I dress ‘for men’ – and it doesn’t make me any less of a feminist
To dress with the male gaze in mind is not to ‘play along with it’, by any means. It’s to challenge it
by Serena Smith
OK, I don’t dress to please men when I’m dragging myself out the door wearing baggy trousers and my dad’s old hoodie on a Tuesday morning, glasses on and hair up, struggling to make it to a 9am seminar. Likewise, I don’t at 6pm when I realise I have no milk and throw on leggings and an oversized jumper to pop out to Morrison’s. I probably won’t either if I’m going to go for a girly dinner date – I’ll likely venture into ‘jeans and a nice top’ territory, but not with an eye to what men are thinking.
I will, however, often choose clothing to please men if I’m going on a night out. You can probably see me in Attic on a Saturday night in a low-cut crop top with a push-up bra for good measure, compensating for my boyish chest, paired with a figure-hugging black pencil skirt from H&M. Everything one size too small so it wraps around my body as close as cling film. I know I’m encouraging men to look at my freshly-shaved legs when I squeeze into teetering suede heels, and I’m well aware of the seductive power of perfectly winged eyeliner.
And this doesn’t make me any less of a feminist. In fact, I usually feel at my most empowered when I’m dressed in such a way.
Women’s sexuality has always been a bit more taboo than male sexuality: guys can be frank about masturbation, watching porn, how much sex they have. With women it’s much less talked about: we’re essentially made to feel ashamed to be sexual beings, which can be incredibly stressful for younger girls going through puberty. Society tells them to cover up, be modest, and let boys come to them: their bodies meanwhile burn with repressed desire.
I hit puberty quite young – almost abnormally young. My mum told me not to tell anyone, that the girls at school wouldn’t understand yet, that it was best to ‘keep it quiet’. Already, aged ten, it was implied that getting my period – an event tethered to the beginnings of blossoming female sexuality – was something to be smothered, silenced. I remember so clearly how I dreaded getting undressed in the girls’ changing rooms, the youngest to wear a bra, and how I would often go and change my shirt in the toilet, embarrassed by something totally natural.
And my leg hair – dark, so it stood out – was the worst. Girls in my year would ogle the little hairs with such intensity that the shame became unbearable. I cut my legs rather badly one night where I took a razor to my shins with absolutely no idea what I was doing.
Whilst this is only one experience out of billions, there are so many girls who enter womanhood confused and ashamed of something completely normal. Whilst twelve year olds may not have the emotional maturity to run around having vibrant sex lives, openness and frank discussion about sexuality will mean that when the time comes, girls can put away these feelings of disgust and slovenliness and instead embrace the start of their sexual maturity in a safe and confident way.
When I go out in a glittery bodycon mini dress, it’s my way of saying, ‘why should I apologise for my sexuality?’ So what if I’m dressing with the intention of going out on the pull? To dress with the male gaze in mind is not to ‘play along with it’, by any means. It’s to challenge it. It’s giving the finger to the patriarchy: ‘I can be sexual and not be an object. I can be sexual on my own terms’.
And why is being sexy seen as synonymous as being trashy? Some women feel empowered by dressing modestly – which is 100 per cent cool – but what about those who find it empowering to sling on some heels and red lipstick? Where is there room in society for women to be sexual by their own choosing and not be ‘objects’ of the male gaze? Why should women constantly feel the need to apologise, to cover up, to smother their sexuality and hide away that which is most beautiful and natural about them?
The only way to challenge this is to bite the bullet and wear what you want, despite what society screams at you. It’s not ‘trashy’, ‘classless’, or ‘un-ladylike’ – whatever that means – to wear that top with the risqué cut-outs. So, whip out that dress that makes your curves look amazing, get a Jaegerbomb down you, and go out there and challenge the patriarchy.