The Male Gaze: Women Don’t Dress for the Approval of Men, We Dress for Ourselves
One of the great delights of the modern world is women’s fashion and how it allows us to experiment with clothing, we get to declare our individuality through fashion and have a blast whilst doing it. Women’s clothing and what it means to men has become a hot topic (and a thorny issue) lately, reinforcing the connection our dress sense has to our reputations. The clothes we wear send messages to our friends, family, and the wider world. There is a toxic culture at play where women’s bodies, clothing choices, and personalities are being policed largely by men. Prejudices and assumptions are made about a woman’s character based on her outfit choices, typically sexualising and objectifying her. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion whether we like it or not, thats just a fact of life. Women don’t dress for the approval of men, we dress for ourselves – and it’s about time we made that clear.
Ask the general male population what they like to see a woman wearing, and they’ll probably make jokes about something form-fitting or wearing little to no clothing at all. Men pay attention to what women wear whether they admit it or not and develop a taste for a certain style and dress sense, but thats not the issue here. The problem is stereotyped opinions are formed about a woman’s personality and character and conclusions are made from the way she dresses without getting to know her. So any woman who dresses out of the ordinary, or who strays a little bit far from conventional clothing can be penalised as a result. There are countless cases of sexual abuse where men have stated ‘she was asking for it’ because of what a woman was wearing, how is it that this is the power balance we’ve created in the 21st century? What women choose to wear should not make them victims or targets for abuse in any way shape or form. Condensing the complexity of women too what they wear is damaging and harmful, we shouldn’t have to dress to impress and should be free to wear whatever we like – and the default reaction to our clothing choices shouldn’t be to judge and assume. Ask yourself, how would you want to be treated according to what you wear?
In many feminist theories the male gaze is the act of characterising women from a masculine heterosexual mindset that sexualises and objectifies. Society has become conditioned to seeing women as objects and not as people, and that needs to change. We constantly try to categorise women and put them into neat little boxes according to age-old stereotypes, personally I’ve never had time for it. When the tables are turned however and we begin to question mens fashion choices making generalisations about them, the hypocrisy of the male gaze is revealed. Women’s character should not come into question if we choose to dress or behave in a way that goes against societal norms, and we should not have to tone down our style for fear of offending our male counterparts. If I want to wear skin-tight latex trousers and a mesh bodysuit, so what? Or if I want to wear dropped-crotch trousers and a baggy hoodie I should be free to do just that, and I shouldn’t have to suffer any backlash because of it.
We have an intimate connection with clothes, it links how we feel inside with who we are on the outside. If you’re going to spend your hard-earned cash on clothing, you may as well like it. Don’t spend money on something you don’t like for another’s approval. Society cannot handle women taking back control over their own bodies and image, movements like Slutwalk have redefined the connection we have with our appearances and women are standing up to those who exploit them to meet their own superficial needs. We are reclaiming our power when it comes to what we wear and how we present ourselves, women do not exist to cater to the approval of men. Whatever you think about fashion and a woman’s style; women should all have the freedom to choose what they wear on their own terms.
Contrary to popular belief, women don’t pick their outfits each morning to please men. No matter how much we think we may have moved forward, the same attitudes remain towards what a woman chooses to wear today that did decades ago. We need to revaluate the way we police women and their bodies, and start respecting women’s decisions. If you feel comfortable in your own body, your own skin, in whatever it is you choose to wear, then thats gold. We look our best when we feel good in what we wear regardless of outside opinions, let’s try and keep it that way. Not everything a woman does is for a man – so you do you girl, always.
Written by J’Nae Phillips
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