fashion

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny…

Designer Jessica Rey implores for greater modesty from young women, asking the question [of the bikini], “Who says it has to be itsy bitsy?”

To this I say, “Maybe… I DO ?”

Her argument for greater modesty is underpinned by studies showing that men really do see women as objects the less they wear. However she is invoking the same logic used in arguments saying that if women and girls don’t want to be raped they shouldn’t wear short skirts. Feminism is about equality and choice. If I want to wear an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini, I should be able to— without fear of some consequence such as sexual harassment or abuse.

Rey’s argument also ignores the existence of a woman’s own agency. To her own question, “who says it has to be itsy bitsy?,” she answers: everyone— “fashion designers, the media….”—everyone except the woman buying the bikini, that is. In this way, she completely fails to acknowledge a woman’s own agency.

But perhaps, Ms. Rey, it’s the WOMAN buying it who says so. I buy bikinis because I think they suit my particular body shape better than a full bathing suit, and, quite frankly, I find it more comfortable. Point in fact, I actually feel like a sausage stuffed into a casing in a full bathing suit. Hell, maybe I would actually look “better” in a full bathing suit rather than a bikini, but I just prefer letting my belly and hips hang out. It’s so freeing.

Quite frankly, Rey seems to be living in line with the misogynistic male gaze more than I do in my bikini, or perhaps any woman in her bikini for that matter. After all, she’s the one conforming to the very androcentrism behind her whole argument.

“Who says it has to be itsy bitsy?”

Me. And my freedom of choice, and my fashion sense, and my self-recognized agency. That’s who.

 

 

 

 

A Vindication of the Rights of Pin-Ups

hilda

“America’s Forgotten Pin-Up Girl,” Hilda

 

I am really feeling the sting of woman on woman deprecation today.

And in the name of feminism no less!

First there was the article on how straight feminists hate lesbian feminists, (which, thankfully, was sufficiently rebutted by others’ comments) and then almost immediately after, I came across this post condemning women that are fond of pin-ups and/or like to dress up in the pin-up style. The following words are in response to the currently trending popularity of this pin-up character from the past, “Hilda” (pictured above).

 

Here’s what the post said (taken from this article):

“We currently live in a “pin-up” culture where women are only granted visibility when they display their bodies for public consumption; therefore, most women are groomed and disciplined from young ages to have pin-up ready bodies.

That’s what white-centered postfeminism is all about. A vision of sexual liberation that hinges on the male gaze and male approval. Now we can sit here and have that long, uncritical, derailing conversation about women who “choose” to strip and enjoy being “pin-ups”; but I’m going to spare myself a stroke and move on, because talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony.

When women fight to end negative media representations of women in contemporary culture, yet still circulate vintage images of white, female, pin-ups, they’re missing how the culture surrounding vintage pin-up girls largely informs the sexism that we’re trying to fight today.

This is what happens when we only focus on the individual and not the system that conditions the individual.

If we have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression, then we will have superficial surface-level solutions. It’s that simple. Posting up any sized sexualized woman on your wall, originally created for men, won’t solve the reality that systemically, women are degraded, dehumanized, and are robbed of understanding their sexualities organically. It also teaches men that sexualizing “diverse” or “alternative” bodies is progressive and therefore acceptable.

Additionally, as I reiterate all of the time, the idea of publicly displaying your sexualized body is largely a white enterprise and endeavor. Black women are not granted the same privileges when we showcase our bodies because we’re viewed as public property; evidenced through our high rape rates and low pay-rates in spaces of sex work, etc.”

 

I think it goes without saying that I do not like this attack on pin-up girls/pin-up culture.

More importantly than what I do, or do not like, however, is the fact that saying, “talking about “individual agency” is irrelevant when we’re discussing hegemony,” ignores the very multi-faceted world of pin-up culture as well as the individuals participating within it— which is relevant. (Since when is talking about the parts of a picture irrelevant to the picture as a whole?) While the author’s critique invokes the rhetoric of “hegemony,” he or she is creating a hegemonic feminism of their own, in which all other feminists who like to participate in and enjoy pin-up culture are castigated.

The feminism I learned about was more accepting than this. While I do understand the perspective from which this author is writing (I did study gender politics at Berkeley after all), I choose to not make such sweeping generalizations about people, or groups of people (except Republicans, of course… Just kidding! I actually do really like Meghan McCain, so there). To imply that just because someone likes to wear pretty dresses and curl their hair, they “have a superficial surface-level understanding of oppression” is extremely insulting.

