Lipstick Feminism and Dressing The Part

Beauty as power is something that is taught to every young girl. Common adjectives that are used to compliment girls often refer to how pretty, sweet, or kind that they are.  Very seldom do we reward girls for their intelligence, assertiveness, or passion.  As a child becomes a woman she internalizes the idea that is what is most valuable about her, is her physical appearance.  That this is something that will decline in value, often keeps young women awake at night; plotting the best way to take advantage of the small window of opportunity that beauty as a source of power offers.

Feminism has engaged with beauty on many levels. Some feminists feel that performing beauty even to gain personally is internalizing the male gaze.  Others feel that the daily ritual is a sign of their autonomy in that they actively chose which beauty procedures that they will adhere too and which they will reject based on personal desire.  The debate between the lipstick feminists and the I will not subject my body to social discipline feminists has been waged since the 1970’s.

What is beauty without the finery and the flash?  Each season the fashion industry deploys an army of models to inform us how to best maximize on our feminine whiles.  One simply cannot be caught wearing the wrong shade, or sporting a purse that is the wrong size.  On the other side of the equation, you have women that are blissfully unaware of the fashion trends and dress for comfort over style.  These are the “utility women,” who find power in thwarting the seasonal call to the mall.  Utility women take pride in dressing only in what makes them feel comfortable, while at the same time voraciously attacking their dolled up sisters as patriarchal dupes.

Back and forth the conversation goes. You’re a patriarchal colluder says the utility feminists.  Well you’re lazy, jealous and don’t realize that autonomy can be found in many different ways retort the lipstick feminist.  Normally I would refrain from calling two groups of women engaged in conversation a cat fight, but what else can you call it when both sides display such narrow minded western privilege over beauty and clothing?

What neither of these groups ever seem to want to acknowledge is that whether or not your purse cost 500$ and has a DKNY label, or it is a 35$ Walmart find, both are participating in the impoverishment of women globally.  The problem is larger than whether or not you are dressing to please a man.

According to The Feminist Majority Foundation, “Women make up 90 percent of sweatshop laborers. Women are paid as little as six cents an hour and work ten to twelve hour shifts. In many instances overtime is mandatory. In some cases, women are allowed only two drinks of water and one bathroom break per shift. Sexual harassment, corporal punishment, and verbal abuse are all means used by supervisors to instill fear and keep employees in line.

Many of the companies directly running sweatshops are small and don’t have much name recognition. However, virtually every retailer in the U.S. has ties to sweatshops. The U.S. is the biggest market for the garment industry and almost all the garment sales in this country are controlled by 5 corporations: Wal-Mart, JC Penney, Sears, The May Company (owns and operates Lord & Taylor, Hecht1s, Filene1s and others) and Federated Department Stores (owns and operates Bloomingdale1s, Macy1s, Burdine1s, Stern1s and others).

Several industry leaders have been cited for labor abuses by the Department of Labor. Of these Guess? Clothing Co. is one of the worst offenders – Guess? was suspended indefinitely from the Department of Labor’s list of “good guys” because their contractors were cited for so many sweatshop violations.

Other companies contract out their production to overseas manufacturers whose labor rights violations have been exposed by U.S. and international human rights groups. These include Nike, Disney, Wal-Mart, Reebok, Phillips- Van Heusen, the Gap, Liz Claiborne and Ralph Lauren.

When women who are middle/upper class engage in a debate as to whether an article of clothing, or makeup is suitably feminist what they are ignoring is that they are  in a position to engage in this particular conversation, because they exist with class privilege.

A woman who is making less than 1USD per day does not have time to concern herself with whether or not patriarchy is informing her clothing choices.  This woman must deal with trying to provide subsistence for herself and her family under brutal economic slave labour.  Her class location informs her position, as the realities of her daily lived experience extinguish the angst that lipstick/utility feminists engage in.

Regardless of your position regarding performing femininity through make up and or  clothing, what cannot be denied is that any purchase within our capitalist economy is predicated on the exploitation of women.  The cult of I blinds us from the reality that in  our debate about agency and autonomy, we are completely obscuring the degree to which we personally are responsible for the impoverishment of others.  Class position we posit is based on meritocracy, but I must ask, who works harder than a sweat shop labourer?  Though feminism is a movement to end oppression against women, often times the failure to acknowledge privilege leads to the marginalization and exploitation of the most vulnerable within our society.  Class division is not a  flight of fancy, and to ignore the ways in which the Cult of I, turns us into oppressors is to decide unilaterally that only certain women matter.

