Sep 26 2005

Introduction To Fashion Week

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I can’t stop! So it’s officially Fashion Week here at I Blame The Patriarchy. Over the next few days I’ll be ridiculing assorted fashion trends, standards, and practices. My brilliant thesis, in case you’re just joining us, is this: fashion = misogyny.

"Whoa there, Twisty," you say. "Why such a killjoy? Fashion is fun! Through fashion I choose to creatively express my individual personality! "

Unto you, my young onion, I say this: Pause. Reflect. For although fashion, like singersongwriting, expresses many things, believe me, your individual personality ain’t one of’em (for personality expression–if I may suggest–nothing beats playing the accordion!).

What does fashion express?

Fashion expresses your affiliation with your particular cult. It expresses your loyalty to consumerism. It expresses your insouciant indifference to indentured servitude in 3rd World labor markets. It expresses your status within the caste system. It expresses the misogyny of sadistic gay male fashion designers. It expresses the taste created by money. It expresses your acceptance of the patriarchally-approved Standard Two-Gender System. It expresses the extent to which you have internalized the woman-hating doctrine of femininity.

Fashion, to sum up, expresses your obeisance to patriarchy.

"Excuse me? Patriarchy?" your fashion statement says, having spotted its idol in the shoe department at Nordstrom’s, "Omigod! It is you! I hate to bother you, Mr. Patriarchy, but I’m just such a huge fan! I mean, all your work, like "Millions Of Women Suffer And Die In Poverty," or "The Slut Asked For It,"  it’s totally awesome, and I really loved you in that "Nomination Of A (Male!) Veterinarian To Head The Women’s Health Section Of The FDA" show the other day, but my all-time favorite has got to be "Compulsory Motherhood!" Would you mind–I mean, could I please get your autograph? What? Oh! Oh, sure, of course I’ll suck your dick first! What? Oh, god yes, I’d be honored if you used my head as a beer caddy! It’s just such a thrill to to meet you!"

Next: the consummate stupidity that is the teeny satchel handbag
Previously: Partial Feminist Analysis of a Sick Mail-Order Catalog

Thanks to Judy for the Molly Ivins link


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  1. d.e.i.x.i.s.

    Corset piercing! I love those. I know a local Suicide Girl who has one & it’s really hot. It’s just so impractical because they will inevitably reject & then you just have some nasty back scars. But it’s cute while it does last!

    [feel free to shred that paragraph]

    As for the rest of it, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t agree. I’m just not prepared to stop expressing my affiliation with a particular cult or my loyalty to consumerism.

  2. AndiF

    It’s official — I am an old fart.

    I think that corset piercing has got to be the stupidest, ugliest, and most pathetic surrender to the patriarchy I’ve ever seen (yes, it’s an exaggeration and I don’t care) and that anyone who tries to justify by claiming that it is a ironic statement about fashion/the patriarchy is suffering major self-delusion (along with self-mutilation).

  3. emjaybee

    I have inadvertantly not been a fashion follower because truly fashionable clothes don’t really exist in my shape/price range. If it’s exploitation of the Third World that’s bad, though, you don’t have to follow fashion to be guilty of that…even the least hip piece of clothing you own was probably sewn by a Malaysian 10 year old.

    You can’t even sew your own clothes and be guilt-free, because the fabric, needles, thread, and the sewing machine itself probably employed some sort of sweatshop labor to create.

    Apparently, nakedness is the only way to go. Kind of rough in the wintertime, though.

  4. Xavier Harkonnen

    Misogynist gay guys? That sounds like radfem projection. Women who hate men are much more likely to become homosexual than men who hate women. Though I’m sure that most lesbians are lesbians because of a lot of testosterone in their uterine environment, just like most gay guys.

  5. Hissy Cat

    Oh. My. Lord. I have never seen this “corset piercing” before. I don’t understand. How does that work? When did it start? Where is it fashoinable?

  6. Q Grrl

    FTR Xavier: most lesbians are lesbians b/c they like women. It has nothing to do with men.

  7. Sam

    Hissy cat, you’ve been given the answer in D.E.I.X.I.S.’s post. Suicide Girls is a pornography website, and no one demands painful mutilations of the female body quite like pornographers.

  8. woojzee

    The corset piercing is so over the top stupid -the obvious factor at work here is that women must go to great lengths to please, please, please.

    But what consistently kills me is the subtle S&M BARE factor.

    Monitor one night of TV, a movie or magazine
    Flipping and see how rare it is for both sexes to appear to be in the same climate zone.

    If I were from another planet I would swear that the females here are impervious to cold – seeing men dressed in three piece suits in all the media while women are almost always practically bare. Even on the street girls are wearing impossibly skimpy tight clothes while the young men wear bagy,baggy slouchy stuff.

    In my former office we had a war, males Vs females, to control the thermostat.
    We women literally had to wear winter coats
    indoors to keep comfortable in Texas! It is my belief that women are rarely more able to tolerate cold than men.

    I understand that cold is part of the stress strategy used towards prisoners to “soften them up” Abuse, torture them, whatever.

