Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
Thank you, Stuff, for another piece of enlightening journalism. This time it’s not parents trying to force patient-client confidentiality out the window in their children’s reproductive health, instead it’s a look at What Men Love About Fashion.
Except it’s not, actually. It’s not asking male commenters for their favourite places to purchase jeans, or how men can keep stylish and warm in the winter months. It’s actually a piece of thinly-veiled body policing aimed at making yet another ‘kiwi women need to dress better’ jab.
Fashion PR consultant Paul Bloomfield says “Perhaps women believe black is slimming or they’re influenced by the All Black’s jersey but whatever the reason, black is a default mechanism. It’s time women got out of black. It’s all about colour for me.”
The piece, clearly looking forward to the usual sparkling comments on Stuff articles, then asks commenters: “So what do men think of the way Kiwi women dress? Tell us about the outfit in your partner’s wardrobe that you love – or the piece of clothing you would throw out if you could.”
The comments, as always, are both progressive and heartening:
• Clothes don’t maketh the woman.. its her measurements underneath that count..
• i think most women get it wrong in nz, especially the ones in their 20’s. their idea of fashion is wearing low cut tops, short cocktail dresses and stiletto’s.. it looks so tacky and desperate, but equally ‘thick’ men lap it up. i respect a girl who can put an outfit together with modesty in mind, and look a million dollars without having to look like some quasi-street-worker. subtlety is key.
• omg guys it’s fashion! Either don’t give a toss or hand in your Man Card. There can be no middle ground.
As far as I’m concerned this is just another reflection of what I like to call ‘gift culture’. Women and girls are told that we need to present ourselves in certain ways in order to be desirable to men who receive us. Our sexualities and sexual experiences (or ideally lack thereof) are presented as gifts, waiting to be taken.
Our bodies, clothes, personalities and demeanours must be as inoffensive to men as possible while accentuating our ‘desirable’ features and hiding those ‘imperfections’. We must be both alluring and meek, liberated and modest. One commenter hit the nail on the head with: “… the only thing I like about fashion is taking it off, It’s like unwrapping a present, I figure it adds to the enjoyment.”
When I talk about gift culture I often get a ‘Oh but it’s not as bad as it used to be’ response. Which is frankly bullshit. It might not be as obvious as it used to be, but it’s actually gotten worse. Now women have to contend with the mixed messaging of being liberated but not ‘too liberated’, confident but not ‘too confident’.
A recent study by a PHD student from the University of Queensland employed a 6 month subscription of Cleo and Cosmopolitan magazines to analyse the messaging given to readers as young as 13*. The overwhelming conclusion was that all aspects of the magazine were covertly framed as ways to ignite (or keep) male interest. Even the fashion sections are ‘How to look like girlfriend material’ / ‘What men think women look the best in’ etc.
I realise for some readers this will be a “Yeah duh, I haven’t read Cosmo in xx years and Stuff is almost always problematic”, but I still don’t think this sort of analysis has gained enough awareness. So basically I am never going to stop talking about it, sorry. And although we would all like to think that the worst Stuff commenters are a vocal minority of uninformed trolls, the points being made in this article are sentiments most women have been hearing ever since our parents first dressed us.
When Stuff frame this article as ‘men love you in these kinds of clothes’, they are actually permeating gift culture in the cuddliest way possible. When they include an analysis of what women shouldn’t be wearing, they are body policing. And when they allow the comments to devolve into slut-shaming vs creeps maintaining their boners, they are exposing ever-present and all-permeating harmful attitudes toward women and their freedom of expression. Not to mention how overtly misogynistic, heteronormative and homophobic half of the comments are.
Thank God for commenter ‘Cynical’ who sums up my response entirely:
“Oh thank goodness – if I didn’t know how men would want me to dress, I’m not sure I’d make it out the door. Thank you, Stuff, for your enlightening, forward thinking journalism.”
*Family Planning Conference 2010