Cross posted from Womanist Musings

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42 comments for “Lipstick Feminism and Dressing The Part

  1. estraven
    September 9, 2008 at 4:08 am

    I must admit I’m one of the badly dressed, but as you pointed out this is irrelevant. Could you give some good suggestion on what to buy instead? Like, is American Apparel really better? Any other idea?

  2. Surra
    September 9, 2008 at 5:27 am


  3. September 9, 2008 at 5:47 am

    I think there’s a middle-ground, in the sense of paying attention to fashion and not paying attention to fashion.

    Most people, even those who care about fashion, can’t afford to worry about the new “it” bag for every season. It’s not feasible financially, and most people simply don’t have the time for it either. Unless you have a stylist on-call, a personal shopper at Paul Smith, and so on and so forth, you can’t keep up with all of the trends. You don’t even try.

    I think a lot of people are like that, it’s just that fashion editors most promote their choices each season with words like “must-have” and so on.

    Also, one of the sad things about fashion items is that a lot of the ones that were constructed based on fair principles can also get fairly expensive. So one could want to buy an artisan bag, but ends up settling for something from Wal-Mart. And that sucks.

  4. ThatCrazyEquitist
    September 9, 2008 at 7:00 am

    Natalia: At least one fashion editor, Nina Garcia (at Elle) doesn’t buy into the seasonal must-have craze. She has two books out now and both emphasize creating style, which lasts from one year to the next, instead of worrying about trends.

    From Garcia’s Little Black Book of Style: “When a beautiful woman walks into a room, I may glance up for a moment, but I soon return to my entree or my conversation or the dessert menu. Let’s be honest: beauty is not all that interesting (and certainly not more interesting than the dessert menu). But when a confident woman walks into a room, it is entrancing.”

  5. September 9, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Great post, Renee, that really highlights the underlying class issue among SOME feminists. Instead of the intersection between race/class/gender, they see only gender and are not spending as much time (or any in some rad fem cases) reflecting on their own class privilege in their feminism. Fashion is definately one of the areas where I often hear class bias.

  6. September 9, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Terrific post & something that I know I easily forget while being caught up in my corporate marketing mindset. The answer for many of us = second-hand shops.

  7. September 9, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Hmmm…and I thought it was just lipstick lesbian!

  8. Jha
    September 9, 2008 at 9:02 am

    I’m one of those “lipstick” feminists myself with work clothes, although I do worry about the places I shop and try not to support stores which I know have ties to sweatshops. Is there a place where we can look up who would be the “good guys” vs the “bad guys” in clothing manufacturing?

  9. September 9, 2008 at 9:08 am

    This is a very important post. It’s an ugly and complex problem. Thank you for it.

  10. September 9, 2008 at 9:19 am

    ITA with the premise of the post. Like two other posters before me, I wonder what the solution is to the problem. Where do we shop? Also, are there places where we can buy from that don’t charge a lot of money? I’m sure that a lot of us have noticed that places that sell non-sweatshop clothes, organic foods and other things that do not hurt other people or the environment usually end up catering to the upper middle class or upper class. I think that’s a class issue as well. I feel guilty when I shop at Wal Mart or Target I really feel like I don’t have a choice. Even shopping at the thrift shop, I feel some guilt. Yes, the clothes are second hand but they were probably made in a sweatshop too before they became second hand.

  11. Hawise
    September 9, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Important post and it is a conundrum that is best combatted by self-education. Some of the best dressed women that I have ever seen have been the sewers and fitters of big manufacturers. They have learned about clothes and instead of relying on fashion magazines and the opinions of a few, they use their own bodies and skills to advantage. If you know your own style then you can buy quality second hand and have it refitted to your body. You can get together with friends and update your wardrobe by exchanging clothes and accessories. It really comes down to knowing who you are and how your clothes make you feel.

  12. prefer not to say
    September 9, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Great post. I’d like to pretend like I’m not part of the problem, but I am. I really am.

