Do you express feminism in the way you dress?

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As I mentioned in my Gloria Steinem post, I've recently joined the Feminist Fashion Bloggers group here in the bloggysphere. Today, the group posts the following question for members' blogging consideration:

Do you express your feminism in the way you dress?

I dunno about you, but for me, that's really not an easy question. I believe that the small choices we make in our day-to-day lives have meaning. I believe they are part of our politics. Many people will tell you that wearing dresses, or heels, or makeup, or whatever, has nothing to do with feminism. I don't buy that. We have extremely different standards of dress, and standards of beauty, for women and for men. The decisions we make about how much to cooperate, or not cooperate, with those standards are not neutral.

For many years, my line in the sand was drawn just this side of makeup. I was never, I insisted, going to treat my life like a stage on which my features had to be grotesquely highlighted or downplayed with paint. You can see how that worked out...I started playing with makeup, discovered I liked it, and I was a goner from there. While I'm still determined not to become one of those people who refuses to leave the house without a full face on, I paint myself up more days than not.

So how to I justify it? Mostly, I don't. A long time ago, on a now-defunct feminist message board, folks uses to say that we "all make our deals with the patriarchy." This is, more or less, true--we all have things about which we've decided not to fight, either because they simply don't strike us as important, or because we need tor reserve our energy for things that are, to us, more vital. Clothing choices and makeup use are deals I choose to make. I recognize that I am not make the most feminist possible statement with my clothes, or my makeup, but it isn't important enough to me to be an area in which I take a stand.

Except when it is. I am an absolute advocate for widening the scope of what we call beautiful, especially for women. The idea that you are attractive only if you have the body of the moment, or only if you fit into a certain set of normative standards, is, bluntly, horseshit. In my own life, it's a constant struggle, but I try very hard to maintain a view of my body that focuses on my strength, my capacity to do things, my competence, rather than how I can manage to squeeze into norms that don't come in my size. Women should NOT all be trying to take up less space. I consciously remind myself of this, on a near daily basis. In this way, wearing heels has been oddly liberating--it's a reminder that it really is OK for me to be taller than the boys.

These issues are complicated. The intersection of feminism and fashion is one I haven't thought much about, mostly because I've tried not to think about it. It leads me to uncomfortable places. But I think it's a worthwhile exercise, and I'm really happy that this group is in existence. I'll be continuing to participate in whatever challenges I can, and I'll be reading with great interest.
You can find other answers to this particular question linked on Mrs Bossa's blog.

7 Comments

"The decisions we make about how much to cooperate, or not cooperate, with those standards are not neutral." - exactly. How can they be?

I really like your point about the priorities we make when we choose to fight. I personally have makeup way down the list too, but I still hate that there is a 'deal' at all...

I might put your 'women taking up less space' quote above my.mirror!

'it really is OK for me to be taller than the boys.'

I love this point!

"The intersection of feminism and fashion is one I haven't thought much about, mostly because I've tried not to think about it. It leads me to uncomfortable places. But I think it's a worthwhile exercise, and I'm really happy that this group is in existence"

Brave and admirable, ma'am!

It is so true that we each one choose our own battles and we cannot fight them all. One of your last lines has me pondering...my highest heels are just 3" and even at that I am often taller than my male colleagues. Heels have made me self-conscious for that reason, but perhaps that is a feeling I need to WORK on overcoming.

Love this post. Thanks for going there.

You made some really interesting points, which everyone else has already quoted, ha.
You're right, norms are so boring and our bodies are so amazing for what they can do, rather than just what they look like. Although I find it easy to see the beauty in women's physical appearance too.

I often don't wear makeup, but it's not a purposeful feminist statement. It's more that I'm too lazy to bother with applying makeup every day and I really just don't give a damn if anyone else likes it. I love playing with makeup, but I wear it when I want to and when the mood strikes me.

I suppose the fact that I don't care whether I'm wearing makeup or perfectly coifed hair is a statement of sorts. I enjoy being low maintenance and not feeling bad about being "plain." It's easier for me to get dirty if I'm not worried about my 'do.

Thanks for this post.

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