The personal is always political. Also: shoez!

One of the feminist tenets I hold most dear is the idea that my body belongs to myself, exclusively and unconditionally. I can choose to do with it what I will (including the choice to share it with people) but no one else has any right to it, not even to pass judgment on it. (This doesn’t stop people from doing so, but they are assholes.)

I resolved years ago not to subject my beautiful, beloved body to anybody else’s silly rules. I like it the way it is, so I don’t do anything to change it. No, really– I don’t shave. I don’t diet. I don’t wear make-up. I barely even brush my hair. I don’t even use deodorant, because I kind of like the way my body smells all on its own, though I do keep clean for my body’s sake, since there’s a difference between being natural and being dirty.

But I also get super excited about pretty clothes! To demonstrate, I shall now gush over my favourite Chrismas present, this dress! It fits me gorgeously. I am SO looking forward to wearing it, along with all the other lovely things I have to go with it. Like these shoes! And I totally splurged on this belt even though it wasn’t on sale, because it brings in the taupe of the shoes and has a gold buckle to go with my new gold jewelry! I have an antique gold pocketwatch on a chain as a necklace, and I bought a new bracelet and dangly gold earrings to go with it. I’m still not sure what kinds of stockings I’m going to put with the outfit, but I have about eight different kinds with me– bright berry-colored ones, and herringbone gray ones, and sheer black ones, and gold and brown shimmery ones, and so on. It will probably take me at least half an hour to dress even though I’ve planned so much of it out, possibly an hour if it takes me a while to decide on stockings.

In other words, I spend a lot of time and money and energy on my appearance…just like the patriarchy wants me to.

And now comes the part where I talk about meee. The point of the following paragraphs isn’t that I’m super hot (though I am!) or that I’m a magical patriarchy-smashing machine (though I try to be, when I can). I just want to explore the ways that our decisions about clothing aren’t allowed to be completely personal, and yet are personal. And I can only approach this topic from my own experience, especially since my recent thoughts have been inspired by others’ confusion as to how I can reconcile floral prints and mary janes with feminism.

I’ve always justified it by saying “but I do it for ME!” but until recently that didn’t feel like enough. I still felt like a “bad feminist.” After all, when women say they want to get breast implants, or gastric bypass surgery, or (dear god!) “vaginal rejuvenation” for meee, I generally respond that in this patriarchal society, it’s impossible to seperate such actions from their contexts, so it can’t just be for “me,” since society will respond as if it was for the patriarchy. Similarly, I think in a lot of cases it’s not the action itself that one wants, or even the direct result of it, but rather the indirect societal benefit– if we miraculously eradicated all our fatphobic prejudices, how many people would really want gastric bypass surgery “just for me,” as opposed to for some actual medical reason? My guess: not very many!

So when I willingly lay down my valuable time and money on the altar of fashion, am I falling into the same trap? Maybe. But I think I’ve found a way to make it a lot more about me than the patriarchy would like.

For one thing, the distinction between my body and my clothes is important to me. I have a very strong reaction against purely cosmetic surgery, because it goes too deep. I can often be patriarchy-approved, by I wear it lightly. My body is inviolate, but the stuff that goes on top of it is just for fun. So it seems less serious to wear heels every now and then, or even to wear dresses every single day, than to get breast implants, because the clothes aren’t actually a part of me. I’m performing my gender, with an emphasis on performing; it’s not integral to my actual person.

Also important, I’m a lesbian. I love checking myself out in basically any reflective surface that I go near. I don’t care if I get called vain, just like I don’t care if I get called bitchy or shrill or any of those other terrible woman-insults; I would totally sleep with me, and it makes me happy any time I see a good-looking lesbian, even if she’s me. It’s just such an enoyable experience, looking good! I don’t always look fashionable– I mostly just buy whatever I think is amazing, and flattering for my (fantastic) hourglass figure. I love colors and patterns, and the way they interact in a well-coordinated outfit. A single new piece of clothing will leave me smiling all day every day I wear it for at least a week– a new wardrobe, like I got for Chrismas, is going to have me grinning for months. It’s an experience that I enjoy very much for me.

In fact, it kinds of annoys me when the rest of the world reminds me that by looking fantastic, I’m “playing along.” Seriously, dudes of the world: I already know I have stunning cleavage (and a cute butt!), so you don’t have to remind me. It’s not there for you. Quit looking. Yes, that means you!

If there was a way I could put an Ugly Bubble (TM) around myself so only I could gaze upon my brilliance, I’d probably do it more often than not. There’s nothing more disconcerting than checking myself out as I walk past a wall of windows, and catching someone else checking me out too!