  9. Anonymous

    style is smart.
    fashion is stupid

  10. Xavier Harkonnen

    I agree, Q GRRL. The vast majority of lesbians are lesbians for reasons of attraction, not ideology, with a likely ultimate cause being hormone levels in the uterus. However, It seems that while an identifiable minority of lesbians (at least in the past) have chosen their orientation for ideological reasons, it is harder to find gay men who have “chosen” their preference for men. There were feminists, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, who considered it treasonous for women to have romantic attachments with men. Maybe that is no longer the case.

  11. Twisty

    Misogynist gay guys? That sounds like radfem projection. Women who hate men are much more likely to become homosexual than men who hate women. Though I’m sure that most lesbians are lesbians because of a lot of testosterone in their uterine environment, just like most gay guys.

    This is dumb.

  12. Former Jose

    Of course there’s misogynist gay guys. Just because you belong to one minority group, all the ways you ARE privileged suddenly disappear? Nonsense.

    Just ask any lesbian involved in GLBT activism, and she’ll tell you all about just how misogynist a lot of gay guys are.

  13. Josef K

    That “exposure to testosterone in the womb” thing is rubbish, surely? How do you explain women like me, who are attracted to women but have none of the spatial skills associated with testosterone exposure in the womb?

  14. Mrs. Coulter

    Ugh. I have most certainly met misogynist gay men. I don’t think they were gay because they were misogynist, but not every gay man has a gaggle of female best friends. They are shaped by the patriarchy, too, you know.

    FYI, Twisty, I love your series on fashion! You are ripping shallow do-me feminism to shreds. However, I find myself wondering if there is any position we can take that is not compromised by contact with the patriarchy. I mean, sometimes I feel like we’re veering into “the only proper thing for a feminist is to be a shlumpy man-hatin’ lesbian” territory. Or can we just make compromises, knowing all the while that they are tainted?

  15. Beth S.

    I hope you will include footwear in the Fashion Week postings. Shoes in which you can’t actually walk have got to be the patriarchy’s crowning achievement.

  16. BitingBeaver

    Ugh, high-heeled shoes *growls softly*, the apex of Patriarchal torture devices, those hideous, nightmarish things which leave you open to ankle injuries, arch problems and arduous hours of kneading the frigging charlie horse out of your calves.

    Gotta love our century’s ode to foot binding.

    I second you Beth. Twisty, we wanna see you turn that cutting wit onto high heeled shoes *grin*

  17. robin

    If all the men in the world suddenly ceased to find women in feminine drag (abnormally large breasts, high heeled tight foot-killing shoes, tight, chaffing constricting pants and shirts, gooey make-up, etc) appealing, you can absolutely bet the women would abandon the uniform in an instant. Women who say it’s just a fun, creative way to express themselves are more likely finding it fun to imagine the appoval they’ll get from men in such attire and the attention-by-proxy they’ll get from women, than to be expressing their creative selves through the sex-uniform.
    I do believe that dressing, decorating and adorning one’s self can be a creative act, but not in the fashion-misogynist way that women have to taught to believe is “fun.”

  18. SneakySnu

    Xavier, what the hell are you talking about??? Care to back up your pseudo-science with some facts? What a bunch of crap.

    Twisty, I’m curious to know what you think about (blank’s) distinction, “Style is smart, fashion is stupid.” Is there an outside to fashion? Dress is so thoroughly coded by the patriarchy that it is difficult to imagine a form of dress that could negate it. I mean, is it enough to be unfashionable? Style is difficult to negotiate as well, since it is fashion’s purpose to consume all style and spit it out as “trend”; meaning that if you’ve found something cool and anti-patriarchal to wear, the patriarchy probably already knows about it and is sending out its troops to include it in the next Fall collection.

    I’m way out of the loop on recent feminist cultural studies. (Sigh.) If you’re reading something that has sparked your recent thoughts on fashion, I’d love to have the citation.

    This is a great series. It’s a fascinating and important discussion.

  19. Rene


    Isn’t that true of everything, though? Nice cars, iPods, Les Pauls, free-range chicken — all the little luxuries that separate us from the self-flagellating self-deniers? Why is it more bogus to imagine that you’re expressing your identity through clothes than it is to imagine that you’re expressing it through any other item that you buy that you don’t absolutely need? It’s all a sad delusion, and we’re all tainted.

    That said, I’m not going to get my back pierced, no fucking way. I often regret getting my ears pierced. My mom begged me to get them pierced when I was about 10 years old — I think she actually bribed me with cash. She wasn’t any more a tool of the patriarchy than anyone else; I think she just thought that it would improve my self-esteem. Ha.


  20. Megan Good

    Wait, corset piercing is a fashion now? I thought it was still a pain/power play thing, and not gendered at that (there were some very nice pictures of beribbonned men before Suicide Girls had ever heard of it). Goddamn patriarchy, turning fun into stupid.

  21. AndiF

    Robin, I’m sure you’re right. I’m a computer consultant so I go to a lot of different companies all over the country and clearly, ‘business casual’ has exposed what women will wear when they aren’t pressured to conform to a standard — almost all the women at these companies wear slacks and comfortble shoes (btw, they are managers and technical staff).

  22. Mandos

    Here’s a big conundrum I find in all of this: yes fashion is oppressive in multiple directions. But at the same time, to go as far as you do, it suggests to me that you have to commit to the notion that “visually pleasing” is necessarily patriarchal, seeing as it is always to some extent a mixture of cultural environment some presumably innate (?) sense of order. But part of cultural environment entails group belonging. So you’d also have to say that “group belonging signifiers” are inherently oppressive and patriarchal.

