Undressing Feminism- can we be both fashionistas and activists?

Everyone has something that stirs them inside. Makes them want to scrawl on a placard with a red marker and shout through a megaphone. For me that thing is feminism, or rather “the belief in the full economic, social and political equality of females and males”-Gloria Steinem.  It’s what a lot of men still see as male-hate and this paranoid cohort is quick to joke about ‘belonging in the kitchen’ or women’s lack of driving ability. They just love sending you into a rant about stereotypes and misogyny. (But when like me, you’ve watched your mother parallel park faultlessly for 19 years in high-heeled boots; you can laugh off ignorant remarks such as these.)

To learn more I did some reading on feminist ideology which only left me frightened and even more confused. The general belief seems to be that to be taken seriously I must sacrifice my body-con skirts and lacey leggings for plastic anoraks and slip-slops or submit myself to the life of a Stepford housewife. But what about my plans to become a revolutionary-fashion-icon-third-wave-feminist?I’m sure I’m not the first woman who wants to be seen as both intelligent and stylish. I want to be taken seriously. I want men to stop calling me “sweetheart” and I want to be listened to when I ask for three-inch drill bits in a hardware store. But at the same time, I want to grow my hair long and blonde. I want eye-lash curlers and tiny shorts. I want shopping expeditions and lattes in white-painted coffee shops. And I’m afraid I want limitless access to a razor.

So my question is, can women love clothes, makeup and being feminine as well as take part in the fight against oppression? Or must we give up these ‘trivialities’ for a bra-burning, croc-wearing, hairy-legged-growing existence? I don’t think the answer is straightforward. If we throw away everything about being women in a ‘can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em attitude’, we’re condoning our own oppression. But if we run around in a Madonna type corset and fish-net stockings, pretending that sexism no longer exists; we’re taking part in a far more worrying kind oppression. Is this what our great grandmothers chained themselves to the railings for?

When looking at any struggle against injustice, there shouldn’t be an ultimatum stating that to be part of the movement you have to dress a certain way. Sorry dear but we couldn’t possibly have someone protesting in those shoes. If we apply this thinking to feminism, then wearing a pair of Gucci sunglasses to a Slut Walk protest shouldn’t count against you. Neither should rocking up in a pair of comfortable plimsolls.

In terms of being taken seriously in what you’re wearing, men are also victims. To be considered masculine and a force to be reckoned with, men need to stay away from pastel pinks and tight shirts. They need to stick to a grey and blue uniform that will lose them in a crowd and refrain from upsetting their fathers: “My boy, are you sure a skinny-trouser is a good idea?”

So really, we all need to rise up and move beyond appearances to focus on the true aim of feminism: equality for all men and women everywhere. As young feminist bloggers Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett say: “If you seriously believe in equality between the sexes, that’s exactly what being a feminist is. You can wear 16 pairs of high heels…and be a man, and still be a feminist.”

For I conclude that the enemy is not lipstick, but guilt itself; that we deserve lipstick, if we want it, AND free speech; we deserve to be sexual AND serious–or whatever we please; we are entitled to wear cowboy boots to our own revolution.
Naomi Wolf

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