Tag Archives: feminism

The Art of Feminism

Last week, I almost walked into Gloria Steinem’s office.feminist t-shirts Well, almost.

See, I was wandering around Seattle taking pictures of people when I came across a couple of stylish guys in front of an art gallery. I asked to take their picture, and they kindly obliged.

What I neglected to do was enter the gallery and check out the exhibit. When I arrived home I went to the gallery’s site and found, to my surprise, their current show is a feminist retrospective titled “Art and Artifacts from the Office of Gloria Steinem.”

Needless to say, I returned to Form/Space Atelier the following week to see what I had missed. The gallery is a small space, tucked into the lobby of the Low Income Housing Institute. The exhibit includes objects gifted to the gallery by the office of Gloria Steinem. It was as much a gallery as it was a museum.

An installation piece at the entry displayed an old typewriter with a seemingly endless roll of paper feeding through it—and I’m sure that’s how it felt to begin letter-writing campaigns—an endless job. The piece included two chairs with two coats hanging over them—to me, that represented the collaborative nature of the office.

letter to Jesse JacksonI saw copies of letters Gloria Steinem wrote to people such as Jesse Jackson, and I saw prints of the iconic power stance of Steinem and Dorothy Pitman. Seeing the two women, whose backgrounds are very different, working together at the intersection of civil rights, women’s rights, and community activism helped me see the feminist movement as more inclusive than people give it credit. It reminded me that women’s rights are important to everyone and the results benefit the community—and country—as a whole.

As a quick primer, Steinem and Pitman cofounded the Women’s Action Alliance in 1971 and are longtime friends and speaking partners. They both work tirelessly to fight sexism, racism and classism.

Dorothy Pitman Hughes is a writer, speaker, activist and a lifelong champion for women, children and families. She organized the first battered women’s shelter in New York City.

Gloria Steinem is a writer and best-selling author, lecturer, editor, feminist activist and organizer, and co-founder of Ms. magazine.

I’m glad I had a chance for a do-over. I went back to see what I missed the first time I walked past the gallery. The experience reminded me to keep my eyes open and see the signs of art and feminism and community collaboration that are all around me.

The show runs through April 17th.

This is a fifth group post organized by the Feminist Fashion Bloggers. To see what others wrote, check out their posts.

Sources:
http://www.formspaceatelier.com/index.php
http://liftdontseparate.org/about.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloria_Steinem
http://jacksonville.com/ “Q&A with Author and Activist Dorothy Pitman Hughes” by Cristin Wilson, Jan 27, 2011

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The Politics of Pants

I’m wearing pants to work today—mainly because I can. Women’s clothing is often political and I’d like to look at a few examples throughout history. Some of it recent. This post is the fourth installment of the Feminist Fashion Bloggers weekly posts celebrating Women’s History Month.my pants Check out what everyone else wrote about.

To this day, many women around the world aren’t allowed to wear pants. As recently as 2009, Sudanese officials handed out corporal punishment to thirteen Sudanese women; the women were arrested in a restaurant in the capital, Khartoum. They received 10 lashes each for their crime of wearing pants.

Ah, but that’s a different culture, you say. True, but not until January 1995 did the California legislature actually prohibit employers from implementing a dress code that does not allow women to wear pants in the workplace. That means, before then, employers could tell women “dresses only” and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.

It’s not fair to make generalizations. Throughout history and in different cultures, clothing has changed a lot. For most of history, men didn’t wear pants either. They wore robes, tunics, kilts, dolmans, hakama, dhoits, sarongs, the fustinella, you get the idea. When men wear “skirts” (outside of the west—with the exception of kilts), it’s not seen as feminine. But when women wear pants, it’s perceived as somehow upsetting the whole balance of things.

However, the horse-riding peoples—men and women—of the Persian Empire wore pants as early as 600 BCE. Koreans of both genders wore pants as early as the 15th century. Many Native Americans wore leggings too.

Other women throughout history have been mocked and persecuted for their adoption of “men’s clothing.” Joan of Arc was known for wearing pants; she traveled with the army and wore their attire. She wore pants in prison and was said to have been executed in them. A few weeks ago I wrote about Qiu Jin, modern China’s first feminist. She chose to wear men’s clothing, much to the chagrin of onlookers.

