Originally I didn’t plan on writing this week but after re-reading Elizabeth Groeneveld’s article about fashion and feminism, I have a bone to pick. I’ve always had a problem with the stereotypical image of the fist-shaking feminist: androgynous, hairy, hippie-leaning and burly. This list seems dominated by the influence of men in terror, something you might read in a pamphlet circulating that tries to warn of the dangers of the “Feral Feminist Female”. Feminists can be just as threatening without ever setting foot into the social categories that men have established for themselves, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with a little dabbling. They can operate on their own terms both physically and intellectually.
That said: I’m not sure that reclaiming the “feminine” is helpful either. It all goes back to the binary. By its standards you’re male or female, masculine or feminine. Although it may seem like a natural response (the one that BUST tried to critique) to attempt a style of dress that crosses traditional boundaries, adopting the opposite is just as alienating as adhering to fashion guidelines that follow gender-based assumptions. BUST’s spread about feminism across the ages managed to reduce revolutionary women to nothing more than their genders by emphasizing that their dress (and more importantly how it affected their demeanors) made each woman strongly feminine. Besides ignoring the culture context – It would have been nearly impossible for Cady-Stanton to consistently wear pants in her period and still be taken seriously – it also presents the idea that the feminine is preferable to the masculine. While the feminists featured strove for women’s equality the magazine article managed to subtly argue that their willingness to embrace the feminine (A concept imposed by the largely male-dictated gender binary) in fact made them superior!
My question then, is this: How can anyone win while playing by the rules of someone else’s game? As long as we buy into the concepts of male and female – and how they relate to a person’s ambition and character – fashion will continue to be divided among gendered lines that greatly reduce possibilities to display individuality through self-presentation.
Although I’ll be the first to admit that my argument’s still in its developing stages, I don’t think it was a total BUST.