Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Feminism is not a dress code or a personality type.

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Feminism has no dress code. No, I don’t want women to feel like they should dress sexily simply to cater to men. Nor do I want women to feel that they must adhere to certain standards of modesty simply to cater to men. 

The fact that our lives are still so often judged and regulated according to wants or even “needs” of men is infuriating. But if we as feminists try to make claims about what a “strong, independent woman” or “true feminist” would wear, aren’t we also forcing arbitrary and restraining rules upon women? Granted, I’m sure there are some extremes that I’d be willing to concede as exceptions. However, in the end, it’s up to every woman to make her own choices about her own wardrobe and to wear what she wants and believes to be appropriate for the situation, whether or not men like it (which, by the way, includes the option of men liking it). If she feels naked without a face covering, that is her business. If she feels restricted wearing a bra, that is her business.

This issue has been brought to my attention multiple times over the years, often because of my own treatment from both men and women when I wear shorts or a skirt they deem to be too short. Especially if I’m audacious enough to combine it with a tank top (oh, how will society stand?). Constant wardrobe monitoring of women isn’t shocking in a misogynistic society like ours. It is extremely disappointing, however, when men and women who identify as feminists engage in such behavior.

Of course there are situations where certain clothing isn’t appropriate for men or women...and as long it’s not a double standard, I’m fine with that. But if I’m dressing for another casual day of trying to live my life, why do I need a dress code?

As blogger and artist Megan Gedris puts it, “What makes any article of clothing oppressive is someone forcing you to wear it. And it’s just as oppressive to force someone not to wear something that they want to wear.”

But hey, let’s take it a step further. I’ve also noticed, often from personal experience, that we tend to make assumptions about people’s character based on their personality. Maybe we don’t even realize there is a difference between personality and character. But there definitely is.

People at my university often assumed that my bubbliness and cutesiness went hand in hand with ditsiness and childishness. And, to be fair, since my freshman year started shortly after I turned 17, undergrad was largely an experience of my teenhood. Yet I graduated at 20 with a GPA just .09 away from perfect and with multiple student life leadership positions, several volunteer positions and projects, and a semester abroad at Oxford under my belt.

But this is only one example of how we all tend to judge ourselves and others according to personality traits instead of character traits. Here’s another: Acting like a tough guy doesn’t make you strong. Some of the strongest people I know are my grandmothers-both of my natural grandmothers as well as my dad’s stepmom-who have all experienced a lot through the years. I admire those who suffer with quiet strength and persistence, holding their own while continuing to be a reliable source of strength for others when needed.

Do you see where I’m going with this? And again, not only is this way of thinking common in our society in general (and probably in at least most human societies), but it also seeps into modern feminist thinking and can only be detrimental to our progress. Especially when you consider that many of the stereotypes we use to interpret personality traits glorify those seen as masculine and belittle, mock, or trivialize those seen as feminine.

She wears high heels, you wear sneakers? She’s cheer captain and you’re on the bleachers? Great. You can BOTH be strong, intelligent, independent individuals with meaningful lives.

We’ll never be perfect. But we’ve got to weed the yard sometimes to keep up the momentum and relevance of the movement. And I’d like to suggest that any attempted mold of an “ideal feminist” is a weed that simply has to go.

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