What does the clothes war mean for women?
If anyone is in any doubt that we women are in the middle of a clothes war, the number of of recent incidents across the globe should change your mind. How women dress seems to be becoming a topic for international discussion. From Olympic presenter Helen Skelton causing public outcry for wearing a skirt in the Brazilian summer heat, to armed police in Nice forcing women out of their clothes on beaches, in line with the unlawful ‘Burkini’ ban. It seems people just can’t contain themselves when it comes to telling women or femme folk what to wear. And then they judge them harshly for their choices.
The delicate clothes war line
Let’s look at some of the ways women are still demonised for our clothing choices. We navigate being immodest and prudish in this ongoing and never-ending clothes war.
#1 Asking for it
#2 Undressed for your own liberation
The French government recently classed the Burkini ban as unlawful, and yet more and more French beach towns are adopting it as a rule. Full facial coverings are already banned in France and head scarves are banned in schools. The ‘burkini’ is a full wet suit with hood that covers the ears and hair, leaving the face exposed, just like scuba gear. It has given many Muslim women the ability to interact and participate more fully in their local communities as they can now enjoy more water based activities without having to worry about their modesty.
‘Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one’.
#3 Too prude to party
It’s not just covering up for religious reasons that can cause women issues though. The other face of the clothes war is the back lash if we follow the advice to cover our bodies for our own protection, or simply out of personal choice.
The words ‘prude’, ‘frumpy’ and homophobic slurs soon follow. There seems to be an assumption, that if a woman doesn’t want to dress overtly ‘feminine’ or chooses to cover her figure than this is an insult to men and is robbing them of their right to ogle. ‘You should show your figure off more’, ‘how do you expect a man to fancy you in baggy clothes’ and ‘so are you a lesbian then?’ are just a few choice phrases thrown around when a women appears to be dressing for herself rather than the male gaze.
There have even been cases of girls being turned away from their own proms for choosing to wear suits instead of dresses. A personal friend of mine was accused of lying about a sexual assault because she dresses in traditionally male clothing. As one charming commenter put it ‘who’d want to rape a girl that looks like a man?’.
#4 Success offers no protection
The same public who hold Nigella Lawson up for her figure, innuendos and sex appeal, dismissed Amber Rayne’s death as an unfortunate side effect of her porn star career. Shockingly recently when an article was released showing Lindsey Lohan being physically assaulted by her boyfriend, most commenters have either blamed her for her life choices. Some asked if there were more pictures of her partner exposing her breasts during the attack.
As the iCloud hacking scandal showed, women can be shamed for doing a consensual nude photo shoot (such as Kim Kardashian) and for having private photos, never intended for public viewing. It’s almost as if a lack of consent adds some extra appeal and fuels demand, and isn’t that worrying?
So can women really win the clothes war?
3 ways to fight the clothes war
#1 Support other women
Stand up to the bigots that believe they have the right to pull a woman’s hijab off. Without each other as support, how are we ever meant to progress?
#2 Be yourself
#3 Influence the women around you
Our daughters, sisters, mothers, friends. Help them find a way to be comfortable in their own skin. Don’t let them believe our bodies are inherently bad. Don’t let men use them as an excuse for their own actions. The more we stick together and refuse to be divided over something as simple as clothes, the harder we are to conquer.
So go throw on that dress that makes you feel sexy, or that jumper that makes you feel cosy. Go out with your head up knowing that your body is yours and no one else’s. How you chose to dress is not a reflection of your character or worth.
For anyone that says otherwise just remember: not your body, not your business.
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