Feminism Friday: What Do I Wear?

“Yes I wore a slinky red thing
Does that mean I should spread?
For you, your friends, your father, Mr. Ed.”

“Me and a Gun” Tori Amos

It’s easy for guys to laugh at movie scenes where a woman character is getting ready to go out and throwing clothes all over the room in order to find something Who needs brains when you have thesesuitable to wear.

It’s a little harder for women to dismiss scenes like that, because for many grrrls and women, those scenes are reality.

Like it or not–women are judged on what they wear. Guys are too, of course, but very differently. Guys don’t have cleavage, for one thing. You’re not going to find men sporting shirts that say “who needs brains when you have these?” When the word “modesty” is mentioned, that isn’t normally a word associated with male styles. It’s associated with what women wear and how they present themselves.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t wear many halter tops, short skirts, or short shorts. I can normally be found in jeans and a T-shirt. But I’m surrounded by other college-aged women who do dress in short dresses, skirts and revealing tops.

In Full Frontal Feminism, Jessica Valenti (the founder of Feministing.com!) talks about what it means to be attractive. Current beauty standards found in magazines, on television and billboards, are mostly unattainable.

“But it’s not just looks that make you ‘hot’–beauty standards are a whole other conversation. It’s about being accessible–to men, in particular. To be truly hot in this never-never land of tits and ass, we have to be constantly available–to be looked at, touched, and fucked. Sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true. We’re only as hot as our willingness to put on a show for guys.”

Valenti goes on to discuss the portrayal of women in magazines such as Maxim, and some of the other more obvious ways that women are pictured being available.

In looking up images for this blog I visited CosmoGirl-a magazine I once read. Here are a few examples of their summer wear fashion suggestions:


This is What a Cosmo Girl Looks Like

Here’s some images from the Cosmo, the parent site (and magazine):

An ad for CosmoCosmo Woman

Outside of the pretty obvious age differences, there aren’t a whole lot of differences in what is being sold in these images.

And this is interesting.

Isn’t CosmoGirl supposed to be for young women–teenagers and younger, really–while Cosmo is for adult women? Wouldn’t the experiences of the two different age groups be…well…different?

Why, yes.

It’s pretty obvious with the pictures from Cosmo and CosmoGirl that there’s a fair amount of eroticization within the pictures. Especially with the CosmoGirl photos. When I saw the picture of the girl leaning backwards with a dress that barely covers her, I was shocked. The image clearly plays off of childlike innocence. The color white tends to be associated with innocence and purity, and her disheveled hair is reminiscent of a young child coming in from a long day of playing outside. Yet the posture is anything but innocent. She is clearly available.

Girls and Women are being sold several different messages.
1. The ideal woman should look like media-perpetuated images
2. To be considered attractive, a woman should look sexy and available.
3. To be considered a good woman, she should be a virgin. Because if she isn’t a virgin, she’s a whore.
4. Because she dresses in an available manner, she can’t be taken seriously as anything but a piece of ass.

These are only some of the messages we’re being sold. And I do believe there is a difference in reception based on the age of the person getting it.

An adult woman has had a good deal of experience to help identify what she sees in ads and media with what she knows. A teenage girl is at a completely different place altogether. Sexuality may be something she’s interested in, and if she is, she’s being fed so many conflicting messages that it seriously is unhealthy.

In schools teens are being taught abstinence only education.

In their homes, through the television, movies, magazines, teen girls are being taught that anything-but-abstinence is the norm.

There isn’t really an in-between. And this is a problem.

It’s also important to recognize agency. Just because a girl dresses in a fashion similar to the models in CosmoGirl or Jane doesn’t mean she’s dressing like them because that’s what the models wore. Some women like dressing that way. But does that mean they have to be dehumanized because they like short skirts and halter tops? (and what right does the person judging them have to dehumanize someone based on their dress?)

Does that mean a woman singer/front-woman who wears dresses and likes random acts such as crowd surfing should be expected to know that crowd diving will lead to harassment? (And what gives the people in the crowd the right to harass that woman?)

Men who ask for modesty are usually placing the blame on the woman. The way “modesty” works in regards to women is that women should dress properly so as to not fluster the men who might look upon her. This is often reflected in the way a rape victim is received.

“The outfit argument is one that never seems to get old. It’s been around forever, but it may be the most bizarre victim-blaming tactic of them all. Here’s the idea: if you’re wearing something that could be considered ‘slutty,’ like (gasp!) a skirt, you were asking to be raped. Or you were teasing those poor guys who just can’t help themselves (they learned that in abstinence ed, remember?). This never made sense to me on so many levels, but I imagine that guys must find it pretty insulting. It basically means that they’re just big, dumb animals unable to control themselves within one hundred yards of a miniskirt. I don’t know about you, but I think we should give men some credit.” -Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism

I completely agree with Valenti here. For men to think that women should dress modestly to keep them from turning into deranged animals is completely ridiculous.

The way we dress is a lot more complicated than that scene in movies would have you believe.

There’s a lot more at stake than just looking nice.





3 thoughts on “Feminism Friday: What Do I Wear?

  1. Bec May 5, 2007 / 2:08 am

    Great blog. I agree with everything you’ve said here. Women inhabit a crazy world of conflicting messages. And the ‘asking for it’ argument is so tired and ridiculous.
    “Was she asking for it?
    Was she asking nice?
    If she was asking for it
    Did she ask you twice?”

  2. nightgigjo May 5, 2007 / 10:35 pm

    There’s a lot more at stake than just looking nice.

    Bravo! I think men’s laughter tends to mean something along the lines of “I can’t believe women spend so much time/energy on something as simple as clothes!”, which of course only proves that these men are not subject to the same criticisms that women are, because this behavior is so *surprising* to them. “I don’t get it” == “That’s silly” == “Silly wimmins.”

  3. Heather May 8, 2007 / 10:25 pm

    A lovely blog by a guy who actually did get really pissed and offended that people are essentially calling him a big dumb animal:


    Also just wanted to share this priceless bit, which made me crack up (“This” being “not being a rapist”): “This isn’t something I’m proud of. That’s because I can’t be proud of not raping people anymore than I can be proud of not shitting on myself whenever I laugh. Not being a rapist is the default fucking setting.”

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