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!|
(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.|
|...but also this sort of thing|
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|
Besides, check this shit out;