Tools, weapons, and armor

There are some seriously fantastic bloggers in the universe. I’m just saying.

I’ve been reading the blog Already Pretty almost daily for about a year. Sal talks about clothing choices and following rules and ignoring the rules and fabulous shoes and all sorts of fun things for the sartorially inclined.

She recently blogged about watching Miss Representation, 2011 Sundance film that explores the ways in which “the media’s misrepresentation of women has led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence” (from the movie website, linked above.)

You want to read the entire post—trust me—but here is a bit that I especially loved:

…and I’ve assumed that anyone who tells you you can’t do exactly what you’ve always dreamed of doing because you are a woman is going to rue the day they challenged you so brazenly.

Based on this assumption, I have sought to arm you. I consider style, fashion, body image, and everything that contributes to how we feel about personal aesthetics to be mere tools. These things are meant to help you with whatever you’re doing with your life: Lawyering, mothering, running governments, farming, writing, cooking, teaching, innovating technologies, making art, doctoring, building businesses, and on into infinity. Whatever work you’ve chosen, whatever opus you’re creating, whatever battle you’re fighting, I want to arm you with confidence in your body and your style. Why? So you can stop worrying about your outward presentation and focus on what’s important.

Jesus, that’s strong. Amazing-strong. Powerful.

And then, because the internet gods love me today, another equally fabulous piece in The New Significance in which Laurie Penny talks about clothes and being taken seriously.

The thing is that these things do matter; fashion, consumerism and style matter, they matter to women in particular because we fritter away so much of our time and energy and money, whether we want to or not, trying to negotiate those boundaries of gender and status that are mediated through clothes, hair, shoes, makeup, bags, accessories. These are the ways that we prove we are good women, good shoppers, people who know how to conform and consume and seduce, people who want to please, to fit in, no matter how complicated the rules or how high the stakes. Not for nothing are feminists so often stereotyped as ugly, unfeminine, shaven-headed, androgynously dressed. To want any type of power other than the power to seduce, to please, to entertain and comfort and excite is to forfeit one’s womanhood on some vital aesthetic level.

I’m a closet-front ditherer. I’ll put on one shirt, then switch it for that one, then try these shoes and then those. And while I’m deciding if my day calls for a blouse or if a long-sleeve tee will do, there is always this loop of —such a shallow girl. this is unimportant. just make a decision already– running in my head. I don’t do that when I’m deciding what to buy at the grocery—I’m allowed (I allow myself) to take my time there because those choices are important. Ok, not crucial, but important. I don’t do it at the library—I can quite contentedly bother the research librarian until I’ve tracked down every one of the sources on my fourteen sticky notes. (They love me there. Mmmhmm.) But the closet? Nope.

To be a good feminist, I need to not care. And to be a good woman, I need to look fantastic.

I know. I don’t have to “not care” to be a good feminist. There are as many versions of feminism as there are women who claim the label. But I’m working my way through stereotypes of feminism to find my feminism, just like everybody else. And there’s a little voice that starts up when I’m standing in front of my closet that says “Alice Paul wouldn’t have cared. She wasn’t shallow. You, on the other hand, are hopeless. You need to find a cause and march for it—picket the White House!– not pick a pair of shoes.” And then I get even more frustrated because not only can I not decide what to wear, I’m suddenly a bad feminist too, and my entire belief structure has been called into question and it’s not even 8 AM yet and dear god how did I already finish the entire pot of coffee?

Let’s face it—I want to look fantastic. I like clothes. I like makeup. I like pretty leather bags and tall boots and scarves and dangly earrings. Why? I feel more like myself when I look my best. I’m more powerful when I look my best. I’m more organized when I look my best. I can express myself more eloquently when I look my best.

I feel like I’m the best version of myself when I look my best.

Not because my best version is based on what I look like—far from it. My best version of myself is organized and powerful and eloquent and kind.  But I can’t be any of those things when I’m focused on my appearance. 

Anyway, I love how both of these pieces articulate the importance of clothes to gender and power. Clothes aren’t just a distraction. They operate as tools, as weapons, as armor.

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