READER ESSAY: THE FUTURE IS NON-BINARY
Feminist slogans are the latest millennial wardrobe staple. From “Pussy Power” to “The Future is Female,” the Women’s March made it official –feminist jargon is the new black. But, who are we alienating with pussy-centric representations of feminism in both the real world, and the stylish microcosm we call “fashion?”
If you were one of those participants in the Women’s March proclaiming genitalia-specific slogans as feminism, here’s a reminder that your cisgender privilege and cisgender passing (the ability to appear in visual accordance with aesthetic stereotypes of the dominant culture) privilege was taking the wheel on that one. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; my prerogative isn’t to call you out, but to call you in. I, too, was one of the well-intentioned feminists at the Women’s March flaunting a genitalia-specific protest sign. I’m excluding transgender women, intersex people and my nonbinary siblings all with a single sign; the key to progressing from here is to acknowledge my impact despite my good intentions.
Can fashion, too, recognize impact over intention? Well, in a world where Maria Grazia Chiuri’s “We should all be feminists” t-shirts for Dior were the ultimate feminist accessory last season, we should be questioning why fashion has suddenly and openly adopted feminism. Through creating an 'activist' t-shirt, Grazia follows in the fashion industry’s long held tactic of selling an idea through clothing. Have £490 lying around and want to ‘look feminist?’ Grazia’s Dior is for you. No one is here to criticise Grazia herself as a female creative director though - and Dior’s first female creative director in its entire history, because that fact alone is progress; as of the end of 2016, Business of Fashion reported that only 40% of womenswear brands had female creative directors, and so Maria Grazia’s position at Dior is something to celebrate versus balk at.
The problem arises in how she structured her entire first collection on an inherently reductive definition of feminism. Ask Grazia herself, who, in an interview with Jess Cartner-Moley of The Guardian earlier this year said that:
“Dior is feminine…That’s what I kept hearing when I told people I was coming here [to Dior]. But as a woman, ‘feminine’ means something different to me than it means to a man, perhaps. Feminine is about being a woman, no? I thought to myself: if Dior is about femininity, then it is about women. And not about what it was to be a woman 50 years ago, but to be a woman today.”
Instant progress, instant validation, and instant profit for Grazia and the house of Dior, without much depth to their idea of what exactly it is that apparently constitutes this iconic notion of femininity.
Fashion does not live in a post-sexist society. Maria Grazia’s new creative direction of Dior didn’t suddenly create the idea of the “female gaze,” which is a term we’re seeing thrown around a lot in the (necessary) rise in female artists and imagemakers as of late. I actually find it interesting that we consider the male gaze so toxic and yet once women start creative directing more collections, we use the same terminology, as if the female gaze can be canonized in the same way that a male point of view has been. This attitude of women being able to do the ‘same thing’ might serve to only reify male dominance; isn’t it odd that the criteria for female designers having equal merit means having to prove their ability to design clothes for their own bodies in the first place?
All these issues of gender and representation are also impregnated with tropes of femininity which only support the gender binary, leaving all those who identify outside of it completely unrepresented. Omitted from the conventional fashion conversation, but successful and worth paying attention to nonetheless, there is now a new host of labels creating garments for the queer/gender nonconforming body. There is Art School, a fashion collective taking a completely different approach to all facets of a fashion house and reimagining how we think about design, Fecal Matter, a fashion duo whose clientele exist almost exclusively on Depop, and LOVERBOY by Charles Jeffery, a perfect example of how a brand can celebrate club kid culture without reducing it purely to aesthetics. These brands exist, but are overlooked or ignored by the mainstream, just like at the Women’s March, because “the future is female” narrative doesn’t include anyone outside of the gender binary.
We have to look at the politics of what sells in fashion, why, and the relationship between publicity and commerce. When you’re able to directly sell to one side of the gender binary, in this case women, your brand is lauded a feminist wonder. When your brand is aimed at and based upon queer and gender nonconforming bodies, your brand is designated alternative and even “weird.” My aim isn’t to complain that brands like Art School and LOVERBOY don’t receive enough recognition from mainstream fashion, but it’s to point out that, just like gender non-conforming and queer bodies are omitted from conversations of feminism, they are omitted from the entire mainstream fashion conversation. Much like the Women’s March, the future isn’t female, the future isn’t even nonbinary. Assigning any gender as “the future” is only proof that fashion doesn’t care about equal rights for all gender identities - it cares about selling a future to us with a label on it. Fashion can present itself as caring about political movements as much as it wants, however the truth is that until fashion is unmotivated by profits, support of such movements will always be biased.
Fashion will always profit on progress by decontextualizing it into a commodity. The fact that the aforementioned brands are outside of the mainstream fashion conversation is proof that the fashion industry isn’t as progressive as we like to think it is. Grazia as the first female creative director of Dior? Oh, let’s call Vogue immediately; all women should be inspired by this. Art School getting a capsule collection for MatchesFashion, the largest online retailer for luxury fashion? Well, I guess they must appeal to ~someone~ ???
Fashion’s potential good intentions are clouded by the scale of its industry. The future is only female until something else can make more money. So, let’s ride out this fourth wave of feminism until a new movement can be commodified.
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