Fashionably feminist

I have a lot of RSS feeds in Google Reader. Recently, I organized them into a concise list of five groups, plus xkcd.com (a category all its own). And there, right next to each other, are "Fashion and style" and "Feminism."

I'm not sure if they are good neighbours.

Catching the wave

Feminism is not something I've studied formally. It's something I've tried to live. I've been a feminist, meaning someone who believes in full equality of all human beings, women and men, and supports women's efforts to achieve that equality, for as long as I can remember having any kind of political consciousness. I can't imagine thinking any other way. Women are paid less than men for the same work. Women are passed over for promotions. The very fabric of society values women less than it values men. Studies have shown that both women and men have a subtle bias toward men when it comes to evaluations of credibility. All of that is not only bad for women but bad for society.

Really, I don't consider not being a feminist to be an option. Women who eschew the label baffle me.

But I wonder sometimes if I truly am a feminist, or perhaps feminist enough, or feminist in the "right" way. I read the blogs Feministe and Feministing regularly, and other feminist blogs from time to time. I see what modern feminism looks like. I'm not sure that I see myself in some of the tenets of modern feminism that are accepted uncritically. There seems to be little room for disagreement on issues such as sex work and gender identity. When something has become progressive dogma, any questioning of that dogma is seen as regressive. And I question everything.

At Feministing, I can't seem to get myself off comment moderation.

At the same time, I do not agree with a meme that made the rounds earlier in the current US presidential campaign—that feminism is all about choice. That was how Sarah Palin tried to present herself as a feminist, even though many of her choices and the things she supports are against the best interests of women. Women must have free choice, but free choice for women is not in itself necessarily feminist. There are anti-women choices that many women make.

I don't police myself very carefully. I'm a critical thinker and I'm intelligent, but I'm not an intellectual. Lots of people are way smarter than I am, at least in an academic sense. I can't live with too much self-policing. It would make me crazy. I'm a musician in particular and a creative, empathic person in general. I feel what I feel, and what I feel matters to me. Thus, I might well make choices that are, at the very least, unfeminist, if not actually anti-feminist, even though I don't intend to. But if I do make such choices, I want to know it.

Fashion backward

I am currently studying fashion merchandising. It's part of my retraining for whenever I get laid off from my software job. High tech has been very good to me, but it was never what I loved. I want to do something I love, and I'm not going to make my living playing music or making whatever little money I could make (with long hours) if I went to culinary school. Thus, I am steeped in fashion—another love of mine. I'm taking the first of what will be eight courses. I am following several blogs and sites such as StyleSight, The Business of Fashion, and Vogue.com. Sometimes I write about fashion here. My Tumblr blog long view is mostly about fashion, style, and inspiration. Watch me get sucked into Pinterest next.

I love to look my best. I love to assemble outfits. I love to find just the right pieces to go together. I am addicted to shoes. I wear makeup, usually. I wear heels, sometimes. I admire others who know how to put themselves together. I have a mad girl crush on Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Seriously, I would work for her and let her abuse me all day long. The Duchess of Cambridge in red Alexander McQueen—OK, in pretty much any outfit—makes me go squeeeee. I think it rocks that Michelle Obama is a fashionista. I think Erdem Moralioglu is brilliant (even if I can never remember how to spell his surname). I think the only good reason to watch the Oscar telecast is to see what everyone is wearing.

I intend to become a stylist. Or a fashion writer. Or something in the industry, wherever I can make a place for myself at my age with as little experience as I have.

And yet...and yet...the fashion industry is, in the favourite word of the humour blog Is This Feminist, PROBLEMATIC. It is all about rampant consumerism. It fosters impossible beauty ideals. It contributes to serious problems for girls. It tolerates the abuse of young models (I gnash my teeth every time I see that über-creep photographer Terry Richardson has shot another high-profile spread). Sometimes I have a hard time finding anything redeeming about the business.

And yet I love it. PROBLEMATIC.

Is there synthesis in the house?

You can see the conflict in the piece I wrote about US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I totally upheld her right to look however she wanted. I acknowledged the double standard between women and men that should not exist. And yet I hemmed and hawed and implied that I disagreed with her choice. I agreed that it was her choice, but I did not think it was a good choice. It's one thing not to give a shit what anyone else thinks about you. It's another not to care about yourself. She still has every right to look however she wants. And I have every right to say I think it's a bad idea, especially for someone in a public position. That might be unfeminist of me, but I feel that way. I've written before that how we present ourselves to others matters, and that we can't avoid making some kind of statement, be it a stylish one or an anti-fashion one. I think some statements are better than others.

I wonder if a Hegelian dialectic is possible—if the feminist thesis and the fashion antithesis can possibly reach synthesis. There is an eco-fashion movement afoot, one that I am eager to be a part of. It's about consuming responsibly, using sustainable fabrics and production methods, supporting fair trade and fair conditions for workers. Indirectly, at least, these things help women, and work against rampant consumerism and the following of fads. I will be looking for other ways in which the fashion industry is feminist, or at the very least not anti-feminist, and maybe ways I can help it (someday, in some small way) to be more supportive of women's issues. And I might have to change my mind about a few things.

Fashion and feminism are both important to me, so I will continue writing about this issue as the spirit moves me.


Aerin Caley said...

I'm too tired to make eloquent phrases, but I don't think being a feminist and a fashionista is impossible. I tend to think of myself as a humanist, I just wish that humans weren't a dying species.

Véronique said...

I don't think it's impossible either, but I do think there are areas of potential conflict. Just saying that one can be both doesn't make it so!

As for being a humanist, I'm that as well, but I'm a feminist as long as it's a man's world and not a world for everyone.