My friend RJ and I went for lunch together yesterday. I love going for lunch with my friend RJ. In fact, I love doing a lot of things with my friend RJ. And what’s cool is that if it hadn’t been for my friend AJ, I might never have met my friend RJ. So thanks, AJ, for introducing us!
So RJ and I were finished having lunch (actually, I didn’t quite finish the pressed fairy cider, but that’s because I was trying to untangle a Ball of Uncooperative Yarn what Bad Cat had tangled…and was secretly (not so secretly) enjoying the look of Great Consternation I was getting from RJ who gets so uptight when she knits that she breaks the needles. Or so I’ve heard), we were walking back to where I work so’s she could get her own self to work. And it was miserable and sleet was “falling” sideways and the wind was cold and it wasn’t at all a nice day like there ought to have been but weren’t very many of in summer, and after half a block, I said, “let’s walk indoors”.
Because when you live in a wind tunnel (I’m fairly certain the Winterpeg folk will back me up on this one) it’s really Rather Nice to have a series of warrens and burrows indoors that you can follow from point A (place what serves pressed fairy cider) to point B (place what pays you money to read books). So kudos to The City, who allowed contractors to build buildings with lovely connecting bits. Anyway, on the way to the connecting bits, which sounds vaguely naughty but really isn’t, I saw A Sign.
First, before I get to that Sign, I need to tell you something.
You know when you’re walking through a department store and first, there’s all the womens’ clothing that looks like some poor geriatric cat was fed day-glo kibble before being shoved in a paint mixer inside a cement truck…and then, when you’re done with that ocular feast, you usually walk through one of the ‘specialty’ sections (Fat Broads, Short Chicks, Really Really Old Farts), and then, eventually, you are faced with a full-frontal assault on every single sense at once? You know how that happens? That happens when you walk from the *outside* doors to the *inside* doors. What happens when you walk through the mall and enter the department store from the *inside*?
I’ll tell you.
First, it’s the visual cortex that dies the little death. There are shiny things, and sparkly things, and colourful things (and often, you can just see past the mall entrance to the geriatric cat/day-glo kibble/paint mixer/cement truck section). Sometimes, there are moving things. Sometimes, they even have Made Up Ladies hovering about talking about Very Important Things with other Made Up Ladies. Your best bet here is to stare very hard at the floor and hope you don’t end up in the Hideous Scarves section. I’ve heard Sir Edmund Hillary actually died in the Hideous Scarves Section in the 80s, and not on Mount Everest as had previously been suspected.
Next, the aural centres shrivel and die. This is because anytime from November to January, the department store is playing the Christmas carol. There really is only one Christmas carol that department stores are allowed to play. It starts out with “O”, and it never, ever ends. For THREE MONTHS. If you happen to be in the department store when there is no Christmas carol playing, you will hear the loudspeaker, which is always calling Missus Somebody to Somewhere. I suspect this is where they send the Really Bad Angels to re-train them for the Trump and Call.
While your visual cortex and aural centres are dying, the skin on your hands and face, and any other exposed area, is actually in the process of flaking off *all at once*. In one big, huge, chunk. As you enter the department store, it makes an audible ‘thud’ as it falls off. Cue the Made-Up Ladies.
And, finally, your sense of smell, and taste, simultaneously, are annihilated by the Horrendous Stench caused by all kinds of tinctures, balms, eaux-des-toilettes (seriously. TOILET WATER? Gross), perfumes, colognes, creams, and cure-alls. It is the depleted uranium of the cosmetic industry, except rather than killing you slowly with radiation, it kind of causes everything you’ve ever eaten and every breath you’ve ever taken to immediately vie for top billing somewhere around your larynx. It is most decidedly Not Pleasant, and I dislike it Very Much. In fact, if you know someone with a flame thrower, or some kind of mortar or shells, or even a tank…I’ll settle for a tank…please have them immediately eradicate the cosmetics section of the department store.
This brings me to my point.
RJ and I had managed to survive the majority of the Cosmetics section, and I was, to be honest, kind of sprinting through, when I saw this sign. This sign had pictures of tinctures and balms and sparkly things and eaux-des-toilettes, and the Big Lettering on the sign said this:
FREEDOM TO CHOOSE
And I thought, What the fuck? I mean, please excuse my language here, but really, what the fuck? I thought, Germaine Greer, and Gloria Steinem, what would you think if you saw this? What would you think if you saw the words we most often associate with equal rights and reproductive freedom emblazoned across an advertisement for face-paint and perfume? When did ‘freedom to choose’ move from the anti-censorship movement over to the cosmetics department at the department store? When the hell did Roe v. Wade get reduced from the right a woman has to choose what happens to her own body, to a catchy jingle selling cubic bloody zirconias and cheap lipstick? Isn’t it bad enough that women are pressured to look younger, thinner, better than they did at 20? At 16? Isn’t it bad enough that we, as a society are pressured to buy, to consume, to HAVE? But now this? Now, you take a statement that is so full of meaning, so pregnant with important ideas, and you reduce it to materialistic prattle?
What does “freedom to choose” mean to you? Does it mean you get to decide which watch to wear with that eyeliner, or does it mean you have the right to read whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want? Does it mean you can mix and match your earrings with your perfume, or does it mean you have the RIGHT to decide to have an abortion – that nobody else gets to make that decision but you? Does it mean you can pick a toner shade from this pile and a nail file from that pile and put them together for an all-in-one beauty care package, or does it mean that you have RIGHTS enshrined in law that make you a *person*?
Rousseau held that freedom is inherent to humanity; it’s what you get for being self-aware. The Greeks differentiated between inner freedom (freedom from anger, fear, and lust) and external freedom (conquest over enemies). Philosophers have long discussed the difference between “freedom from” and “freedom to”. And I guess being able to pair stinkfume with skin poison is one of those ‘free choices’ you have…but what an utter insult to the very idea of freedom.
My friend Smarty Pants will probably say (as he does when I go on tears about things), “so what do you do to change it?”
Well, my opinion is to rip the bloody thing down. Anyone interested in a downtown flash mob to take back our freedom?