Category Archives: Feminism

realtalk

There is no place that will crush your faith in the common sense/decency of humanity more than the comments section of most online articles. They seem to be a breeding ground for misinformed opinions, an invitation for the idiotic and insensitive to take up their digital megaphones and trample over the valid feelings and attitudes of others. I read a lot of pieces on feminism, and always masochistically trawl through the comments afterwards, leaving me shaking with rage and metaphorically weeping for the sheer ignorance that seems to reign triumphant in my community of fellow readers. But I’m not one for getting into arguments with anonymous fools over the internet, as a) no one ever changed a bigot’s mind by hitting ‘reply’, b) often people are coming from emotional, not logical standpoints and c) you can’t argue with stupid. So this weekly feature is my antidote, and each instalment will take one infuriating comment and break it down in an attempt to claim a small right against a small wrong in my own small space. This week’s was in response to Sarah Ditum’s ‘Three reasons why a vagina is not a laptop’, which reacts to Nick Ross’s suggestion that our attitude to theft prevention should be reflected in our attitude to rape prevention (as well as a whole load of other unhelpful and inflammatory remarks). Here is the comment I’ll be taking issue with this week:

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I have two main gripes with this clearly moronic retort, but let’s start with the shortest one which references the final sentence. I hate it when journalists, commenters or people in general take a thought-through point and reduce it to some hyperbolic disfiguration. I see this happen time and time against particularly with feminism, where instead of addressing the actual problem being raised, individuals try to silence that problem by making out like the writer is hysterical or the issue simply doesn’t exist (a perfect example of this is this disgusting article on the NUS lad culture report). This kind of reaction is a dismissive one that is painfully unhelpful but gains a hell of a lot of airtime in our media. For one thing, it’s simply not a refutation to put words in someone’s mouth that suit your misogynistic narrative. Secondly, and most importantly, to solve a problem we need to understand it. Hideous remarks like ‘they were excusing the behaviour of child molesters’ are a way of refusing to understand that problem.

Hundreds gathered at the Alberta Legislature g...

My second issue is the notion of victim blaming and responsibility for personal safety. In the wake of Steubenville my friends and I got into a discussion of this topic, which centered around the whole ‘we’re taught not to get raped, rather than not to rape’ idea. This commenter reduces the topic to a very simplistic argument, suggesting that telling people to protect themselves has no repercussions beyond being good advice. Now, if I’m walking home late at night I try to make sure I have someone with me and that I stick to well lit areas. However, all that is doing is plastering over the cracks. In making how to protect ourselves the focus of media conversation on rape, we are concentrating on the consequence, not the crime. Change never came from slapping on a plaster time and time again. All of this builds up to the question of what is a helpful conversation to have. I do think that the media has a social responsibility, and the minute the Daily Mail or any other outlet decides to publish material on how not to become a victim, rather than how not to become a rapist (as simplistic as it sounds, that’s the dichotomy we’re dealing with) it continues to fuel an unhelpful conversation. A strictly informative news article telling its reader that a woman was raped at 11:30pm whilst walking home alone gives enough information for the reader to deduce that such a scenario poses a potentially increased threat. Hell, a basic chat with your mum or dad, the type you’ve probably been having since before you hit puberty tells you what to do. So simply put, giving out ‘good sense’ on a platform like Ross’s doesn’t end there. Instead it does perpetuate a culture that is still, incredulously, not paying enough attention to what we need to do to tackle rapists. Call me naive, but shouldn’t our aim be that a woman can walk home from the library at 11 at night, by herself, without being followed (true story, folks)? It’s not enough to settle with essentially accommodating a problem by curbing our freedom in line with its threat. Containing the problem is not the same as overcoming it, and that’s a point articles like Ross’s and comments like Spike501’s refuse to incorporate in their narrow-minded monologues.

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Feminists in fashion

When I consider what holds women back in society, I often end up thinking about role models. At a recent Oxford University Student Union meeting there was a vote taken on a motion proposing that at least 50% of the OUSU representation at NUS meetings had to be female. I still don’t know where I stand on positive discrimination, but one of the major arguments given for it in this case was that it would provide role models. Basically, if we don’t see women in positions of power, are we likely to pursue those positions ourselves? The fact that as of this year only 4.5% of CEO positions in Fortune 1000 companies are occupied by women screams to us that something needs to give, but we shouldn’t dismiss the 4.5%. In the vein of holding onto whatever representation you do have in a field that doesn’t seem all that welcoming to you, I decided to write on feminists in fashion because, believe it or not, there are some. Here are a few who have openly declared their support for gender equality:

1. The Journalist: Hadley Freeman

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If I had to pick a role model it would undoubtedly be Freeman. She’s written for Guardian fashion since I started reading it and is a fantastic example of how yes, you can like nice clothes but yes, you can also give a crap about being afraid to walk home alone at night because you happen to be female. If you’re currently in the camp of struggling to reconcile fashion and feminism I’d head straight to this article she wrote for Vagenda. She completely hits the nail on the head when she writes: ‘let’s talk about fashion as opposed to the fashion media.’ When people bitterly spit out ‘Fashion is disgusting’ in the comments section of pretty much any fashion article on any newspaper website, I’m pretty sure they don’t mean that a Topshop dress repulses them or a Balenciaga jacket makes them want to throw up. There’s a difference between the industry and the clothes, ladies and gents! She also proves you can be a fashion journalist and still write pieces like this, this and this. So if you’re ever feeling like the contradiction people tell you that you are, google her.

