Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Feminist fashion week?

Turns out that Jill Filipovic, while not criticizing sex work, is defending fashion week.

Filipovic has an obvious click-bait article in the Guardian titled "The feminist case for Fashion Week"

Just like her other writings, she starts out seeing things from both sides:
It's New York fashion week, and there's a lot to hate about it. The crash diets. The extremely skinny, disturbingly young runway models who are held up as "ideal", and all the ways they're exploited. Then there's the extravagant cost of the clothing, where a shopper may drop in one trip what many Americans make in a month.
What's not to hate is the creativity, the art and the women whose shopping sustains the industry.
Displays of pure consumption to signal social and economic status are not exactly progressive, but it's hypocritical to single out women for being shallow in their wardrobe spending. Men spend money on things that are just as unnecessary and just as intended to signal class and social tribe. For men, items like bespoke suits, fancy cars or innumerable electronics somehow signal a James Bond image, not a shallow one. 

Here she's simply made her own value judgments and projected them on the rest of us. Who sees every man in a suit as James Bond, and not simply a try-hard?

In Filipovic's mind, the man with the stereo system that turns it up real loud and demands you witness its fidelity is a respected member of society and not just an asshole neighbour.

Moving on...

While it's a common assumption that women simply have more clothing items in their closets than men, that also reflects social necessity. Women can be (and are) fired for not being attractive enough, for not wearing enough make-up, for being too attractive or for not putting out the right "look". And being attractive isn't just about whether or not your face is pretty; it's about how you signal your social class and your sexual availability. 
OK, so females face more expectations regarding appearance.


A terrible argument in support of sex work would be "men's social class is based on their sexual experiences, so really the sex industry is a result of expectations placed upon men. All of this is actually a lot of work and quite unfair."

Similarly, it is a terrible argument to say "women's social class is based on their attractiveness, so really this fashion stuff is a result of expectations placed upon women. All of this is actually a lot of work and quite unfair."

While being an attractive man is beneficial in the job market, being an attractive woman is beneficial only if you're in a traditionally female career. Otherwise, even pretty women face job discrimination. 

It is funny how stating "being an attractive man is beneficial in the job market" is somehow a slam-dunk no-citation-needed statement when speaking about an industry that practically only employs attractive women to market their items.

The article that Filipovic speaks to biases in professions where being too attractive might mean you might not "look the part". It's an important to be aware of biases, but this is by no means scientific evidence that it's difficult to be pretty.

There are of course some extremely talented women who excel at perusing the aisles of thrift stores and second-hand shops, and who balance loving fashion with a dedication to social justice (no sweatshop labor) and the environment (recycled clothing). My friend Kate Goldwater, the owner of New York's AuH2O boutique, is one of them. But stores like hers aren't nearly as ubiquitous as designer shops, and women who work in places that demand business wear usually can't get away with only rocking vintage and thrifted finds. And unlike men, women can't recycle through the same three high-end suits and be considered "well-dressed".

Somewhere in that paragraph was something about sweatshops, then it transitioned into a rant about needing more than three outfits.

[...] There are racial elements to this as well. Some companies, like retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, have reportedly favored hiring employees with "all-American" good looks. Black women have long been told that natural hair or braids aren't "professional" (meaning they should have to spend money and time chemically straightening their hair to fit someone else's aesthetic ideal). 

Conservative muslim males are expected to shave their beards if they want to have a career in retail. They have to spend time and money, and discard their religious sensibilities.

Filipovic does not care because she's both racist and Islamophobic. </sarcarsm>

Fashion is also fun, at least for some of us. While I'm the first person to object to the social expectation that women be visually pleasing creatures, as long as I'm in that jail, I'm gonna take joy where I can get it.  

Any appearances of posing an objective argument are now gone.

"Fashion week is good because it's fun, dammit!"

