on femininity as liberation

Sometimes, like I did back in August, I write about the sociopolitical elements of fashion. Bear with me: it’s the price y’all pay for getting pretty pictures all the time. 😉

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Feminism has done some pretty sweet things for the female-identified. I’m writing this in an armchair I bought with my own money ($15 at ReSource, not bad), in an apartment I share with four other single women, on a campus I have as much right to as any male student. Earlier today, I went to a doctor’s appointment I didn’t need my father’s or boyfriend’s permission to make. Last month I voted in my first federal election. Considering the state of things a few generations ago, all of that is pretty staggering.

That said, though, I think many of these gains have come at the expense of traditional femininity. Now, hear me out: I’m not going to yell at you to get back in the kitchen or suggest that I don’t have the right to be paid as much as a man. But my idea of feminism isn’t forcing women into masculine roles and doing away entirely with feminine ones. It’s un-gendering roles, period, and leaving everyone to pursue whichever ones they want. Call me naive, but I don’t politicize happiness. I don’t think it’s my feminist duty to avoid traditionally feminine things I happen to enjoy, just to make a statement. Go there, and you’re right back to women subordinating their desires to societal norms, which was the whole problem with the old patriarchal system. (I swear, this point will arrive at fashion eventually. I’m getting there.)

A lot of guys (particularly late teens/early 20s guys – the demographic I date) seem to want girls they can “relate to”. I’m not trying to deride this universally human desire, but rather to examine what “a girl I can relate to” often means. It means more than just a girl whose mind and values and personality align with yours – in my experience, it connotes a girl who’s interested in traditionally masculine things. Gamer girls. Geeky girls. Or, my personal favorite, “natural girls”. “Don’t worry, ladies! You can wipe off that makeup. We prefer you without it, anyway.” It’s an ostensibly sweet message, but it boils down to two flawed tenets: 1) that women should dress for men and not for themselves and 2) that the masculine gender role is the arbiter of all that is “natural” in the world.

Fashion is art. Makeup is art. It’s more than just a petty distraction for girls too insecure to let their natural – i.e. masculine – selves be known. There’s this absurd notion in our culture that there are Issues and there are Women’s Issues. Women who confine themselves to Women’s Issues like fashion and makeup and childcare – don’t they realize how sad and silly they are? They’re merely segregating themselves from the world of Real Issues like hunting and guitar and science fiction. “Real women”, “natural women”, women who can knock back a beer with the best of ’em, are somehow more liberated for having shed the artifice. Femininity is necessarily piddling, artificial, and materialistic, while masculinity is strong and lasting. Women’s interests are for Women, but men’s interests are for People.

A commenter on one of my favorite blogs summed it up really well:

Feminism means valuing the (current culturally-defined) feminine equal to the (currently culturally-defined) masculine. … It means valuing women, it means valuing _feminine_ women, it means valuing the abstract feminine, it means men wearing nifty colored nail polish because the feminine isn’t ‘lesser’.

The last bit of that is especially important to me. Because when certain guys say they want girls they can relate to, they mean girls who will do traditionally masculine things with them. Gods forbid they partake in something feminine, because femininity, after all, is gross and outdated and soon everyone will default to their true state of playing video games and reading science fiction. I happen to be dating a guy with a legitimate interest in costumery. I love that I can discuss the finer points of corset construction with him, but in my experience, he’s kind of an anomaly.

Fashion and costumes bring me more joy than just about anything else in life (save for perhaps ghost stories, classical music, and big cities at night). And in my lifetime, I’d like to see the discipline bridge the social no-man’s-land between Women’s Art and Actual Art. (Maybe shortly thereafter I’ll stop seeing “women’s interest” sections in newspapers and “women’s health” brochures in clinics. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Right now, I’d settle for artistic legitimacy.)

exhibit a of getting way too excited about everything

I might dress like I’m sophisticated, but I grew up in a town of 1,800 people, and I’m way too easily impressed by things like wireless internet, hands-free phones, and indoor plumbing. I’m also the kind of person who walks into doorjambs and knocks her glasses off. It’s a contrast my friends and family do not let me live down.

