By Sarah Grados
A recently released Japanese PSA video has sparked a lot of controversy. The PSA stated the following (translated from Japanese): “Women in the city are all beautiful. But they are ugly to see, at times. Please refrain from putting on makeup on the train.” According to the PSA, women’s natural faces are not acceptable on trains and they should make themselves beautiful in private, a statement that only serves to reinforce the societal expectations of women. It is a rather subtle form of sexism, as it attempts to control how women should dress and act. Moreover, it speaks to male dominance on a global scale and reveals that this is not an issue present only in the United States.
Declaring that women are “ugly to see, at times” is, by any standards, an attempt to debase women and sheds light on a larger phenomenon in which women are treated unfairly in the media. Nowhere do we see PSA’s or other commercials telling men how to dress or act, or where to get ready for their day. Nowhere do we see the media try to control how men behave and groom themselves. However, we are constantly seeing the media attempting to “keep women in their place” by suggesting how they should live.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that people around the world are infuriated by the PSA. @ryudokaoruko tweeted (translated by Japan Times): “a railway company has no right to tell me whether I look beautiful or ugly.” Another woman on Reddit noted, “I think the kind of stigma around applying makeup publicly is outdated. It’s not an issue of hygiene, it’s rooted in sexism and deemed ‘unladylike’ as it shatters the illusion of having woken up perfectly made up and needing no enhancement whatsoever. For the record, I touch up every time my train is delayed and have never noticed an annoyed look.”
What this PSA advertisement ignores are the hardships experienced by women living in a world that promotes stringent and discriminatory standards of beauty. Moreover, it fails to acknowledge why women may need to put makeup on in the train. What if a woman has kids at home, and many other responsibilities, and leaves herself for last so that she has no other choice but to get ready on the train? Should she be forced to spend less time on those responsibilities just so that others won’t feel uncomfortable? For any company or government to shame a woman for what she does in public is unfair and represents a dangerous justification for the continued misogyny and oppression of women. Ultimately, from drunkenness to sexual assault, there are simply more important issues to address on the trains than whether a woman’s beauty is pleasant enough for the ride.