2. The Designer: Diane von Fürstenberg

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Simply because the woman cares. I get that any big corporate outfit, especially one that’s part of an industry with a reputation for rampant materialism and superficiality, has a bigger-than-usual obligation to PR. But von Fürstenberg does actually do a lot for women, not just the women who can afford her dresses or live in her zip code, but women around the world who’ve got the raw end of the deal to put it lightly. Her company supports Women for Women, an organisation that helps women whose lives have been torn apart by wars to take matters into their own hands through business and education. Also on her philanthropic radar is The White Ribbon Alliance, which is predominantly dedicated to fighting for the basic right to healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth. There are many women who have the kind of clout von Fürstenberg does, but very few who use that in any meaningful way to help other women out. She also holds the DVF Awards, which not only supports those who support women, but also introduces a sense of community and inclusivity between women into an industry that is infamously superior (and look – here she is with Gloria Steinem!).

3. The Model: Karen Elson

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Elson doesn’t have the openly feminist credentials von Fürstenberg and Freeman do, but she did speak out in Rookie about how it’s okay to be a feminist and be into fashion, specifically in relation to modelling. She told one reader that: ‘If you assume that models can’t be political, that we can’t have strong opinions and beliefs, you’re just falling prey to the popularly held misogynist view that beautiful women are stupid’ and ‘As a feminist, you can help change the industry by challenging beauty ideals, speaking out about the treatment of models, and being a role model for other women.’ I think it’s that last comment that really resonates with me. Industries, like anything made up of individuals, are not static entities. And so it’s pretty narrow minded to denounce something or even give up on it just because of how it appears to you on that day, in that year or hell, even in that decade. I started a feminist society at my college because I didn’t like how the hyper-masculine men controlled everything about college life, from its politics to its social side. So I decided to change it by creating a space in which people could come together and speak out about that. Since then loads more people have got on board, there is actually a discernable shift in the atmosphere, and I feel a little less determined by others than I used to. I’d like to think the same is possible in fashion, however long it takes. By taking Elson’s advice and following von Fürstenberg and Freeman’s lead, I hope that the fashion industry can catch up with fashion: liberating rather than oppressing.

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Hello

I’m starting this blog because I love fashion but I’m passionate about feminism, and right now the two don’t seem to get along too well. My feminist group was having a discussion about women’s portrayal in the media a few weeks ago and we got onto the topic of fashion magazines. I found myself desperately fending off attacks on the idea that the likes of Vogue and Elle were in the same camp as the weekly publications that gleefully brandish pictures of supposedly ‘imperfect’ celebrities on their covers. And that’s because I was thinking of sexualisation, of what women’s magazines demanded their readers aspire to to please men, whilst the others were thinking in terms of body image. I believe that on the former front there is something laudable in fashion, and indeed fashion magazines, that we need to hold onto and capitalize on. Part of the reason I like fashion so much is the creativity involved in evoking a vibe, in building an outfit, that has absolutely nothing to do with submitting to a need for male approval. But on the latter front there is, obviously, a huge way to go. Alexandra Shulman did recently tweet about the horrifyingly skeletal frames of models on the Preen catwalk, and Vogue editors worldwide have signed the Health Initiative pact. But whilst I’d applaud Shulman for being one of a tiny minority of editors who even bothers to address, let alone challenge the issue, when you open the pages of any glossy magazine you’re still presented with a narrow, generally Western ideal of beauty. According to Buzzfeed, nearly 90% of the models cast in the major four fashion weeks were white. Add to that the inexplicable obsession with ‘blacking up’ Caucasian models for editorials and the industry isn’t anywhere near to reflecting either its diverse audience or the women it impacts. A few years ago I pretty much gave up on my fashion journalism ambitions because of these kinds of issues, which was long before I even became so incensed by the gender inequality that persists in our society. But having got involved at university with both feminism and fashion, I see a change that needs to be made and want to be a part of helping realise that. Because the unreality of Tim Walker editorials and the opulence of Vogue’s clothing choices, so ludicrously expensive as to be clearly left on the side of fantasy, make that aspect of fashion only an ideal. And because of that it remains something to be enjoyed. But we all have bodies, and we all have skin tones. Consequently there are two sides of fashionable representation, one which I love and one which I loath. So I’m starting this blog to add a voice to what I hope will one day be a community with clout, a community that sees fashion as a point of self-definition and self-liberation, drawing it out of an archaic age of telling people that this is the one and only way they should look. Feminism and fashion needn’t be antithetical, and this is going to be an experiment in bringing them together!

Kathryn x

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