    Those who are wondering about a “better” place to shop — Salvation Army. Consignment shops. Vintage stores. E-bay “gently worn” vendors.

    Of course, the other issue is feeling like we need to shop. Once when my mom came and visited me, she observed that I owned about twelve bras. She’d spent most of her life having just three. I had a drawer full of t-shirts, and couldn’t wear t-shirts to work. Which meant I needed two — one for each weekend day. The amount of clothes we feel like it’s “normal” to own is dictated by the ideology that economies always have to expand.

    But it’s stupid for me to preach — I’m part of the problem. I have a job where I could possibly wear nothing but second-hand clothes, but I’m unwilling to do that, because wearing fashionable clothes means I get treated with slightly more respect by the people I work with. I look young and dressing up means I get treated the age I really am. I imagine that many readers of this blog have similar concerns when they know about sweat shop problems and yet patronize a corrupt clothing industry.

    My best practice so far? Living in a house built in the 1920s and sharing a tiny closet with my partner. For every piece of clothing I’m tempted to buy I have to ask myself “Will this really fit into the house?”

    I’d like to hear other people’s best practices.

  13. September 9, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Hey Renee –

    Nicely reframed. It would do us all well to remember there are *other* effects to our global fashion and beauty industry, other than personal choice.

    Adjusting your shopping habits is important, but I think it is more of a matter of being mindful as to where your clothes are made and how they get there, and helping people to advocate for safe working conditions, and to realize that things that are supercheap generally are low priced because the humans making the garments are devalued.

    Actually, the response to this is way too long to get into here.

    Renee, you inspired me to write another post.

    Do you mind if I piggy back off your entry?

  14. September 9, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Nina Garcia, is pretty cool, yes. I also once read a great, great article about being inventive as opposed to merely trendy, with an emphasis on vintage items. I should dig it up.

  15. September 9, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Great post, Renee. In terms of what to do, your post also highlights the importance of supporting groups such as Maquila Solidarity Network and the Clean Clothes Campaign. And I mean actively supporting their campaigns for labor rights. Tactics which have proven effective before involved consumers here pressuring corporations (through letter-writing, boycotts, protest actions) that subcontract to sweatshops and special economic zones where unionists are jailed — if they’re lucky — or are disappeared. Because unfortunately, economic zone authorities and sweatshop owners are way more likely to listen and institute reforms if Reebok threatens to pull out rather than when unionists appeal to their sense of justice and fairness. (What a shock)

    I guess the point is that it’s not enough for us here in developed countries to say I don’t buy from sweatshops or I can only afford mass market brands. Directly or indirectly, we all benefit from sweatshop labor. So something all feminists can do is to educate ourselves and actively do our part here to support their struggles.

  16. Ico
    September 9, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Great post! It is a much needed reality-check.
    Latoya, I’m really looking forward to your follow-up piece on Renee’s post. The “What do I do?” question is one I asked a lot as an undergrad, and the answers were always different (boycott to pressure the companies/don’t boycott because it hurts the workers; join student groups and get active; educate people — who then often asked, “What do I do?”).

    @ Estraven — I wouldn’t recommend American Apparel because of the union-busting, the sexism and exploitation, and this:

  17. jane
    September 9, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Faith, I don’t think you should worry about buying clothes second-hand from thrift stores that depend on donated clothing. Yes, the clothing is probably sweatshop-made, but because you aren’t paying the company that produced it, you’re not creating demand. If the person who donated it isn’t getting paid for the donation, then there’s no incentive for her to buy more. My biggest problem is deciding whether I want to give church-based and sometimes anti-abortion groups my money (such as the local St. Vincent’s, which has a good vintage selection, but has anti-abortion posters in its office).

    A related point: I’m super femme, but I worry about these issues quite a bit. More than half my clothing is vintage, and most of the recently-made things came second-hand. I do buy more new shoes than I should. But my girlfriend, who is as butch as I am femme, is relatively unconcerned with where her clothing comes from, and buys nearly everything new. She also is much less concerned with conservation in other areas of her life. So while I worry about the effect of my consumerism, I realize that it’s less about being femme, and more about being aware. But it also takes more time, effort, and creativity, and requires living in a place with access to good second-hand stores.

