Week Woman

A Pox on the Patriarchy



OK, yes, yes, I know: what’s a ‘feminist’ magazine doing with a ‘Fashion’ page featured so prominently on its site? Surely here at WW HQ we all cover ourselves up head-to-ankle with cheese/sackcloth, and finish off the look with shoes that we have fashioned for ourselves out of papier-mâché?

Well, firstly, one of the reasons that it’s so high up is that we’re currently mainly writers not techies and we have no idea how to re-order the damn toolbar – perhaps some nice reader should like to help us with this? And secondly, while I’ll personally admit that I’m not averse to the odd bit of time to myself with the glue and the newspaper and…[stop that - Ed.], er, yes. Right. Anyway, a Chick Doing Shit (I modestly count myself of their exalted number – is that wrong?) has still generally got to buy her sackcloth from somewhere – too busy saving / changing the world and whatnot to be sewing for herself.

Unless of course, you’re saving / changing the world through fashion. Yes. That’s right. I stand by that.

And here’s why.

So, currently a lot of the fashion world – both Bond Street and high street, catwalk and sidewalk (we’re pretty international around here) – have got their priorities all wrong. They are not designing for women – as in the pluralised section of society that the plural ending suggests.

Only the other day on Woman’s Hour one of my heroines, Jenni Murray, said, as if there were no argument about it, that obviously designers use ‘long, thin girls, who often look more like boys, because clothes hang much better on them.’ [my italics]. And my italics are there because, I’m sorry Jenni, but WTF? This is totally wrong-headed.Surely, surely, if the clothes hang better on young adolescent girls who, as Murray says, ‘often look more like boys’, it’s not the models that we should be looking at, IT’S THE CLOTHES. If clothes look better on a girl who hasn’t even developed properly yet, then the problem is with the designers: they are designing for the wrong audience. After all, how many adolescent girls have the money to buy top-end designers? And as we all know, where the designers lead, the high street follows.

As Carole White, founder of Premier Models so charmingly says, she is running a business, and she needs to supply a demand. Fair enough I suppose – mainly because, if she doesn’t supply the girls, someone else will. What we need to do is to change the demand, not the supply. Carole White is essentially irrelevant to this debate. Woman’s Hour should have had the designers who are creating the clothes than ‘hang better’ on GIRLS rather than WOMEN in as guests. And then torn them apart.

‘How do we convince girls that it doesn’t matter if they’re not long and thin?’, asks Jenni.

Here’s a thought: design clothes than don’t cater for only one type of body. Create clothes that flatter women’s actual bodies, rather than clothes than punish them for not looking like they’re sixteen, when actually they’re thirty-five and have had two children and, shock horror, enjoy a slice of cake every now and then. And if designers don’t react much to an appeal to their moral sense, how about an appeal to their business sense? How well do you think clothes that serve the purpose of making women look good, rather than making them feel uncomfortable and guilty, would sell?

After all, this type of fashion has been available for men for years – it’s called ‘tailoring’ and I believe it’s available all year round at Saville Row, if you’ve got the bucks, and M&S if you haven’t.

So to the point of this rant: here at WW we are calling out (for the love of God!) for designers who understand that women deserve clothes than flatter rather than punish them. That women want clothes that act like your own personal yes-(wo)man. And, as an added bonus, that women occasionally want clothes that serve practical purposes as well – for example: WHEN will whoever it is that makes jeans realise that women would like pockets that they can fit more than a very small pet spider into? If male skinny jeans have them why don’t ours? And day-dresses without any pockets at all – might I ask just WHAT is the point of them? It’s enough to drive a girl to sack-cloth.

So to save the WW team from this terrible sartorial fate, this is a call to arms. Get in touch, tell us about great designers / shops you know who already understand this. Name and Shame the ones who don’t. And if you’re a designer yourself, get in touch too – we’d love to showcase your talent and general Chick-Doing-Shit-ness.

15 comments on “Fashion

  1. ben
    May 9, 2014

    Hi Caroline
    I think you should leave this fashion heading up high.
    It is an important issue – well argued on your part (as ever)
    It might make people question their assumptions – about what feminists ‘should’ talk about, and
    You shouldn’t worry about offending people as you know only too well this will happen no matter how hard you try to avoid it

  2. theoldboot
    July 28, 2013

    I’ve enjoyed this.

    I see our capitalist system as essentially patriarchal. But I think also that capitalist democracy might be the strongest, most sustainable, structure for society.

    So I’m trying to work out what a matriarchal capitalist system might value. The economic success of the Paralympics seems to fit in there.

    What else, please?

  3. bravesmartbold
    September 4, 2012

    Good debate, and I’m glad fashion is a part of it.

