I’ve taken to yelling “Do your thang, girl!” at women that I perceive to be dressed excellently in public spaces. Accompanied with a sassy snap of the fingers, my little ritual makes me both proud to put a smile on a woman’s face and simultaneously, very worried about the evident descent of my mental health.
In any case, this little thing I do serves as my attempt to push good energy into the world on a daily basis as well as a small manifestation of my positive woman-centric principles.
But lately, I’ve begun to think about my interpretation of ‘excellent dressing’ as well as the role it plays in plaiting a larger idea of ‘appropriate attire.’ What is the definition of excellent dressing and why should that have to be a pre-requisite before I encourage a woman to do her proverbial ‘thang’?
I realised that I had the conventional way of thinking. I was one of those women that could tweet quite whole-heartedly about which women should or should not dress a certain way. I had no problems forming imaginary rules about which attire I deemed appropriate for mothers and women over a ‘certain age’.
Until one day something odd happened. In the middle of a story my younger brother was telling me about a trip to the vet, he mentioned an ‘obviously elderly’ coloured woman that was wearing a mini-skirt and a halter-top ‘in broad daylight.’ As is common social routine, I understood that I was expected to join in with one of my ‘when was the last time she looked at her birth certificate before she walked into the clothes shop?’ jokes.
But this time I didn’t. Instead I heard my voice articulate the thought: ‘So, what?’ ‘Let her do her thang!’ it continued in earnest.
Who decides what is and is not appropriate for any woman to wear? Who was given the task of policing how grown women choose to express themselves in their own free time?
To me, the rules formed around the ‘appropriateness’ of women’s attire in relation to age are symptoms of a patriarchal society that has no problem shaming women into impractical modes of living. I began to look around my extremely hot country and feel sorry for elderly women wearing drapes of fabric as a means of remaining culturally appropriate.
I know nobody is forced to dress any specific way, and many times it is women that are prone to judging each other quite harshly over dress-code. But what I want is a shift in our mentality. I managed to do it. So must you.
It is alright, I suppose, to subscribe to certain fashion-rules, but the minute they cross the line into the policing of women’s choices we have to ask ourselves some very stern questions. If your fashion rules involve thoughts like ‘no woman over 35…’, or ‘has she no shame dressing like that, as a mother?’, or ‘I wouldn’t wear that at her age’ you have crossed the road from fashion-conscious-ville to anti-woman-town.
We must recognise the root of this mode of thinking. It begins in a social structure that places a man’s tastes at its centre. When we judge other women for dressing ‘sexy’ at an old age what we’re doing is subscribing to the pattern of thought similar to that of a man that thinks, ‘If I’ve got no use for your breasts and ass, cover it up.’
What we are doing is admitting to ourselves on some subliminal level that it is ok for us to believe that if a woman is no longer viewed as attractive by society it is time she retires her short skirts and low-cut tops because no-one needs to see that.
We are then no different from King “Don’t dress inappropriately, unless you’re fifteen years old and vying for a place in my kingdom as Wife Number 15” Mswati and company.
I hope we can all begin to question where our interpretations of common ideas come from. I hope we begin to demand more from ourselves.
We must demand higher levels of thought from each other as well as ourselves. The root of all our judgements must be examined thoroughly so we know where our ideas about the world really come from.
Feminists are not immune to patriarchal thought. Intelligent women are not incapable of subscribing to archaic principles. Progressive men are also not completely free from the tendency to regress to sexist ideology. We must simply start to be aware of these things. Critique them. Ask ourselves whom we allowed to decide what we believe and don’t.
This was a huge lesson to me. I had to examine the part of my mind that saw an overweight woman in a tight dress and cringed. I had to critique the voice that said ‘Who let that mother out in shorts?’, in order to wrench my freedom back from the grips of patriarchy.
Cellulite and stretch-marks don’t rid a woman the right to dress as she pleases. Why do we behave that way?
Is it because we have allowed our minds to view women as sexual commodities with an expiry date? Is it because we take pride in knowing we follow the rules of fashion-patriarchy like good little girls? Is it because we hate women that have the courage to give no damns about the rules?
Either way, I know this isn’t about Fashion.
And I know damn well they’ll have to yank my favourite shorts off my dead elderly corpse. Because to me, wearing shorts is about comfort. It is far from an attempt to treat society to a view of my youthful legs as a reward for discouraging anyone without youthful legs from wearing shorts.
What about you?