For me, the recognition of various forms of subjugation (via studying feminist theory) has meant the ability to see through such cultural patterns and influences, actively resist them, and perhaps even become self-definitional if such a thing is possible. Just because I indulge in pin-up fashion on occasion does not mean that I don’t know the history behind it, nor does it mean that I don’t understand the gendered, sociopolitical implications of it. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one (okay I know for a fact that I’m not). As a matter of fact, there is a vast array of modern day pin-ups out there that take the original concept of pin-up beauty and culture, and turn it on its head, thereby subverting the entire set of traditional notions behind it— the very sexist “white enterprise” that the above author is citing. Just look at the Suicide Girls (started by a woman and still largely run by women) which, may I remind you, began as a counterculture of “alternative” beauty.

Moreover, my brand of feminism is about choice. Just as I’m not going to castigate any woman, feminist or not, for being a stay at home mom, I’m also not going to do the same to a woman that chooses to delight in her femininity through replicating pin-up looks. Not only does it not, in my opinion, seem in keeping with the basic tenets of feminism (though, yes, I know, there are a myriad of different feminisms) but honestly, it’s also just not polite.

 

 

Having my cake and eating it, too.

That’s right-

I’m a lipstick-loving, romantic comedy-watching, fashion forward, yet card-carrying feminist.

(But no, we don’t really have cards. It’s just an expression. Though if we did, that’d be pretty fun. I’d probably want mine to have a pinup on it. Actually, individual cards would be really fun, because then we would all end up having such wildly variegated cards, showing the very multi-dimensional and diverse nature of feminism itself! This woman, however, would not get one. But I digress…)

Who said we couldn’t have feminism and lipstick too?

Look, I know there have been centuries of social conditioning of women to look a certain way for the visual pleasure of men (i.e. women being socially constructed by, within, and for “the male gaze,” if you wanna get all sociological about it) BUT, there also happens to exist in this wonderful world the sociological concept of gender fluidity. That is to say, there is femininity, masculinity, and a number of other nameless categories in between. As a former professor of mine used to always say, “Gender is fluid,” meaning it is NOT, as many of us are used to thinking, dichotomous (i.e. masculine/feminine). It is not discrete, but is continuous. It is not black and white, but contains within its spectrum many shades of gray. (And no, I haven’t the read the book, so don’t think I’m trying to hint at it with that analogy!)

Here’s the deal: I, personally, delight in femininity. I spent years of my life being a self-loathing misogynist (can you say, “internalized oppression”?) and ironic as it may sound, it was a job in fashion many moons ago that ignited the feminist within me. Working for a certain eccentric but longtime established female designer, with her uber-flirty, fun, and feminine designs, in an atmosphere of female camaraderie I had never before in my life experienced (or thought possible) changed my life forever. Everything about this experience turned my once sexist perspective upside-down. It not only paved the way for my own self-acceptance as a woman, but allowed me to relish in my femininity if I wished to do so as well.

*Disclaimer: To be clear, this does not mean that being feminine equals being a woman, nor does it mean that being a woman means being feminine. Hell to the no. That’s called a logical fallacy, people, and there are tons of those out there, especially with regard to gender and sexuality, so beware!*

This designer’s signature use of the word “girlfriend” (know who I’m talking about yet?;) almost drilled the concept of sisterhood into my head in a way. It made me see myself and other women as, well, “girlfriends.” As in, we’re all women and we can be friends (and in fact are), so what’s with all the self-hatred, competitiveness and sexism anyway? Us women were, and are, so much more than the dresses we sold or the makeup we wore (or chose not to wear for that matter). We were an amalgamation of queer, straight, Mexican, White, Black, Native American, poor, and privileged women.

We loved fashion and makeup, quoted The Big Lebowski on a daily basis, and probably passed around about as many dick and fart jokes as any fraternity. (Not that that’s a great thing, but I’m just sayin’- it sort of undercuts traditional notions of femininity, does it not? A bunch of high-fashion wearing women belching loudly and talking about farts?) We did not fit into neat, discrete gender categories, in spite of our physical appearances (“physical appearances” meaning looking very “girly”).

I suppose what I’m getting at with all of this is, there can exist women who like lipstick and feminism (same goes for men, too!). You can simultaneously subscribe to fashion and feminist ideals. If you have a predilection for all things feminine, there is nothing wrong with that- you can still be a feminist, too. I am!

After all, wouldn’t it be antithetical to feminism to denounce as feminists all women who like expressing what we know as traditional notions of femininity? If they are down with the feminist cause, who cares about their sexuality or how they choose to portray their gender? And really, isn’t that a large part of what feminism is all about- accepting and loving ourselves as women and having the freedom of choice to be butch or femme, a feminine lesbian, or androgynous heterosexual, etc.?

I’m having my feminism and wearing lipstick, too.