    • Week Woman
      September 5, 2012

      thanks for your comment; glad you like the site :)

  4. thinfeminist
    August 2, 2012

    Obviously when dealing with a complex multi-causal system, any neat separation between causes A and B is just an illustrative abstraction. However, it does sometimes pay to analyse them separately rather than treating them always as the same process. I think this is one instance because, in essence, it’s probably easier, as a network of women – big sisters, writers, teachers, aunts, friends, mothers bringing up girls – to try to change how women value themselves, as opposed to trying to bring down the whole consumer capitalist system.
    But if the revolution starts here, that’s cool with me too.

  5. thinfeminist
    August 2, 2012

    Hi again, I don’t think you’ve quite understood my point. When you say I approach the problem from the wrong end, what I’m actually trying to point to is one more deeper cause of the problem.
    What I trying to convey is that there is something like the following network of causes and effects :

    cause A (patriarchal system which values women’s appearance over other qualities) -> effect A (women/girls very susceptible to feeling insecure if appearance doesn’t meet societal standards for attractiveness)

    cause B (capitalist manipulation of consumers’ insecurity in order to sell more goods) -> effect B (prevalence of images in advertising, media and fashion that have a tendency to make consumers feel insecure).

    [Note that this marketing strategy targets males and females, and could be an explanation of why body image disorders are increasing in young men. but note also that marketing that targets male insecurity also focusses on qualities other than appearance - i.e. 'are you manly enough, rich enough, charismatic enough, popular sporty enough? ... don't think so... then buy X'. The gender disparity, due to effect A, I think, is that marketing targeting female insecurity focusses a lot more frequently on appearance. But look back to all the marketing from the 50's until now for household products. They tended to focus on women's insecurity about keeping a clean house, whites white enough, etc. ]

    effect A + effect B -> effect C (particularly high levels of body image insecurity amongst girls/women)

    my point is that there isn’t enough discussion of cause A.
    the focus is on effect B, but I think the cause of that isn’t so much patriarchy as consumer capitalism.

    [As a personal anecdote, I noticed when I was 18 that if I sat down with a women's magazine like Elle I'd feel pretty rough about myself afterwards. Not because I'm not tall and thin, but because I don't have skin that's perfect, nice feet, an attractive boyfriend, etc. I stopped buying those magazines because they actually made me feel miserable. They try to make anyone feel insecure about anything, and if it's not thinness it's something else. As a marketing tool it is GENIUS - how much more likely are you to go and buy cream X if you're suddenly worked up about pores, etc., when before you never noticed them. While this strategy of aggravating insecurity keeps on selling products, the kind of images we see around us won't essentially change. Models might gain a few pounds, but then there'll be something else about the images that will be whispering to us that we're not perfect, and therefore making us shop. ]

    but a good intervention on cause A would also help young women deal with the prevalence of images designed to make them feel insecure in order to sell them more stuff.

    [As much as I would be loath to where dungarees myself, what I respect about the dungaree style of feminism is that it is a pretty clear attack on cause A: 'sisters, stop worrying about how you look and get on with changing the world, or just being who you are.']

    Of course in the real world, the network is far, far more complex, and gender, race, economics and class interact in unpredictable ways. But at least readers should be interested in the bigger picture. That’s why I’m putting it out there as a question for further discussion.

    • Week Woman
      August 2, 2012

      How ironic! Thanks for the comment. Yes obviously patriarchy is a major problem; I think patriarchy and capitalism are inextricably linked, so they can’t be separated into A and B the way you do. It’s all part of the same thing. And yes, those magazines are poison.

  6. thinfeminist
    August 1, 2012

    Hi again, can I also plead misinterpretation?

    Dear bloggers and commenters, I have not being properly read! Granted, some of the things I wrote were a bit deliberately provocative, but meant in a friendly/jokey way, not a trollish one. I wasn’t ‘turning’ on anyone, certainly not the esteemed author of this blog.
    I was trying to make a serious point, which I feel has been ignored: why do these debates about the fashion industry, etc, always concentrate on how fashionable clothes (or more often, images of thin models or other famous and glamorous women) make ordinary girls and women feel bad, and what can be done to make ordinary girls and women feel better about their appearance, comfortable in their own skin, etc., rather than focus on what I see is the glaring and ridiculous thing about the patriarchal, late capitalist system that we live in, which is that girls and women do, and are expected to *care* so much about their appearance, and that not conforming to society’s standard of attractiveness is considered reason enough to make the average girl and woman sad, insecure, ill, regardless of any other qualities and achievements she may have.
    Isn’t that a serious question, worthy of some discussion in its own right?

    Maybe you cover this somewhere else on this blog, but I can’t say I’ve read all your posts, (certainly not with the care that you expect of your readers :-) ).

    (For example, it is projects like these that I see as pointless and ultimately a distraction from the real issues that are holding women back:


    and before you say it, no, I’m not saying that you said that it does… )

    PS – People *do* read things superficially on the internet. I’m guilty of that. Most things on the internet don’t deserve careful attention and analysis. Keep up the good work and this blog may be the shining exception!