    Ugh, I know this is long, but I also want to say that a lot of women, all over the world, use their clothing choices as a creative outlet, not just as a way to please men. Whether you work in a cubicle or break rocks in a field in Nepal, your clothing can give you a way to express creativity that you might not have time for otherwise. I know this sounds trite, but I think everyone should have some area of creativity in their lives, and clothing is a way to do that without too much additional time or money.

  18. Suki T
    September 9, 2008 at 11:07 am

    My big question is what is a fat girl supposed to do? Vintage and second-hand no-worky for big girls, unless I really want to wear pleated khakis and muumuus for the rest of my life.

    It’s hard enough to find acceptable clothes that are affordable to begin with. If you now throw in the labor practice issue, or even the green issue, you completely leave us big girls out all together.

    I can’t shop at Walmart, they don’t have enough selection of big clothes. I can’t shop at department stores because of the price tags. So I go to specialty store. Are they on the “good guys” list? How do I find out? What am I supposed to do if they aren’t?

  19. September 9, 2008 at 11:07 am

    @prefer not to say: You make a very good point. It’s much easier for me to do the thrift shop thing. “Moms” can look worn but still trendy. And it’s cool to save money on kids’ clothes.

    As for best practices, how about eliminating the problem by teaching our kids the truth about the clothing industry? How about making the mall off-limits for just hanging out? How about telling them who really makes their clothes and ask them what happens when this season’s style is out of style? How about adopting a little marketing literacy as part of daily discussion?

  20. September 9, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Excellent post, Renee.

    it is definitely hard to make mindful clothing choices. One of my favorite things to do lately is shop Etsy!, for those who aren’t familiar, is a site where crafters and small designers can sell their stuff. It does tend to run heavy on the customized T-shirts, but you can also find amazing handmade stuff and you’re helping lots of women support themselves and start their own businesses.

    It’s easier to find handmade stuff in the city, and definitely easier if you can afford it, which means secondhand stores do indeed come in handy for those times when you don’t have the cash. I’ve tried to make an effort to buy less, and buy things from small designers who do things themselves, rather than contribute to the fat corporate pockets of Target and Forever 21.

  21. September 9, 2008 at 11:29 am

    I have to agree with Faith here. I don’t see how you can claim classism on feminists who argue on how to dress themselves and then tell everybody they should be concerned about where their clothes are coming from. That’s a middle/upper class privilege issue as well.

  22. s
    September 9, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Yes. It is a privilege to be able to indulge in certain types of beauty rituals.

    But beauty rituals and self-adornment are not restricted to the privileged classes. Women (and often men) of ALL classes engage in it. It seems to be something humans do and can take pride in.

    The stupid rhetorical question is to go: ‘So you want me to give all that up because it hurts other women?’

    That gets us nowhere. It makes people guilty/angry. People are not going to stop taking pride in their appearance – why should they?

    Renee says: ‘The cult of I blinds us from the reality that in our debate about agency and autonomy, we are completely obscuring the degree to which we personally are responsible for the impoverishment of other’

    In a way, yes. But in another way, no. Yes my purchasing choices harm other people. However, my choices are not entirely free. ‘Ethical’ clothing is expensive. If you are a poorer woman, you are trapped into buying things that exploit other people.

    Who is responisble for that? Perhaps the corporations who make money both off cheap labour and the fact that a large number of people can’t afford anything but what they produce?
    Is it individual women? Is it?

    The most constructive thing you can do, since you can’t actually be outside the capitalist system is to do what you can to make things better for the workers. Campaign for better wages. Publicise abuses and make corporations accoutable for them. Support charities by buying from them.

    Shaming women who engage in self-adornment and calling them privileged does not actively change how things are. It just becomes a ‘holier-than-thou’ activity, in which the richer feel like they have less blood on their hands, unlike the cheap-buying ‘masses’.

  23. Politicalguineapig
    September 9, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    I’m fat too, and a lot of my casual clothes come from second hand stores. I have no idea what to do for formal clothes, but some thrift stores do have dresses that work for bigger women.

