Monday, November 26, 2012

Women's Fashion isn't for men after all!

I have a confession to make - in the past, I was kind of a pain in the ass. If you didn't agree with me, you were wrong WRONG WRONGITY WRONG, and it was my job, clearly, to make you see how wrong you were. This was particuarly true about feminism.

As you can imagine, this didn't make me terribly popular in the Women's Room during my first year of university. I actually eventually got banned for a brief period, for being an unstoppable pain in the ass and starting arguments with people who were much more well read than I was, and in my youthful hubris, decided I was never going back because they were obviously all jerks.
One of the things I used to argue with people about all the time was the question of who fashion is for, specifically women's fashion. I was absolutely convinced that the only reason to wear something uncomfortable was to appeal to the male gaze, and anyone who did so was trying to get male attention. End of story. 
I know feminism better than you, so shut up!
Let's pause for a moment in this narrative, just so I can be clear about what I mean when I talk about the male gaze. As I've spoken about previously, there are a certain set of visual indicators that are considered to be What Straight Men Want by western society at large, which may or may not have anything at all to do with what any particular given man might or might not want to see on the women he finds attractive. There is every possibility you've never had them listed out specifically - but if you've grown up in the same culture I have, the knowledge is there, drilled in deep by media and personal interactions. Tight short skirts, black or red lingerie, high heels, long hair - these are things that we all somehow "know" appeal to straight men, and if, as a woman, you don't wear them, straight men will not be interested in you.

(a secondary sidebar - while I identify as queer, I don't feel nearly qualified enough to comment on how the femme stereotype, the straight male gaze, and queer relationships interact, so in order to avoid running my mouth I will be exclusively addressing heterosexual interactions here)

Men like this sort of thing.
Of course, this idea of What Straight Men Want is often totally different to what any particular man might find attractive. If reception in the sex industry taught me anything, it's that ANY feature you have will be absolute ambrosia to someone. Seriously, ANYTHING. My personal relationships have only reinforced this knowledge - what my various male partners have preferred in terms of visual appearance has varied ENORMOUSLY. I've had partners who hated me wearing underwear at all, and another who loved huge, floral grannie panties so much he would buy them for me to encourage me to wear them more often.
...but also this sort of thing
However, as with so much societal conditioning, so amount of personal experience can really completely erase the lessons learned by absorption from the society around you - I KNOW that cutting my hair off won't result in me magically becoming drastically less attractive to men, but I'm still too nervous to do it.

But back to my story. There I was, tiny and uneducated and full of fire, hurling disdain at anyone who dared disagree with my opinion that fashion was clearly all about men, and women who gave into this pressure were stupid.
It was all very well for me, as a tempestuous young feminist, to insist that I would never wear anything uncomfortable in order to gain male attention, and pander to the male gaze - but considering I was attracting precisely zero male attention anyway, it was a little like someone in a country without animals insisting they are vegetarian for ethical reasons.
Eventually, I DID start getting some male attention. And suddenly, magically, I wasn't nearly so judgmental about other women wearing uncomfortable shoes etc. in order to appeal to men. Fancy that! I get some attention from a pretty boy, and suddenly out come the heels and lipstick. However, because I assumed that all women only wore "girly" things because they wanted to appeal to men, I was endlessly baffled by a lot of women's fashion that I knew from consultation with the men wasn't actually that appealing to them. I just couldn't wrap my head around why, if your boyfriend said he really didn't find wedge heels that attractive, anyone would continue to wear them.

It turns out that perhaps if I had had more female friends, I might have come across this big secret of women's fashion a lot sooner - it's often nothing to do with men, or the male gaze. Don't get me wrong - sometimes it absolutely is. Especially if you're reading Cleo or Cosmo or one of those dreadful magazines that are designed to make you self conscious even in the throes of orgasm. THAT part of fashion is absolutely about pandering to the male gaze. But I have discovered that is far from all there is to fashion, "girly" things, or femme in general.

Like what, you might ask. Well, let's start with a really obvious example - Lady Gaga.
Was this dress a blatant grab for attention? ABSOLUTELY. Was it a grab for male attention? No. This outfit is well outside the confines of What Straight Men Want. It's short, and tight, for sure. But it's also made of meat - it's grotesque, disturbing, vaguely threatening, and personally I think it's pretty awesome. BUT it's clearly not aimed at the male gaze. It is a very certain set of straight men who go home and think about Lady Gaga dripping meat juices all over them while she jerks them off in this outfit. It's a high fashion outfit that is clearly (to my mind) not for straight men, or the male gaze. She's not afraid to be a little bit frightening, or challenging. It's all about what SHE wants. On a less spectacular scale, this kind of self directed experimentation with fashion can be seen all over the blogosphere. My favourite mad scientist at the moment is the lovely lady behind Self Constructed Freak, who manages to meld together punk aesthetics, fluffy glittery femme, and a fistful of the most kawaii accessories I've ever seen in my life. It's bloggers like this that have convinced me that there IS more to fashion than just pandering to the male gaze, and what lies beyond the glossy "What's Hot Now" nonsense is just as fascinating and rich as any other art scene.

Knowing all this though, I am still human. I like to feel pretty. I like to feel...normal. I like to feel like I fit in, in some small way. There are so many ways I don't fit in anywhere without enormous compromise that I feel like if I just dress the way I'm "supposed" to, at least that's one place I'm not rubbing myself raw.
But ultimately, it's bloody dull dressing "nicely" every day. I am constrained by what is and isn't accepted in my workplace, even considering how lenient my work is. There is, however, Casual Friday, and I've been making an effort the last couple of weeks to at least try and incorporate an aspect of self expression to my outfit. Something that's not for anyone but me. Mostly it's been in the form of t-shirts, like this;
No-one at work gets them, but I love them all the same
But really, in the end, that's not so challenging. Wearing funny shirts is something I've always done. I'd like to push the boundaries of what I feel like I can and can't do, so in the future I have more choices. I've discounted fashion and femme for so long as stupid, or anti-feminist, or whatever fucking bullshit excuse I had that week, that it's time for me to start experiencing it, trying it on, before I try and tell people what it is and is not.
Besides, check this shit out;
This? This is fantastic. I can't believe I denied myself the pure, childish glee of making parts of my body uber shiny for so long, let alone having accessories like this;

 These aren't for my boyfriend - he's pretty baffled by my current holographic nail obsession. But little things like these make me so disproportionately happy, it seems like a shame to keep them out of my life because of childish misconceptions.


  1. This is such a great post! Thank you so much for the mention, too. :)


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