Jul 19, 2012

Feminism and Fashion

I am trying my very best to make this essay sound as academic as possible, and therefore I will try to understand why the women and men I am speaking against are compelled to do what they do. But let me warn you that I am a feminist, and my thoughts are subjected to “the” feminist biases that may be deemed offensive and hurtful to some.

 Let us begin this journey of understanding pseudo-fashion with the 19th century Japanese painting titled Oiran, which is Japanese for Whore. The painter, Takahashi Yuichi made a bold move by painting this woman, since it was culturally unlawful to be painting a woman of the lowest possible class in Japanese society at the time. Japanese painters do, in actuality, illustrate anonymous women whose job is to entertain men, which could be seen in myriads paintings of geishas and female dancers; but rarely a whore.

*The whore who changed the world. An oiran has less make up and has a more natural look as opposed to the highly stylized geishas. The difference in appearance implies their different roles in society, even when their purpose is essentially the same.

What is the difference between a geisha and an oiran? What makes a geisha to be seemingly carrying more human value than an oiran? The answer lies in the Japanese society at the time that value “artistic skills”. Geishas entertain men through their alluring dance and oiran through sex. This, in my opinion, only makes geishas the skillful whore who pours tea beautifully. The means of entertaining men are different, but the purpose is the same. In a way, I may sound a tad judgmental but let me assure you that I respect the geisha and whore community and there is no way I can prove that a whore’s intention is really to entertain men. For all we know, a whore may do what she does for her own pleasure, or for money; which is something that ought to be respected. In Ango Sakaguchi’s A Discourse on Decadence, he talked about how the road that a prostitute takes is a holy one, as it is also a road of suffering, and is not less holy than the road chosen by a monk. This may sound confusing, but really there are two things that I want my readers to take away from the last couple sentences. One, I am against individuals who do something “for someone else”, in this case, pleasing men. Two, I am for individuals who do something “for themselves”, which in this case refers to a whore who finds joy for herself in the things she does. And yes, these two cases are exclusive. Remember readers: either/or. Therefore, I believe that social judgment established through one’s action is erroneous, and judgments should only be passed through knowing one’s intention; which we all know is impossible.

But that was the 19th century Japan, and Takahashi Yuichi has done all of us a favor by painting the woman. Despite his intention, whatever it may be, the painting opens many eyes and many of us start to realize that a whore is also a human person.

We are now in the 21st century and the term whore is used relatively widely in contemporary societies. It is often used derogatorily to describe and offend women in skimpy clothes, among other uses, like describing an actual whore who gets paid for sex. I am personally not a fan of skimpy clothes, i.e, short dresses, mini skirts, bulging neckline and dresses that look like body wraps. I am not a fan of such “designs” simply because there is usually nothing that you can do with such limited fabric. And more often than not, these alleged dresses ended up looking like nothing, which is the worst thing that can happen in fashion. “Nothing” in this case, refers to the lacking in story, design and inspiration.

 *Skimpy clothes seem to have no purpose other than to showcase the women’s figure and are commonly seen as an attempt to attract the attention of the generic male. 

My hostility towards skimpy clothes (some people call them party dresses) has nothing to do with religious or cultural influences. I am not at all saying that women should wear skirts with hemlines below the knees even though I think they are fabulous. All I am saying, is do not mistaken such dresses for fashion. Fashion is not about revealing your thighs and kaslopus blatantly. Fashion is about creating a world for yourself, and not for other people. And we can go on and on talking about the philosophy of fashion, but at the end, fashion comes down to art and design. So, educate yourself ladies and gentlemen.

*Fashion can be about revealing the thighs. As seen in J.W. Anderson Men’s SS13, men are seen to be wearing thighs revealing shorts, an unconventional way to portray the male’s sexuality and convey the story of a “bad house husband”. 

Indeed, a woman who favors skimpy clothes may say that she wears what she wears because she wants to wear them, but it is easy to speculate that her behavior may have been the result of social expectations. Society today, through media and urban culture has set up their own doctrines on how to behave and dress in social settings, rendering everyone to be in a kind of uniform as seen in clubs and pubs. It is an observable fact that women in clubs look so much alike, with their party dresses and long locks and cocktails in their hands. The stereotypical women are expected to be attracting men, which I find very dangerous, as women usually lose their sense of identity and worst, autonomy, in this pursuit.

This issue is not at all exclusive to women; men too are troubled by this expectation. Men are expected by society to dress and act in a certain way, which is the root of “the gay problem” in contemporary societies. And gay community too assert a kind of expectation on how gay individuals should act and dress, which create this social loop which seems to be beyond escape. Romanticism may have been the start of all this; with the mass production of stories and poems about “love” and the idea of companionship being fed to us as if they were all “necessary” and hold utmost importance. This discussion, of course, reminds us of the good old feminist question: “Can feminists be beautiful in societal terms?” Or better yet, “can feminists wear party dresses?” We all know the answer to this- yes, we can wear whatever we want to wear; to assert rules saying that to dress in skimpy clothes is un-feminist is also an assertion and is on itself un-feminist. This, however, is a story for another day.

The reason I write against women in skimpy clothes is because many women have mistakenly reckoned these dresses as fashionable. Skimpy dresses are now equivalent to long hair for women; it has somehow become a “woman thing”. Another reason I write this essay is because some of my feminist friends have this kind of mindset where they think fashion IS about revealing your body and IS a business that sells sexuality. Which is definitely, not what fashion is all about. Media’s representation of fashion is faulty and what you see on generic fashion magazines and the red carpets are just the mainstream interpretation of fashion. And we all know what The Ultimate Mainstream Concerns are: sex and money.

This is the reason as to why I am more drawn to women like The Man Repeller and men like Piero Ilov. But that does not mean that women who wear party dresses must have no sense of autonomy in their lives. For all we know, she’s probably practicing Socratic irony and finds salvation through it. Unlikely, but possible.

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