  24. September 9, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Good morning feministe..or good afternoon I guess. My honey let me sleep in and that is why I am so late answering some of your concerns. I would not write an article like this without following it up with some ideas, which you will find in tomorrows post. I thought I had included that fact at the end of this post but I guess when you blog at 3am some things fall through the cracks…LOL


    I have to agree with Faith here. I don’t see how you can claim classism on feminists who argue on how to dress themselves and then tell everybody they should be concerned about where their clothes are coming from. That’s a middle/upper class privilege issue as well.

    Actually it is a concern for everyone. Due to the length of the post I didn’t have the time to get into the environmental issues that are also at play here. Rich or poor we cannot afford to keep consuming at this rate. I further believe that your response is simply a denial of privilege.

    @S any more privilege you want to deny. If you are ashamed you should be. Every single purchase that you make means the impoverishment of someone some where. You do not have the right to live in the luxury that you do. The whole poor women are trapped at shopping at Walmart argument is bullshit. You can dress very nicely second hand if you can bring yourself to get over your arrogant right to consume. And another thing (s’ecuse me all but I am pissed) What the fuck makes you think that because someone is poor they are not still concerned about someone who has even less than them? Yeah you’re not at all in denial are you? Perhaps their concerns are even more complex and even include the environmental cost…but hey you just shop your way to ignorance and bliss.

    @Latoya…rock it out I am excited to see what you come up with.

  25. Rosa
    September 9, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    So if you’re poor relative to somebody, you don’t have to think about exploiting somebody else? The women in the Marianas and the special trade zones are poor women too. Anyone can afford to write letters of support for women’s labor organizations like the ones tanglad mentioned.

    Plus, there are a lot of ways to dress yourself thriftily with less reliance on sweatshop clothing: learn to sew so you can refashion thrifted clothes; have a clothing-swap party with similar-sized women; buy in just a few colors so you only need 5 work outfits and 2 pairs of shoes; mend things…there’s something for every budget and most situations. A woman who *has* to wear a suit or *has* to wear a uniform has serious limits, and some of us have size or geographical limits for thrifting, but everyone can do something.

    I live in a house built in 1902. There are 4 bedrooms and only 3 closets in the entire house. Our closet originally had pegs – about 8 of them we think. People do not need as many clothes as most of us have.

  26. Mary
    September 9, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    S, I think you’re simplifying Renee’s point. Asking people to be mindful of where their clothes are coming from and how their consumer choices affect others isn’t the same as “crying classism”. At no point does Renee say that anyone “shouldn’t” care about how they dress themselves or “should” shop in a particular places. Pointing out that there is another dimension to this debate shouldn’t be taboo, and it doesn’t read to me as though it’s any more aimed at femme women than butch women.

    And it’s also not labelling certain people “privileged” – in a global context, we are all privileged, or we wouldn’t be able to post our thoughts on a blog. This isn’t (just) about the difference between wealthy Americans and poor Americans, but about the global power structures which dictate the eonomic relationships which all of us in the West have with women (and men) in the rest of the world. I think you’re absolutely right in that campaigning for better labour conditions is the right way to go. But you sound like you’re reacting to sense of blame which I can’t find anywhere in Renee’s post.

  27. danicaanddan
    September 9, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Very true rosa but these kinds of posts, while incredibly well written and insightful, always leave me struggling. Especially as it relates to my husband who is 6’6 and over 300 pounds. He will shred cheaply made clothes, cannot shop for anything vintage and has to wear a suit and tie to work, really hard to work around even though I make most of my own clothes. Sigh, lots to think about.

  28. September 9, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    that there is a class dimension of gender, that’s quite clear. and that some afford to buy while others do no, that’s also undeniable. but when it comes down to judging everyday people who buy stuff, i am not sure it is so easy to argue that me buying something makes you poor. first of all, we all buy stuff because we live in a society which is based on a capitalist mode of exchange (and i am not defending the fashion industry, far from this). this mere blog exists because we buy stuff – we buy electricity, we buy a house, we buy a computer, we buy food, we buy, buy, buy. we buy because we sell our labor to get money, and therefore we perceive it is our right to do whatever we want with the money we have earned.

    i suggest you also take a look at what not buying would mean: those same women who work in the sweatshops won’t even have the chance to earn that 1USD/ day. when mahatma ghandi asked for a boycott of British products, he also asked for donations for those workers whose income depended on selling their work to produce those things (or at least that’s how the story goes).

    my point is: not buying can make a difference, but also unintended consequences. things are a bit more complex than ‘you either buy or you don’t’.

