Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Can feminists wear taffeta?

A letter to Wendy Squires in response to her article.

Dear Wendy,

I thought it was a joke: a columnist’s reverie of sequinned decoration and shimmering spangles. 

When you said you believed women (and men) need finery, elegance and an outing with “our decorous inner selves”, I smiled.  I read to the end in anticipation of a reassuring punch line.

But, astonishingly, you were serious – even when you said “young women want to dress up; they want to have princess moments,” you were serious.

I know this because our exchange on Twitter left no doubt.  If I wasn’t convinced by “it’s called an opinion; we’re all allowed one”, I was when you tweeted “I don’t want to engage with you any further; you women given feminism a bad name”.

So I have contemplated, with great remorse, the ways I bring feminism into disrepute.

My nails aren’t painted?  I don’t like the races?  I avoid high-heels?  I rarely, consciously, opt for “ladylike”?  That I don’t tell my daughter that it “feels good to look good”?  That I don’t take her to the ballet in a flouncy skirt wearing pearls?

I guess I give feminism a bad name because I questioned your intent, and whether your writing advances women.

Sorry.  I mean that.

I am sorry for imposing on your writing a purpose it did not have.  You are right: it is nice to look nice.  Millions of women agree.  And why not say it.  I shouldn’t have denied your right of expression.

But I was disappointed.  I wanted you to interrogate the fantasy of feminine, floral niceties.  I wanted you to tell the seven year old with glittery shoes that there is more to life than taffeta.

That is the message I try to impart to my ten year old, the girls I have taught, and myself.

Throughout history and most cultures, women are allowed to, if not expected to, dress nicely: nothing too short, too low, too masculine, too rough, too tight, or too radical.

No one will stop me and other strong minded women from turning up to a party, or a race day, in a frilly floral frock.  I probably would find that I enjoyed it.

But plenty of people have tried to stop women from undertaking other ventures – like running companies, becoming a government minister, serving as a pope.

I don’t want to give feminism a bad name – and I don’t think I do.  But I do want to question why girls are still expected to have dreams of looking nice.

I have dreams for my daughter: that she will never experience violence or discrimination on the basis of her gender; that she will be able to follow her passions without being dismissed or disrespected because she is female; and that she won’t feel the need to go to the races or dress in high-heels if she doesn’t wish to.

Feminism is about choice: women being able to make choices regardless of gender.  Wendy, I am glad you and other women have the choice to dress in finery and enjoy the races.  No one will ever prevent you from exercising this choice.

Many women do not have the choices they deserve. But you undoubtedly know that and that was not the focus of your writing.

You are lucky enough to have a column in a major news-outlet.  Most women do not.  I was hoping you would use your position to help give more women more choices – then we can all celebrate by enjoying a day at the races, if we wish.

With best regards,


Monique, 10

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