Feminism, Politics, Fashion & You

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.
— Audre Lorde

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 sexuality.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

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 dive 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 trying to win over votes in the political landscape in the American south by using white as a symbol of white supremacy should not 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.”

The Manhattan Delegation on a Woman Suffrage Party parade through New York. (Credit: Paul Thompson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

The Manhattan Delegation on a Woman Suffrage Party parade through New York.
(Credit: Paul Thompson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

 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 enslaved black women. 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.

photo: http://www.history.com/news/woman-in-white-hillary-clintons-suffragette-tribute

photo: http://www.history.com/news/woman-in-white-hillary-clintons-suffragette-tribute

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.

#timesup at Golden Globes, 2018  photo: http://www.bioneers.org/timesup-golden-globes/

#timesup at Golden Globes, 2018

photo: http://www.bioneers.org/timesup-golden-globes/

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 continue 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.


Edited on March 1, 2018

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Dastagir, A. E. (2017, January 25). What is intersectional feminism? A look at the term you may be hearing a lot. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/01/19/feminism-intersectionality-racism-sexism-class/96633750/

Dionne, E. (2017, August 18). Many Famous Suffragists Were Actually Working to Advance White Supremacy. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.teenvogue.com/story/womens-suffrage-leaders-left-out-black-women

Fields-White, M. (2011, March 25). The Root: How Racism Tainted Women's Suffrage. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/2011/03/25/134849480/the-root-how-racism-tainted-womens-suffrage

Grady, C. (2018, January 06). The black outfits at the State of the Union are part of a long history of protest fashion. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/1/6/16855888/state-of-the-union-2018-black-outfit-protest-metoo

Holland, B. (2016, October 21). Woman in White: Hillary Clinton's Suffragette Tribute. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from http://www.history.com/news/woman-in-white-hillary-clintons-suffragette-tribute

Miller, H. (2017, August 11). Kimberlé Crenshaw Explains The Power Of Intersectional Feminism In 1 Minute. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectional-feminism_us_598de38de4b090964296a34d

Monet, D. (2017, August 02). Fashions of the 1960s: Mods, Hippies, and the Youth Culture. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://bellatory.com/fashion-industry/Fashionsofthe1960sModsHippiesandYouthCulture

Sanghani, R. (2015, October 06). The uncomfortable truth about racism and the suffragettes. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11914757/Racism-and-the-suffragettes-the-uncomfortable-truth.html

Reporter, D. (2015, October 06). Meryl Streep lambasted over 'I'd rather be a rebel than a slave' T-shirts promoting film that critics say whitewashes the women's suffrage movement. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3261464/Meryl-Streep-lambasted-d-rebel-slave-t-shirts-promoting-film-critics-say-white-washes-women-s-suffrage-movement.html

Seals, G. (2017, May 25). Why Women Are Wearing White to Cast Their Vote for Hillary Clinton. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.teenvogue.com/story/hillary-clinton-supporters-wearing-white-vote