    I’m entirely unconvinced you can have a world where people don’t sacrifice to be approved by a group.

  23. Tony Patti

    It’s like everything else in life; once you realize how insidious the whole issue of fashion is, you can partake of it without at least being complacent about the power play involved. Suddenly your choices are less influenced by standards you don’t agree with, and this relaxing of standards leads to just a few less ‘needs’ in your life.

    I’m not going to be able to start a revolution by ignoring fashion but it sure makes me feel more secure to see the insanity of the hipper-than-thou artifice of it all when I please my body with clothing that feels good first and looks like whatever it needs to look like to feel that good.

    But I draw the line at Spandex.

  24. deja pseu

    OK, y’all can call me an old fuddy-duddy now, but when I looked at the “corset piercing” photo, I assumed it was one of Twisty’s brilliantly bizarre photoshopped creations. I can’t believe someone would actually DO this to their body. No wait, I can, but it still sickens me.

  25. Twisty

    Mandos (Mandos Mandos), attractiveness isn’t an absolute, and beauty standards do not exist independent of the patriarchy, they imposed for the purpose of male titillation. If, say, high heels were actually an example of absolute beauty, men wouldn’t look stupid in’em. Men look stupid in high heels because they are the footwear of the submissive.

    The desire for “group belonging” to which you allude is a function of the dominance/submission dynamic characteristic of all relationships emerging from patriarchal oppression. I don’t see much chance of dismantling this system, but a girl can dream.

  26. Anonymous

    Oh dear. Just look at all that redness and swelling — makes this RN cringe — Twisty, make her take it off/out NOW.

  27. Twisty

    Mrs Coulter, I submit that the only reason the idea of the “shlumpy man-hatin’ lesbian” displeases you is that as a class such women are marginalized and ridiculed and even deemed disgusting by fans of the status-quo for not conforming to the patriarchal ideal. What is “shlumpy”? Attractiveness is a construct!

    But you’re right, patriarchy has poisoned the whole thing. So the proper thing for a feminist to do is call bullshit where she sees it.

    It’s so hard to let go of those gender roles, though, isn’t it? Especially when you know that if you’re feeling gluppy all you have to do is slip into your Manolos and your lipstick and, as long as you don’t mind capitulating to the Establishment, the world will once again be your oyster.

  28. Chris Clarke

    Xavier, what the hell are you talking about??? Care to back up your pseudo-science with some facts? What a bunch of crap.

    Everyone knows it’s straight women who are more likely to hate men.

  29. zz

    Twisty said: “Mrs Coulter, I submit that the only reason the idea of the “shlumpy man-hatin’ lesbian” displeases you is that as a class such women are marginalized and ridiculed and even deemed disgusting by fans of the status-quo for not conforming to the patriarchal ideal. What is “shlumpy”? Attractiveness is a construct!”

    Just when I think you’ve reached the height of wonderfulness, you write something like this and entirely reset the scale. Bravo Twisty!

  30. Mandos

    “The desire for “group belonging” to which you allude is a function of the dominance/submission dynamic characteristic of all relationships emerging from patriarchal oppression. I don’t see much chance of dismantling this system, but a girl can dream.”

    See, the problem is that I’m not convinced that dominance/submission doesn’t exist independently of patriarchal oppression, if we define patriarchy to be something vaguely meaning the disempowerment of women as a class. As long as people want more, some people are going to try to get more, and that usually involves dominating others in some way.

    You could argue that wanting more is a patriarchal construct. But I’m hungry.

  31. grandma Blue

    That’s one of the most revolting photos I’ve ever seen.

  32. Delphyne

    Dear jesus god, the first time I looked at that I thought it was a photo mock-up because nobody would do that to themsleves, now I’m crying because it’s real. You can see the inflammation in her back.

    I don’t think I’ve ever cried at anything on the internet before.

  33. antelope

    Some things to do about fashion:

    Get stuff at value village, consignment shops, or clothing swaps w/ your friends. I have the craving for things that feel “new”, or sometimes the craving for something that’s dark purple because I like the way it sets off my hair, but I can almost always satisfy it by doing one of these things. Heck, I can even stay within a a year or two of what’s trendy that way if I really want to. Clothing swaps are best b/c the other women help fill me in on what’s WAY out & I wouldn’t necessarily notice otherwise.

    I don’t think it helps the sweatshop workers one way or another, or even that it would help them if everybody did it that way, but at least I’m not blowing money on my patriarchy-inspired urges that could be better spent on books, music, or a weekend out of town.

  34. lisa

    But Twisty, what if I sew my own clothes and create my own individual fashion?

  35. Kyra

    Something else to complain about: guys who complain about your sloppiness/plainness/frumpiness if you don’t dress attractively, and complain about your cock-teasing/mixed-messages if you do dress attractively (specifically, how dare you not *be* available when you *look* available). All women should look attractive, and all women who look attractive should be willing to have sex with any man they attract, or else they’re bitches.

    At least the corset piercing doesn’t compress your ribs like a real corset. It sucks anyway, though.

