Saturday, November 3, 2012

Feminism and Petticoats

So I said in my last post that I'd like to look into some interesting implications I found in the ten-minute documentary Lace & Petticoats, just because I can and because as a feminist I can't help but watch everything with part of my brain looking for things to break down and examine (this makes watching TV for fun and relaxation rather difficult).

So, without further ado, let's analyze the crap out of someone's student project!!

  • Any woman can be called a slut, regardless of her dress or bearing.
Andrea, the moderator for oz_lolita, relates a story in which she and Gabrielle, a fellow Lolita and close friend, were walking down the street in the evening when a man in a "piece of shit car" pulled up near them and threw a large pickle at them while screaming "SLUUUUUTS".  This anecdote is told by a girl who is covered from neck to toe, with only her face and hands showing, and her friend is equally modest.  Another girl, Lea, goes on to explain why it makes no sense for Lolitas to be called sluts specifically because of their attire*, but I think what the story does is show that "slut" is not a word saved for expressing judgment of a woman's sexual choices.  It's a word used when a person wants bring a woman down a peg, for whatever reason.  We could speculate forever about why the sight of two girls in poofy skirts and blouses was so offensive to merit an insult and drive-by pickle-throwing, but I would guess that it may have been that it was something out of the ordinary.  Two women attiring themselves in a way that goes against the norm could have provoked the man to want to bring them down so he can retain a sense of confidence of how the world works.  It's similar to just about any sort of negative reaction to someone who's different.
  • People are afraid of difference
The story in the previous paragraph, along with a story from Lea, serve to show just how badly a lot of people take something out of the ordinary.  Xelyna, the blonde woman with the blue bow in her hair, described the difference between Japanese people seeing her in Lolita on the street vs. Australian people. The root of the differences, I think, is in cultural expectations.  Lolita began in Japan, it's most popular in Japan, the major brands are based in Japan.  Anyone who sees a particularly well-dressed Lolita in Tokyo is going to react with glee as opposed to shock because Lolita is a completely normal thing to see on the street.  In Western countries, for the most part, we have certain expectations for how an adult woman will dress herself, and seeing those expectations broken can be shocking.  What I don't understand, however, is the behavior of many people towards Lolitas.  I would have expected something like when people see me out and about in steampunk: smiles, amusement, requests for pictures, etc.  Instead, people seem to respond with revulsion or a less-than-socially-acceptable level of curiosity.  The blog "Fuck Yeah Lolita" has whole posts on how to have the confidence to wear Lolita in public, how to deal with rude comments, etc.  You shouldn't need to psych yourself up to step out the door in an outfit you love every day.  You shouldn't be afraid of harassment for wearing what makes you happy.
  • Why the heck are people reacting so strangely to clothes?
I mean, yes, Lea looks rather over-the-top in the doc, as do several other women in the group, but it's Gabrielle, one of the Classic Lolitas, who describes parents who aren't comfortable with her choice of fashion.  Her mother apparently considers it a costume (even though it's safe to say that the only thing remotely "costumey" about her clothes is the wig she wears, and even then it's just another accessory), and her father just ignores the way she dresses altogether.  It sounds awkwardly similar to a kid telling their parents that they're gay or something.  Honestly, if the worst thing your daughter does is take a liking to frilly blouses and long socks and knee-length bell-shaped skirts, you've got an excellent daughter.  It's not something to be ashamed of or worried about.  Rosalind Wiseman, author of the parenting book Queen Bees and Wannabes, discusses briefly what mothers should do when their adolescent daughters want to suddenly go goth or punk or some other alternative fashion, and the mother doesn't like that.  Her advice?  Nothing.  Don't do anything.  The minute you openly reject the way your daughter dresses herself, she takes that as a rejection of her person.  Being embarrassed about your daughter wearing Lolita is a silly, rather pointless exercise.  All you're doing is telling her that you're embarrassed of her.
The reactions of strangers on the street, too, are odd for something as versatile and fluid as fashion.  When someone verbally harasses two men holding hands, it's because they're afraid of losing the safety of "uncomplicated"** gender roles and sexual scripts.  When someone verbally harasses a woman dressed in Lolita, it's because they're afraid of... what?  What fundamental aspect of a person's identity is threatened by the sight of someone who attires herself differently from them?  Does the pickle-thrower do the same when he sees a Goth woman?  A punk?  The Australian equivalent of a gangsta (if they have them)?

The moral of the story, I think, is simply this: live and let live.  A Lolita is no threat to you, so don't be a threat to her.  If she seems open to conversation***, ask her politely about what she's wearing if you don't get it.  Learn, don't fear.

And seriously, don't throw pickles at strangers.  That's not nice.

*It really doesn't make sense to slut-shame any woman because of her attire.  Clothing has no bearing on sexual activity, and neither have any bearing on the content of a person's character.
**Sex is never, ever simple.
***Well, honestly, if you're a dude you should probably only do this if she's with friends.

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