There’s nothing wrong with playing along with the patriarchy, even if you do it most (or all!) of the time. Every woman has to find her own balance and I know how tough it can be when you’re breaking the rules– if it makes your life easier, go for it! I’ve said this a couple times before but it’s important to me; no one has any obligation to be some kind of feminist crusader, smashing every rule the patriarchy throws at her. That’s too much crap for anyone to bear.

But I still don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think I’ve managed to take performing gender and subvert it, by making it into a game I play with myself, for myself. Which, you know, is pretty cool. If only everyone else would figure out that’s what’s going on, and stop treating me like I care what society thinks of my appearance.

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5 Responses to The personal is always political. Also: shoez!

  1. Crowfoot says:

    This is a really interesting topic! And one that is surprisingly complex. There really is so much to say it’s hard to know how to begin.

    I think I know what you mean – firstly, we all capitulate in some form or other. We simply can’t fight all of it all of the time. While we try to resist and not to comply, it’s also really really hard to do something (clothing, appearance wise) that’s outside of the culture we’re in, because we end up still responding to that culture – as you said in our IM chat: even the rebellion is stuck within the context, it can’t escape it.

    It’s hard to go against the clothing styles assigned to one’s class without also having it be a direct response to that style. Sometimes it feels like we can either “capitulate” by wearing dresses, say, or “rebel” by wearing short hair and combat boots (I’m dating the argument here, of course, nowadays it’s not such a big deal for women to have short hair and clompy boots).

    I remember reading an article about lesbians in Toronto in the 70s rebelling against the strictures of what women were supposed to wear by “dressing like men” (as others accused them of doing). And how they were struggling with freeing themselves of patriarchal concepts of femininity which placed it directly opposed and different to masculinity. There were arguments whether wearing the “male” dress code of loose-fitting jeans and boots were just adopting male dress rather than re-inventing female dress. Gah, I don’t know if I’m making any sense and this is getting really long!

    I also think you address a long ongoing argument between post-modernist theorists and others. It sounds like you’re saying that while on the outside you’re wearing that pretty dress (which is “feminine”), you are also resisting while wearing that dress (in some concrete ways- you don’t shave – but also in your attitudes towards your clothing and the expectations around it). The resistance is internal and not always immediately apparent. Sometimes it seems that many post-modernists talk as if that’s enough, while other feminists (like Susan Bordo for example) argue that it isn’t.

    but you don’t argue that what you’re doing is “enough” resistance, just that you yourself know that you are also resisting in some ways. Does that make sense? Am I at all close to what you were trying to say?

    In some ways, at the very least, playing it as a game, knowing you’re “performing gender,” can be a helpful exercise in stretching our minds away from the expected gender roles; we walk in awareness.

    oof I’m all over the map. Very interesting subject!

  2. fremenalex says:

    Awesomeness!!!

    This is exactly why I love reading your blog! It’s safe to say I’m not a feminist, but I do have an open mind and am willing to learn about anything and everything. Feminism is such a complex and easily misunderstood “ism”. Only when it comes from the inside and at the same time non-confrontational does it become rhetoric.

    Y’all stand your ground and have even put me in my place in the past (*cough She-Hulk thing cough*), but at the same time don’t forget that we are all human and have different points of view. Maybe that’s why it didn’t feel like you were puttin me in my place…

    Humans are a social animal, so when people say that they don’t care about what anyone else thinks, it makes me roll my eyes. I used to be like that till I noticed I wasn’t gettin any dates. You’re either looking good and “conforming” to the masses or you’re lookin all unkept and unnatractive and “conforming to the non-conformists”. Either way you’re conforming, so you might as well look good while doin it. Dress up for yourself and people will notice, if it’s the fans of stilettos or steel-toes.

    By the way, “I would totally sleep with me, and it makes me happy any time I see a good-looking lesbian, even if she’s me.”… couldn’t have said it better! (except for the whole lesbian thing cuz I’m not a lesbian). I sleep with myself everyday, and it is wonderful! I’m one of the worst people you’d imagine in the mornings, and are a pain to wake up, especially on the weekends. So when my boyfriend calls me lazy cuz I won’t get outta bed, I’ll just ask him” Would you get outta bed with me still in it? I sure’s hell wouldn’t!”

    • Crowfoot says:

      Hi fremenalex 🙂 eloriane’s internet access is spotty this week so I’ll go ahead and thank you for the kind words on her behalf.

