Criticising Women for Criticising Women: Clothing Choices

Last week my housemate wrote an article for feminaust in which she carefully dealt with the inevitable feminist challenge of criticising a woman for criticising a woman. SO in the great tradition of carry-ons here at feminaust I’m going to dive right in and do some criticising of my own and possibly make it a regular spot, coz you know it’s always fun to get your criticism on!

Recently I’ve been overhearing, reading and drawn into, conversations about how leggings really aren’t pants and that women shouldn’t wear them as pants. During these conversations a lot of hyperbole has been thrown about concerning it being a federal crime, causing an epidemic of camel toe and the general distaste and disgustingness of the trend. In the interests of keeping the peace, I have to say that many of the people who have been participating in these conversations are people for whom I have a great deal of respect. Sadly however, I have absolutely no respect for their choice of language when it comes to the question of lower, outer garments. So, in much the same way that I would stand up and denounce or refuse to accept the validity of a racist or sexist comment, I’m going to start attacking the trend of attacking women’s wear. I stress however, that I’m am attacking the behaviour, not the people doing the behaviour. I am a strong believer in “playing the ball not the woman” to use a bad sporting analogy. Or in other words, this is not a personal attack on anyone. It’s a response to a concerning social trend which I think needs to be addressed.

My problem with this style of conversation is simple and it comes in the following points:
  1. No one, not anyone, has the right to tell anyone else what they can and can’t wear, do or don’t look good in or what is or isn’t appropriate clothing for doing the shopping. This is a fight feminists have been having since before the word existed. It continues to be the key element of debates about issues as diverse as fat shaming, sexual assault, workplace discrimination and sexism in politics. If you don’t think leggings are pants, then don’t wear them as pants, but don’t tell anyone else that they can’t choose to.
  2. Women, should be the last to start the criticism game and yet so often are the first (um, perhaps this article is a case in point!). Late last year on feminaust we kept linking to great articles about the importance of more girl love and less of the jealous and unnecessary girl hate that goes around. There’s enough awesome-sauce for everyone, no need to get protective of yours!
  3. Shouldn’t we be celebrating the diversity that we see around us? If I said something along the lines of “someone needs to head down to Sydney Rd to let a lot of these ladies know that a hijab is actually not a hat” there would undoubtedly be either deathly silence or my friends would tell me they thought it was a bit inappropriate. We hear about “political correctness gone mad” and “reverse racism or sexism” but in my mind this is [insert mainstream cultural group here] bashing, just like bogan bashing. And I think it stinks.
  4. Lastly, and this is basically my personal life mantra. Does my comment add anything positive to the universe? Does insulting women at Prahran Market and their choice of outer leg garment improve the world, make it more interesting, create further understanding or improve chi? And will it hurt me to not say it? If not, is it really worth it?
Leggings wearers may not constitute a social, cultural, sexual or any other sort of minority, but they deserve the same respect as the rest of us.
Image taken from ClaudiaCD‘s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License
This entry was posted in Original comment/article by MsElouise. Bookmark the permalink.

About MsElouise

MsElouise is a community programs worker and feminist from Melbourne Australia. She likes to travel, write, rant and make people feel uncomfortable about their assumptions. She hopes to one day be remembered for changing the world just a little bit. Right now she does this by proving that teenage girls are a higher order of beings.

9 thoughts on “Criticising Women for Criticising Women: Clothing Choices

  1. I read an article about fifteen years ago about how women over a certain age and weight shouldn’t wear tops that showed their midriff. Fat girls and women, should at all times, hide, in anyway possible, that they are fat. If anyone finds out you are fat, you must immediately proclaim to be on a diet. Two days later I saw a chubby, lovely teenager out with her boyfriend wearing said revealing top and showing her lovely chubby stomach. I wanted to hug her out of gratitude and bravery.

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  3. APPLAUSE! (Catching up on my reading!)

    I’ve written about this subject myself – not only is it judgey and inappropriate, but it’s bloody classist, ableist and sizeist as well. There are a lot of people who wear leggings/tights in whatever way they do for practical reasons . Because the fabric is soft, they’re easy to pull on and off, they fit a multitude of shapes and sizes and they’re affordable at the least.

    Until they’re trying to force those items of clothing on our own bodies, we’ve got no right to comment or judge.

  4. I saw a picture once of a woman at walmart who, instead of putting on a shirt, simply tucked her breasts into stretchy pants that were pulled almost up to her chest. I recently, also at walmart, saw a girl with nude leggings on. It took an entire minute before I figured out that she wasn’t naked from the waist down.

    I think this is less about-for me, obviously-about the leggings themselves than about what is or is not appropriate in a public place. I do not think that boys should go about without shirts on doing their shopping, nor do I thinks girls should either. If one or the other look attractive to me, I’ll be oogling them, but that doesn’t condone their lack of attire to pick out strawberries or get some detergent.

    • Interesting point Shlee, however my issue is that no one person has the right to decide what is or isn’t appropriate for public. I suppose we can all accept the no nudity unless is a specially designated space clause, but once you get beyond that opinion is very divided as to what constitutes appropriate attire.
      My issue with this debate also stretches to the classist, abelist and fat-shaming elements of the way that people talk about women wearing leggings. In the end, in order to a) not inflict my personal opinions on others and b) not let others do the same to me or anyone else, I have to take the open stance that individuals have the right to make their own clothing choices and not to be judged by them. The alternative is that one particular group of people (usually those with the loudest and most eloquent voices) gets to choose what is or isn’t appropriate for the rest of us. Which for me is a slippery slope situation.


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