When feeling oppressed by domesticity and straightjacketed by stress, men and women tend to respond differently: men will buy cars, invade countries, or go to Hooters.

Women, in contrast, will get ourselves a little treat.

While shopping last week, I decided to indulge in my gender-specific anxiety- reducing activity. I bought something fun just for me.

I like to buy makeup; not because I believe that the indulgence in girly-girl femininity acts as a fabulous cultural counterpart to the edgy intellectual feminism that emerged since the new millennium.

I buy makeup because I'm an idiot.

I mean, make-up has changed nothing about how I look. Ever.

I look the way I've looked for the last 25 years: short, roundish,with a red-lipsticked smile and black-mascaraed eyes, topped off with dark curly hair (now silver in patches, making me look either like Elvira, Queen of the Night or Pepe Le Pew, depending on your eyesight and sense of compassion). To sum up: I look like a plush-toy version of my earlier self. A well-loved plush toy version, if we're being honest: one slightly frayed around the edges.

There is no magic in make-up. Yet the conspicuous lack of special-effects has never lessened my appetite for cosmetics. (I would meet somebody in an alley behind an empty arcade to buy Clinque Waterproof Mascara if necessary, although I hope it never comes to that.)

But something new happened during my most recent cosmetic-consumer transaction. I got mad.

And not for the usual reasons (among the usual reasons would be that the lipstick which looked scarlet at the store turns out to be cigarette-brown; the fact that a new mascara profoundly irritates my eyes so that I weep copious sooty tears; that the new foundation, when applied, does not make my face luminous, but rather as if it has been inexpertly spackled).

No, what caused me to become apoplectic involved the instructions suggesting that a small "extra" item should be used as a "gift for a friend." Never before have I wanted to throw a cosmetic item into a roaring fire. Never before had I wanted to throttle a tiny container of blush.

What do they mean I should give this to somebody as a gift? Suddenly the makeup company is advising me on my intimate life? Some cosmetics maven is organizing my friendships?

I don't want to be instructed by a smug pamphlet written by a senior marketing consultant (meaning "senior in high school"--I've met some of these folks and they are young enough to wear pajamas with feet) that I should "gift" something I've just bought for myself to someone else.

Overacting, am I?

Then imagine what it would be like if MEN were given the corresponding instructions.

Can't you just see a guy buying two pair of pants on sale and finding a note in the pocket saying, "Why don't you give this second pair to a good friend? You'll enjoy our pants even more if your friend has them, too!"

Just picture a man going to a hardware store and buying drill bits. Attached to the main set of drill bits is a small set of "extra" drill bits, maybe with a bow, and a card suggesting the purchaser experience the pleasure of friendship and the warmth of sharing by "gifting" the drill bits to a pal.

Most guys would choose a term other than "gifting" to say what they'd like to do to the manufacturer.

So I'm keeping the blush. Not because it will make me look like anything except a plush toy but because I'm not permitting random guilt to run my life.

The cosmetic firm believes in giving stuff away? Great. Let them donate their products to shelters, or, even better, let them make gifts of actual cash to not-for-profit organizations.

Most women I know don't need outside encouragement to indulge in the joys of giving. We do it all the time. Instead, we need to be encouraged to experience what it's like to treat ourselves with all the affection and respect we award others.

For many of us, it's far easier to give than to receive--and we need to work on that.



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