      And I’m glad you didn’t feel like eloriane was putting you in your place. I know that eloriane does want this blog to have room for people just learning about feminism so as long as we are all discussing things from an honest place (not just saying provocative shit and sniggering to ourselves). If we can do that then real communication can happen. You’re right in that feminism can be complex – I think that what can make it hard to see is how normalized the world around us is – when something is normalized it is also made invisible. Our patriarchal social order saturates every aspect of our culture; it becomes the very air we breathe. Like fish in a tank we don’t see the water we swim in. What feminism does (like other “isms”) is to try and draw these invisible patterns into focus. It’s like the world is stained with patriarchy, and feminists/feminism tries to scrub away at that stain. Which is why the name of the blog works so well – if we can wear our gender goggles then maybe we can see the patterns in gender presentations/expectations etc. Those gender goggles are also patriarchy goggles! And all of that can be challenging and disorienting too! hoo-boy, heeh

      I also completely agree that humans are deeply social animals. And ideas around conforming or not conforming are sometimes hard to try to pry apart. Like you suggest, we all do care what others think, but maybe sometimes it’s more about which particular Others we’re concerned with? Sometimes, too, people can get really fed up with trying to conform and having it never quite work. I can certainly relate to that! There’s also the ways in which conforming (whether to the masses or to the non-conformists) can stifle our individuality. I mean, that’s a “duh” statement lol. I do think it’s possible not conform that much and still not be unkempt and unattractive – and lemme tell ya, one person’s “attractive” can definitely be someone else’s “ugly!”

      ” Would you get outta bed with me still in it? I sure’s hell wouldn’t!”

      heeh 😀

      There’s sooo much within this topic to discuss I’m not sure if it’s best to do in the comments, or to write another post about it – make it a series. With this post we can talk about sexism, basic ordinary sociology, clothes as markers of status/class, how well or how far we can rebel against the culture we live in, post-modernist ideas around resistance (which I started, sorry, lol), ideas around what’s considered “attractive” and why, gender constructs on article of clothing, individuality vs the group, on and on heeh. I think a part of me just wants to post about when I used to have a mohawk :-p

  3. menolly1019 says:

    Hey.

    I really should read eloriane’s stuff more frequently, but then I just wouldn’t be my spazzy self.

    I don’t know a ton about feminism and I’m honestly not extremely interested. I’ve just gotten tired of examining things and debating them in general. Nothing against feminism.

    Where I come from is the struggle to accept myself in general and not just my practices as a female. I’ve recently had someone making me feel bad about the things I like to read and I’ve had to try to find my peace with that.

    If I want to read stories that aren’t considered classical or profound, I don’t see a problem with that. I don’t even see a problem if that’s all that I ever read. I find joy in reading these things. I see worth in them simply because they give me joy. I don’t need to be able to describe what exactly is worthwhile about them, why they make me happy.

    If you find joy in wearing fun clothes, you don’t need any other reason to wear them. Maybe your enjoyment does come from other people’s reactions, but does that make it less okay? No. I would say, it is enough to know that it makes you happy, that in essence, you do it for yourself.

    I think looking good is an expectation all people share irregardless of gender. Some people live up to the expectation and some don’t. Obviously what traditionally is expected to make you look good is affected by your gender, but that isn’t as binding as you might think.

    I submit that if you wear a suit and tie as a girl and make it look visually flattering, people are going to say you look good.

    I hope my thoughts aren’t too scrambled as they often tend to be.

    • Crowfoot says:

      Hi menolly, no worries, your thoughts weren’t too scrambled 🙂

      Yeah, examining things can be exhausting, it’s true. It can be even harder when you’re also trying to learn to accept yourself in general! I am a firm believer in not giving ourselves too much of a hard time if we’re not perfect. My only exception is whether we treat people or animals poorly. That is not something I give a lot of slack about. However, having said that I do know how we can all mess up sometimes (I certainly have!). At that point I believe we need to focus on a) making amends and b) figuring out the dynamics/reasons behind what we did so we don’t do it again.

      But things like reading frivolous books? Wearing pretty dresses? While I believe that knowledge is power, and that it’s really important to expand our awareness of all sorts of things, like you I do not believe that it is wrong to just read for entertainment. Firstly, there are lots of ways of gaining knowledge about things that has nothing to do with reading. Secondly, sometimes we really do need to just look after ourselves, and that’s ok. Activism isn’t for everybody, and even for people who aren’t activist types, there are times when one needs to do other kinds of ‘work.’ Like learning to accept yourself, for example.

      I also agree that we all like to look natty. It’s the confines of what is generally acceptable for this body type or that body type, or what is generally considered “natty” that I struggle against. It wasn’t that long ago that a woman wearing a suit and tie was a deeply radical act. Now, not so much. I would prefer people to wear what brings them joy, no matter how clashy or odd! I want people to have fun with it. Where things get complicated is when someone is trying to wear what gives them joy but gets loads of shit for it. How do we change that? That takes some examining of the situation, then having enough of us start to do things differently, which takes more examining as we try to do that, lol. I can certainly understand getting tired of it. I do think, though, that it’s like changing a habit; after a while one doesn’t really think about it anymore and it becomes effortless. It also sounds like, while you are tired of examining things, you also don’t care if people are doing things differently than you? That in and of itself can help a lot, actually.

      Thanks for your thoughts, and I hope mine were clear too heh 🙂

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