I have not always considered myself a feminist. The reason is this: I didn’t like the connotation the word “feminist” once had. To a younger Cecilia, it brought up images of women dressed in manly dark pants, baggy or even ratty t-shirts, all in overly dark tones, sleeves rolled and fists in the air, heads shaved throwing bras and makeup into a fiery pit. In contrast, I wanted feminism to be resonant with what is feminine. To her, feminine things were dresses, large bows, and lipstick, all in bright colors. Now that I am sixteen and am writing myself into a world positioned according to a hierarchy in favor of the man’s man, I realize how necessary feminism is to changing our society. I realize that what’s feminine to me now reaches far beyond the pink Barbie enamored of her Ken, i.e., what mainstream media taught was girly. And I liked those dolls a lot.
Unlike my jean-wearing, glow-sneakered childhood friends, I always wore a dress. Dresses felt more special. This specialness I now think derived from my sense of femininity, in being able to dress in a way a man does not. Chanel was the designer who changed how women could appear. Women were no longer constricted to corsets and unspeakably bowed and ribboned hats and to-the-floor dresses. Chanel dressed women in loose-fitting, shorter, more “masculine” dress-suits and hats. This change in fashion broadened the scope of what a woman could be — a prime member of the workplace, a sexual figure, an intellectual.
Even today, the “beautiful woman” is dressed primarily by men. The top designers: Gaultier, Lagerfeld, Margiela, Kors, Lauren, Jacobs, Ford, and McQueen are all men. McQueen, my favorite designer, really honed his collections on creating a woman who is striking, thoughtful, and sensual. This, along with unbelievable vision, a tour de force of tailoring, an insightful grasp on the human physique, and a sensitivity to the usual limits of beauty, made him a great feminist. McQueen famously said, “I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.” However, there is not a woman designer today I am familiar with who carries the same feminist mission McQueen had. Instead I see women dressed on the runway more manlike.
Now I wonder if the images I remember associating with the disliked word “feminist” were trying to make women into men. This was a false equality that attributed the success of man to masculine characteristics. However, men and women share characteristics of strength, creativity, and intellect along with many others. I am not sure that the scope of the runway should hinge to either extreme of woman’s dressing (highly traditionally feminine or totally masculine) when aiming to make a feminist statement because feminism is a range of both. The woman customer, whether she be an androgynous dresser or more typically feminine, is contributing to the strong intent of the feminist movement. Feminism is a movement based on exceeding the limits forced on women in a man’s world. It is not a mark against feminism in either way if you dress traditionally girly or more androgynously, it is rather a personal preference that is stretching out the waining definition women once had to live by.
Perhaps the connotations attributed to the word “feminist” alone have a contributing factor to the still slow-growing equality of the sexes. Acne Studios released two collections, one for men and another for women, both with slogans such as “”Please Call Me Girl,” “Gender Equality” and “Radical Feminist.” “Radical” is the missing word to changing the connotation of feminist. “Radical” implies a new and interesting strong change. “Radical Feminist” is stitched onto my Acne Studios scarf in the pictures below. “Radical,” even without being followed by the word “feminist,” holds the connotation I would like to be associated as “feminist” to young girls. “Radical” is the form of feminism I proudly call myself and is the connotation needed to create true and lasting change.
My Look: Acne Studios Radical Feminist scarf, Jack Wills tweed dress, S. Ritter NYC Designs rock ring, TopShop booties, and my locket