Monday, April 27, 2015

Product Review: Skirt #1

Thanks to the article linked here and to Jenna Talackova for her courage.
To set the scene for today's conversation, ask yourself if you were more or less likely to click through to this post based on the fact that there was a woman in a bikini in the thumbnail. The commodification of women's bodies in US culture is well-documented. If you want to argue this point, don't bother reading further. Go google it and come back in a week or so when you've read 1% of the material out there on the subject.

What I hadn't noticed is the strength of the collusion on the subject of not just women's bodies, but anything marketed to women that might have even a remote relationship to appearance.

In beginning this project, I had to lay out what the skirts would look like. I wanted a skirt that I felt was gender-neutral by all standards outside of the fact that it was a skirt. A second skirt I'm going to use during this project is from another culture and is a skirt that is typically worn by males in that culture. And the third essential skirt is the kilt. Partially because I have to have a skirt that I can wear to things like my kids' band concerts and not have it become about me, and partially because the kilt asks different questions of the skirt project. The goal is not to dress like a woman, or cross-dress, any more than a woman is cross-dressing when she wears pants. It is interesting to note that pants have become "gender-neutral," which really just means that women have to become men in order to be normal or neutral.

For the gender-neutral skirt I went to REI. I knew I wanted a skirt that was a knee-length black synthetic mix knit fabric that had enough weight that I didn't have to worry about it flying up, but was still light-weight enough to enjoy what I anticipated as one of the joys of wearing a skirt: ventilation and lightness. We should probably take a breath after that last sentence. The english teachers and grammar wonks in my head are collectively screaming at me.

Reeking of privilege...but it says its fair trade!
Shopping in the REI women's department is not normally a strange experience. As a homemaker, I buy stuff for the women in our house all the time. But despite the familiar feeling of REI that normally exudes the comforting aura of the potential for adventure, I hesitated this time before my foot left the winding yellow brick road and crossed the thin rubber threshold at the edge of the carpet under the racks that made up the women's section. I went right to the clearance rack because I knew that in spite of having a small REI dividend to spend, I didn't want to spend a bunch on the skirt. There were two skirts that fit the description. One was the right length, but size small. Massive understatement. It was a legwarmer. Seriously. I could have worn it around my thigh. Maybe that's the next project. The other skirt was size extra large. That'll be too big, for sure. I kept looking around the department. After not finding anything, I returned to the clearance rack, went item by item, and decided out of due diligence that I should at least hold the extra large skirt up to my waist. Shock.

/end rant

Seriously. Can someone please create a clothing line that names the sizes after something fun, instead of naming them after judgements? I want a clothing line with sizes named after flowers or herbs or colors or anything other than XL or a number. Yes there will have to be a translation the first time we buy, but based on the responses to the rant above from the folks who regularly shop women's departments, I'm guessing there might be something to this...

Back to the review. No pockets. WTF. Where am I supposed to keep my phone, wallet, and keys? Which brings us to another commodification collusion. I have to buy a purse to keep that stuff in. And then I have to fill the purse with other stuff. And on and on. Our daughter refuses to buy pants in the women's department for this exact reason. She likes pockets. This is actually the least coercive explanation for no pockets that someone has mentioned on this subject. The other one is that they make hips look too big. Appearance again. More commodification.

So after all the ranting and stupid, what do I like about the skirt? Yep to ventilation and lightness. When I'm not out in public, there's something really freeing about it. There's a flow to this skirt that really just doesn't happen with pants or shorts. Cool stuff.

So how does all this effect the Great White Male?The root of this project is something I noticed years ago: the commodification of women leaves men invisible. Men are not meant to be consumed by our eyes. The evidence for this is everywhere. There are exceptions, to be sure (the gay community really illustrates this), but unless a man is playing a power role, he is not meant to be viewed. Folks in the LGBTQi Qmmunity are often very familiar with this phenomenon because our reality blurs the entrenched binary gender system constantly.

Try this: Walk down the street and take note of how many people look you in the eyes. Note their gender (or rather, your perception of it). How is the eye contact different between viewer and the object being viewed? How is it different between male and female folks that you see? When do you smile during this mini-exchange? Is the smile compulsive for you, or part of an intentional communication? How does this experiment differ from your usual habit for engaging folks on the street?


  1. I'm Royce's wife. I fear that Royce will like this skirt so much that he'll keep it--not because I don't like him in a skirt. I do (surprisingly). He looks oddly monastic. Or like an ancient monarch or warrior or something. I guess all of his LARPing has had an effect. He plays a monk and hits people with foam swords on weekends. Anyway, my BIGGEST fear is actually that he'll like the skirt so much that he won't let me have it at the end of 30 days. Seriously--when does ANYONE find a nice Prana skirt on clearance?

  2. Product Review: this skirt has no pockets. Since Royce seems unwilling to carry a purse, backpack or fannypack while doing this project, that means he's carrying his wallet, phone, keys, etc. in his hands. This then requires other people to either hold his things for him or do things for him, since he has no hands free. Never thought about how empowering pockets can be or how a lack of pockets creates either a need for a purse (comidification of women) or dependency.

  3. As the person who often carries my partner's stuff, my turn: welcome to my world :)