirm bonds and maintain their social fabric. Returning to the Fertile Crescent, Sumerians regarded beer as a hallmark of their civilization.

The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh tells of the adventures of the titular hero and his friend Enkidu. Enkidu beings as a savage living in the wilderness, but a young woman introduces him to the ways of civilization. That orientation begins with food and beer:

"They placed food in front of him,
They placed beer in front of him,
Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food,
And of drinking beer he had not been taught.
The young woman spoke Enkidu, saying:
"Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.
Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land."
Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,
He drank the beer — seven jugs! — and became expansive
and sang with joy.
He was elated and his face glowed.
He splashed his shaggy body with water
and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human

Tom Standage, who recounts this scene in his History of the World in 6 Glasses, writes: "The Mesopotamians regarded the consumption of bread and beer as one of the things that distinguished them from savages and made them fully human." Such civilized staples not only demarcated their orderly life from that of hunter-gatherers, they also served a key role in their culture's unifying mythology.

Furthermore, Standage notes, Sumerian iconography often shows two people sipping from waist-high jars through reed straws. The earliest beers were consumed in a similar fashion because technological limitations prevented baking individual cups or filtering the beverage. But the Sumerians had the pottery skills to make such cups and filter the dregs. That they kept the tradition suggests that they valued the camaraderie brought by the experience, a sign of communal hospitality and kinship.

The ancient Greek's similarly used alcohol as a means of maintaining social and political relationships — though their drink of choice was wine.

During symposiums, upper-class Greek men would gather for a night of drinking, entertainment, and social bonding. In Alcohol: A history, Rod Phillips notes that symposiums were serious affairs where art, politics, and philosophy were discussed throughout the night and could serve as rites of passage for young men. (Though, music, drinking games, and sex with prostitutes may also be found on the itinerary.)

Of course, we can amass social capital without resorting to alcohol, which has been known to damage social relationships as much as improve them.

In the 17th century, London's coffeehouses stimulated the minds of thinkers with their caffeine-laden drinks, but also served as social hubs. Unlike the examples we've explored already, these coffeehouses brought together people of different backgrounds and expertise, unifying them in their pursuit of ideas and truths. Thus, coffeehouses can be seen as the nurseries of the Enlightenment.

Relearning ancient lessons

The Field Museum archaeologists hope their research can help remind us the importance social institutions and cultural practices have in creating our common bonds, whether such institutions are BYOB or not.

"This research is important because it helps us understand how institutions create the binds that tie together people from very diverse constituencies and very different backgrounds," Williams said. "Without them, large political entities begin to fragment and break up into much smaller things. Brexit is an example of this fragmentation in the European Union today. We need to understand the social constructs that underpin these unifying features if we want to be able to maintain political unity in society."

So, grab a beer or coffee or tea, spend some time together, and raise a glass. Just try not focus too much on whether your friend ordered Budweiser's swill or an overpriced, virtue-signaling microbrew IPA.

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