thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘fashion’

What Beyoncé Wore

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Sarah T.

People have a lot of thoughts about Beyoncé’s Superbowl outfit.

A Huffington Post headline screamed, “Beyoncé Goes XXX at the Superbowl Halftime Show.” Conservative corners of the blogosphere fretted that Beyoncé was too sexy for the Superbowl, as well as, presumably, her car (too sexy by far). Meanwhile, some feminists and cultural critics–including people whose opinions I respect very much–expressed disappointment with the way Beyoncé’s wardrobe catered to the objectifying male gaze.

I’m not surprised that conservatives dredged up beef with Beyoncé. If the goal is for all female musicians to act and dress like pretty pretty wholesome-family-values princesses, obviously lots of them are going to fall short. (Although Beyoncé really is remarkably apple-a-day wholesome: Besides being one of the most successful performers alive, she’s a devoted wife and mother, friend to the Obamas, and ready to fight childhood obesity with the power of the Dougie.)

Reactions on the other side of the ideological fence, however, took me aback. It’s not that I disagree that part of the point of Beyoncé’s outfit—a leather bodysuit with lace accents, fishnets, and knee-high boots—was to emphasize her sexual allure. But her costume didn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary for a pop star. Nor did her dancing seem particularly risqué. Because she is Beyoncé, she obviously looked like a blazing blinding goddess of beauty, but beyond that her appearance seemed like nothing to write home about. She definitely didn’t look XXX to me.

Partly, I’m sure, this is because I’m immersed in a culture that objectifies women all the time. My sensitivities on this issue are probably dulled. But I also didn’t spend much time thinking about Beyoncé’s outfit because I was too busy cheering for her awesome lady guitar player, and for the reunion of Destiny’s Child, and for her all-women-of-color band–a first in Superbowl history. And now that I have devoted more time to contemplating Beyoncé’s Superbowl outfit, the main thing I’ve concluded is that it’s counterproductive to spend time worrying about what other women ought to wear. Read the rest of this entry »

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To Make Fit Again: C.K. Mak’s “The World’s Most Fashionable Prison”

In Documentary, Film on November 13, 2012 at 7:22 am

Guest Contributor Paul B.

Given the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival’s historic penchant for extreme sport videos, the screening of Singaporean C. K. Mak’s recent documentary The World’s Most Fashionable Prison was a pleasant surprise. Even more surprising was that a queer prison-film should turn up in Arizona, a state infamous for its privatized, for-profit prisons and merciless lawmen such as Maricopa County Sheriff Arapaio, whose treatment of inmates has been roundly criticized.

Today, “rehabilitation” has shed its Latin coifs for the much hipper “rehab,” but its migration from penal discourse to addiction says less about a change in alcoholism than in prison policy. Not only are almost 1% of US citizens imprisoned (.78%, to be precise), but purgatorial sentencing, privatized prisons, and a greater than 50% recidivism rate each conspire to keep them there. With few exceptions, rehabilitation has low priority with both public and policy-maker discourse where the bottom line is prison costs.

Though The World’s Most Fashionable Prison doesn’t explicitly address US prison issues, its title invites comparison and discussion of global incarceration, of which the U.S. leads the charge. What does it mean, then, to claim that New Billibid, the largest maximum-security prison in the Phillipines, infamous for its gang wars and violence, is “fashionable”? In an obvious sense, the title refers to the plot. The film follows the flamboyant Filipino fashion designer Puey Quiñones as he teaches inmates how to sew and design clothes for their own fashion show. “Fashionable,” however, also conjures up the innovative, trendy, and unprecedented, and in this sense, the film praises Quiñones’ collaboration with the prison and prisoners as a pioneering exchange that demonstrates the potential of rehabilitation. Read the rest of this entry »

We’ll Eat Our Hats If Interviewers Keep Asking Hillary About Her Clothes

In news on August 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Recently, UniteWomen.org posted a picture of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her response to an interviewer asking what designers she wears. Here’s the text:

Hillary Clinton on what designers she wears:

Interviewer: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?

Hillary Clinton: What designers of clothes?

Interviewer: Yes.

Hillary Clinton: Would you ever ask a man that question?

Interviewer: Probably not. Probably not.

Probably not indeed. The Secretary of State is not the first woman to respond in this way to similarly dumb questions as of late. Anne Hathaway and Scarlett Johansson both recently made news when they called interviewers out for asking only about their pre-superheroine diets and costumes. And a few months back, Ashley Judd wrote a scathing op-ed wherein she slammed the Huffington Post for printing an article that discussed her puffy face. (She was sick! But that’s not the point). Judd pointed out the problematic reduction of female stars to their bodies and outfits, wherein their male counterparts are consistently asked to talk about character development, acting, and things actually pertinent to the film or TV show at hand.

Objectifying women is, of course, nothing new. The latest backlash, however, does seem to be new–and exciting.

Fashion is important to talk about: it’s political and meaningful. But why reporters ask about the Secretary of State’s clothing when it has no bearing on her job has everything to do with our society’s expectations about women, and the pre-set scripts we use to talk to and about powerful women.

Here are some of our thoughts on the recent trend of high-profile women calling out sexism during their interviews. Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments!

Sarah T: I love that the trend of women calling out their interviewers is drawing attention to the sexist underpinnings of seemingly innocuous questions.  On the surface, a question about your workout routine or who designed your blazer or whatever just seems so dumb it’s not even worth getting into. So I think in the past, women have tended to just gloss over the question, avoid conflict, and move on. And that’s a completely valid tactic. But I love the way Hillary asks the interviewer if he would ask a man that same question. She directly confronts the double standard of the topics the media expects men and women to talk about. Anne Hathaway takes a more sarcastic (and hilarious) approach when her interviewer starts prying about her diet and exercise, turning the tables on him and starting to interrogate him about why he’s so interested — “We need to talk about this. Are you trying to fit into a catsuit?” That makes me laugh so much. Read the rest of this entry »

Do What You Love: Bill Cunningham New York

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 6:48 am

My graduate school advisor had a lot of very good advice, true to her title. Most of it boiled down to a quote from philosopher and civil rights activist Howard Thurman that she’d hung on her office door:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

That quote–and my advisor–kept running through my mind as I watched Bill Cunningham New York, a 2010 documentary on the 80-year-old New York Times on-the-street fashion photographer.

Style, and the people who have it, make Cunningham come alive. During a Paris awards ceremony at which he is slated to receive a prize, Cunningham wanders around snapping pictures. “I just think it’s so funny that you’re working at your own party,” a guest remarks. “My darling,” Cunningham says, “it’s not work, it’s pleasure.”

What fascinates the gentle, stubborn journalist is fashion alchemy: how the right combination of shoes and hats and scarves and coats can produce a look that’s at once unique and expressive of a larger cultural moment. As his fondness for Anna Piaggi of Italian Vogue makes clear, Cunningham is particularly delighted by people who aren’t afraid to stand out in a crowd. It’s telling that he calls Piaggi a “poet of clothes” and that he frequently describes the fashions he sees on the streets in terms of classical paintings and symphonies. In clothing, Cunningham sees beauty, art, democracy, history, travel, community, and self-expression. His gift is to show everyone else how to see those things too.

Watching the film, I kept taking mental notes on how Cunningham has located, and preserved, real joy in his work. Two of the key elements, I think, are his egalitarianism and humility. Not only does he protect those qualities in himself, he infuses them into his corners of realms famed for their elitism–New York society, the Times, and fashion.

Read the rest of this entry »