Oct 12, 2012

Thoughts on a Fash Bash

About 3 weeks ago, I read a 'weekly shopping rant' on insing.com called "Stop stealing my heels!". I've been thinking quite a lot about it and decided to put my thoughts into writing not only because it felt personal to me, but also because I felt the rant revealed the subconscious sexist undertones still present in our society today which need to be talked about. 

I also had an interesting conversation with my friend, Tarandip of Fashstash on this issue, and I told her about the post I intended to write. She just wrote a post on this called "Girls will be boys or Boys will be Girls" that you may like to read as well. I'm a tad bit late in putting this up, but I wanted to make sure Faz (the writer of the article) was okay with this before publishing it (she is), so here goes! 

To start of on a personal note, the article talked about "a scrawny teenage boy who had more jewelry and make up on than the writer, with a pair of gorgeous heels". I could have very well been that boy described in the article. It may be hard to think of these choices as genuine, especially in an age where Lady Gaga is in exploding bras, emerging from an egg, whilst promoting the message to be yourself, which is what she proclaims she does. However, I genuinely do feel that I am just being me. 

"I'm all for fashion experimentation, gender equality and making mistakes you can learn from. While women are saddled with our fair share of fashion restrictions, our wardrobes have changed dramatically since the second World War and over the last 50 years, we have pretty much adopted all forms of menswear and the new options have not only been widely accepted, they are also, more often than not deemed sexy.

So why aren't men in mini skirts celebrated as much?"

The article answers that question through the writer's reflection that chaffing would probably occur in the nether regions of a man, and that certain things should be gender-specific.

"Besides the fact that a good amount of chaffing would probably occur in the nether regions of a man, I just think some things should be gender-specific. Urinals for men, thongs for women. Heels, and skirts? Leave to to the drag queens, lady boys, and the ladies."

First of all, as an article about the "Top 10 Things Women Can Do That Men Can't" puts it, "men have penises and testicles. If anything, they need more space in the bottom half of their wardrobe than women that skirts or dresses would allow".

All women should know, its undeniable — the liberating feeling to be able to wear a dress rather than a pair of long pants on a stiflingly hot day. With the exception of tight jeans, shorts, or leggings on men, I would have to agree.

Having addressed the issue of 'chaffing in the nether regions', I think that the question, "Why aren't men in mini skirts celebrated as much?" asked by the writer is a great one. There are a few follow up questions that should spring from that question. 

Why is it considered acceptable for women to behave, or dress "like a boy", but when a man wants to be a woman, it triggers such distaste in society?

It's because girls are rewarded for moving into the boundaries of masculinity, while boys are ridiculed, tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. 

Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Franscisco, says, "There's a lot more privilege to being a man in our society".

It’s hard to believe that women are in any way still subservient to men. After all, we live in a period of third-wave feminism (classified as after the 80s till the present), where most of women's rights in the developed world seem to be secure and as the writer has mentioned, have pretty much adopted all forms of menswear in numerous options.

The first wave of feminism notably fought for, and gained the right for women to vote. The second wave of feminism struggled for the right for women to have equal opportunity in the workforce, as well as ending legal sex discrimination.

What are women today, fighting for then, if anything?

In an article by The Daily Beast titled "Behind 'The Good Girls Revolt': The 'Newsweek' Lawsuit that Paved the Way for Women Writers", Lynn Povich is interviewed by two young women who amidst their own frustrations, uncovered the story of a gender-based lawsuit against their employers, Newsweek, 40 years ago.

The young women today tell a similar story Lynn Povich experienced 40 years ago. They say: 40 years later, sex discrimination still persists at Newsweek, just not overtly.

A study by University of British Columbia psychologist Toni Schmader and her colleague Matthias Mehl on why many women drop out of science related fields though they are just as good as their colleagues confirms this: Sexism does still exist, albeit under the surface.
The study found that men seemed more energized when discussing their work, whereas when women talked to their male colleagues about work, they seemed disengaged. When women talked to other female colleagues however, they seemed engaged, and when they talked to men about leisure activities, their anxieties that marred previous work-related conversations vanished.

Schmader and Mehl points this to the "stereotype threat". A threat though not blatant, would hang over the heads of certain groups of people like a cloud, affecting the way they saw themselves.

In this case, the stereotype threat made women second guess themselves because there is an implicit cultural assumption that men are naturally more inclined towards the sciences than women.

Perhaps, women today still aren't on equal ground as men as much as we would like to think. We are told we can do anything, be anything. But, like the case of Newsweek, where women were told 40 years earlier explicitly they weren’t good enough to write for the magazine, it takes a long time to change that perception, blatant or not.

Fashion is one of the few art and forms of expressions which women have more freedom than men. Its no coincidence that fashion is typically seen as vapid and trivial. The self-worth of women is often based on their looks and beauty, especially so in our media focused hyper-sexualised society – which like the writer says, the numerous variations of menswear which are adopted by women are also, more often than not deemed sexy.

So when we proclaim disgust at men not being men — it isn’t just about wanting men to stay within their gender lines, that certain things should be gender specific.

Maybe it’s our subconscious shock at a man behaving like a woman, because a woman is still seen as less than a man.

Like Diane Ehrensaft says, "When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?"

Update: I asked the writer what she thinks about this and she said,  

"Actually, I don’t think it’s okay for women to behave and dress like men. I’ve had a lot of issues with this, because I believe very strongly in women’s rights. Once upon in time, I used to call myself a feminist, but feminists don’t constrict themselves to beauty ideals set by patriarchy, and while I respect that, I could never be that. I also never understood why the stereotypical lesbian couple has to have a “butch”. If they wanted to be with someone who looks like a man, why not be with a man, and a not a woman who tries so hard to alter her body in ways in should not be altered." 

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. This is a great question. The same could be said for makeup, nail polish etc. I think partly it's practical but mostly it's cultural. After all, skirts (kilts) are the traditional dress of the Scots. leggings with breeches used to be very common on men, and going further back in time, togas, which I think are a great option in warm climates. This is a personal issue for me because I was a hippie in my teens with very long hair and I caught a lot of flack for it. I didn't understand why Voltaire could have long hair and I couldn't. Same for piercings. It used to be unheard of for men to have pierced ears, but Shakespeare wears an ear ring in his portrait at the National Portrait Gallery in London!