Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Getting Dressed

Our only hope for the redemption of woman from the thralldom of dress lies in the belief that her hitherto limited sphere of activities has been so insufficient for her intellectual occupations that she has been forced to expend her thoughts in decorating her person, instead of enlarging her mind. ~Mercy B. Jackson

Every time I put on a pair of high heels, part of me begins to feel guilty. This morning was no exception. Is a feminist woman allowed to look like the prototypical American woman? Would a real feminist woman wear heels? Can a feminist woman wear make-up if she chooses? What about shaving her armpits? Letting her hair grow long? Wearing the color pink?

These and other questions plague me every time I find myself wearing a dress. Am I a walking contradiction? I am an advocate for equality, yet I love wearing the very things that distinguish women from men (and, some would argue, the very things that further enforce a male-female dichotomy). How can I rightly acknowledge my fondness for fashion while striving to be a progressive, enlightened feminist? Is wearing “feminine” clothing undermining all the things I work and pray for? Perhaps Mercy B. Jackson is right; maybe instead of expanding my mind, I’m wasting it on decorating my body. Let’s hope there is another side to this argument…

There is a fine line between art and decoration. Some things should be both. And some things should remain one or the other. As a feminist, my choices in clothing, shoes, and jewelry should be artistic in purpose- not decorative. That is, clothing ought to be chosen with “deliberate thought to aesthetic, and, on a deeper level, with the desire to communicate something” (Beth Peterson). Whatever we wish to communicate, the thought and intention given to our choices in apparel allow us to take power in how we present ourselves. Rather than dressing to serve a decorative purpose, we use dress as one small way to express our intentions and ourselves.

What is appropriate dress for a feminist? Every feminist woman must choose for herself. The way I see it, a feminist who deliberately avoids “feminine” fashions is equivalent to a feminist indicating that only those dressed in “masculine” clothing can be trusted and worthy of respect. By dressing in “feminine” clothing yet demanding equal treatment and respect, we teach the world to treat all women like human beings, no matter how they look.

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