  29. Rosa
    September 9, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    danicaanddan – yeah, suits are a special problem (so are uniforms – for just about every uniform except scrubs, it seems like the employer usually picks the manufacturer/retailer).

    But that leaves the whole rest of your life to do something different.

    And thinkingdifference, nobody’s advocating just not buying anything (and even if we did, there’s still the whole rest of the consuming public) but putting whatever dollars we do spend toward companies that are not actively union-busting. There is a big difference.

  30. cedarcrow
    September 9, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    (formerly posting as cedar – but saw there was someone else posting under that name, so wanted to avoid confusion.)

    Salvation Army? Here, at least, they make you sit through a sermon before they let you have something to eat, or a bed to sleep in. Quite often, officers will also exhort you to “pray with them,” and a rejection of that offer results in being told that they “will pray for you” – the implication being that you need saving. Yuck.

    Here, the Women In Need (WIN) transition house has a series of second hand stores that take clothing donations from the community, and then turns their profits around to fund DV shelters and the like. I feel very, uh, Win/Win about shopping there.

    # Surra says:
    September 9th, 2008 at 5:27 am – Edit


    Seriously? Is no one going to take this to task? Renne isn’t suggesting that women workers exploited by the capitalist system are “more oppressed than thou.” She’s just pointing out that there are political and ethical ramifications to the consumer choices we make. That arguing about whether it can be feminist to wear lipstick can render invisible the facts of animal testing, for example. If you find yourself (this goes more generally) having a knee-jerk reaction to this post, you might want to ask yourself *WHY* rather than defensively protesting that you’re not a part of the problem.

  31. September 9, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    i just want to point out that if you have to shop at big box stores for whatever personal reason, it really is better to shop at target. they donate money back into the local community, and they help support funding for music and arts programs in schools. it doesnt do anything to help the women worldwide being exploited, but they at least attempt to give back some. plus they arent currently involved in the largest class action lawsuit in history for discriminating against women, whereas walmart are (see latest issue of bitch)

    most of my household goods are second hand, same with furniture (i have an amazing eye for snagging gorgeous mid-century modern pieces on the cheap) i buy personal care products from either small natural goods companies or closeout stores (big lots here has VO5 and white rain shampoo and conditioner for less than a buck, and both companies dont test on animals and manufacture all their products in the US and Canada)

    i tend to live in a uniform, which limits my need to buy clothes. i have 4 pairs of jeans, 10 or so mens A top undershirts, a few hooded sweatshirts, and a couple pairs of canvas sneakers. everything is thrifted or closeout store except my jeans, cos my body is shaped kinda odd, so i have to buy new, but i wear my jeans til they literally fall apart. i could probably use a second bra, as my current one started as pink but is now kinda murky grey. is that tmi?

  32. September 9, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Some interesting and unique points here that help recenter the debate.

    This remind me a bit of the sex work example. Just like with clothing, investing in porn, especially of certain varieties, helps keep thriving a market in which some of the workers are oppressed.

    I have seen those arguments on rad fem websites, but not on liberal or non-radfem third wave feminist websites. The prevailing wisdom on the latter (which I agree with) seems to be that we cannot assume women do not have agency, and the root of the problem is global poverty and lack of adequate options. I think that wisdom applies here as well.

    It troubles me a bit that we are more comfortable asking consumers to “examine” when they are predominantly women.

  33. iwiwus
    September 10, 2008 at 9:12 am

    I just thought it should be pointed out that second-hand stores like Goodwill are not completely free of problems. Such places receive more clothes than they can sell, so they give it to wholesalers to sell in other countries. The clothing industries in these places are often devastated by such sales. Here’s an article in the Washington Post about it.

  34. Rosa
    September 10, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    octogalore, preferentially buying union-made, or fair trade, clothing is amplifying the agency of the women working in those fields. It’s a pretty basic form of solidarity action, requested by various women-led groups and unions.