    The problem with all “beauty” is that our society decrees that all its benefits go to the people who look at it, i.e. if I am pretty, I must be looking good for men, not looking good because it makes me feel good. Notice that restrictions on women’s dress is based on what other people see? In Islamic countries women are supposed to cover up so men will not see their bodies. It would be so much easier on the women, and not much harder on the men, if the women could wear whatever they wanted and the men were instructed not to start at them, but no, the Patriarchy doesn’t undergo the slightest inconvenience to spare women a much bigger one.

  36. Kate

    It’s so sad that something that can be so fun — self decoration, namely — is so twisted up with oppression and gender stereotyping.

    And that piercing business? Owwwww.

  37. pennyK

    First, Ouch! And Ick.
    Practically speaking, I’m curious:
    where does Twisty shop for clothes?

  38. rose

    Twisty, you are the adorable one.

  39. Ron Sullivan

    Twisty, please tell me you read Joanna Russ’ The Female Man way back when it was published. If not, I know you have decent used bookstores in Austin.

    I did, and it made me grin and bounce and emit little whoops of glee. And she does touch on fashion, and a lot of other things that have been mentioned here. It’s all mean and jaded and doomy SF except when it isn’t.

  40. judy

    this relates back a few days–to the austin music festival thread? Bettye LaVette is on letterman tonight (at least that’s what it says on their website).

  41. Xavier Harkonnen

    My last posts were probably unnecessary and in bad taste. But the hormone thing isn’t pseudoscience. No one has ruled out sociocultural factors, but certain uterine conditions are correlated with homosexual children.

    This probably isn’t the best article I could have found, but I’m lazy:


  42. BritGirlSF

    That picture is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen, and I’m pretty damned kinky. Just ick. Real corsets may squeeze a bit (understatement), but at least you can take them off when the scene is done.
    I’m going to disagree a bit about fashion, though. Certainly there are aspects of the industry which as deeply fucked up, but one does have to wear something after all. If one is a socialist as well as a feminist then just buying the less trendy clothes isn’t really a solution, as the lower end stuff is even more likely to be the product of a sweatshop than the expensive stuff. Personally I’m going with the “all clothing is costume” idea and simply picking whichever form of costume appeals to me and suits the occasion at hand.
    I am curious though, how do you propose bypassing ths fashion dilemma? I honestly can’t see any answer that doesn’t involve some kind of ethical compromise, short of growing and producing one’s own cloth and sewing one’s own clothes, and who has the time to do that?

  43. norbizness

    On a related note, I’m thinking of having my legs fused together and a railroad spike inserted into my head. I _will_ appear on Suicide Girls if it’s the last thing I do!

  44. CafeSiren

    Hey — did anyone notice that there’s an AUDIENCE for this woman, who is sitting on a stage? And they don’t particulary look like fetish types. So, although this is probably way OT from the point Twisty’s making, let me just ask: what the hell is going on in this picture?

  45. d.e.i.x.i.s.

    I’m totally going to make out with Norbizness, now– for that and because he’s down with Mr. Show.

    But I’m sorry to have to break it to you that it’s been done, though on a less extreme scale. There’s one girl I know of who’s had metal antennae implanted into her skull. More than a few guys have split their cocks & reassembled them with piercings. There was this one really sweet story on bmezine.com a while back about a couple who, in rejecting traditional marital-ness & rings, instead amputated the top joints of their ring fingers.

    But I’m really surprised to all fuck that so many people haven’t seen a corset piercing before! I mean, even Bjork got it done on camera for her Pagan Poetry video– that & her nipples. I guess I just live in such a modified city that it blows my mind when people don’t know about all of the available mods.

    Is Suicide Girls really porn? While the photos are often/usually risque, the girls totally have a voice. But I guess that doesn’t matter if no one reads what they write :-(

  46. d.e.i.x.i.s.

    Damn me for not hitting refresh & seeing cafesiren’s post.

    Well, there do exist live body mod shows, which employ what they call temporary piercings– but I don’t know that that’s what’s going on here. The shows I’ve seen are much more elaborate in what they do. They wouldn’t stop at a simple corset piercing, they’d make it much prettier & decorative & such.

    As for the audience not looking like a fetish crowd? Have you ever seen a fetish crowd? While the clubs are mostly populated with hot young things with lean bodies in shiny clothes, if you go to fetish fairs, it’s a lot of dirty-uncle type men & middle aged women. No one that you would suspect liked fucking while wearing horse hooves.

    And don’t feel sorry for the models– they’re all adrenaline addicts. They get off on that shit. Heh, like I can talk.

  47. Delphyne

    “And don’t feel sorry for the models– they’re all adrenaline addicts. They get off on that shit. Heh, like I can talk.”

    Yes, addicts get off on their drug of choice, but I can’t see why that doesn’t preclude feeling compassion for them. That picture literally made me burst into tears. I didn’t even have time to think before I found myself crying.

    Sheila Jeffreys calls it self-mutilation by proxy and I think she has a good point.

  48. Nassoid

    It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the piercings are probably temporary- the whiteness is probably the rings pulling up the wearer’s skin and the redness may well be because they’ve only recently been put in. Certainly the rest of her clothing doesn’t seem to be in line with the corset\temp piercing look so she may be doing a demo or getting dressed later.
    I’ve worn something similar- temp piercings with feathers in the luer locks of the needles to create an overall effect of feathers with a needle quill sprouting from my back- to a dyke ball and whilst it smarts a little and takes a while to adjust (about an hour of walking around rather gingerly) it’s not that unpleasant to put on and leaves no marks that persist beyond a day or so. I appreciate that for the majority of people outfits involving piercing are going to be fairly wince-inducing, but at the same time it’s kind of patronising to assume that the wearer is acting out of a sense of false consciousness as to the proper or appropriate use of their body.
    I’m also not completely sure how the corset piercing fits in with the actual post- the link was to a page where the only connection to the fashion industry is the subject line of an e-mail. I’ve only seen temp piercings worn within communities with little to no relationship to mainstream fashion trends and a serious emphasis on consensuality and choice.
    Buying into fashion trends can be disempowering and objectifying, but the wholesale denial of our agency and capacity to make re-interpretations of clothing and fashion is also horribly objectifying. It feels like you’re characterising a vast group of women as mindless consumer drones, rather than people capable of making their own choices, on the basis that you purport to understand their choices better than they themselves do.

  49. BitingBeaver

    While people *do* make their own choices, it’s important to remember that the reasons they make their choices are also important. It absolutely *does* matter why someone is making a given choice.

    Twisty and others are right, in a Patriarchy everything is about domination/submission etc. If these women were making a choice to stick shit into their bodies because they liked the way it felt then, it’s likely, that they’d just be sticking shit in their bodies just to do it. However, what we see here is a woman who has stuck shit in her body and then, dressed it up to look ‘pretty’ and ‘feminine’.

    For me at least, the influence of Patriarchal smatterings is easy to see. Does the woman give a flying fig about how she looks to other women? Most likely not, it’s more likely that she has stuck crap in her body to appeal to the men around her that are in the position of giving her attention, and, by proxy, Power.

    Attractiveness, as Twisty so eloquently says, is a construct. If you were the only person on earth you most likely wouldn’t give a rats ass about your attractiveness, or lack thereof. It becomes important only when our ‘Attractiveness’ become the yardstick by which our worth is measured. It becomes important when it’s the sacrifice we make to procure a teeny taste of the power that men, by and large, hold.

    Many times, in a marriage or committed relationship, we stop worrying about our attrativeness level. Why? Because, as a construct it falls apart when it’s no longer needed. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, when the observers are the ruling class and the observed is the sex class, it becomes impossible to truly make choices that are free from the influences of the ruling class.

    I’ve found that people, by and large, don’t have any clue *why* they make the choices they do. We don’t *want* to know what’s in our heads or why we do certain things, therefore, we cloak our choices in ‘free will’ or by saying, “It’s just a choice I made” with a flippant shrug.

    I personally think the photograph was less about fashion and more about a prime-time example of the Patriarchy at it’s finest. Way to go Twisty.

  50. d.e.i.x.i.s.

    My list of people to make out with on here is growing.
    NASSOID? You are awesome.

    And damn, Beaver. That’s really mean about prettiness. What about me? I’m a lesbian and I LOVE looking pretty. I’m a total aesthete. Is that really so wrong?

    And corset piercings generally can last up to a few months before rejecting. They never really 100% heal, so they’re always a little reddish & infected looking.

  51. Delphyne

    Everyone here who is arguing about how they love to be pretty is missing the main point that MEN DON”T HAVE TO DO IT. Prettiness or attractiveness is not a requirement of masculinity in our culture. Look around you people, men and women have a completey different set of aeshetics required of them, with comfort and utility being top of the list for men.

    “And corset piercings generally can last up to a few months before rejecting. They never really 100% heal, so they’re always a little reddish & infected looking.”

    No surprises there. If your body is rejecting an item you’ve put into it (unless it’s something useful like a heart or a kidney) then maybe it’s time to start paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you.

  52. Nassoid

    I agree that men and women have different aesthetics required of them and hence attention should be paid to the way in which female aesthetics disadvantage or serve to oppress women under patriarchy. But that statement seems really different to saying that fashion = misogyny or saying that women are paying tribute to patriarchy when they dress up in any kind of fashion. The first statement is one I wholeheartedly agree with, but the second ends up with an analysis that relies on a group of people (in this case feminists) telling other women that they’re deluded and operating under some kind of false consciousness; it’s the kind of analysis that ends up denying the agency and self-perception of a really big group of women, and that’s what I find really problematic.
    I’d sort of feel the same problem applies to Bitingbeaver’s point too- yes attractiveness can be and is oppressive but defining it purely in relation to the male gaze ends up devaluing women’s self-expression and perhaps suggests that we look at bodily expression purely from a male perspective. I don’t disagree with that analysis, it’s just that I think that it’s limiting to only examine fashion\femininity in that way. It seems a bit polemical to suggest that feminine dress is exclusively a function of patriarchal norms and power relations and not at all an expression of non-oppressive self-identity. That’s not to say that patriarchal standards aren’t a component of feminine dress, just that saying that femininity is a pure function of patriarchy is as limiting as saying it’s purely a result of free choice and self-expression.

  53. Xavier_Harkonnen

    Actually, women don’t have to do it either. Men really don’t care if women wear utilitarian clothes and little or no makeup. In fact, I think men prefer less makeup on women than they typically wear.

    Both sexes have huge misconceptions about what the other sex is attracted to, I’m afraid.

  54. deja pseu

    While people *do* make their own choices, it’s important to remember that the reasons they make their choices are also important. It absolutely *does* matter why someone is making a given choice.

    Yep. None of us make choices in a vacuum.

    Or as someone much smarter that I once said, “when you find you’re choosing what the patriarchy is pushing, it’s a good thing to sometimes stop and ask yourself why.”

  55. Sara

    Fashion expresses your level of income. That is all.

  56. WookieMonster

    The whole point is, why does getting all prettied up make you feel good?

    For me at least, dressing up all knock-em-dead gorgeous makes me feel powerful. I realized about the second time I did this on purpose that this implies that the only power I can get is sexual power, power derived not from my own actions, but from the desire of others to posess me like an object. I don’t want to be posessed by anyone, so the sense of power is false and in the end destructive, becuase it creates that desire to posess me, and when I am seen as an object rather than a person my power has acutally been reduced, no matter how I feel about myself. Being owned is having no power over your own self, much less anything else.

    I now wear whatever I regardless of whether it’s “in style” or not, I dress for comfort in materials and styles that I like, mostly purchased from thrift stores or made myself. I love long skirts, but most of my skirts are tubes of fabric with a drawstring or elastic at the waist.

    If you think that it’s honestly your own reaction to feel great simply because you’re wearing high heels, lipstick, and corsets, the patriarchy has succeded in pulling the wool over your eyes.

    The only way I can think of subverting the fasion=patriarchy is to have everyone dress in identical uniforms, which I can’t see getting any support from society as a whole, there are too many people with too much invested in the patriarchy to give it all up.

  57. BitingBeaver

    WookieMonster, you are fabulous! You managed to say exactly what I wanted to say in a far more concise way and with far less ambiguity.

  58. Delphyne

    “But that statement seems really different to saying that fashion = misogyny or saying that women are paying tribute to patriarchy when they dress up in any kind of fashion. The first statement is one I wholeheartedly agree with, but the second ends up with an analysis that relies on a group of people (in this case feminists) telling other women that they’re deluded and operating under some kind of false consciousness; it’s the kind of analysis that ends up denying the agency and self-perception of a really big group of women, and that’s what I find really problematic.”

    It’s not telling women that they are deluded (or rather we are deluded because I know a lot of feminists who still haven’t freed themselves from patriarchal aesthetic requirements, me included sometimes) it’s analysing the forces that make us settle for the choices we do. If men are doing one thing and women are doing another (especially when it’s harmful to women) then it’s worth examining what is going on.

    To ignore the enormous pressures that go into making women fit the feminine role is anti-feminist and anti-woman. It’s a tired old argument to say that feminists are attacking women and accusing them of false consciousness, it’s so tired and old it needs to be put to bed or at least given a cup of tea, sat in a comfy chair and allowed a good long rest. I mean what are you really saying – that we shouldn’t notice that patriarchy tries its hardest to get women into high heels and revealing clothes, or that if we do notice we shouldn’t mention it lest we offend some amorphous mass of women? I’ve got a pair of high heeled shoes, I used to wear makeup and I’m not offended.

    Small fact – Mary Daly noted that the etymological root of “fashion” is the same as that of “facism”.

  59. Jodie

    Self decoration can be self-pleasing, and I think that’s a valid point.

    I love the way linen and some types of silks feel and move. Cotton feels OK and it’s usually less trouble to care for than the other two choices, so it’s a compromise thing. I also like color, especially bright colors. So I wear bright colored things (generally) made of linen or silk or (mostly) cotton, in clothing that doesn’t restrict my movements and is sturdy enough that I won’t tear it by accident. I can’t remember the last time I wore an uncomfortable piece of clothing. It’s been years.

    It doesn’t really matter to me what anyone else thinks about what I wear…one thing I’ve learned is that no matter what you wear, the next day no one will remember it anyway (and if you don’t believe me, just try to remember what all your coworkers wore yesterday — or even last Friday).

  60. Nassoid

    I’m not saying that getting made up and putting on heels is a happy problem-free exercise in empowerment; what I’m trying to say is that seeing women’s exercise of self-expression purely in relation to patriarchy means that you end up taking womens’ professed self-identity and reducing it to a function of the male gaze and male norms. I’m suggesting that there is a kind of self-expression (more pronounced in some communities than others) that lets people reinscribe patriarchal norms to some extent. The example I know most about is femme sexuality as a kind of queering and reinscription of traditional femininity. Similarly, straight women who wear clothes that would be considered to appeal to the male gaze are not neccessarily only operating within the context of the viewer\viewed, their subjectivity and agency (including their resources such as class privilege, which I haven’t managed to talk about but which I think is really important) mean that it’s possible to reinscribe patriarchal norms to some extent. In some ways I think that there can be a visual or fashion equivalent of the reclamation of words like queer or dyke, although it clearly doesn’t always operate in that kind of way.
    I think that some of my disagreement may just stem from the fact that I disagree about how totalising patriarchal systems of power are: I tend to think that they’re one of a number of oppressions and that there are spaces and opportunities for resistance, and generally that patriarchy isn’t a total or completely enclosed system so viewing every action solely through its lens (my metaphors are getting pretty confused) isn’t the best way forward.
    As a teeny aside, I generally dress really dykey and socialise almost exclusively in young queer communities, so my experience is probably freer from constraint than some.

