Tuesday, February 15, 2011
On Fashion and Feminism
Today, I mostly want to talk about a topic that I've been thinking about for a while in relationship to my personal style. Recently, I've come across a number of very interesting items around the fashion/style blogosphere discussing the intersection of fashion and feminism...something that's been quite close to my heart as a female, somewhat fashion-conscious student and researcher in a male-dominated technological field. In fact, the Fashionable Academics have a very interesting "call for papers" going on right now, asking for people who consider themselves feminists to submit brief descriptions of what feminism means to them. (If this sounds interesting to you, the deadline isn't till this Friday!). So I sent in my piece:
I am a female computer scientist: to me, feminism means pushing for a world where the description of myself as "female" does not affect others' perception of my skill as a "computer scientist." To me, feminism means equality of pay and equality of opportunity for men and women, without labeling either men or women as inherently, stereotypically, "better" at particular things. I believe we can recognize and be comfortable with differences (both societal and biological) between the genders while primarily supporting and honoring the unique abilities of each person regardless of their gender. If a person performs behaviors currently associated more with men or with women (or anywhere in between), I believe that performance should not reflect on that person's overall capabilities or their relationship to feminism. I am not more of a feminist when I wear a little mascara, or red lipstick, or no makeup at all. I am not more of a feminist when I wear sneakers or stilettos or boots. I am not more of a feminist when I study costume design or computer science or physics or cooking. In my ideal world, one's behaviors and ways of presenting oneself to the world are primarily expressions of self rather than expressions of a fixed or stereotyped gender.
On a related note, it's interesting for me to realize how much more comfortable I've gotten in the last year or so with wearing "stylish," "feminine" clothing. As I got more interested in computer science during college, I was aware that I focused on my clothing choices in the context of my field. Studies showed that girls do worse on math than boys only when they are made to think beforehand about their gender (and thus, it is suspected, remember the societal stereotypes about girls being bad at math). So, to fight this effect, I would make sure on test days never to wear skirts or dangling earrings or any clothing that was obviously coded as "female." Looking back, I find this effort a little bit silly...or at least troubling that I felt I had to make that effort.
Now, I'm almost doing the opposite thing. I take pleasure in wearing clothing that is coded as female while being quite competent in technical areas. Soldering in heels? Yes please! But at times this is a performance of gender as well; in my own subtle way, I'm attempting to subvert the expected relationship between femininity and technical ability. I'm particularly careful to wear a dress if I know I'll be demoing things to schoolchildren, to try to telegraph to the girls (and boys) that there isn't a discrepancy between being "girly" and doing computer science work. I'm certainly often performing femininity with my clothing (in a way that I think is consistent with my own desires for sartorial self-expression, even though I probably would revert to jeans and a fitted tee if I knew I wasn't going to see anyone that day.) But even with my recent efforts, I'm still careful not to seem too interested in fashion. I definitely try to make sure my blog doesn't show up on search results for me and my professional work. I'd love to see a time when I wouldn't have to worry about how some of my interests (especially the more female-coded ones like style, crafting, and sewing) would negatively affect the perception of my work-related capabilities.
Anyway. I'd love to hear what others think about some of these issues! If you're interested and want to read a couple of the posts that started me thinking and writing about this, check out Franca's thought-provoking post, and Those Grace's decision to become a feminist beauty blogger.
Quickly, about my Valentine's Day outfit from yesterday...didn't do much besides go to work, as the boyfriend and I decided to go out tonight instead (had a great deal for a fancy dinner on Tuesday or Wednesday nights). I still wanted to be somewhat holiday-appropriate, which led to the red dress that I had finally finished hemming over the weekend (it used to be floor-length with long sleeves. Far too much red plaid for me.) The overall ensemble ended up being referred to as "Gothic Lolita" by a coworker...not sure what I think about that!
Details: Dress, thrifted and DIY'd. Lace-trimmed slip, thrifted. Shoes, Nine West. Sweater, Express. Necklace, estate sale. Earrings, handmade. Belt, from a thrifted dress. Tights, Loft.
Hope everyone is having a good week!