Tuesday, 7 October 2014

On being a feminist and a fashion blogger.

This is not a justification for liking the things I like, for having the interests that I have. I don't need to explain or justify those things, or the kind of feminist I am, or what wave I think I fit into, to anyone. This is me merely talking about two of the most important parts of my life and how they fit together despite seeming contradictory to some.

For as long as I can remember, I've identified as feminist, pretty proudly. There was a brief two month period where I called myself a humanist a couple of years back, but I've since realised that the two are kinda synonymous and I'd fallen for the propaganda that "feminist" was some sort of dirty word. It's not.

I think I had an understanding of the concept pretty young. This, I suppose, was for two reasons. One was that I spent a lot of my early childhood around a group of teenaged female cousins that I absolutely idolised. So, I was privy to conversations about bands and politics and feminism and lots of other stuff someone my age might not normally have been. And as I adored them so much, I wanted to be interested in the same things of them. So I decided I liked the Smashing Pumpkins before I knew who they were and that I was feminist before I had any real notion of what that was. The second reason for this early connection was that my parents have never really censored the tv or movies or books I had access too. They weren't reckless or neglectful, they just trusted me to make the right choices. Mostly I did. But this, again, meant I had more experience than most of the adult world and its concerns.

Innately, I also think I've just been drawn to strong female figures. Xena and Buffy were my favourite heroines on tv. I read almost exclusively female authors as a teen and I had a stage where I was utterly obsessed with Joan of Arc as a ten year old.

My mother and I also have a particularly close bond. She has always been pretty much my favourite person in the world. And the women around me in my life are super-important. My friend group is largely male but the friends I always have had deepest connections to have tended to be women.

So, I am utterly, unapologetically feminist. I believe in absolute equality in every facet of existence between all people regardless of gender (and all issues connected to it, including non-binaries), race, location, sexual orientation, economic position etc.

And then we get to fashion.

The industry is not without its issues. It is problematic in the standards it reinforces, in the lack of adequate representation, in the exploitation of people in developing worlds etc. I acknowledge this whole-heartedly but point to any industry more perfect...I thought so.

Historically, since the 18th century onwards, fashion has been relegated to "women's concerns" in the West. Previously, certainly on the upper register of consumption, men and women competed to some degree in terms of fashion for ostentation and invention. Heels were worn by men and floral patterns and lace and velvet could be seen in the wardrobes of both genders. Neoclassical taste at the end of the 18th century gave way to Victorian ideals in the nineteenth, and the divide between male and female was firmly put in place. Shopping and fashion became seen as female and equated with pride and frivolity. Women became the synonym for vice and inextricably connected to the "superficial" interest in fashion and appearance. When a middle class developed, shopping became the domain of women and an activity to wile away their days as they were kept at home to maintain the masculine pride of being able to support a wife without her needing to work outside the home. This idea of fashion and beauty being frivolous, unimportant or shallow interests held by women still exists today. And while it may not be the pursuit of curing world hunger, these interests are as valid as the next. Perhaps they shouldn't be the only interests a person has, but they form multi-billion euro industries in which women have the potential to excel, unlike in most other sectors. It is true that women tend not to have the highest positions of power on the business side of things but this is a symptom of a wider cultural issue of how girls are raised and how society tells them they are valuable and what they are capable of.

As fashion has a very real, apparent economic element, it is not considered in the same way as other creative fields. However, like architecture, its a form of creativity we experience every day. Choosing to avoid fashion, in of itself, is a fashion statement. It's unavoidable. Fashion photography offers the opportunity for many photographers to create the closest thing to art that is made specifically for selling. And couture, well, I'd argue that is art without any ifs or buts. Some of the most creative people in the world work in fashion and getting dressed is a deeply personal and expressive act for many. Most fashion is not art but some art is fashion and all fashion is certainly expressive of one message or another.

My life has been deeply enriched by fashion. It soothes me to look at pretty things, to see the good side of humanity that creates and does rather than ruins. I've made friends and important bonds through fashion. And, through this blog, I've gotten to do things, go places, meet people that I never would have otherwise.

So, this post is not a justification of my interest in fashion, it is merely establishing that being a feminist and a fashion blogger are in no way incompatible. It is a moment to discuss how fashion is talked down about and, especially, belittled due to its connection to women. It is a moment to talk about how wrong that is. And it's a chance to talk about the other big "f" in my life.

This post is also an opportunity to point out that this idea of "female" interests or concerns being belittled is only one of many ways in which inequality is still rampant in the world. It's a relatively minor one but something that's pervasive and poisonous none the less. I come from a privileged background where I've always been valued by those around me, where I've gotten an education, been safe from violence and never experienced many of the things that other women across the world face every day.

But I'm one of the lucky ones.

I'd like to take a moment to direct your attention to Plan International's 'Because I'm a Girl' Campaign. October 11th is International Day of the Girl and, running up to this and evermore, we all need to add our voices to this campaign and fighting for the rights of girls and women around the world. Child brides still exist. Girls still go without educations. They face violence every day. In no country has the wage gap been entirely closed. And this simply isn't good enough. Every little girl should grow up as loved, educated, protected, valued and hopeful as I did. Add your voice. Do what you can and if you're able, donate.

I'm the woman I am today because of the girl I was allowed to be.

What say you? Ready to stand up for girls everywhere?

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