Wednesday, 16 March 2011
FFB: Dressing as a Feminist
Today Feminist Fashion Bloggers' blogging event has asked bloggers to answer the question: how do you express your feminism in the way you dress? To see everyone's responses check out the list of participants and their links at Mrs Bossa Does the Do.
Short answer: I'm not sure that I do. In fact I never look at myself in the mirror after getting changed wondering "hmm... do I look feminist enough today?".
Anyone who visits this blog will know I am a woman who adores sequins, feathers, lace, tulle, dresses, floral prints, statement jewellery and skyscraper heels. I also love to vamp it up in leather and layers of black. I am not afraid of dressing in ways that are ultra feminine and sometimes just overtly sexy. For some feminist movements that may immediately disqualify me from membership. Quite frankly I'm not sure I understand the reasoning why.
I am equally happy trying out androgynous looks and I can don a masculine suit, not just because I like the tailoring but also when I think I need to play down my femininity in order to be "taken seriously". But therein lies my bugbear. I should be taken seriously as an individual, period. Whether I am wearing a skirt or trousers should surely be irrelevant. Why should I have to reduce my womanliness or make myself appear, or even behave more like a man in order to make my way through the world and receive the same opportunities?
The point of feminism is that as a woman I should have equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities that are available to men. There really should be no dress code for a woman in order to qualify for this.
The sad reality in my personal experience is that, especially in male dominated corporate environments, dressing to achieve whilst you take those opportunities means exactly that - hiding one's individuality and, if you are a woman, to some extent your gender. It is like going into a battle zone wearing camouflage (i.e. not very much fun but a necessary evil), but despite morphing into a corporate foot soldier, you are still the same human being underneath and that human happens to be female.
To provide a little context, I believe I do qualify as a feminist, but it has little to do with my personal dress sense outside of office dress codes and more through my actions. I am very highly educated and have always worked in careers which are traditionally male dominated. From very early on where the boys went academically I followed, and many times beat them to the top grades. I recall selecting my final year topics in high school and being appalled when almost every one of my extremely intelligent girlfriends wimped out of doing Physics and Maths because they were "subjects for boys". Ever since then I found myself to be in a minority as a woman in every educational institution I've attended or job that I have taken. I am hoping times have changed since but my point is that the opportunities do exist for both genders and have done for some time. In my day however it was still less common that women had the determination and courage to take the bull by the horns and enter into male dominated fields.
As university student I campaigned against my own classmates to stop female strippers at their student parties and even now I'll find myself lecturing young women about why they should be concerned about pornography, wondering whether we've really made any progress on the representation of women's sexuality in the last twenty years. More than one unwary work colleague has been sharply ticked off for speaking lightly about the topic of strip clubs and prostitution in my presence.
While I object to such sexual objectification of women, I don't see that wanting to look your best, attractive and even sexy should be restricted to a mutually exclusive existence with that of being a feminist. I rejoice that I have the personal freedom to dress to express myself that is not granted to many other women. I am grateful that I am not part of a society or religion where I am expected on pain of death to cover any part of myself up to avoid somehow being a "temptation" to men. Rather I find it arcane and a great injustice that men aren't required to take responsibility to control their urges when they are entirely capable of doing so.
We are what we are and we shouldn't have to hide or diminish ourselves for it. Forcing women to dress or change their appearance to obliterate any signs of female sexuality seems wrong to me. It somehow only serves to fetishize it to the point where revealing anything is elevated beyond being provocative to being a serious offence. I reject this. I demand balance. An egalitarian society requires it.
So, yes: I am a feminist. But do I need to alter the way I dress somehow to reflect this? I almost feel that in the truest spirit of being a feminist I can reclaim and revel in the right to wear anything I want thank you very much. If I feel like wearing a skirt, I'll wear a skirt, if it is cold I'll wear trousers, if it is hot I'll step out in a mini skirt or shorts, if I feel like going topless sunbathing even in male company I will, and if I want to stand out from the crowd and express my individuality with dress I will take pleasure in putting together a great outfit, whether it be over the top feminine indulgence or severe masculine tailoring. I shouldn't have to diminish the truth of who or what I am to anyone, man or woman.