That's the central issue though, isn't it? That fashion is a thing girls enjoy, and so therefore it must be silly and stupid. There's nothing that makes an afternoon of shopping any sillier than an afternoon watching football; there's nothing inherently less useful about a handbag than a new video game. But because fashion and clothes are stereotypically feminine pursuits and sports are stereotypically masculine, fashion is frivolous and sports are awesome. Women who spend money on themselves are self-involved. Men who do are either dapper or early adapters of the gadget du jour or just "that guy with the boat".

If you have to say Fashion Week is no worse than the NFL, you're in trouble.

NFL players:
  • Suffer several major concussions, also often during their teenage years
  • Are subject to performance enhancing drug abuse
  • May have shorter lifespans than the average American male
This is on people's radar as frivolous entertainment causing damage to real people.

Men, in fact, spend more money on consumer products than women. They spend $11 a day more on average, and they're less likely to be the kind of smart shopper who compares prices and returns items they don't like. But men aren't considered frivolous spenders, because the connotations of the very word "frivolity" are feminine.

The article Filipovic links to happens to mention that men make more money than women as well.

In an article about pay equity, Filipovic would use that same source to say that things are unfair in terms of the wage discrepancy.

But now, allowing our ignorance in just presenting an absolute value ($11) without any context in relation to one's salary, Filipovic can try to convince us that there is double standard in how we see spending between genders.

This is simply lazy analysis.

Men are also the ones enjoying the lion's share of the money and the fame for women's "shallow" interest in fashion. They outnumber female designers and they get more recognition. The New York Times noted in 2005 that The Council of Fashion Designers of America had given its prestigious annual award to young talent to 29 men and eight women. While male designers have taken home the Womenswear Award 13 out of 18 years, a woman has never won the CDFA Menswear award.

Filipovic seemingly puts words in the mouth of men that would have won the award. Would any of these men describe fans of fashion as "shallow"?

The system that keeps women out of top tier positions, even in industries that largely cater to and are supported by women, is worthy of condemnation. And I won't argue with critics of mindless consumerism. But for all of its faults, the fashion industry creates wearable art, and its designers display laudable ingenuity, creativity and commitment to aesthetic pleasure.

So I hope Fashion Week naysayers were also turning their noses up at last weekend's money-drenched Superbowl, even the best fashion shows don't cost $126,666 per second or $4m a spot like Superbowl ads. And for everything you can say about fashion being a mindless endeavor, at least it doesn't require its players to literally destroy their brains in order to succeed.

Here is a reiteration of "at least it's not stupid as football! Ha!"

The article, in sum:
  • High expectations are put on the appearance of women, so there
  • Sweatshops exist, but they are creating joy
  • Football is stupid
No rational person is truly offended by fashion week. If it's what floats your boat, fine.

Everyone should however be insulted by these truly ugly arguments thoughts thrown together in bizarre order being marked as a "feminist case" for anything.

1 comment:

  1. It's one of these bizarre 'who is she even addressing?' articles - people criticise the fashion industry for anorexia/drug related issues right enough - but even if someone IS criticising it for being 'frivolous' (are they though?) why would you need to defend it in an article?
    No doubt some people (men and women, actually) think that shopping and fashion are not worthy hobbies - but is it an example of Patriarchy or sexism?!? Hardly!
    Radical concept: people are interested in different things, and have different amounts of money to spend on those things. Well fuck me!

    1. Men not liking everything women like is not misogyny.
    2. Lots of men like fashion and spending on clothes. Ditto women and gadgets.
    3. Anyone, man or woman, can swop out 3 well made suits and change the accessories and shirt - this would be much easier for a woman because she would have far more accessory options to create new looks. (Annoyed with myself for descending to that specific a level on this... should go without saying).
    4. The male designers who win the industry awards are almost exclusively gay. Last time I looked gay men were not the exactly the main ones repressing women with Patriarchy... That would be the other kind... oh no, wait...

    Seems to me that good ol' Filipovic is the only person propagating these highly subjective and very very stereotyped gender distinctions.

    She's arguing with herself and nobody. About nothing.