I felt a little silly writing about pretty things as a feminist.
We fought so long to wear pants, dig in the dirt, and kick off our high heels. We collapsed the naive idea that all women fall or ought to fall into traditionally feminine categories. Can’t boys enjoy more feminine things too — pink and paisley and skinny jeans? Shouldn’t we encourage girls to go hunt dragons instead of find wonder in pretty things?
There is, admittedly, nothing revolutionary about me as a woman enjoying pretty things. I’m not making counter-cultural waves by stepping out in pearl studs, pink pants, and a floral top. I’m not advancing women’s rights to be whoever they are by frequenting fashion and style blogs and buying more than one lipstick color. I fall into many generic female stereotypes, particularly when it comes to how I dress.
But I believe, however contrary this fits into perceptions of feminism, that egalitarianism is about letting a woman be her own person outside of the pressures of female stereotypes.
Every group has its stereotypes and its own pressure to fit them, whether that comes from actual demands or just glancing around and realizing most people in a group looks this one way.
I lived the stay-at-home daughter life, with the stay-at-home daughter wardrobe of long skirts and feminine-cut blouses. (I missed the memo on “tight enough to show you’re a woman, loose enough to show you’re a lady.” I lived too much in my head to know the first thing about makeup, style, or buying clothes in my correct size, so I rocked the frumpy fundie look for most of my life. The pillars of the stay-at-home daughter movement would have surely shaken their heads at my inability to be feminine and modest.)
When I became egalitarian, I learned that many feminists hated dresses and skirts — an impractical hindrance, an invention of patriarchal man. My mom’s general guideline was if you can’t do it in a skirt, you shouldn’t do it at all, so I managed to find a way to do everything in a skirt — climbing trees, hiking, sledding, volleyball, you name it.
Long skirts and I are well-acquainted. Before I discovered fleece leggings, I even preferred long skirts for winter months — they were built-in blankets for my freezing toes. On the coldest winter nights, I miss the fleece nightgown I lost during a winter/spring wardrobe transition.
I walked away from that mandated style stereotype still loving skirts, even long skirts. Now, as a liberated female, I know they’re called “maxi” skirts and come in more fabrics than khaki and denim. But as much as I thank the good Lord every day that I now own a comfy pair of skinny jeans, I can’t join in with my feminist friends’ diatribes against skirts.
Despite the Biblical mandates to dress femininely in my patriarchal circle, I didn’t discover a love for feminine things until my post-patriarchal years. My then-boyfriend, being the good soul he is, didn’t start teasing me about my frumpy homeschool outfits until after I revamped my wardrobe.
Pearls and pastels and nude heels — that’s the style I expressed my new egalitarian self as.
Feminism doesn’t mandate a specific way of dress the way patriarchalism does, but there’s still unintentional pressure (mostly in my head) to be as disassociated with stereotypical femininity as possible. I wonder if I’m complicit in the sexualization of women by buying makeup and wearing high heels and finding joy in pretty things. I wonder if I’m selling myself short.
And yes, absolutely, no woman should feel forced to wear makeup, and sure, a man invented high heels, and of course, a woman’s worth isn’t and shouldn’t be wrapped up in her appearance. I will fight for that and support any woman who hits the streets make-up-less in Nikes, a pixie cut, and boyfriend jeans. I don’t think a particular style has anything to do with a woman’s true femininity, her true womanliness.
So for me, my particular style, as stereotypical as it is, is how I express my personhood and my femininity. As a feminist, I style how I style not because I’m required to, not because it makes me a woman, but because this is me, this is my art, this is my interest, this is where I find some goodness and beauty in an ugly world.
Even with the dowdy, bra-burning stereotype still dominating the public’s view of feminism, there’s plenty of room in the egalitarian ideology for me, a girly-girl, the not-so-girly girls, and the women who resent the word “girl” in reference to themselves. Egalitarianism is about personhood, not maintaining stereotypes, even if a woman looks like an anti-feminist stereotype.
What’s your relationship with the stereotypical feminine style? Love it, hate it, somewhere in between?