Stop thinking about cleavage. Disgraceful. Here's a picture of a kitten instead.
“Take the men if you’re going in that dress and hat,” Rebecca Dew had advised. “I’ve had a good bit of experience in canvassing in my day and it all went to show that the better-dressed and better-looking you are the more money . . . or promise of it . . . you’ll get, if it’s the men you have to tackle. But if it’s the women, put on the oldest and ugliest things you have.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Willows
Ok, it’s another post involving gratuitous references to boobs. (Boobs and Anne Shirley in the same post?! Mind. Blown.) This one, though, is written by popular demand. I recently linked to an interesting article on my Facebook page, relating to the recent publication of Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by LSE academic Catherine Hakim. Reduced to essentials, the book basically argues for the contentious idea that it’s acceptable – even desirable – for women to use their physical and sexual attractiveness to get ahead in life and in the workplace. This blog is prompted by the flurry* of comments posted on my page in response to the article, debating the failings and merits of the argument within a framework of feminist principle vs. ‘real-world’ pragmatism. It strongly resembled a Socratic dialogue, if Socrates and Plato had been able to ‘Like’ each other’s comments.
Female Nude - Amedeo Modigliani (1916)
I like naked ladies. There, I said it. I should qualify that, in the context of this post at least, I’m talking about naked ladies of the painted variety. Oil on canvas makes everything more socially acceptable, no? Take the lovely on the left – Amedeo Modigliani’s Female Nude (1916) – who currently resides on my bedroom wall in print form (and in the Courtauld in her original state). It’s a beautiful painting; one of my favourites, in fact. I love the peaceful look on the woman’s face, and her relaxed posture. The fact that she’s nude is secondary to that air of relaxation, and yet at the same time it’s integral to the painting’s intimacy and naturalness.
It occurred to me recently, while dragging someone round a gallery, that most of the paintings that I pointed out as ‘favourites’ focused upon the female nude as their primary subject. That’s quite a disconcerting conclusion for a female (and feminist) art historian to reach, given the connotations of patriarchal dominance and sexual objectification inherent in the idea of the naked woman painted by the male artist.
Filed under Art, Feminism
The Oxford English Dictionary dates the earliest recorded use of the word ‘slut’ in English to 1402, when the poet Thomas Hoccleve complained of ‘ye foulest slutte of al a tovne’. 609 years later, the term is still being used as a sexual epithet against women, with the additional insult of the word’s alternative connotations of dirt and squalor. A notable example of this came from the mouth of a Canadian police officer in January – addressing a safety meeting at a Toronto university, he responded to a question on how to steer clear of sexual harassment with:
‘Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.’
Not only did this dispel the myth that all Canadian police are essentially replicas of Benton Fraser in Due South. It also pissed a lot of people off. And rightly so. The officer’s comment played upon two of the nastiest stereotypes surrounding female sexuality. Firstly, that it is essentially shameful and perverse – the ‘dirty slut’ trope – and secondly, that unwanted sexual attention is the responsibility of the (female) recipient, rather than the (male) aggressor. In response, SlutWalk was born – a series of protest marches and rallies calling attention to the iniquity of the double standard in sexual autonomy, and the hugely problematic issue of rape culture. It started in Toronto… it spread around the world… and last Saturday, it ended up in London (on the same day as the International Naked Bike Ride!).
To: every man who has ever beeped his car horn and yelled a come-on at me; asked if he could ‘ride with me’ while I’m on my bike; told me to ‘smile, darlin’; etc etc tedious etc.
Firstly, you’re not proving your masculinity by making me feel uncomfortable. I know plenty of men who get through life just fine without intruding on women’s personal and physical space, and I have a damn sight more respect for them than I have for you. When you yell sexual comments at me, or tell me how I should look or act in your presence, you’re not convincing me (or anyone, except maybe your knuckleheaded friends) that you’re the acme of male desirability. What you’re trying to do is establish some kind of power dynamic in which you make yourself feel like a Big Man by ‘dominating’ me and my space. In your tiny mind, masculinity is the norm, and women are passive objects put on this earth to act as a foil to your manly needs. And you should consider that, more often than not, you’re old enough to be my father. Seriously, what are you trying to achieve? Am I supposed to be flattered by your comments? Turned on? Impressed?
Mark Your Man - because Peggy Olson says so!
I recently posted some
half-arsed ramblings incisive comments on the personal and feminist politics of clothing, concluding that, for me at least, it’s a kind of game of coded references, as well as a means of looking ‘attractive’ and not getting arrested for indecent exposure. I wanted to follow that up by mulling over the separate-but-related topic of makeup, which I refer to as ‘ladygoo’, but only in private as the term is liable to be misinterpreted in an unfortunate way. Even more so than clothing, this has implications for feminist and feminine identity. So, makeup, maquillage, cosmetics, slap, what you will. Why do I wear it, what does it do for me, and should I even bother?
This is how I dress. This isn't actually me. But feel free to pretend that it is.
Grovelling apologies for the hiatus in posting, but I’ve been busy engaging in Extreme Awesomeness* (there’s a campaign to make it an Olympic sport by 2012). Today’s post is brought to you from the depths of my wardrobe, where I have been searching for Narnia and something to wear tonight down t’pub. The resultant tantrum – of the I WANT TO BURN ALL MY CLOTHES variety – got me thinking about the importance of clothing and dress in our self-presentation. Why do we wear what we wear, and, from a feminist/intellectual perspective, is it possible to justify a love of clothes, make-up and ‘dressing up’?
The observation that dress is a key component of our projected identity is hardly a new one. But before you call me Captain Obvious, what I’m thinking about in this post is not the general social implications of ‘clothing’ – the adoption of ritual costume, or uniform, or any other sartorial markers of distinct cultural identity. Instead, I’ve been considering the thought processes that I undergo while choosing clothes in an everyday context, and how this fits into notions of psychological, gendered and class-based identity. (Yeah, deep, huh? This is how I justify reading Elle instead of The Economist on the bus).
Because I totally look like this on my bike.
I’m as sick as any of you, my loyal crew, of writing and hearing about depression and anxiety. So today, in the spirit of Looking On The Bright Side, I’m going to talk about something that cheers me up: cycling!