Does this look like feminism to you?

A line from a NY Times review of the new Vercace collection caught my eye:

Is this feminist?

Is this a feminist?

Alice in Wonderland — and the energy of pattern and color,” said Donatella Versace as she stood backstage among a posse of look-alike model clones, raised on mighty platform soles. They had lined up in a finale in which the vivid prints and iridescent inserts made a backdrop for the designer.

This was Donatella in Wonderland — the first show she has done that captured absolutely the witty and lively spirit of her late brother, Gianni, but with the sexy clothes given a bold, feminist perspective.

The fashion review says that Vercace’s “sexy clothes” convey a “feminist perspective.” But the logic behind this is odd. Clothes, after all, are meant to be looked at. And seeing comes before wanting. The woman who wears the clothes becomes the object of another’s gaze, attention and desire. Sexy clothes enhance the idea that the woman is the object of male desire. So in what way are sexy clothes “feminist?”

One hears a lot these days about the supposed link between feminism and super-charged sexuality. Women take on an aggressive sexual persona and, so the story goes, become more male-like, ultimately beating men at their own game. That’s the Madonna shtick. And you see it from Hollywood with shows like “Cougar Town.” Women seek to hold onto their youth and their social power by going after lots of men, especially younger men. Isn’t Madonna hauling around some model half her age these days?  It makes for a salacious image. But I’m not so sure it works that way in real life. (And I’m not the only one who has doubts, as Judith Warner made clear yesterday.)

Courtney Cox stars in Cougar Town

Courtney Cox stars in "Cougar Town"

Feminists have long fought against the objectification of women – their being relegated to the role of the passive pursued, or their being valued according to how much men want them.

There is nothing wrong with looking sexy,  in my opinion, as long as it’s not slutty. And desirability does give a woman a certain kind of power. But the idea that looking sexy is supposed to be seen as “a feminist thing” seems to me to be a fantasy of those who want to cast off the old marmish image of 60’s-era feminism, but also want to feel like they have held true to the ideals of that same movement. But you can’t wear the bra and burn it at the same time.

Wearing sexy clothes is a rejection of feminism, not an expression of it.

P.S. I promise, no more fashion postings this week! I don’t know what got into me, honest.


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