Saturday 27 March 2021

Trailer trash feminist

Continuing my critique of Degendering Fashion, by Emilia Bergoglio, published in Seamwork magazine #76, 2021.

I think Seamwork magazine #77 Balanced, may be published. It will contain the 2nd part of Degendering Fashion, but at this point I haven't been able to read it so what I've written today refers only to part 1, from Seamwork #76.


 Questions to ask........

What would the response to Degendering Fashion have been if it appeared in a publication for tailors and male hobbyist sewists? 

What sense would it make to an audience completely of men? 

Would it make sense to a woman in Guatemala who takes pride in and makes a living from making clothes with the lavish embroideries her female predecessors taught her?  

Would it make sense to a woman in Mali who makes traditional mud cloth? 

What sense would it make to a Hmong hill tribe woman in Thailand embellishing fabric with traditional cross stitch?

link to an article that expands on this idea

Missonary Feminism


Would a man wear this?...and why not?

Considering Degendering Fashion in a historical context

In all of human history clothing has never been degendered. There is no culture in which all genders wore the same clothes. So I think if degendering clothing was a desirable thing humans wanted to do it would have happened before the last 10,000 years.

I agree with Emilias view about "unisex" fashion in their article. It is de-feminised clothing made to appeal to females who prefer masculine styling. It was never intended to be marketed to men as something desirable to wear.

If there is any gender that could benefit from the essential message of Degendering Fashion  it is men. I think they are the ones we should be urging to wear a full range of colours, prints, dresses and skirts. Rather than suggesting the way to degender fashion is by women wearing more blazers and trousers I think we should be educating men about the comfort and pleasure of wearing dresses and skirts. 

Men in Indonesia and Sri Lanka understand this and the traditional sarong is worn everywhere as commonplace, everyday attire. They would probably be baffled if men of other nationalities told them it signifies feminine and not masculine.



Same old, same old shaming

In the next paragraph all phrases in inverted commas are taken from Degendering Fashion

Degendering Fashion suggests that it is women who must change their ways of dressing in order to achieve the goal of "gender neutrality". Emilia suggests that a good way to begin is to "eliminate binary nomenclature in fashion" by erasing terms such as "bust darts" and "fitted bodice dresses". Coming from a person who defines themself  not-woman and binds their chest to appear flat I can understand why gender neutrality is something desirable for them. However, personally I cannot understand why adopting less gendered clothing, by wearing clothing that is less feminine, is a way forward for women to gain more equality and empowerment. 

The view that women are complicit in their subjugation has been taken up no less enthusiastically by high status, privileged women in the 21stC. Ever since the feudal system was created to control, exploit, and keep the peasantry oppressed women of the superior classes have always policed the unruly female underclass demanding they behave better, work harder, keep your home cleaner, drink less alcohol, buy more stuff, wear these clothes, don’t wear those clothes, educate yourselves better, have more/less babies – endorsing whatever is the prevailing need of patriarchy and its capitalist agenda. 

Back in the day those women would have been from the aristocracy and gentry and the wealthy mercantile, land owning class; in modernity the former mistresses have switched to be high status, tertiary educated, professional, white or light skinned, independently wealthy women taking up the same role. From the podium of their Manolo Blahnik stilettoes they shame, harangue and blame women for not being more free and happy. They imply it is our personal fault not having achieved power and agency in our lives because of having babies too young, being without a male partner (or choosing a low status one) or for choosing to wear fitted bodice dresses.

High status women cannot conceive of how the machinations of privilege have given them access to successes more by accident of birth and nationality than as a personal achievement. High status women already have all of the things low status women need – a home, education, birth control, careers, personal wealth, regular income, safety (most of the time) from male violence – and they believe all these things came to them through their own striving on the level playing field of society.


Clothing choice as societal signifier


In Degendering Fashion Emilia touches only briefly on how clothing is a “signifier”. 

In simplistic terms this refers to what a viewer reads about a person by how they present themselves physically. This takes into account not only the chosen clothing but numerous other things such as age, height, weight, hair styling, etc. Emilia only discusses how clothing choices can be a signifier of gender, they don’t examine how clothes also signal class, status and wealth.

Here is a little quiz to help explain how visual signifiers work. 

Match the pictures of people to a letter that best describes how you would rate their power, status and privilege.

a)              a) professional, well educated, high status job 

               b) career person in their workplace, well educated, waged

               c) working class, low education, low wage

               d) low status, low education, not waged

               e) high status, tertiary educated, rich


I hope this helps illustrate how clothing choices (and skin colour) put people into stereotypes where we make assumptions about them. Does the woman above look like she has a tertiary education and owns the factory where she is labouring? Perhaps that is more likely one of the women in the 6th picture down? Or perhaps those women are the company accountant or marketing manager? Perhaps the woman in the 5th picture down is so rich she is a shareholder in the clothing factory and doesn't need to manually labour to get a wage?
Have you noted that the people wearing trousers and suits are always the more high status and waged? That the women wearing more colourful, patterned and "ethnic" clothing are more likely to be identified as low status, low wage and low education? 
That is why I think suggesting women should dress more like men, or as Emilia puts it "gender neutral", serves more to keep women oppressed than making us free. It is true the clothing worn by women is a signifier of low status, power and privilege. However, I think it is masculinist culture that needs changing, not the clothing preferences of women. Degendering Fashion judges and stigmatises women of other cultures who have long, proud traditions of textile art and making clothes. 

Degendering Fashion comes from a hegemonic, highly privileged view of cultural mores and could not be instigated outside of the global north. If its not good for all women why would it benefit women of the global north?

Here is an Instagram I follow that I think presents a genuinely revolutionary take on degendering fashion and deconstructing signifiers.


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