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Women who dress cute

Clem Bastow
Published: February 26, 2013 - 11:59PM

Ladies: looking for a way to indulge your internalised misogyny but running out of places to apply it? Good news! It’s once again cool to attack other women’s personal style! This time around it’s women who want to be “cute”. Ooh, don’t it make you mad?

Yes, earlier in the month (it took me a few weeks for my eyes to stop rolling enough to see the computer screen, sorry), Hadley Freeman unloaded in a Guardian column designed, evidently, to remind adult women to act like adult women:

To paraphrase the Bible (forgive me and my heathenish ways), when you are a child, you speak as a child and you dress as a child. But when you become a grownup, you put away childish things and among those things are the following: hair bunches; hair bands or slides that are clearly made for five-year-olds; mittens in any pastel colour; tops with writing on them in general but especially writing that refers to the wearer as ‘girl’; shoes with animal faces on them; and most of all, any item of clothing designed to make the wearer resemble an animal.”

Ok, Hadley, having endured your column I would like to quote (not paraphrase) Edmund Blackadder: nah.

It’s an argument we seem to see offered by “feminists” with worrying frequency these days: stop being so feminine, you’re ruining it for the rest of us.

The argument’s candy-coloured bête noire is Zooey Deschanel, who has evidently undone years of women’s lib because she likes floral frocks and playing her ukulele. Earlier in the year, Deschanel herself reached the limit of what she could take as the alleged destroyer of feminist worlds, telling Glamour magazine: “There is not an ounce of me that believes any of that crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a f--king feminist and wear a f--king Peter Pan collar. So f--king what?"


The underlying theme of such criticisms of “girly” fashion tends to be a cod-feminist notion that it’s bad because surely it’s all done for the appreciation of men (you know, men don’t like powerful women, so they must think girly girls are super sexy).

For the most part this is bunkum because in fact you could argue (and many do) that determinedly “cute” or hyper feminine styles of dress are in fact designed specifically not to appeal to the male gaze.

Don’t forget, it’s usually men who roll out the same old body-policing nonsense about women being “more beautiful” when they’re just wearing a t-shirt and no makeup; do you really think that they’re going to be super jazzed by carefully applied and heavy doll-like makeup and a frilly frock?

I can tell you straight that on the nights I have worn pink-on-pink makeup and girly clothes I have more often been called a “drag queen” to my face by men than I have been inundated with tokens of affection.

Check out the comments on photos online of Lolita fashion, Nicki Minaj at her most hyper-feminine, or really any woman who doesn’t subscribe to the so-called grownup notions of sexy glamour that Hadley Freeman et al espouse: there’ll usually be a boatload of men complaining about things like “too much makeup” (and that’s the polite ones).

Additionally, hyper-feminine and girly styles of dress such as Lolita tend to be inclusive of a wide variety of different body-types and ethnicities (Lolita Muslimah Sugarnoor regularly blows my fashion mind online); surely something that we, as feminists, are meant to celebrate.

In a thoughtful response to criticism of Lolita fashion on Jezebel a few years back, Ellie Frye argued, “It's not, as some commenters have suggested, some sort of appeal to men's expectation that women should be childlike, or an attempt to pander to pedophiles. Pedophiles like little girls. They don't like grown women who happen to like dresses with cakes on them.”

Compare that to Freeman’s condescending rant: “Stop fearing adulthood by dressing like a child and stop thinking that you should make yourselves all ickle wickle with no opinions of any value because you're just a little girly-girl in your animal hat with attached paws.”

Guess what, Hadley? Adult women can dress like intergalactic porcupines should they so desire, it demonstrates approximately nothing about their personal politics or ability to exist as a functioning adult.

As the popular internet catchphrase goes, “feminine is not anti-feminist”. Criticism of “girly” or feminine styles of dress often betrays a considerable vein of misogyny; girl hate masquerading as grown up rhetoric or feminist commentary is still girl hate.

Aren’t we beyond policing other women’s personal expression in 2013?

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