FASH­ION’S LIB­ER­A­TION

Now that fem­i­nism is trendy, does this mean you can be a fash­ion­ist and a fem­i­nist? BY CLARA YOUNG

Elle (Canada) - - Style -

be­fore I sat down to write this piece, I went out for lunch. One of the starter choices was lamb’s tes­ti­cles served on a bed of lamb’s let­tuce, a gas­tro­nom­i­cal fore­shad­ow­ing if ever there was one. I or­dered it.

Some fem­i­nists might say that tes­ti­cles are ex­actly what is wrong with the world and that the safest place for them is on a plate. If more tes­ti­cles were lightly sautéed and served with a de­li­cious sauce marc­hand, per­haps ladies would not be paid less for the same work done by men, work-life bal­ance wouldn’t be as crappy as it almost al­ways is and per­cent­age points could be gained on the pid­dling 5 per­cent of For­tune 500 com­pa­nies that cur­rently have fe­male CEOs. And yet, round h

four of the fem­i­nist saga, which is where we’re at, sug­gests that man-blam­ing isn’t our best game.

Fem­i­nism has been many things since the suffragettes, but it has never been trendy. Or se­duc­tive. And now it is. All this is vir­gin ter­ri­tory for the cause. What do we make of Bey­oncé’s all-caps dec­la­ra­tion of fem­i­nism at the VMAs seconds after pole danc­ing? Are we to re­joice over Tay­lor Swift’s com­ing-of-fem­i­nist mo­ment when she re­al­ized it meant you could still shave your armpit hair? What is our pol­icy on twerk­ing? What are we to make of Karl Lager­feld’s stag­ing of the Chanel col­lec­tion as a women’s-lib march? Do we want to see tweedy togs ac­ces­sorized with Her­story plac­ards and quilted minaudières?

“I loved the Lager­feld mo­ment,” says New York-based au­thor and fem­i­nist ac­tivist Amy Richards. “I didn’t take it to be a turn­ing point in fem­i­nism but a fun ex­pres­sion of women’s free­doms. Free­dom to choose fash­ion—and ex­pen­sive fash­ion at that—is cer­tainly low on a pri­or­ity list, but pow­er­ful peo­ple ex­press­ing a need for fem­i­nism is a po­ten­tial pos­i­tive for us all.”

That fem­i­nism has found a place in the fash­ion world is dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing to many. The lat­ter is an in­dus­try that ob­sesses on beauty, the tra­di­tional buga­boo of ’70s rad­i­cal fem­i­nists whose signs shouted “We’re not beau­ti­ful, we’re not ugly...we’re ANGRY!” and the sound-bite-unfriendly “Women are en­slaved by beauty stan­dards.” And yet, over a hun­dred years after suffragettes smashed win­dows, van­dal­ized paint­ings, threw them­selves un­der race­horses and starved them­selves in prison to win the right to vote, and over half a cen­tury since the sit-ins, bra-burn­ings and demon­stra­tions for sex­ual lib­er­a­tion, equal rights and the con­trol and de­fence of our own bod­ies, fash­ion­able is what fem­i­nism has be­come.

And why not? Maybe frivolity has been the miss­ing in­gre­di­ent in fem­i­nism. In the ’70s, the per­sonal be­came po­lit­i­cal; now it has sim­ply be­come pop cul­tural. No­table ex­am­ples in­clude Emma Wat­son’s #HeForShe speech at the UN, any­thing Lena Dun­ham does and the up­com­ing movie Suf­fragette. And we even have fem­i­nist god­mother Glo­ria Steinem mak­ing a cameo ap­pear­ance on The Good Wife. Fem­i­nism is clearly on a hot streak.

“Fem­i­nism is not one of those things that we can af­ford to have be­come un­trendy,” says Car­rie Gold­berg, a Brook­lyn lawyer spe­cial­iz­ing in re­venge-porn cases. “We need it—even more than we need those Givenchy mag­netic shark-tooth ear­rings. The in­flu­ence of cool peo­ple and role mod­els in en­ter­tain­ment who pub­licly iden­tify as fem­i­nists and give it some sparkle and glam­our—like Bey­oncé—means that no one has to for­sake fame, riches, ma­te­ri­al­ism or sex­i­ness all in the name of fem­i­nism. This is mod­ern.”

It’s a new twist on “hav­ing it all” fem­i­nism to be able to have your Dolce & Gab­bana torero hot pants and wear them too. Bey­oncé’s VMA per­for­mance proved that a Tom Ford body­suit has ev­ery­thing over the dun­ga­rees, Earth shoes and me­ga­phones of protests past and that the era of hair-shirt fem­i­nism is over.

Still, it is hard not to think that fash­ion will throw fem­i­nism over like a Burberry trench when the next trend comes along. “Fash­ion is fash­ion and fem­i­nism is fem­i­nism, and nary the two shall meet” is the way it has al­ways been. Lager­feld may be fem­i­nist this sea­son, but will his sis­ter­hood sym­pa­thies van­ish as quickly as Louis Vuit­ton vel­vets from wait­ing lists? He is, after all, the man who said that Coco Chanel wasn’t ugly enough to be a fem­i­nist and that Adele was fat. Even Coco, hailed for her lib­er­at­ing tweeds, was noth­ing more than an equal-op­por­tu­nity op­por­tunist. “A woman,” she once said, “equals envy plus van­ity plus chat­ter plus a con­fused mind.”

