So back in my nineteen-and-earnestly-studying-Simone-de-Beauvoir days, I took myself a bit too seriously. I think I was utterly convinced, in fact, that being a feminist was all about not having fun because most things that were fun involved forgetting for a second how shitty it was that women were seen as second-class to men. I’d just about relax with a glass of organic red wine in the union cinema café over a deeply intense conversation about comedy (irony…), when someone would mention that they don’t find women as funny as men, and I’d burst into a tirade of abuse and storm home to drink cognac on my own and smoke cigarettes and read To The Lighthouse for the hundredth time. Whilst I know that challenging views such as these can only be a good thing, back then I just took it too hard and too personally that I couldn’t change the world. So I punished myself for my failure to do so. When really I’d have rather thrown it off and gone down the club to dance to Lady Gaga like everyone else, and told guys to fuck off if they looked up my skirt.
This is half cognac, half angry feminist tears.
And this punishment, this sense that I was to blame for my shortcomings in being unable to change things, manifested itself in other ways. I hid my figure because I thought that being a good feminist was synonymous with covering up – that I couldn’t be proud of my body if I was going to be proud of my opinions. The nights I did go out in heels were the nights I got too wasted to feel guilty about it. I thought being a feminist was baggy t-shirts and baggy jeans and boots, and reading nothing but women writers, and never listening to Cheryl Cole, and hiding away.
Turns out, that’s a load of bullshit. It’s bullshit because being a feminist is just as much about enjoying yourself as it is about being pro-active and serious, you’ll be pleased to hear. Feminism to me has become something to wear to make me feel more myself; like a suede coat or a pair of Ray Bans, I put on my feminist ‘cloak’ and it gives me the balls to stick my finger up at the builders that heckle me on my evening jog. We’ve suffered thousands of years of persecution, rape and abuse at the hands of men: we deserve a few cocktails, sparkly tights and the back catalogue of Kylie, if that’s what takes our fancy. And thank god for that! So these days I’m not beating myself up too much over the fact that this patriarchal society isn’t going to be torn down in a day. I’m just trying to do one thing every day that stands up for women and for equality. I still call people out on sexist crap. And in addition, I’m making up for lost time by spending my evenings in the bath reading Vogue. Turns out it’s an education in itself.
The trouble is, I was brought up to think that I was only beautiful if what I was wearing was tight and revealing. We’re brought up to see sexuality and clothing as intrinsically entwined, and I truly believed that the fashion industry was something to rebel against for teaching this rather than embrace as being ‘on my side.’ In my indie college days I didn’t really get that taking off that baggy shirt wasn’t tantamount to betraying the sisterhood. Having tits is fine, ditto getting them out if you want; what’s not really fine is the shame girls are led to feel in having them in the first place.
These days I like to dress to suit my curvy figure. I especially love to wear tailoring, men’s clothes, tight trousers, high heels and cords, not necessarily altogether (although you’d be surprised). There is something timeless about real old-school punk, a-line skirts and 80’s leather jackets and charity shops and liberation and everything that is deliciously good and powerful. There is nothing like cashmere to make me feel better and nothing like a good bra to make me feel able to do anything.
I will be writing some blogs about how feminism and fashion can collide in a beautiful, sticky mess of empowerment and leopard print, about how my favourite feminists manage to look amazing (and like they don’t give a shit at the same time) and about how our evolving culture is inspired and improved by fashion.
GO FOURTH WAVE!