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Herman Cain and the Politics of Eyeliner | The Nation

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Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

Herman Cain and the Politics of Eyeliner

Did you know you can tell a lot about the motives of women involved in sexual harassment cases by their makeup? Especially their eyeliner, or lack thereof? 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.

The right’s attitude toward the way women look, from their eyelashes to their bosoms, is bifurcated and crisscrossed, based on a Madonna-or-Whore myth that even they're having a hard time keeping straight.

On one hand, we have Peyser and Limbaugh asserting that Bialek’s looks indicate she’s a conniving hussy; Peyser also derides Bialek for being a “bleached blonde” and her lawyer Gloria Allred for wearing “patent-leather do-me pumps.” (Let’s hope Peyser doesn’t blurt this out to Fox News’ many blonde, stilettoed and deeply cleavaged anchors.)

On the other hand, we had Noonan saying that drugstore cosmetics are a sign of working-class heroism, not to mention of being “normal.” (To her credit, Noonan isn't going there in the Cain situation.)

It’s difficult to follow the zigs and zags of the conservative cosmology of cosmetics, which is as arbitrary as the conservative cosmology of skin color. It will change on a dime, depending on which dame, or black candidate, they want to valorize or demonize.

They make up the rules on makeup, along with everything else, as they go along.

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