    PPS – I think the post on fashion and catering for different body shapes could well be supplemented by some economic analysis, on top of a feminist one. I don’t buy the argument that the clothes industry – designer and high street – is missing a trick by not catering, or appearing to cater, for more diverse body shapes. In fact, I think they *do* know their market (capitalists and business people are a crafty lot, by the way), and are careful to have enough mass market items that will flatter the English pear shape, not just their rakish models. (So the Trinny and Susannah comment was not purely a joke.) But the fashionable = skinny images that they use in their marketing has very much an aspirational impact. By making women aspire to be different, with each new fashion, women are more likely to rush to the shops and buy the new look. (“*these* jeans will shrink my bum, *this* jacket will give me a waist, *this* bra will give me cleavage… ) If all the pictures we saw in magazines just resembled how we are anyway, where is the deep psychological, aspirational pressure that the manufacturers need to sell us more clothes than we actually need to preserve us from the elements and make us look kind of OK?

    PPPS Someone not agreeing with something you write is not always an indication of hostility…. Sometimes it’s an indication that you said something interesting.

    • Week Woman
      August 1, 2012

      You approach it from the wrong end of the problem – women and girls feeling bad is the symptom. The cause is the homogenous images etc projected by the media & fashion.

      And I have no problem with people disagreeing with me; I have a problem with people misinterpreting me and then disagreeing with that. I think the onus is on the commenter to make sure they’ve understood what they’re commenting on before they put fingers to keyboard. Finally, I was actually referring to a comment on another article on the blog in my earlier response – the most recent if you’re interested.

  7. retromorphosist
    August 1, 2012

    I have to confess that i don’t go to that much trouble with dressing vintage every day, but when I shop on the highstreet, I look for the flattering elements of vintage style clothing and might combine it with some leggings/denims. real vintage tends to be fragile and always needs adjustments, but I guess tailoring is what its all about. Trying to reconnect with my sewing skills.

    • Week Woman
      August 1, 2012

      Yes, that’s a major plan of mine – if nothing else, it would mean I can sew (better) pockets onto all my clothes

  8. Week Woman
    August 1, 2012

    Thanks v much! It is a pity – but I am increasingly finding online that people tend not to read and consider, so much as jump on a few keywords and misinterpret them – classic example over on http://wp.me/p2x34B-bl where I was actually chastised for saying the opposite of what I said! Agreed, vintage is the most flattering – but rarely have time to go hunting it down sadly. And also agreed that we should be able to build each other up – solidarity is so important for all the things that make the world not nearly as good as it should be.

  9. retromorphosist
    August 1, 2012

    Good article! It is a pity that these kind of articles always create an uproar in the commentaries, with women turning on each other and taking offence. On another blog – the readers resorted to mudslinging and name calling and the trolls had a field day. I guess its a sorespot for many women as it hits on our insecurities. We should be able to build each other up, and make the best of the figures we have been given, but unfortunately we are not given the tools to do so. Clothes are ill fitting and bad quality –

    I like to dress in vintage styles because it is much more flattering- Who doesnt look glamorous with a bit of red lipstick? But it is high maintenance, and a big part of the look lies in corsetry ( I havent got an hourglass figure..more of an alarmclock shape) At the end of the day we need to dress for ourselves and what suits our figures and personalities, and stop feeling resentfull of other peoples figures.

  10. Week Woman
    July 30, 2012

    Thanks for your comment – but I think you have misunderstood the post. As I said, my call to the fashion industry is to ‘design clothes than don’t cater for only one type of body’. I would never say anything as trite as ‘real women have curves’ – please. The point is that currently the fashion industry serves only one body type, meaning that women who don’t adhere to that type are seen as deviant. Read then post.

  11. thinfeminist
    July 30, 2012

    Standing up for skinny *women*…

    I’m 34, a mother, 5’11”, 62 kgs, with long legs and virtually non-existant breasts. I don’t starve myself. That’s just how I am. My mother was like me, and she grew up in the 1950’s with a complex that persists to this day that she does not look like a “real woman”. I almost inherited her complex, except that by the time I grew up the fashion industry had moved on to using models more similar to my body type than the curvaceous divas of the ’50’s. If it hadn’t been for tall, skinny models, I’d be very upset about not having boobs and the other “womanly” curves. phew.

    Admittedly, the fashion archetype of today does more diservice to more women than does the ’50’s one. Eating disorders are a serious problem. And let me clarify, I’m not as thin as most fashion models. I do think a lot of them look unhealthily thin.

    That said, the real problem with the fashion industry, and reflected in this post, is the assumption that there’s *one* shape that real women should or do have.

    Obviously the fashion industry should be serving a range of body types.

    I get tired of motto’s like “real women have curves…”

    How does that help the feminist cause?

    Shouldn’t there be some acknowledgement that a range of body types, including “androgynous”, “adolescent” and “boyish”, are all actual women’s shapes? Otherwise you’re just buying into the patriarchal assumption that there is one Platonic female form.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27,946 other followers

%d bloggers like this: