Saturday, 15 March 2014

Yeah, More of that Feminism Stuff

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How is it that our foremothers once fought to wear pants and not be thought slutty, deviant or at the very least highly inappropriate, and yet here we are not so very far along in the evolution of feminism and now women practically need to fight to be allowed to look feminine without offending someone's idea of what it means to be a feminist.  It's not quite so bad as not being allowed to wear pants without penalty of losing a job or a spouse, but as feminism evolved, there came to be one type which had just as narrow a view of what women should do and be as the imposed restrictions woman had only just fought off.  How is it that some women think it is their job to tell other women that by wearing frilly things or pink things or dresses or high heels, that they are setting feminism back?  Isn't the whole point of feminism to be free to wear what you choose, what makes you feel like yourself and to acknowledge that there is variety in what makes us women?   And doesn't that variety make it clear that a woman, like any human being, is a complicated individual who is so much more than what she chooses to wear?

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The first pants women got away with wearing were bloomers which looked an awful lot like a skirt at first glance.  Sporty women wore them for cycling or basketball, as in this picture above from 1905.

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 Click on the link under this photo for a good essay on how the bicycle and the bloomers played a part in womens' emancipation.  Here is an excerpt:

'Bloomers provoked wrath in conservatives and delight in women cyclists, and the garment was to become the centerpiece of the "rational dress" movement that sprung up at the end of the 19th century. The rational dress society statement of purpose reads in part: The Rational Dress society protests against the introduction of any fashion in dress that either deforms the figure, impedes the movement of the body, or in any way tends to injure the health. It protests against the wearing of tightly fitted corsets, of high-heeled or narrow toed boots and shoes; of heavily weighted skirts, as rendering healthy exercise almost impossible.... (Dodge, 126) The bloomer quickly made a host of enemies, however, and many a bloomer clad women complained of being ridiculed, fined, and even treated "like a prostitute" by local authorities.(Willard, 94).'
 http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug02/hendrick/women.html

 Feminism should mean that a woman can wear this

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Or this
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Or this

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Or this

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You probably get my point.

Yes, what we wear does give out a message.  And perhaps it doesn't give out the message we want it to or think it does.  What to do about that is an individual choice.

Flipping through a magazine I came across a small article about a woman I'd never heard of before.  I know very little about her, but I read about a choice she was making which really resonated with me.  Unlike the fictional character Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, who proves that a woman can dress and look very stereotypically feminine and still have brains, courage and compassion, this woman is a real life woman, not a fictional character.  Bonnie Hammer is a businesswoman and network executive.   She is chairman (that was the term the magazine used, not chair, chairperson or chairwoman) of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment.  Most of the blurb about her was focused on her business skills but since it was a women's fashion magazine she is quoted on her philosophy of dressing for work.

She says:
"I gave up on the whole suit look years ago."  It's important to embrace being a woman in a man's world.  I made a conscious decision to look female."
-Elle US edition, February 2014

I couldn't decide how I felt about this statement but I realise it could also very easily have been printed a bit out of context so I give her the benefit of the doubt.  I highly doubt she is saying that she thinks all women should give up on suits.  If you like wearing suits you should wear them.  But I like her idea that she should not have to stifle her own expression of femininity because she is in the business world.  I like that she is a woman who has achieved success and power and she chooses to present herself as feminine.   Amazingly, that is nearly as groundbreaking today as it was when women began to boldly don menswear.

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Feminists telling other women that they are setting feminism back by they way they choose to dress, is just as bad as the men who disgrace themselves by saying all feminists are fat, hairy, ugly women who can't get a man so they become lesbian.  The point should be obvious by now and I'm amazed that it apparently isn't.  Feminism is about allowing women to be who they are, not who someone else tells them they must be.

4 comments:

  1. I feel that modern feminism has turned into a huge men hating, female shaming propaganda. I've come across so many feminists that are worse than men, in their behavior towards women. Take for example the pay gap myth. It's been proven that women have lower salaries, not because of a high all mighty boss who doesn't give them equal pay, but because most women choose to work in fields that are lower paying fields- teachers, nurses, social workers etc. And you know what feminists reply to this? "Yeah, well, women are broken by society, society has brainwashed them into choosing this field". The mere proposition of this, means that feminists themselves think of us women, to be dumb dolls, who just walk around mindlessly waiting for someone to tell us what to do. What if I want to be a nurse? What if I made this choice myself? What if, women are capable of thought and are responsible for their own actions? Seriously!
    I love your posts, they always make me think and sorry for the long comment, I get overexcited when feminists are involved! :D

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  2. Thanks so much for reading and responding, Keit! Don't apologise for veeling passionate about something and having a lot to say! I think feminism is a very complicated issue at this point because there are different kinds of feminists. As is usually the case, the people who hold the more radical opinions are usually the loudest and most visible. Feminism has come to be associated with man hating irrationality. Not all feminists are like that and not everyone defines feminism that way, but what are we to do with something that is so broadly defined? I think it might be time to just deal with individual issues of mistreatment of any human being and not label it with the name of any movement, but there are feminists who are not radical who would still disagree with that.

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  3. I am proud to call myself a feminist; it doesn't mean I have the right to tell any other woman what to do or wear, but I reserve the right to have opinions! Unlike the commenter above, I believe there are still massive issues of gender inequality, including in pay and employment. And socialisation continues to play a big part in women's choices, about clothing, employment, or anything else, and for some women that is a really powerful force. I know plenty of women who identify themselves as feminists, but they are not caricatures, not strident or man-hating; they are loving, compassionate women with male partners and male friends, and sons. They just want equity and fair treatment for everyone. xxx

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    1. I know those types of feminists too. I call myself a humanist because humanism calls for the equal treatment of and rights for all, man, woman and child. I think that if we set aside terminology most people want that sort of equality and fairness and I agree we have not achieved it yet. It certainly hasn't been achieved all around the world and that definitely can't be ignored. Like anything worth talking about, it is bigger and more complex than one blog post. :-)

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