Feminism, Politics, Fashion & You
Here at esa, we call ourselves the “Lady Gang” - and rightfully so, for we were started, and function through the loving care and fiery passion of women. At the center of our core values, is this idea of feminism. Feminism is a word that till this day creates quite a stir once uttered. Through this series we will be exploring fashion and the role it has/is playing in the feminist movement.
The fashion industry tends to be quite a divisive topic amongst feminists because of the overtly sexual and objectification of women that occurs across all popular media. Now more than ever, it is critically important that all women are supporting all women - no matter their race, religion, or gender.
Feminism that supports the LGBTQA+ community and all women of color is a more recent concept. This kind of feminism is often referred to as intersectional feminism, coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who explains “There are many, many different kinds of intersectional exclusions ― not just black women, but other women of color. Not just people of color, but people with disabilities. Immigrants. LGBTQ people. Indigenous people,” she continued “The way we imagine discrimination or disempowerment often is more complicated for people who are subjected to multiple forms of exclusion...the good news is that intersectionality provides us a way to see it.” Although, before we delve more into intersectionality in feminism, we must start at the beginning.
The first wave of feminism in the early 1900s, was momentous but not inclusive. One can look back and think of the suffragettes fondly but their racism should not be overlooked. Yes, they did gain voting rights in 1920, although they did so specifically for white women. Suffragettes of color like Sojourner Truth weren’t included in the popular movement and African American women were not granted the right to vote until 1964.
As with all movements, symbols are chosen to represent the values and traits, whether it be a song, flag, or uniform. During the suffragettes’ famed rallies, members were encouraged to wear certain colors in solidarity with the movement. As Cally Blackman explains, “The suffragettes’ colour scheme, devised in 1908 by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, co-editor of Votes for Women, was an early triumph for fashion branding. Suffragettes wore purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope” White has often been used as a color to represent purity, which also furthers beauty stigmas that women of color still have to combat till this day. Suffragettes tendency to try and win over votes in the political landscape that was the American south by using the color white as a symbol of white supremacy, is not a detail to be overlooked. American suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, is known to have said: “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.
For women of color, holding these suffragettes in high-esteem with the knowledge that these first-wave feminists were not supportive of their rights proves to be a challenge. In a photoshoot to promote her new film Suffragette, Meryl Streep and her co-stars wore t-shirts that stated “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave”. Many felt it was disrespectful to lump the plight of white women with the horrors endured by slaves. Critics have also “...called the campaign tone deaf, in part because the T-shirts inevitably bring to mind the Confederacy by pairing the words 'rebel' and 'slave', but also because of the uneasy history between the feminist and black civil rights movements."
The questionable practices of the suffragette movement were brought back into the limelight via the last presidential election. Many democratic women went to the poles to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election dressed in “suffragette white”. Immediately, women of color were quick to point out the racist sentiments in that gesture. The clothing that powerful women in politics wear are constantly analyzed for deeper symbolic meaning. Hillary Clinton was often speculated to be paying homage to the suffragettes with her multiple all-white pantsuits and even her purple pantsuit- which she wore for her concession speech. Throughout election season democratic women were even showing up in suffragette white to various Donald Trump rallies, speeches, and events in protest; displaying an obvious reference to what was once the feminist uniform, in hopes to see the first woman president elected into office.
The use of a color as a sign of protest is seen again and again throughout history. For example, at the most recent Golden Globes, actors and actresses wore all black to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual assault. Whether you think this accomplished anything or not, the #metoo and #timesup movement has helped brave souls to come forward and tell their stories. This sense of community and belonging, to know you’re not alone is vital to continue the movement towards equality for all.
The coming years are bound to be full of uncertainty, but we all have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those who tried to fight this fight before us by being inclusive and supportive of all women no matter their race, gender, socio-economic class, education and other axes. Audre Lorde once said “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” So let’s continuing celebrating our differences and using art forms like fashion to create waves of change through self-expression and in that, we will leave something quite beautiful and tangible for the next generation.
Till next time,
esa Lady Gang
Written by Aurora Hinz & Souhair Kenas.