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?
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.
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).'
Feminism should mean that a woman can wear this
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.
"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.
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.