I’ve been thinking over our chat in class about high heels and the fashion industry. My question is, is fashion an impediment to the feminist movement that turns us into lackeys and sexual objects for the gratification of a male-dominated world, or can we use fashion, for example high heels, to feel empowered as we finally stand eye-to-eye with men? Do these shoes help us walk at the same height as most men, or do they hurt our feet and restrict our movement? And how does one or the other help us in our struggle for equality in a male-dominated world?
Fashion companies are filled with these dualities. First of all, fashion is somewhat of an industry that follows the “emotionality” of women in its ever changing whims. No sooner have you bought that cute blouse and pencil skirt set than the rules change and Converse are back in again for students. This perpetuates a negative stereotype of women as flighty, emotional and far from rational and reasoned. But the fashion industry itself is ruled, more or less these days, by women as well as for women. Bath and Body Works is not the only company by women and for women. See, generally in the world, this weblink of women-owned businesses and in particular, this weblink about Banana Republic CEO Jeanne P. Jackson. Therefore, the fashion industry is both a place that reinforces stereotypes of women as fragile and feeble and emotional yet, being associated with women and being owned and run by women, it is also a place where women can dominate and succeed.
I’d always thought of 80’s dressing as hideous until recently, but on reflection of the subject I realized that perhaps those nasty shoulder pads were there for a reason: to retake the power of the suit from men, and adorn women with it instead. That it might be empowering, if masculine, to wear shoulder pads. I personally would rather dress “like a woman” and I’ve ripped my share of shoulder pads out of jackets and sweaters, but I can somewhat see the appeal now. Is it women attempting for sameness with men by looking the same as they do with large shoulders, or is it just women attempting for sameness with men by wearing the same clothing, or is it women attempting for difference as they pair it with a skirt instead of pants? One can see arguments for both sameness and difference in that one article of clothing, the suit.
Joan Jacobs Brumberg has this to say about fashion:
"Whether it's the dark, sad eyes of a woman in purdah or the anxious darkly circled eyes of a girl with anorexia nervosa, the woman trapped inside needs to be liberated from cultural confines in whatever form they take. The burka and the bikini represent opposite ends of the political spectrum but each can exert a noose-like grip on the psyche and physical health of girls and women."
Truly, fashion is a double-edged sword. But, in some ways, fashion discriminates against the men in our society as much as it does the women. One has only to picture a man "cross-dressing" in women's clothing and the ridicule he is put through for so doing to realize that we as women have far more options to choose for dressing than men do. In fact, the term itself is only applicable to men: women have been cross-dressing for decades without repercussion, and it is not even termed such. There is no word for a woman wearing men's clothing, but if a man wears womens', it is considered socially atipical and has its own word, "cross-dressing", putting a stigma upon those who practice it. Pants belong to women as well as men, but dresses and skirts are limited to the female realm.
How does this relate to law? As far as I know there are no laws against dressing a certain way, although nakedness is usually limited to certain areas thus designated (nude beaches) and schools have certain police power public policy reasons to limit children's clothing, which may or may not be legal depending on if the regulation is a constitutionally impermissible restraint on free speech. In our part of the world, wearing hoodies and saggy pants may get you thrown out of the Roseville Mall. Regulation of clothing in these circumstances -- schools and malls -- is gender neutral for the most part, if not discriminatory towards males, as the Roseville mall case may be. But should we regulate more than we do? Many beaches, if not nude, are places where people display their bodies in almost nude conditions. And as a result of this, many women are objectified for their bodies. Yet it is a right to do as we want in this country as long as it isn't hurting anyone else, and we certainly wouldn't want to limit and regulate clothing as a free expression of the individual.
To sum? In countries that regulate clothing and in countries that don't, women can be objectified, controlled or manipulated using fashion. Yet fashion can be freeing, empowering and a place where women are accepted, a place where women can finally climb through the glass ceiling. This duality can warn us to be careful how we dress ourselves, conscious that our choices may denote more than simple protection against the elements. How will you dress tomorrow, and why? I challenge you to embrace those parts of fashion that celebrate the female and to reject all oppression given to us through fashion today.