    And buying clothing that was made by labor in especially oppressive conditions (such as unpaid overtime, military/paramilitary union busting, forced birth control or abortion, child labor) amplifies the economic power of the oppressors.

    We’re looking at women’s clothing because we’re women, and Renee was responding to ongoing discussions about women’s adornment in various feminst blogs.

  35. September 10, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Rosa — re your first point. I have a friend who owns a company specializing in this kind of clothing and aimed at a female market. Problem is, her prices (which she says are competitive, I admit I have not done much market research) are prohibitive, and therefore the demographic of her buyers is a very privileged one which excludes many women.

    Regarding second hand stores like Goodwill, that’s a good idea, but for professional women whose bread and butter depends on a certain look, it’s not always doable.

    While your point is well taken about focusing on female-centric products, I think the goal of feminism is treat men and women equally, which would include calling out consuming behaviors of men and women equally. As I said in the first para, this doesn’t invalidate what I believe (to repeat myself) to be a novel and interesting way to recenter the discussion.

  36. antichristine
    September 10, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Class is a part of attractiveness, and therefore a part of “feminine wiles”.

    The more money you make (or have access to), the more attractive you are as a mate, and it IS a competition, so there is a demand for articles that mark your class status. When this demand is reflected in attire, we get the entire fashion industry. :p

    The feminine-wiles-as-weapon argument is just as valid as the non-participatory one. Each has its merits and drawbacks. But let’s not forget that we are all living under the umbrella of our respective empires, some of which affords us the ability to legislate feminist/egalitarian values into laws. In other words, we all eat what comes out of the slaughterhouse, but some eat less than others.

    The power that comes with the umbrella means that we don’t have to think about where that power comes from, or how it is made. We tend to take it for granted. Problem is, few of us are in positions to change the habits of millions of people without lots of money. Where will that money come from? The actual money will be reciepts for gold, silver, or oil that the US has in reserve. Which means that by using currency, we are using the ill-gotten gains of policies we criticize.

    It is a complex problem, but here is how we can address the oppression of women in the context you mentioned:

    The survivalist:
    only homespun.
    live on boats in international waters and fish for sustainance
    revel in your righteousness and sacrifice

    The Infiltrator:
    use feminine wiles and massive intellect to muscle into high powered positions
    try hard not to forget where you come from
    pass legislation requiring all companies that sell goods in us to pay the US minimum wage to all workers globally
    revel in your genius and vision

  37. tonisjadine
    September 10, 2008 at 5:41 pm is pretty awesome – particularly for the plus-sized lady. If you’re willing to have a few, kinda pricy clothes that are great rather than a bunch of cheap stuff that’s okay, I’d suggest them. I just got a new pair of perfectly fitting jeans based on a great (discontinued) pair that were probably made in a sweatshop for less than a new, less awesome pair would have cost me (kind of convoluted, but I hope you see what I’m saying). Between that and a decent tailor, I think I’m set (and not supporting evil corporations).

  38. Suzanne
    September 12, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    I agree that etsy is a good option…I love clothes, but don’t follow the merry-go -round that is fashion. I like to take inspiration from different eras; I suppose I often dress a little theatrically! (I’m an artist/performer)
    I also shop in second hand shops (you call them thrift in U.S? I’m Irish).
    I am trying not to support stores that use sweatshops, though it is hard when you’re poor.
    Funnily enough, I rebelled against learning how to use a sewing machine in school, as at the time it was only the girls learnt, and though misguided in ways, I felt this was unjust.
    And yet now I’m learning to use one again! For: use in my artworks, adjusting things, and for changing items in a creative way…though I’m still at the stage of sometimes impatience *sigh*

  39. Myriam
    September 14, 2008 at 10:53 am

    While I agree that it’s sad that women feel the need to beautify themselves in order to be accepted as valued members of society, I am less comfortable with the sweat-shop line of the argument. After all, women who work in sweatshops have little alternative, unless you count things such as prostitution. I’d hate to see well-meaning sites like this push women out of the fryingpan and into the fire by advocating an embargo on sweatshop merchandise.
    Furthermore, those who work for international corporations in sweatshops often do so as those same sweatshops offer better wages and conditions than local manufacturing and other fields of work avaliable to them. Sweatshops are the symptom, not the cause, of terrible poverty.

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