My husband likes it when I wear light pink, frilly, lacy, overtly ‘girly’ clothes. According to my mum, I’ve always liked pink – so this should be fine. But it’s not. Because as soon as Rich asks me to put on a floral dress, or a pastel pink blouse, I feel inclined to rock out my baggy dungarees.
The reason is this. Gender prescription begins to affect us as soon as we’re born. Pink for girls. Blue for boys. Dresses for girls, trousers for boys. Shiny patent shoes for passive girls, trainers for active boys:
And as we grow older, we continue to be channelled depending on whether we’re female or male (the former play netball, the latter: basketball).
For me, feminism is about choice. It’s about deciding whether I want to wear make-up, or not. And not to be judged either way. It’s about having the opportunity to work, if I want to, and to go to university. And, also, to wear dungarees – as well as dresses.
When I was younger I had a tutor who told me that he liked it when I wore my hair in pigtail plaits. Needless to say – that was the last time I wore my hair like that.
Now – it’s not that I don’t want to be complimented, I’m open to compliments. But I don’t want to feel like I’m being backed into a corner where only pretty plaits, pink dresses and high heels will deem me acceptable (and attractive).
I have preferences too. I like it when Rich wears certain clothes, and not others. I probably like it when he looks more ‘masculine’, I wouldn’t want him to wear leggings, or any stereotypically feminine clothing.
And this is because we’ve been brought up with these gender norms. It’s very difficult to backtrack once you’ve developed your own ideas about self, identity and what you find attractive.
This is why porn is so detrimental; it glamourises bald, pre-pubescent vaginas (and penises) and breast implants. Once men are lured into this artificial world, it begins to shape their idea of what is sexy. Show them a furry muff and they’ll laugh, not feel turned on.
And so on the one hand, I feel like a hypocrite – how can I berate Rich for desiring me more in certain clothes and then tell him that I like him more in some clothes than others?
But on the other, I maintain that I wouldn’t mind hearing his opinion (and taking note), if it was a less stringent ideal (pink, tight, girly), dreamt up by the patriarchy. Because, frankly, it’s limiting. It’s hard wearing heels. It’s uncomfortable squashing into tight dresses. I like loose jeans t-shirts and trainers too.
THE ANSWER, of course, to the predicament, is to all open our minds to others (though this is more easily said than done. To backtrack on years of conditioning is a real challenge) whilst standing our ground.
Wear what you want, work where you want, behave how you want. But accept that everyone else is entitled to do that too. And remember that being healthy and happy trumps these superficial layers we add (clothes/ make-up).
It seems mundane to worry about clothes – and in some ways it is. But it’s also a small part of a much bigger problem: the patriarchal society we live in continuing to dictate to women.