I know I promised to complain about tiny handbags today, but something’s come up. Specifically, a nice comment left by Nassoid on yesterday’s Intro To Fashion Week post. So we’ll just clear up this little matter, shall we, and then it’s on to the fluff!
Yep, I was anticipating the argument that, by offering a critique of the influences of patriarchal hegemony on the behavior of women, I am “patronizing” them. What took you so long, Nassoid?
Nassoid, correctly deducing that I take a dim view of the corset-piercing depicted in the post (a photo so disturbing it made at least two commenters cry, so click at your own risk), wonders if I am not doing women a disservice by suggesting that patriarchy denies them “agency.” Women, asserts Nassoid (I paraphrase), are not dumb-bunnies. They are perfectly able to choose what they do with their bodies without any condescension from the spinster aunt camp. “It feels,” she says, “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.”
To which I reply, I sympathize, but don’t shoot the messenger. Within a system where males dominate a subordinate female sex class, women’s agency is extremely limited. Without full human status, “choice” is an illusion.
A brief review: male dominant culture wouldn’t be the superstar it is today without its closely regulated sex class, a class that is rewarded most lavishly when costumed for convenient male titillation. Feminine drag — high heels, corsets, “one-size-slimmer-tummy-technology,” tight jeans, tube tops, push-up bras, miniskirts, pantyhose, handbags et al, as the uniform of the subordinate sex class, identifies (a) a woman’s subordinate status and (b) her degree of sexual availability. To facilitate male titillation, minute variations within this rigidly enforced dress code — say, a pair of red Candies vs. a pair of alligator Manolos — conveniently locate the individual within her particular sexbot caste (in this case, redneck ho vs. summer house in the Hamptons). Thus a horndog can tell at a glance whether his object is easy or expensive or chaste or kinky or straight or hard-to-get or an indie rocker or, I suppose, even a spinster aunt.
In male dominant culture, “kinky” is the most prized of all the sexbot sub-classes. Kinky women express the greatest and most dude-affirming allegiance to male supremacy by their willingness to endure the most pain for the dubious pleasure of gratifying male horndoggitude. The better a woman titillates, the better her fortunes are likely to be, and no woman titillates more successfully than one who enthusiastically embraces sadistic male fetishes. I am aware that the body-mod gang are convinced of the supposed transgressive and rebellious nature of their lifestyle, but corset-piercing — a masochistic riff on a primitive misogynist torture device — can only be construed by this spinster aunt as an example of extreme conformity and obeisance to patriarchal oppression.
Clothing — and I mean all clothing, not just the get-ups people use for sexin’ it up — clothing itself is invested with highly symbolic, connotative qualities that reach vastly beyond its primary function as protection from the elements. These connotations inevitably point to some popular fantasy (damsel, hippie, 18th century poet) or widely recognized caste (art student, small-town Wal-Mart granny). Because every outfit comes preloaded with cultural narrative, clothes cannot possibly proclaim “individuality.” I assert that, because every human specimen who is not an identical twin is already phenotypically and genetically unique right out of the box, clothing serves only to mask one’s natural differences with a display of allegiance, homage, and conformity to the group with which the putative rugged individualist wishes to identify. This is as true of soccer moms as it is of bod-mod chicks. A tattoo doesn’t make you an iconoclast, it makes you one of those people with a tattoo.
I further assert that sadomasochism, which glorifies like no other ism the dominance/submission dynamic, represents the absolute zenithical epitome of patriarchal ideology. Which would be no big whoop if patriarchy were the bee’s knees, but I further further assert that S&M is a totally bogus practice because patriarchal ideology sucks the bag.
A few of you have wondered what I suggest in terms of the patriarchy-blamer’s value-neutral wardrobe. Sadly, if my hypothesis is correct, such duds do not exist. Feminism cannot seem to counteract the intoxicating effects of male domination. In our culture it is the moral duty of every woman to be “sexy”, and her value remains tied to her success in this painful endeavor. You’re either “sexy” or you’re a schlub. Fucking patriarchy. I blame it, I do.