An excerpt from “Women Recovering Our Clothes” by Iris Marion Young reads, “It’s all true, I guess; at least I cannot deny it: In clothes I seek to find the approval of the transcending male gaze; in clothing I seek to transform myself into a bewitching object that will capture his desire and identity. When I leaf through magazines and catalogs I take my pleasure from imagining myself perfected and beautiful and sexual for the absent or mirrored male gaze”…If I simply affirm this, I must admit that for me there is no subjectivity that is not his, that there is no specifically female pleasure I take in clothes.”
I too am uncomfortable “simply affirming” such thinking. But, I’m certain that many women do take pleasure this way in their appearance, and one doesn’t have to look far for a myriad of examples. I suppose I will channel my inner Carrie Bradshaw and say, I couldn’t help but wonder, why is it all about him?
Personally, I too certainly do take pleasure flipping through magazines and imagining myself in the fashions and hair styles seen in the pages, thinking of ways I can affordably create these looks to wear in my own life. However, my foremost thought is never the attention these looks will get me from men. I enjoyed Young’s essay because I identify with it as a useful, legitimate way to justify my claims that I dress in a way that I feel confident and pretty for myself and no one else, the very claim I’ve taken comfort in my whole life, until reading Bartky’s essay, that is.
The most common argument that my boyfriend and I have goes something like this- We are going to go out somewhere, and I want to go home and change or clean up a little first. He says, “Why?, I think you look great”, or something along those lines, and I say thanks, but I’m going to run home anyway. He then says, “Who are you trying to look good for other than me? I already think you look beautiful.” Which to me, shows that men obviously are all too well aware that for many girls it is all about them. And I then have the hardest time explaining, its not for him, or anyone else. Its about me.
The male gaze will always be there in one way or another, and sometimes I think the best thing that can be done (at least in a useful, in the moment way) is not care. I talked today in class about how angry an article participating in some Halloween costume slut-shaming made me last year. I also understand others’ ideas in class about how wearing skirts or skimpier clothing can make them feel ashamed or embarrassed, or some other permutation of that emotion from time to time, and I feel that that is inevitable in the current culture and male gaze we live in and under. Perhaps for me, I think part of my pleasure in taking a bit off once a year for Halloween is in proving that I won’t be constrained by expectations of what I should or should not wear. Now there are arguments that can be made against me here. Maybe my need to prove this says something in and of itself. Maybe it is a repercussion of my forcibly modest Mormon upbringing, where I never understood the evil in baring a leg. But what I do know is that men get to take their shirts off and walk around freely that way any day they like. At that, I bet no matter how attractive their upper body, they won’t be harrassed while walking past a group of girls. While fully taking off all of my upper body clothing would get me arrested, (and possibly constitute a bridge too far 🙂 ) I at least would like to reserve my right to bare my midriff once a year in my costume, and I refuse to feel bad about that. Moreover, I dare someone (male) to say something about it, jeer, or call out to me. This is my body, and I’m doing what I want with it. Sometimes I like to decorate it, with makeup and pretty clothing. Sometimes I like to bare a part of it or maybe two. And that has absolutely nothing to do with you.