Sara Schonfeld | Feminist fashion?

Sara, Struggling | Why what we wear — or what we don’t wear — shouldn’t define women

· February 6, 2014, 5:41 pm   ·  Updated February 6, 2014, 11:54 pm

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Sara Schonfeld
Sara, Struggling

I have to admit, I spend a fair portion of my day staring at my heaps of clothing wondering what to wear.

But so many recent debates on campus about clothing have made me worry about more than if my pants match my top.

Does what I pick to wear define me? Am I my favorite pair of skinny jeans?

Though these questions might sound foolish, I think this discussion has been happening on Penn’s campus for weeks now in different forms.

Can a sorority woman dress a certain way and still respect herself? What about a businesswoman — what does she have to wear to look professional?

What does a feminist look like?

Feminism as a term has been around for over a hundred years and has covered a broad range of political and social concepts. Even today, it’s hard to pin down exactly what the term means.

Whatever it means, I realize it goes deeper than a polyester blend sweater.

As a twenty-something, I probably put too much power in clothing. Just a few years ago, I used to think that all cute clothing had to have a little animal on it. I went through a pink phase. I’m still rather fond of hair bows.

But the idea that people could look at my fashion choices and make a decision about my political or social beliefs is rather terrifying.

Looking to the experts on campus, I realized that groups like the Vagina Monologues have tackled this question, in part by refuting the notion that certain kinds of clothing imply consent.

Others have begun to question if clothing can hinder feminism. In a guest column published during the height of sorority rush, College sophomores Catalina Mullis and Emily Cutler brought up the idea that, in some ways, organizations like sororities can dictate wardrobe and take away from women the power to decide what to wear.

While many happy sorority members responded that letters aren’t in any way debasing or objectifying, I haven’t found an easy answer when I think about the idea that, for some sisters, letters are imposed and not a choice.

All these discussions about the importance of clothing in expressing independence have made me paranoid about dressing myself.

I had never thought about my letters as objectifying me, but I began to worry: When I decided to wear my letters for Bid Day, was I being un-feminist?

Asking “what does [clothing] mean, and what does that mean about self-presentation is a discussion that’s really worth having,” Kathy Peiss, Nichols professor of American History, said.

Even looking beyond Penn, many outspoken vloggers and bloggers of our generation have been struggling with the same issue.

On one end of the spectrum, we have teen Vine star Nash Grier, who uploaded a Youtube video entitled, “What Guys Look for In Girls.”

In his video, Grier and his friends listed out what girls should — and should not — wear, according to their own standards of beauty.

YouTube exploded with response videos, demanding an apology from Grier and tearing apart his commentary. The video has since been removed.

But this teenager isn’t the only one claiming to post a list of style commandments for women to follow.

Sites like The Huffington Post and Yahoo have been creating lists of “Style Trends Guys Hate” in the past year.

(Apparently, I have to stop wearing leggings. I refuse. Leggings are my favorite fashion trend.)

I don’t think my fashion choices, regardless of what they are, could ever stop me from being a feminist.

Luckily, it seems like the experts are on my side.

“There should not be an automatic association between a particular kind of dress and being a feminist,” Peiss said.

And although I can’t envision a world where we don’t do a little bit of judging based on clothing, I don’t think what I wear should define me or anyone else.

I can respect myself and wear my sorority letters. I can go to a job interview looking ridiculous in a lady-suit. And regardless of what Grier says, I don’t have to wax my arms.

One day I might muster up the courage to wear a peplum top or a miniskirt, and that’s my decision.

Sara Schonfeld is a College senior from Philadelphia, studying English. Her email address is s.schonfeldthedp@gmail.com. Follow her ?@SaraSchon.

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