BloomersIn the west, pants had a hard time getting a foothold.

Amelia Bloomer gets the credit, but Elizabeth Smith Miller created bloomers. These women were involved in women’s rights, temperance, abolition, and were social activists. They were also ridiculed by their attempts to reform women’s clothing.

During this time, some women advocated other changes too, such as simplified garments for bicycling or swimming. The availability of inexpensive bikes helped women gain independence and created a need for more practical clothing. Corset controversy began (and in China, Qiu Jin was unbinding her feet and fighting against that practice).

Nineteenth century coal-mining girls wore trousers, and throughout the world warWigan Pit Brow Lasss working women donned slacks—but they didn’t come into fashion until later. Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn caught the world’s attention by wearing pants. Audrey Hepburn popularized capris. The 1960s introduced us to bell bottoms. The 1970s brought us pantsuits, and the rest is herstory.

Pants are political. As much as I like dresses, I am thankful for pioneers who fought for the right to choose one’s attire. Women’s clothing has been seen as a threat at so many points throughout history—and still is. Exercise your right today!

Sources:
http://www.csub.edu/library/gov/edocs/womenequality.pdf
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8147329.stm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pants
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Bloomer
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloomers_(clothing)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_wearing_pants

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Feminism and Fashion

For the third installment of the Feminist Fashion Bloggers weekly posts celebrating Women’s History Month I’ve been asked to answer a question: How do you express your feminism in the way you dress?

Initially, I didn’t have an answer. Do I express my views through my clothes? Maybe fashion and feminism are two separate things to me, and never the twain shall meet.

To find out, I thought back to my childhood. It’s a bit hazy, so I went to a reliable source: my mom. I thought she would know how I started my love affair with fashion. I gathered up a few pictures she had taken of me as a child and started asking questions.A portrait of the author as a young girl

Turns out, from a very young age (say, 3 or 4), she let me pick out my own clothes. I’d shop my closet and mix and match things any way I wanted. I learned about what worked and what didn’t, and I wasn’t following anyone else’s rules. Maybe I shouldn’t have mixed two different patterns, but I did—and no one got hurt! My mom instilled in me a few ideas, one of which is not to worry about what others think. Another is to do things I want to do, not things other people tell me I should do.

She told me a story about how when shopping for winter boots, I picked out a pair that she found atrocious. She steered me to a more practical pair and gave me reasons for choosing them. I looked her in the eye and sweetly stated, “But Mom, I have my own taste.” That sealed the deal. She thought that—despite being 5 years old—I was right. I wasn’t her. I was me. I had different tastes in fashion—and that’s okay. And, I got the boots!

I remember them well. An auburn faux-fur shaggy pair of boots that looked like Bigfoot’s actual feet. I loved them! Sure I had to comb out the snow every day, but I wouldn’t have traded them for the world. And to be honest, if I found a pair in my size today, I’d buy them.

I believe dressing for myself boosted my confidence and gave me a feeling of independence. I had a creative way to express my individuality. Thinking for myself and knowing what I wanted helped me in many ways. I grew up without succumbing to (too much) peer pressure. I learned to speak up for myself and not worry about what “people might think.”

I was lucky that in high school, I was allowed to cut and color my hair and try crazy clothing combinations. I didn’t dress “for boys.” They could like me or not, but my funky wardrobe and I were a package deal. I never could stomach the “dress sexy for your man” articles I see in magazines.

I have pretty diverse fashion choices. I’ve had long hair and short hair, blond, brown and red hair. I can dress up or down, dress girly or tough, and I can use clothing to express my moods. I’m not sure men “get” my clothing choices. My husband recently confessed that he thought I was color blind for the first few months we dated. I took that as a compliment. An unexpected color combination might not be a turn on, but I think I deserve points for originality. Perhaps my wardrobe—and it’s lack of short-and-tight numbers—has acted as a filter to weed out the more shallow guys I’ve met.

I enjoy clothing in an artistic way. Mixing colors and creating textures and shapes with the space I have to work with describes both how I paint and how I wear clothes. I enjoy being creative and having fun. Art and fashion provide that outlet. I don’t have time to paint every day, but I have to wear something, so I challenge myself and enjoy the process.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I express my feminism in the way I dress by dressing for myself.