And yet... and yet... fash­ion lurches, if only fit­fully, to­ward fem­i­nism. It is still a business of starved pubescent and Pho­to­shopped women, but there are glim­mers that fem­i­nist-in­spired fash­ion may out­last spring/sum­mer 2015. Take, for ex­am­ple, the flat shoes that have now been on trend for three full sea­sons. Cast your mind far, far h

back into the dark ages of spring 2013, when Cé­line’s mink-lined calf­skin shower san­dals first ap­peared. Surely there is no more po­tent clue of fe­male em­pow­er­ment than the magic pres­ence of com­fort­able shoes, so ap­pro­pri­ate for pick­et­ing or throw­ing at a male chau­vin­ist’s head. And the flat-shoe styles have con­tin­ued, furtively, from Prada’s clunky fem­i­nist-friendly footwear of fall/win­ter 2013 to the flat-asa-pan­cake boots at Chanel this spring.

Off the run­way, there are clues as well that the in­dus­try har­bours fem­i­nist lead­ers. Take Mi­uc­cia Prada. Her Miu Miu “Women’s Tales” project be­gan com­mis­sion­ing short films from fe­male direc­tors in 2011; the se­ries now has eight movies made by women, in­clud­ing Mi­randa July and Zoe Cas­savetes. Gucci, too, sup­ports women film­mak­ers with two dif­fer­ent prize awards. But its ef­forts go beyond the rarefied world of fe­male cin­ema. Frida Gian­nini, for­merly of Gucci, joined with Salma Hayek and Bey­oncé to found Chime for Change, a hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tion that has funded over 390 pro­grams for women’s rights and so­cial well-be­ing.

Fash­ion­ists and fem­i­nists are in­creas­ingly find­ing that they can play for the same team—one that is no longer made up ex­clu­sively of women. As Wat­son said from the podium: “How can we ef­fect change in the world when only half of it is in­vited or feels wel­come to par­tic­i­pate in the con­ver­sa­tion? Men: I would like to take this op­por­tu­nity to ex­tend your for­mal invitation. Gen­der equal­ity is your is­sue too.”

From abo­li­tion­ist Fred­er­ick Dou­glass and 19th­cen­tury lib­eral thinker John Stu­art Mill to Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch in a “This Is What a Fem­i­nist Looks Like” T-shirt, there have al­ways been male fem­i­nists, though many think it’s an oxy­moron, like pro­gres­sive con­ser­va­tive. What dis­tin­guishes neo-fem­i­nists from many of their pre­de­ces­sors is that men are no longer be­ing pelted with toma­toes; rather, they are be­ing in­vited to sit at the ta­ble. The new tac­tic is not man-hat­ing or man-eat­ing but man-evan­ge­liz­ing. Cindy Gal­lop is an ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive and con­sul­tant who, among her many projects, is the founder of ifw­er­an­the­world.com and makelovenot porn.com. A self-styled “ram­pant fem­i­nist,” Gal­lop an­gles her mes­sage almost more to men than women in her belief that fem­i­nism is not just good for the gan­der— it’s good for the goose. “Men, we live in a world in which the de­fault set­ting is al­ways ‘men,’” says Gal­lop. “You have no idea how happy you would be liv­ing in a world that is 50/50-in­flu­enced, de­signed, man­aged, led and driven by women. Men would be re­leased from the con­straints of mas­culin­ity that so­ci­ety forces on them. If only peo­ple re­al­ized that women en­joy sex as much as men and that men are just as ro­man­tic as women. Many men would love to stay at home with the kids and don’t want to work in the cor­po­rate power struc­ture that men have de­signed.”

A few sea­sons back, a lit­tle hand­writ­ten note was left on ev­ery seat at the Givenchy show. It said that not only would the world be bet­ter if women ran it but that there would be no world at all if men con­tin­ued to do so. “Men must find the hu­mil­ity to re­treat. Women must step for­ward and start to forge a new way for­ward for our species and for all of na­ture. If there is to be a fu­ture on earth that in­cludes us, it will be fem­i­nine.” Antony He­garty, who is trans­gen­dered and the singer of Antony and the John­sons, wrote that text in a piece en­ti­tled “Fu­ture Fem­i­nism.” But per­haps the fu­ture won’t be fem­i­nist at all or, for that mat­ter, mas­culin­ist but hu­man­ist, un­teth­ered from the petty biological dif­fer­ences of tes­ti­cles and uteruses. n

Fash­ion­ists and fem­i­nists are in­creas­ingly find­ing that they can play for the same team— one that is no longer made up ex­clu­sively of

women.

Mod­els take it to the street/run­way at Chanel’s s/s 2015 show.

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