  61. Tony Patti

    It’s only natural that earnest, progressive people like to jump from criticism intended to raise conciousness to extreme measures involving burlap sacks and blindfolded men tapping the street corners with sticks so as not to accidentally poison a sensitive young beauty with the deadly male gaze.

    But when you propose extreme reactions to the vexing problem of fashion in a Patriarchal culture, you can get a little fascist rather quickly. I see criticizing fashion as a useful method for questioning and re-examining my own assumptions and correcting them by future choices. I like everyone, men and women, to have fun dressing up in any kind of way, and really enjoy it when it’s subversive or unexpected. But I like the expression of intelligence far more than the aping of trends, and that’s where the progressive energy can be directed, perhaps.

    You can take it anywhere you want. I’m not against piercings per se, but have never felt the need to pierce myself or tattoo myself and I wish that every woman of every age felt the same casual freedom to ignore or indulge these things that I feel. Maybe, because I’m a man, this is a position provided by my male privilege. I would wish this same privilege accorded to any woman willing to taste the freedom I feel.

    How to feel as fashion-free as a man in a Patriarchy is an interesting and progressive line of inquiry. I daresay it wouldn’t be an anti-fashion stance as much as a kind of liberation from the weight of the responsibility to be as men expect.

  62. delphyne

    “patriarchy isn’t a total or completely enclosed system so viewing every action solely through its lens (my metaphors are getting pretty confused) isn’t the best way forward”

    Nobody is advocating examining *every* action through the lens of the patriarchy (although its dead hand reaches into many aspects of our lives). In this case however examining the different aesthetic pressures on men and women from a feminist perpective is completely appropriate.

  63. AndiF

    There are no angels here — I’m sure we’ve all gotten into bed with the patriarchy and we’ve done it for all sorts of reasons but I’m guessing the most common is that “it felt so fucking good.” And, really, I’ve got no problem with that as long as we don’t pretend that isn’t what we are doing. Because as long as we don’t, then we can be self-indulgent when it suits and still be full-tilt patriarchy blamers. You can eat a steak, after all, and still fight factory feed lots but not very effectively if you are going to try to re-define that feedlot out of existence whenever the steak is on your plate .

  64. Nassoid

    @ Delphyne:
    I’ve very specifically said that I think that critiquing fashion and patriarchal norms\pressures is a worthwhile objective. There is a difference between critique and saying that following fashion is the equivalent of hating women (and I do feel that a better sense of what we all think fashion is would be helpful.) I think you’re distorting my words and downplaying the problems with supporting positions that are based on the belief that women’s choices in a particular arena stem not from their self-concept or whatever but the extent to which they’ve internalised harmful ideologies.
    Statements like “self-mutilation by proxy” are also pretty problematic (not least because of how tone-deaf the term self-mutilation is nowadays,) although if Sheila Jeffreys is someone you find enlightening we’re probably going to talk past each other to the extent discussion wouldn’t be that helpful.

  65. delphyne

    If Sheila Jeffreys is someone you don’t find enlightening then you are probably right.

    Twisty said “fashion equals misogyny” not “following fashion equals misogyny”. My interpretation is that she is criticsing the institution of fashion, not its consumers.

  66. Twisty

    Delphyne: “Nobody is advocating examining *every* action through the lens of the patriarchy.”

    Au contraire, Delphyne. That’s precisely what at least one spinster aunt advocates.

    You are correct, however, in your deduction that fashion as a tool of male supremacy, rather than individual women, is the subject of my critique.

  67. Twisty

    You can eat a steak, after all, and still fight factory feed lots but not very effectively if you are going to try to re-define that feedlot out of existence whenever the steak is on your plate .

    Nice point, AndiF.

  68. Mrs. Coulter

    Good point, Twisty, in that the definition of “shlumpy” vs. “attractive” is entirely constructed and oppressive in itself. FWIW, I probably fall more into the shlumpy category. I never wear make-up of any sort and usually dress for the purpose of comfort except when I have to play some sort of social role (like “employee”). My question, though, is in your mind what position does a patriarchy-subverting person need to take? Is it OK to “dress up” if you are doing so knowing the power dynamics involved? Or, as another poster asked, where do you shop?

  69. delphyne

    Sorry to misreprent you Twisty, I’m a literalist so I was thinking along the lines of actions like nose-blowing. Ahem.

  70. peacebug

    why would not wearing make-up make a woman “shlumpy”? I haven’t worn it in YEARS and I don’t feel shlumpy at all. [ shlumpy = frumpy = unattractive (to whom??) ]

    I’d rather spend that money on keeping my skin healthy than covering it up. note the difference between healthy and anything else.

    mrs coulter, betcha you’re not shlumpy at all.

    oh, and that corset thang – eewwwouch – damn!

  71. Wordlackey

    Wow, this is a long thread. It’s a truism around our household that if men were to wear and walk around in high heels for as little as 10 minutes, the so-called allure would disappear like a dandelion puff in the wind.

    By extension, if men had to wear women’s “high” fashion and perform normal activities in public, perhaps some inkling of awareness might seep into their heads. Unlikely but perhaps. Personal pick for number 1 annoyance for men: lack of functional pockets.

