I have been a feminist for over sixty years. In that time I have been in marches, have written extensively and have helped, at times, to break through some, but not all, of the barriers that have been put in my way by my gender.
It is not surprising, therefore, that I would resent someone cherry picking definitions so that people like me can be excluded from calling themselves feminists because of others’ opinions about what constitutes feminism.
We live in a fairly free society these days and freedom of opinion is very important, perhaps even more so than the question, “What is a feminist?” So I accept that we are all individually free to have whatever opinions we like, even about feminism. But anyone who identifies as a feminist surely should not be excluded by someone else’s opinion. Reading a long Twitter stream today has shown me that perhaps many would not consider me to be a feminist any longer as I have strong views about some of the direction in which feminism has gone and especially on dress and dress codes. This particular Twitter feed morphed at one stage to an article about slut walks.
Whilst we can all think and act in in our own ways we are bound by the law. And assault of women (or men) and rape of women (or men) is against the law and is always a vile act. No so called “provocative” dress or mannerisms can be used to allege such illegal acts were invited. I think the slut walk makes a very good point about this.
However there is more to dress than meets the eye, to make a poor pun! As feminists in the late 50s and early 60s we waged war to be able to dress in ways that did not so sharply separate us out as women. We were not Victorian women who could not let our ankles show. We did not have to wear the burqa. But we had to wear skirts and never trousers, even as children. In many situations it was required that we wear hats and gloves. In formal situations where men had the ease of their uniformity of penguin suits we had to be dressed up in furs and furbelows! There was a brief period when a couple of women tried dressing in a “female” version of such a suit because they could not be bothered to go through the process of forever trying to get something new and different, but this plan was not well received.
So now days when Julia Gillard, Penny Wong or any of the other neatly suited women arrive at parliament they are not banned from the building as women would have been when I was young. One could not even wear trousers to lectures at university or to teach at schools if one was female.
The idea that we could have parity, even uniformity, with men as far as clothing was concerned was attractive, together with the concept that we did not have to ruin our feet with high heels.
Now the pendulum has swung, perhaps not surprisingly when one looks at it. From women’s bodies being seen as so desirable that women had to cover at all costs, through to my day when women were just regarded as a separate species who could not do some clever things as well as men could, through to the embrace of some uniformity, to now, when some young women seem to want to parade their “wares”, some alleging that even being slightly covered means we are ashamed of our bodies and of being female. This was never the case with men and I do not think it should be the case today with women either. There are times and places where one’s gender should be unimportant. There are other times and places where it may be significant and we can choose to dress with these distinctions in mind, as is the case with men.
We give a message with what we wear. Look at the ties of some men in government for example!!
But a pair of very short shorts with small lettering tattooed in cursive just below the curvaceous buttock is an invitation to come close and read. It is not an invitation to an assault, of course, but it is an invitation to think of the wearer in a sexual fashion. It is not an invitation to have her defend you in a court of law, to have her perform brain surgery on you or to repair your computer.
And I despair about what messages these multiple images of sexualised clothing are sending to young girls.
I sometimes disagree with Collective Shout. I sometimes disagree with Destroy the Joint. I sometimes disagree when all the blame for women’s continued disadvantage is assigned to men alone. Yet on most things I agree.
And despite these strong opinions, I am still a feminist.