Monday, February 14, 2011

Is this what feminists look like?

There's this awesome new project The Wellington Young Feminists' Collective. I'm super excited about it, but don't quite know how to orient myself towards it.

Because in about one in every twenty things they post makes me want to have a massive city wide discussion about what feminism means. Here's the latest:

Hey ladies, here is a shop I discovered in Berhampore today which is FANTASTIC. Lovely handmade, locally designed ladies clothes and jewelry. And they fit ladies with big boobs, which is rarer than it should be. Yay for awesome local businesses! x

That was posted on Saturday, and about every four hours since I've gone backwards and forwards about responding to it, and how I should respond to it. Which maybe has a little bit to do with the fact that I've been travelling alone and the alternative was walking in the rain to Pak 'n' Save to discvoer they don't stock Whittakers Dark Almond Chocolate. But it's also because feminism is really important to me and things which I would normally just be 'eh' about really agitate me when they're done in the name of feminism. On the other hand I know it's very easy for me (particularly in full rant mode) to come on very strong. In this case I want to start a discussion, rather than just rant about why am I right and everyone else is wrong (which to be honest which is what I want a lot of the time), but I don't know that I've got that setting. So far I've stayed silent (and started an argument about Seasame St on facebook to make myself feel better).

But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there was an important feminist principle at stake that I wanted to try and articulate. I think (and maybe the admins of the Young Feminist Collective will disagree) that posting anything to a feed of a feminist group is to promote that post as a feminist act. I have three main objections to that in this particular case:

1. Cutting for some body shapes (like a large bust) will make clothes fit some body types better, but other body types worse. Clothes shops sell a hole that your body should fit into. And promoting any particular sized or shaped hole is problematic from a feminist perspective.

2. Promoting clothes shops that only sell straight sizes in a feminist space is exclusionary. But actually what I find even more offensive, is that nowhere on Emma's website does it mention what sizes she stocks. So people have to go out to Berhampore to learn they're not welcome to buy her clothes. By looking at another website that sold her stuff, I was able to discover that she has a very few 16s, a few more Ls which is 14-16, and some styles which have 14 as their largest size (and a lot of her clothes don't come in an 8 either). Fine different shops stock different ranges of sizes. But to not specify what body types you sell for, to act as if they really limited range which you do stock covers everyone is perpetuating particularly damaging ideas about women's bodies.

3. And then there's the capitalism issue. Because actually no I don't support locally owned businesses, even the supposedly awesome ones. The idea that local businesses are any better than larger ones is not an evidence based assertion. While I know nothing about Emma, I do know a reasonable amount about the New Zealand clothing industry - and the way clothes are produced in New Zealand is absolutely the opposite of everything I think feminism stands for.

I'm not dissing clothes shopping - I understand that clothes shopping can be awesome for some women at some times(my question of the moment is how many LucieLu dresses with zips up the front do I need - and the answer is ALL OF THEM). What I object to as promoting clothes shopping (particularly at a specific shop) as something that is going to appeal to a group of women who have nothing in common other than they're young feminists.

Feminism isn't a particular aesthetic or lifestyle or survival strategies. We're not all the same, we don't all like cupcakes, knitting, cute dresses, cool accessories, moon-cups, op-shops, roller-derby, Joss Whedon, gardening, and bicycles.

There's a reason I didn't post all my Dollhouse reviews to the Hand Mirror, and partly that's because of spoilers, but it's also because the Hand Mirror isn't just my playground the way my blog is. The Hand Mirror is a group feminist blog, and the only one (that I know of) in the country. What I do in The Hand Mirror, more than what I do anywhere else, is done in the name of feminism and that comes with it a certain responsibility.

To me a core part of that responsibility is to never suggest that liking the things I happen to like is part of being feminist. Feminism is an ideology not an aesthetic. Feminism should be about massively different people coming together with ideas in common.

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