Wednesday, April 13, 2011
FFB: Finance and the Fashion Blogger
Image from peoples50million
The Feminist Fashion Bloggers have now shifted to monthly posts... this month's topic is "Finance, Feminism and the Fashion Blogger," in honor of yesterday, April 12, being Equal Pay Day. This day symbolizes how far women would have to work into 2011 to earn the amount of money that men made in 2010. Clearly, money - earning money and spending money - can be a feminist topic. But how does it relate to fashion? I wanted to look at this topic by focusing on the often-gendered value judgements that are made about shopping and consumption: specifically, the fact that buying/consuming items coded as female is often seen as more negative/unnecessary than buying items coded as male or unisex. I've been thinking a lot recently about why there is still something of a stigma associated with owning a lot of clothes or shoes or beauty products, much more so than for owning, say, many video games or tech gadgets or DVDs.
For an example, let's take shoes. Stereotypically (and I know this is not true of all women!), women love buying shoes, own many pairs of shoes, see tiny differences between pairs of shoes, and spend money "frivolously" on additional unnecessary shoes. Women "waste" money on expensive, fancy, uncomfortable shoes.
So why is there a perceived difference (practically a moral difference!) between a woman who buys a lot of shoes and a man who buys a lot of tech products? Or a woman who buys a lot of tech products? An argument can be made that the difference between shoes/fashion items/beauty products versus other items of consumption is in their inherent utility or lack thereof (in fact, I've had this discussion with my boyfriend). Getting a new computer, or iPhone, or the other latest tech device provides you with additional utility. It's faster, lighter, more powerful than your old devices. It provides you with functionality that you did not have before. If I already have a pair of shoes that are in good shape and comfortable, I'm probably not buying a new pair of shoes because those shoes are in better condition, allow me to walk faster, or are more comfortable than the old shoes. Perhaps they can be worn with different outfits, or are appropriate for different occasions. But more likely, my new pair of shoes is primarily useful for aesthetic reasons... they may not fill a particular need besides my desire to wear beautiful and satisfying shoes.
But why do we argue that purchasing for aesthetic reasons is less justifiable than purchasing for other kinds of needs? What's wrong with buying shoes just because they're beautiful? I suspect that part of this is because a focus on aesthetics, particularly the aesthetics of the body, is placed strongly in the domain of the female. And as a female-coded focus, it is given less weight than a "male" focus on utility or speed or power.
As an artist, I believe that aesthetics are incredibly valuable, including the aesthetics of self-presentation. Consequently, I'm lucky enough to have an overflowing closet and more clothing than I know what to do with. The great majority of what I wear has been thrifted at the dollar-a-pound...so my overall cost for this full closet is actually quite low (generally less than a dollar per shirt, skirt, or dress...perhaps a dollar or two per pair of shoes...maybe four or five dollars for a coat or pair of boots or other particularly heavy item.) But I'm aware that it may look like I spend a lot of money on clothing and shoes. And I feel like this is supposed to be bad. I'm careful to mention on occasion how much of my outfit is thrifted, lest people see me as irresponsible with money, buying all those fashion-related things. Have any of the rest of you experienced this? As a feminist, I would like to choose to spend some money on "female" things without guilt...
Thoughts? Other examples where consumption of items traditionally coded as "masculine" or "feminine" is viewed positively or negatively?
This post is part of the Feminist Fashion Bloggers group. To see other posts on this topic, check out the roundup on the group blog. If you're interested, you should join us!