Thursday, April 21, 2011

Feminism in Fashion (30 DPC: Day 25)

Before delving into today’s photographic documentation of my life, I want to provide a few updates pertaining to some contemporary Human Rights issues I’ve discussed in this blog:
  • Jon Krakaur, author of Three Cups of Deceit does make the bold claim that the CAI can be salvaged and the schools for the young women can continue to grow, so long as Mortensen steps down. So that’s encouraging! 
  • The burqa ban in France (as well as the pending ban on all external displays of religious affiliation) came into effect on April 11th and since has been met with enormous protest. The estimated 4 or 5 million Muslims in France (of which only 2000 women choose to wear the full-face veil) have erupted into a slew of articles and nonviolent protests, facing enormous fines.
  • France, and Italy are intending to deploy teams of military “advisors” to aid the rebels in Libya attempting to overthrow the tyrannical reign of Qaddafi. These teams are UN-sanctioned.
And now, to present the theme of the day:

Day 24: A Photograph of An Outfit You Wore Today

As of this morning I joined the FFB (Feminist Fashion Bloggers, thanks Aly!) group on Google and as such I thought today an appropriate time to address something I feel extremely passionately about: feminism and art.

Thanks for the photo, Grace! I'm wearing a Forever 21 dress, flats I bought at the thrift store, pearls from my mother, a pink ribbon I found in a fabric store, and my (prescription) glasses. Far from practical, you might say. But whatever.
Feminism and art. As I’ve mentioned before here and here I took AP Art History in high school and fell madly in love with the art world. My favorite painter is, undoubtedly and conventionally, Vincent Van Gogh. Earlier this year my Dad took me to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC (MoMA) where “Starry Night” is on display. When I saw the work in person I literally just burst into tears and stood in front of it for twenty minutes in awe.* Perhaps not the healthiest way to love a work of art, but I’m not one for half-assing anything.

But I don’t exclusively love redheaded Dutchmen with big straw hats. Some of my other favorite artists include Caravaggio, Edouard Manet, Hannah Höch, Mark Rothko, Käthe Kollwitz, Picasso, Banksy, Barbra Kruger, Christo & Jean-Claude, and the Guerilla Girls. If you know your Art History, you’ll recognize one of the most famous feminist artists of all time: Barbra Kruger, known for her use of appropriated images and biting statements. Two personal favorites of mine that she’s done:

As a woman I find her incredibly empowering. Her works, so simple, require the viewer to be engaged, to question, to think critically about what she’s saying so brutally. And believe me, as far as feminist artists go, she’s tame compared to some of the other pieces I’ve seen.

But here’s what I love about art: it transcends the gallery wall. And contrary to popular belief, this is not wholly due to Du Champ and Warhol (though I do not attempt to deny their revolutionary works). One of my favorite art forms is in fashion; from Queen Elizabeth I’s banging garb to Gaga’s out-of-this-world costumes (or lack thereof) I think the way we dress can say so much about who we are and, when done right, can really be a living art form. I try to dress every day like I’m stepping out to Van Gogh’s fields or into Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s studio with her muse, Marie Antoinette. In West African prints, in 50s high-waisted skirts, in comfy sandals and in my knee-high red high-heeled boots there’s such a spectrum for expression and for boldness.

And since we live in the 21st century I am fortunate enough to experiment with expression in all mediums of fabric. And this liberation and freedom to explore is, in my mind, is what being a feminist is all about.

Sadly, though, in contemporary feminist discussions so many women- women!- say that other women who wear loose clothing aren’t celebrating their bodies enough, buying into conventions that dictate they have to be thin and if they aren’t they better cover it up. Conversely, there are they who claim women who wear short skirts or busty tops made of tight fabric are degrading themselves by showing so much skin and therefore conforming to the demands of the media for hot, sexy, big-boobed and mega-thin Barbies.

I think that these arguments are stupid and beside the point, an argument I think excellently articulated in a recent 30 Rock episode (surprise!)

In today’s Mount Holyoke News there was an article on Tina Fey and her integration of gender politics in her brilliant comedic work. The article, written by Erica Moulton, declares that “Perhaps without intending it, Fey has emerged as a symbol of the smart working woman and women’s issues lace many of her funniest works.”

This issue is illustrated through an examination at an episode of Fey’s hit show, 30 Rock. In said episode, Fey’s character Liz Lemon ferociously criticizes a rather scantily clad coworker nicknamed “Sexy Baby.” Liz tells the pigtailed, short-skirt woman that she “represent[s] my show and my gender in this business and [she] embarrasses me.” The co-worker tartly replied, “This is who I am. Deal with it.”

Fey herself in a recent interview on NPR (again, I’m taking this from Moulton’s fabulous article) that Liz has the best of intentions in wanting to present women as strong, but she doesn’t realize that Sexy Baby has every right to act and dress the way she does.

This is the new feminism; the belief in equality between the genders and equal opportunity for all, Sexy Babys and ladder-climbing businesswoman all included. There’s this great monologue from Eve Ensler’s piece, the Vagina Monologues (a production I’ve had the pleasure of being in) called “My Short Skirt” that I think beautifully articulates how it can be an empowering thing to wear less clothing:

My short skirt is not an invitation
a provocation
an indication
that I want it
or give it
or that I hook.
My short skirt
is not begging for it
it does not want you
to rip it off me
or pull it down.
My short skirt
is not a legal reason
for raping me
although it has been before
it will not hold up
in the new court.
My short skirt, believe it or not
has nothing to do with you.
My short skirt
is about discovering
the power of my lower calves
about cool autumn air traveling
up my inner thighs
about allowing everything I see
or pass or feel to live inside.
My short skirt is not proof
that I am stupid
or undecided
or a malleable little girl.
My short skirt is my defiance
I will not let you make me afraid
My short skirt is not showing off
this is who I am
before you made me cover it
or tone it down.

What Eve says here I think beautifully embodies what it means to be liberated in your dress. To me, the most important thing about personal fashion is that you are comfortable and feel at ease in what you are wearing. For myself, that means fair trade/thrift store clothing as much as possible, as well as bright clothing that makes me brave. So ladies and gentlemen, wear your jeans and flowy skirts and tight dresses and bow ties (bow ties are cool) and ugly, comfy shoes.  And your sex/gender shouldn’t constrain what you choose to wear. That’s equality, to me.

current jam: "concerning the ufo sighting near, highland, illinois" sufjan stevens
best thing in my life right now: i got the job! and sold my camera! and my dad send me an easter care package!
days until departure: 40 days

*And when I watched “Vincent and the Doctor” yesterday for the first time? You better believe there was a pillow-clutching, spellbound, and horribly verclempt Lizzie glued to her computer for the hour.

p.s. If I did a list of my favorite works of art, would you be interested in reading it?
p.p.s. Also, re-did the makeover! Figured out how to change the background back to yellow :D Thanks for your feedback Sam!

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