If you’ve ever wondered what I’m like in person, this is a pretty good indication:

ugly sweater II

The ugliest sweater known to Sartoria. I’m madly in love with it. I’m not even wearing it ironically.

I’d wanted a really hideous sweater for about a year, and my mom got me this one on a business trip over Thanksgiving break. I’ve been waiting for the perfect time to blog it.

ugly sweater I

Dorky sweaters call for dorky poses.

My mock trial team had an “ugly sweater” party tonight, and I think I won the party. I’ll post the pic of my team as soon as my captain uploads it.

ugly sweater III

I feel really pretty today, because I am so happy to be wearing this sweater and it shows in my face.

ugly sweater IV

ugly sweater V

ugly sweater VI

I’m in the holiday spirit from head to toe. I feel like a Scandinavian child.

ugly sweater VII

This time of year is bliss for someone who loves classical music as much as I do. This has been on repeat for the past hour.

Also, happy Hanukkah! My Jewish boyfriend tried to teach me how to say it in Hebrew, and I promptly forgot. I kind of suck at languages that aren’t Latin.

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UPDATE 12/11: Here’s my mock trial team (the ones who remembered to dress up, anyway) in all our finery!

mock trial gets ugly

seducing you and then biting your face off

It’s a classic and probably overdone combination, but I love combining toughness and frills. The jaggedness of the petticoat’s hem makes the dress itself a little badass, and the leather tops it off.

Shout-out to my friend Hailey (she comments a lot), who instructed me to blog this outfit.

frilly I

Unbrushed hair works pretty well with this look.

frilly II

frilly III

frilly IV

I considered wearing the spiderweb jacket with this dress, but there was too much going on with the print and the jewelry to add another print on top. It calls for something sleek and monochromatic.

frilly V

frilly VI

frilly VII

frilly VIII

frilly IX

Skull bracelets!

Jacket: Handed down from neighbor Dress: Wild Mountain Thyme Boots: Handed down from Mom Belt and Rings: Battery Street Jeans Necklace: Voltaire fan store Bracelets: Mexican “Day of the Dead” craft fair

actually, i am that girl

This is the first of a new series of posts inspired by my favorite film and literature characters.

I’m beginning to dress more and more like an off-duty model. (Technically, that’s what I am. Took me a while to grow into the persona, I suppose.) Lately I’ve been more cosmopolitan than kooky, and considerably more androgynous than before. I’m more comfortable in slouchy clothes than I’ve ever been; I’m almost starting to prefer them to more tailored counterparts.

I’ve made it clear how much I love themes and costumes. And I love Wicked. (First person to catch the reference in this post’s title gets love and sexual favors cookies.) I have always taken after Elphaba (I am political [to say the least] and I admit I am rather crude and somewhat cutting), but I’d gladly audition for Glinda just to inhabit her wardrobe for a while. I’m already getting there in sheer flamboyance alone.

Today I’m trying to merge them. I’m embodying Elphaba’s grunge and appropriating Glinda’s glamour.

monochrome III

monochrome I

I love just-messy-enough hair. I can achieve this look only when I’ve washed it the night before. (I don’t wash it very often, in order to preserve the dye.)

monochrome II

Glasses, shapeless sweater, and old-man belt worn with red lips and silver jewelry. Were Glinda ever caught dead in Elphaba’s rags, you know she’d tart them up a little.

monochrome IV

Voltaire necklace!

monochrome V

This hat makes me feel vaguely soldierly.

monochrome VI

monochrome VII

Monochrome really frees me up to combine unusual shapes and textures. The sweater is as scratchy as the skirt is silky, but the color ties them together.

monochrome VIII

monochrome IX

monochrome X

My Glinda coat! I’ve had it since high school. It cost me 25 cents at a bag sale. I plan to feature it more extensively in an upcoming post (still haven’t finished that outerwear series).

The sticker says “be nice to me: I gave blood today”. That’s from at least a year ago.

monochrome XI

Hat: Old Gold Coat: Richmond Food Shelf & Thrift Store Sweater, Skirt, and Rings: Battery Street Jeans Necklace: Voltaire fan store Boots and Belt: Handed down from Mom