I don’t know about you, but I struggle with getting dressed in the morning sometimes.
For starters, there is the weather, which is very stable in LA, but not at all in DC. Then, there’s the fact that on any given day, probably a third of what I might want to wear is in the laundry. Add to that a need to have my outfit make sense for whatever I’m doing, and you’ve got yourself a solid several minutes of staring in confusion at what might be wearable.
You know what I don’t consider, though? If I’m being “feminist enough” when I get dressed.
I don’t mean this in the sense that I’d wear, say, one of Urban Outfitters’ terrible “Eat Less” t-shirts-~-I think the majority of people can see why that’s wrong, and wouldn’t buy the shirt. But I mean it in the sense that I don’t stare at my closet and wonder if wearing a dress is making a political statement, or if putting on earrings will undermine my credibility as a feminist, because frankly, why should either of those things necessarily be true?
I am a straight, cis-gendered, female-identifying person. I would describe my style as “modern feminine”, I suppose. I wear jeans and skirts and button-down tops and lacy blouses and cardigans and blazers and dresses that end near my knees. I have different kinds of shoes and accessories that go with these outfits, and none of that probably seems very interesting, because it’s not. It’s, at most, a reflection of my socioeconomic status. What it’s not is a massive political statement, unless you want to interpret it as “I can be feminine as well as a feminist”, in which case, you have captured my stance perfectly.
WHY am I blogging about this? In light of Anita Sarkeesian being forced to cancel a talk in Utah after threats were made against her, one of the ridiculous things I have seen her attacked for online has been that she dresses in a feminine way. Sarkeesian wears tops that might hint at her having cleavage, does her hair, wears makeup and jewelry…which, last I checked, was against no rules. And yet, I have seen these images floating around, pointing out that she dresses to gain attention, that she buys into these Patriarchal structures, that she’s not a real feminist and that her criticisms of the gaming industry are somehow less valid because she wears v-neck shirts.
If these complaints were coming from other feminists, and they were about the fact that in order to be taken seriously, one has to buy into conventional norms of beauty in the United States, and it’s a shame that Sarkeesian feels she has to do this, this might be a different conversation. I think it is a valid complaint that when you don’t follow the gendered rules of getting dressed, of presenting your appearance a certain way, it can be very difficult to navigate many major institutions in the US, including the labor market. This is particularly problematic for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, who may have trouble passing, particularly in strict professional environments, where subtly gendered dress codes present problematic challenges. But that isn’t the source of this commentary: it’s those who wish to discredit Anita Sarkeesian, who want to say that unless a feminist rejects everything about society re: gender, then she is not a real feminist.
To that I would say this: there is no one way that feminism looks, and no one way that feminists are (except, of course, in favor of equality for all genders). Feminists may buy into traditional norms of femininity-~-they may dress in a “feminine” style, in skirts and blouses and dresses, they may wear their hair long, they may choose to wear jewelry, they may pursue “pink collar” jobs like teaching or nursing, or they may even stay home-~-or they may reject any or all of those premises, feeling uncomfortable in traditionally feminine clothes like dresses, pursuing work in male-dominated fields like finance, or even choosing not to have children at all. But whether a feminist dresses in baggy pants or short tight skirts, what matters is the political stance she’s advancing, and the ways in which she interacts with the society around her. A person who rejects everything I just described as stereotypically feminine, but who shames women for their choices, or ignores the lived experiences of women around her, might be subject for critique from a feminist perspective. But attacking women for buying into traditional standards of femininity-~-particularly when they can impact your ability to find work, how much you make, and how others interact with you, seems silly at best.
I should say this as well: Anita Sarkeesian’s advocacy is not unimportant, and what is happening to her, and to female programmers and women involved in the gaming industry across the US, is unacceptable. It deserves unfiltered attention, not distraction by arguments about whether Sarkeesian and the others involved in #GamerGate are “truly feminist” or “feminist enough”. Their arguments are real. Women are being pushed offline by harassment; they are being driven out of the tech industry, out of gaming, out of programming, because of blatant sexism that has come to manifest itself in violence and threats of violence. The time has come to take a critical look at the relationship between masculinity, gaming, and violence, and to seriously examine the mentality that enables individuals to come forward and say “I will kill feminists, I will have my revenge”, over something like Anita Sarkeesian’s talk on representations of women in video games. It’s also time for us to take a serious look at exactly what Sarkeesian wanted to discuss: the fact that, when women are inserted into traditionally male spaces, such as video games (despite the fact that women make up a HUGE percentage of gamers in the United States), their avatars are hypersexualized and the realities of female fighters are dismissed, and they themselves are targeted for harassment. The way that women are represented in video games is problematic, and the way female programmers and gamers are treated is even more so. So please, let’s not pick on things like if feminists are dressing feminist enough. We have bigger problems.