~

Check out all the other cool posts at Mrs Bossa’s site. Scroll to the end (after you read her post, of course) and you’ll see a list of links to all the other FFB pages.

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Qiu Jin: Modern China’s First Feminist

A woman without talent is virtuous.

That’s the world Qiu Jin was born into. And it was a world she was determined to change.

Qiu JinI learned about Qiu Jin this week during one of the many Women’s History Month events my company is hosting. I attended a screening of “Autumn Gem: Modern China’s First Feminist,” a documentary directed by Rae Chang. I am participating in the Feminist Fashion Bloggers second group post, and knew Qiu Jin would be a great subject to share. Here’s what I learned while watching the 56 minute film:

Qiu Jin is well-known throughout China and is considered a hero and a martyr. Outside the country, she is less well-known. She was born in 1875 to a privileged family. Her brother had a private tutor and as a young girl, Jin would often sit nearby and watch him learn.

In an uncommon move, the tutor remarked to Jin’s parents how smart she was—so they let her learn alongside her brother. During this time in China, most girls didn’t receive an education and many were illiterate; she enjoyed a childhood where she could learn and read and be active outdoors. Her father and uncle taught her martial arts. She read about Hua Mulan and other legendary woman warriors.

Her adolescence coincided with a tumultuous time in China’s history. Foreign armies invaded, the Opium Wars were over, but opium use was rampant, and the government was corrupt. But she couldn’t participate in change. She wed a stranger in an arranged marriage and was isolated from her family. During this time she was sad and lonely. She wrote poetry and had two children.

Inspired by women she’d read about—women like Sophia Perovskaya, Madame Roland, and Joan of Arc—Qiu Jin was determined to save her country. She believed that women needed to be independent and productive in order for China to be strong, defeat its enemies, and overthrow the Manchu government. But women didn’t even entertain the idea of a different life. She had to teach women to think differently. She once had bound feet, but unbound them and spoke against the practice, as well as against other things that kept women from being self-reliant.

Qiu Jin left her husband and children and set off to Japan where she met other Chinese intellectuals. She wore men’s clothing and loved freedom they provided. Many shunned her because of her attire and attitude. But people also listened. By the time she returned to China to overthrow the government, the Restoration Society she helped form was 50,000 people strong. The revolutionaries accepted her and she began training an army of women.

She wrote and published a Chinese woman’s journal where she encouraged women to become part of society. But Jin felt trapped by her female body. At a time when being a woman meant being subservient—not being a member of society, but an ornament for a husband—being female was a disadvantage. Jin felt she could accomplish more if she were a man.

Still, she plotted the uprising. However, her plot was revealed and she was arrested and publicly executed. She was 31. She didn’t succeed in that act of defiance, but her execution fueled the revolution. She was the first woman to die for the cause and she inspired other women to join the fight.

It’s impossible for me to grasp what life was like for a woman 100 years ago. Qiu Jin’s life was short and violent, and it’s hard to understand her experiences at the crossroads of feminism and nationalism. I do respect her dedication to her values. She was a strong woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She questioned the status quo and imagined a better world when others couldn’t. This year is the 100th anniversary of both International Women’s Day and The Chinese Revolution. It seems like a good time to acknowledge Jin and other pioneers of feminism who paved the way for others by fighting and dying for what they believed in.

~

See what the other Feminist Fashion Bloggers wrote about:

Sidewalk Chic – Reclaiming leather skirts and other ‘provocative’ clothing

Mrs Bossa – In Bad Company: Girl Tribes

Oranges and Apples – Some thoughts on Marthettes, blogging about ‘feminine’ stuff and perfection

The Magic Square Foundation – Body Policing/Fashion/Feminism

Alexa Wasielewski – Some Feminists Need to Spartan Up!

Fishmonkey – The Man Repeller and The Male Gaze

Knitting up the ravelled sleeve of care – Knitting a Better World

Interrobangs Anonymous – Millie’s Take on Modesty

Adventures in Refashioning – Soldering in Heels

What are Years? – My Thoughts on the CBC Documentary, The F-Word

Aly en France – My Body Entirely

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Feminist Fashion Icon: Marjane Satrapi

To celebrate Women’s History Month, I’m participating in the Feminist Fashion Bloggers (FFB) first coordinated group post. My task: Write a post featuring a personal feminist/fashion icon (a feminist who also has great style, or a fashion icon who also works with and for women).