  72. flawedplan

    I thought it was photo-shopped too, all day I thought that, I had settled on it, as a matter of fact, then got home from work and read this thread with growing disbelief, and I cried al little myself, fuck yes.

    It doesn’t seem possible as anything other than a form of self-harm, more sophisticated than crude, teenage cutting but motivated by the same self-loathing and compulsion to re-enact trauma. But that’s my take on everything. Twisty, this is my first post, pleased to meet you and your members, I read and re-read your phenomenal entries, you’re a stylist, you’re the real deal.

  73. Nancy M

    Is it OK to “dress up” if you are doing so knowing the power dynamics involved?

    May I have a go at an answer for myself Mrs Coulter?
    I wouldn’t, but I have been spurned by friends and family for taking that position at times.
    You can become very distracted by trying to accommodate too many variables.
    For example, a question back:

    If your beloved and respected older sister made you gift of a dress that fitted you and was extremely comfortable – and then asked you out for a birthday bash to a public eatery where your choice of Volleys for footwear would cause you to be ‘not attired within dress code limits’ and therefore not allowed to stuff your gob with their third-rate processed protein-under-goop, would you:

    A Feel angry that your sister couldn’t work out that she would have to also find comfortable shoes in order to try to prop you up in the patriarchal paradigm for a night and yell abuse at her?

    B Invent a broken thingy story to avoid the confrontation with the eatery/family?

    C Give the dress back to the sister with a regretful statement and cook dinner for the birthday party?

    D Ignore the present and go away with your hounds for a day at the beach on your birthday?

    Nothing says you have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.

    And I am unable to view the mutilation image at all. This is from someone who kills her own geese for the table.

  74. Cantara

    I don’t find the corset piercing distressing at all. It’s by no means anywhere near “fashion”, that’s for sure, and it’s usually pretty temporary, like the guys who hang themselves from hooks by the nipples. I’ve seen a corset piercing done as part of a feminist art installation, part of commentary on the stupid things fashion comes up with.

    In all my readings and investigation on body modification I’ve seen very, very few people who use it as a subsitute for cutting and other self-mutilation related to mental illness or other emotional distress. Me, I’ve got 15 piercings and considering more. I don’t do it because it gives me some “spiritual” experience and I’m under no impression that it has anything in particular to do with suberting the patriarchy. I’m a goldsmith and I just like having more places to stick the jewellery I make, as well as having an interest in the artificial extension of the human body.

    And yeah, I’m a big ol feminist who is quite aware and pissed off at the all-encompassing partriarchy, don’t worry about that.

    Hmm – one thing on dressing up to look “pretty”. I’m fat. Really quite fat. I can also sew my own clothes and take a smirking delight in going out in public wearing say, a miniskirt and skimpy top. There seems to me a difference between a socially-acceptably slimmer woman going out in such clothing either “for the boys” or because she feels good wearing it, and a social pariah fatty like me wearing that outfit – it’s very interesting to guage peoples’ reactions. It’s not so much a direct challenge to the partiarchy, obviously, more like not behaving as a fat woman is supposed to behave. (I.e., be as inconspicuous as possible and wear clothes that disguise that you have a body at all.) The clothes are sexualised, but only if it’s acceptable for you to have a sexual role, even a patriarchally-approved one. That kind of outfit has a different political meaning on someone like me – “Hey, that’s not how you’re supposed to be oppressed! Get back in your muu-muu and stay in the house!” It’s not such a big thing overall, but anything that warps their worldview a bit is something, I guess.

    And related – some things I’ve been reading from Muslim feminists on dress. If we ignore for a moment the misogynistic societies of most Islamic states, then the idea of wearing comfortable ‘modest’ clothing, with or without headscarf, is found to be quite liberating. (Technically muslim men are supposed to dress similarly but we all know how misogyny works.) Some comfy pants and a tunic (a la a salwar kameez) or a robe where you’re not required to have or show off a perfect figure? Great when you get to honestly, freely choose to wear it instead of great swathes of cloth being compulsory by law or societal pressure. The ideal being that you can just get on with your life instead of being supposed to worry about “does my bottom look fat in this?” and so on. The ideal, of course, which unfortunately is yet again ruined by patriarchy and its twisting of what would otherwise be a good way to escape fashion and consumerism and beauty/body ideals.

    Dear god the patriarchy is bullshit.

  75. klm

    Re: body mod’s not being a substitute for other self inflicted wounding–
    Alcoholic’s come in all types too–some are daily drinkers and others are bingers….the results are the same.

    Patriarchy isn’t just bullshit–it is an insidious evil.

    If an individual is selling themselves via their body image ie-Suicide gorls–this is not liberation from patriarchy–it is a distorted belief that they are free of it. Which is a bigger lie? Buying into it or false belief that you are free from it?

    Claiming to rebell against patriarchy while simultaneously buying into it is plain and simple hyrocrisy. The walls eventually crumble when (if we are lucky) we are exposed to our own lies —
    ine can only hope

  76. lma

    I have read the entire thread and don’t believe in restrictive clothing or high heels or the fashion industry, but love looking and feeling pretty and looking at pretty things, human or other. I think that the human body is a beautiful thing and adorning it or baring it may just be an appreciation of that, sexual or not.

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