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.
 

14 comments:

  1. I don't know about feminist. You look absolutely adorable, but I think it's a little vintage! I'm having a giveaway to celebrate Spring that ends this Friday! If you haven't entered already, make sure you head over and check it out. Have a great day! Kori xoxo

    http://www.blondeepisodes.com/2011/03/spring-break-giveaway.html

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  2. My sentiments exactly! The stereotypes are there--and women and feminists shouldn't continue them.

    Heels, lipstick, leather, and bustiers--give them all to me. I'll kick errant attitudes back into place, whether they come from men or women.

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  3. Fantastic, other than the corporate dressing you echo my thoughts exactly. It's all about freedom to dress how you want without fear or compromise. xxx

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  4. Great post. And I agree, do we really need to express feminism in the way we dress? Surely it's more of an attitude, a state-of-mind?

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  5. Veshoevius--I had to laugh at the question you have never posed to the mirror, "Do I look feminist enough today?" I found your comments on having to camouflage oneself in the workplace interesting, because I DO think there are some unspoken constraints in my workplace. One example would be the freedom male faculty on my american campus have to wear shorts in the summer while my female colleagues NEVER would. I also found myself pondering whether I ever size a man up by his sartorial choices...and I realize that I do in fact DO the very thing I resent males doing to me. A guy in sagging pants or one with an unbuttoned shirt to reveal his hairy chest DOES send a message...

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  6. There were times when dressing like a man expressed rebellion against the inequality between men and women - but we surely have gone a long way since then. I think one of the signs of emancipation is that we are free to choose what we like to wear.

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  7. Great thoughts! I agree about reclaiming everything being very feminist, it's what I also try to do! The idea of camouflaging in a hostile environment is a great picture but also a very sad one... eventually, thought, that's still true. The outfit you're wearing absolutely rocks! I'd absolutely wear something like this (in fact I have: http://seamstress-stories.blogspot.com/2011/02/white-canvas-black-paint.html)!

    Cheers,
    poet

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  8. I think you raise an interesting point (as well as several others!) about men being required to take responsibility for their 'urges'. I feel so strongly about the ridiculous notion that men are somehow more like animals than women are, and more subject to overwhelming hormones. To some degree, any discussions about the relationship between exposing/hiding our bodies and male attention need to focus more on men's roles - it's not just that it's our choice to wear clothing that we find appropriate, but also their choice as to how they respond...or not.

    So glad you've joined in, V. x

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  9. And I'll say to you, too, "Exactly. EXACTLY." Rock on, friend, and reclaim, revel in, rock the vast variety of looks you love, including the ultrafeminine and overtly sexy. Why should a strong, thoughtful, sensorily appreciative woman deny herself the pleasures of well-sewn chiffon or a gorgeously sculptural stiletto?

    I'm sorry you feel such pressure to dress a certain way in your business environments, but I think you have a healthy sense of perspective on it, and I like the analogy of wearing camouflage in combat to get the job done.

    I very much appreciated your comment on the motherhood and work problem in my blog. I'll reply to it on my blog soon, but for now I wanted to share a link I just came across last night. It's a bit of humor (with some serious sentiment behind it) about the pros and cons of being a working mom and an at-home mom. The language is a little crude, but I was laughing out loud. So much of it is uncomfortably true, on both sides:

    Working Moms vs. Stay-at-Home Moms

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  10. So I used to work for this lawyer and he had a young female associate, about 27. The two of them had to go to court one day to try a case. She was wearing a dark gray pantsuit with black high heels. She was also wearing a glittery pink Hello Kitty ring. While I was loving it that a young lawyer had on a Hello Kitty ring, our boss was not amused. "You can't wear that ring to court," he told her. And of course she took it off and I agreed with him asking her to remove it. Sometimes clothes (and accessories) can be so distracting they get in the way of the work at hand. They can also effect how professional you are viewed as, especially in law firms! After they got back from court she put her Hello Kitty ring back on and our boss didn't say a word. He didn't have a problem with her wearing the ring in the office, only in court.

    I am still loving this outfit, btw. I'm glad you featured it again.

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  11. Interesting thoughts, I would agree with very many. I wonder if men can be feminists or feminist theorists and how that might move the goalposts of the initial question posed? Re: Bang Bang, a couple of the girls are SUPER snooty but I am very surprised they didn't take anything, considering you have such lovely stuff. Perhaps it was a seasonal/overstocking issue? I would say try again but bring in no more than 5 pieces. They can be quite off with customers who bring in a lot at once, I've noticed while browsing.

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  12. Yeah, lots of nodding along going on here! I love that you brought in the modesty thing! I think with all these posts we are doing our bit towards changing the perception of feminism as not anti fashion, or any feminine clothing!

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  13. "I should be taken seriously as an individual, period. Whether I am wearing a skirt or trousers should surely be irrelevant."
    yes!!
    to be honest, i never worry about these things anymore. perhaps it's because i work in a creative profession instead of in an office or corporate environment...?? however, when i was quite young, i was concerned about not being taken seriously due to my youth. so i dressed the part- more seriously- and as a result, i didn't feel like myself at all! (red power suit: soo not me, and unnecessary for the jobs i had at the time.)
    anyway...great post, interesting topic. and i love your black jacket! :)

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  14. Not quite as articulate as you but I shared my no sense :) worth on my blog.

    Clothes do not maketh the Feminist. The Feminist maketh the clothes...

    As always a pleasure to read and behold.

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