Now I know of a lot of great feminists, and I can give you a long list of fashion icons, but finding someone who fits both was tricky. It’s not that there aren’t fashionable feminists or that fashion icons are somehow by definition, un-feminist. I thought of Diane von Furstenberg, notable fashion designer and creator of the iconic wrap dress. I thought of Annie Lennox, half of the ’80s pop group The Eurythmics, and how she stands up for her ideas, is in a league of her own, style-wise, and is doing great work on the AIDS front. Barbara Gowdy, the sometimes controversial and always thought-provoking Canadian author, came to mind.

Yet I kept looking.

When the demonstrations in Egypt erupted about a month ago, I remember watching women and men join together and stand up for their human rights. At that moment (at least from what I saw on TV) all the protesters were united in their goal, regardless of age or gender.

After the successful protests and the collapse of the Egyptian government, one woman said to a reporter, “I fought next to my sisters and brothers to reclaim Egypt. Now I must continue my fight to give women in Egypt the same opportunities that men have. All we ask is to be treated the same and have equality.”

I was so proud of that woman, whose name wasn’t even splashed across the screen. She spoke for the women of Egypt and reminded me that there is a definite need for a feminist movement.

Marjane Satrapi on WikipediaSo it was with the Middle East on my mind that I chose Marjane Satrapi.

Marjane Satrapi is the award-winning writer and artist behind the autobiographical comic book and animated film Persepolis. Persepolis illustrates what Satrapi’s life was life in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

What jumped out at me during my viewing of the film is how outspoken Satrapi was—even at a young age. She filled her mind with knowledge and never stopped speaking her mind. Those are admirable qualities for anyone to possess.

One scene in particular stuck with me. The college-aged heroine was running to catch a bus when the religious police told her to stop running because it was creating obscene body movements (despite the fact that she was covered veil to toe in very modest attire). Her answer: Well, stop staring at my ass then!

Parts of the story document a tragic tale of how a religious regime crushed an entire nation and nearly destroyed the rich culture of Iran. But like life, it has funny moments too, and triumphs.

The film is rife with examples of patriarchy, religious oppression, class struggles, and the fight for gender equality. Throughout it, the protagonist tests new waters and adjusts to East/West cultural shifts, some of which include music, lipstick, hairstyles, and fashion. The photos I’ve seen of Satrapi depict her as a stylish woman, whether she’s wearing a Ramones-style leather biker jacket or an elegant color-block shift. So it seemed Satrapi is the perfect example of a feminist fashion icon.

However, the following quote from her interview with Annie Tully stopped me in my tracks: “You know, the feminists become very angry when I say I am not a feminist.”

But I read on. “I am a humanist. I believe in human beings.” Phew. I can get behind that. My hopes were renewed. She could still met my criteria and be my feminist fashion icon.

When I looked into it further, I found a quote from an interview she gave to ABC: “I am absolutely not a feminist, I am against stupidity, and if it comes from males or females it doesn’t change anything. If it means that women and men, they are equal, then OK, certainly I am a feminist.”

So semantics aside, I’m counting Satrapi as an influential woman. She reminds us that it’s important for everyone—man or woman—to be heard.

Sources:
www.bookslut.com “An interview with MarJane Satrapi” by Annie Tully, Oct. 2004
www.ABCWorldNews.com “Questions for Marjane Satrapi” by Arash Ghadishah, Feb 22, 2008
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marjane_Satrapi
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persepolis_(comics)#Film

Have a look at what some of the other FFB members wrote:

Seamstress Stories – Vivienne Westwood

Yo Ladies? – Siouxsie Sioux

Oranges and Apples – Björk

Cervixosaurus – Claude Cahun

The Magic Square Foundation – Griselda Pollock

My Illustrative Life – Sydney Fox

What if No One’s Watching? – Gloria Steinem

Adventures in Refashioning – Hedy Lamarr

Mrs Bossa Does the Do – Cindy Sherman

The House in the Clouds – Nadia (Najla) Bittar

Fish Monkey’s Writing Stuff – Oroma Elewa

Knitting up the ravelled sleeve of care – Frida Kahlo

Interrobangs Anonomous – Joan of Arc

What are Years? – Margaret Cho

Fashionable Academics – Frida Kahlo

Fashionable Academics – Tori Amos, Anne Shirley, and American Girl

Ef for Effort – Gloria Steinem

One Techie’s Search for Something Resembling Style – Elizabeth Smith Miller

Mad Dress Game – Julia de Burgos

Aly en France – Rachel Carson

Skrush – Ellen Page

Feministified – Gloria Trevi

Northwest is Best – PJ Harvey

Rags Against the Machine – Christine Lagarde

For Those About to Shop – Diane Von Furstenberg

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This is what a Feminist Looks Like

I’m going to stray from my style-themed blog today and share a few thoughts about feminism. You see, the people at Fashionable Academics put out a call for submissions asking participants to provide a brief description on what feminism means to them. Here’s my submission:

Feminism is about equality, opportunity, and choice. I believe all people should have access to the same opportunities: jobs, healthcare, education. Everyone should have the choice to pursue a career, raise a family, do both, or neither. I believe that one’s gender shouldn’t preclude one from a job, and that men and women performing the same jobs deserve the same pay. I believe anyone, regardless of gender, can be a feminist. Feminism is not a four-letter word; I’m proud to call myself one.

fashionable feminist

To keep a bit of style in this post:
Turtleneck: Victoria’s Secret
Scarf: Gifted
Jacket: Target
Shorts: Calvin Klein
Tights: Nordstrom
Boots: Wanted
Purse: Target
Wine: Syrah

Being a feminist seems like a natural thing for me. I don’t recall a day when I became one; it just always made sense. I was raised to believe I could do anything I set my mind on. No job was off-limits, no hobby was “just for boys.” I played with cars and I had dolls. I rode skateboards and BMX bikes and I baked and sewed. So much of what makes girls different from boys is forced on us by parents, peers, educators, and the media–from a very young age. I try not to buy into it.

My brother wanted a doll when he was around five years old. My mother gave him one. And boy did she hear about it–from the neighbors. “Boys don’t play with dolls.” “He’ll be a sissy.” “He’ll be gay.” Give it a rest! My mother’s response: “What’s wrong with boys playing with dolls? Many boys grow up and become fathers.”

As an adult, I got grief from people for racing sport bikes. Was I a lesbian? Was I trying to attract a man? Why did so many people think I had ulterior motives for doing something “non-traditional”? Could I not just really enjoy motorcycles? I’m not one-dimensional.

motorcycle

Armored jacket: Fieldsheer
Kevlar pants: Dainese
Racing boots: Sidi
Gloves: Fieldsheer
Helmet (not pictured): Arai
Bike: Kawasaki Ninja ZX6-R

Social constructs shape many of our decisions and judgments. So much of what people associate with “what boys like” and “what girls like” is artifice.

In middle school I was in a co-ed gym class. The boys and girls all learned sports together: track and field, volleyball, basketball. But for the wrestling portion of the class, only the boys could participate. The girls learned folk dances. I wanted to wrestle. I petitioned the school and got my way–so long as I found a female partner. All the girls had a choice of whether to wrestle or dance. Four of us joined the boys’ class for the session. I think the boys should have had the chance to learn folk dances too.

I wasn’t trying to make a feminist statement way back in seventh grade. But I saw discrimination–a lack of opportunity–and I spoke up.

There’s a huge need for female empowerment at a global level. I live a relatively safe and insulated life. At work, my opinions are respected. We have female leaders at all levels of the company. I am married to a progressive man. In my daily life, I don’t face the discrimination that those who came before me faced. But there are millions of women all over the world (and right here at home) who are oppressed. Many girls don’t receive the education their brothers get. Many women live in poverty, illiterate and unable to make family decision. Many can’t vote, drive a car, or get a job. Some aren’t allowed to make a simple decision such as leaving an abusive spouse.

Some people say women’s lib has served its purpose so there’s no point in the feminist label. To me, that’s like saying the Liberals got health reform passed, so I don’t need to call myself a Liberal. Or the tax cut went through so I don’t need to call myself a Conservative. People don’t retire their political labels after some progress is made. That’s how I feel about feminism and that’s why I call myself a feminist.

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