Perhaps you remember where you were when you first discovered that “wife” had become a four-letter word.
True, it was not quite as obscene as the horrific title “housewife” but once upon a time certain women decided that “wife” was derogatory, insulting, demeaning and offensive. Said women did want to get married, but, if you asked them whether they wanted to be wives, they would respond indignantly: What do you think I am?
While it received less opprobrium, the word “lady” was soon placed on the list of banned four-letter words. It was banned from polite conversation because it supposedly diminished and weakened women. How could a strong, empowered female person ever allow herself to be called a lady? The merest utterance of the term would cause Betty Friedan to rise from her eternal rest and smite you.
Of course, America still has a First Lady. For my part I cannot understand why the night riders of the thought police have allowed this archaic misogynistic term to remain in use. If they have, it’s because many of our most recent first ladies have tended to play down the ladylike in favor of the personhood.
In fashion terms this means that they wore pants. They especially wore pants to the annual White House Easter Egg hunt. This year, however, in a radical break with tradition, First Lady Melania Trump wore a dress that seemed, to the New York Times fashion writer, to be ladylike. The horror! The horror!
Well, to be fair Vanessa Friedman did not exactly use those decidedly unladylike terms. She simply remarked that Mrs. Trump’s dress had broken with tradition.
You might guess that I did not find this little nugget of information by trolling through the New York Times fashion section. I owe it to the highly estimable Annie Holmquist of the Intellectual Takeout blog. (Via Maggie’s Farm)
Friedman describes Mrs. Trump’s dress, as follows:
Since the Easter Egg Roll was revived under Betty Ford, most of the first ladies who have hosted the event wore suits, or at least jackets, suggesting it was a professional commitment. Hillary Clinton displayed her penchant for rainbow-colored pantsuits when she was host, resplendent one year in buttercup yellow, another in grass green. When the Obamas were in the White House, they significantly relaxed the rules, the president often going without a tie or jacket, and Michelle Obama most often in pants with a J. Crew T-shirt or cardigan and Converse (one Tracy Reese floral dress excepted). The message was one of a new, more relaxed, modern and active era.
Personally I like the image of Hillary Clinton “resplendent in buttercup yellow.” I take that as a sign of advanced imagination. Have you ever in your life thought of Hillary Clinton as “resplendent?” And, have you associated her with “buttercup yellow?” If you have, you need a lot of help.
As Holmquist pointed out, Friedman is remarking that Mrs. Trump manifests a more feminine approach to fashion and to self-presentation. You would have thought-- and if you are a good feminist you still think-- that Friedan had driven a stake through the heart of femininity. And yet, there it was in the White House, at the Easter egg hunt. Another unwelcome revenant.
Friedman is too ladylike herself to engage in derisive rhetoric, but you get the picture.
Holmquist continued to explain that in our gender neutered day dressing like a lady, and even looking feminine, is seriously disrespected in certain quarters.
And yet she asked—and this is the most salient point— whether women, especially professional women, deprive themselves of respect for not dressing like women. If women dress like women it signifies that they are happy to be women? Does a woman who likes being a woman go around mimicking male behavior? Since the feminist Weltanschauung holds men to be malignant abominable creatures, why wouldn’t enlightened modern women be rushing out to buy clothes that did not make them appear to be imitation men?
You may recall the brouhaha that erupted in England when a woman decided to go to war against a dress code that strongly recommended that she wear high heels. By the correct feminist reasoning, since men do not need to wear high heels, women should not have to do so either.
One suspects that it’s not the heels, as much as the notion that women should be more ladylike and more feminine. I am awaiting the demonstrations and protests against the shoe manufacturers who produce these instruments of torture. And yet, considering how much women love shoes— case in point, Carrie Bradshaw—one suspects that this one conflagration will be a long time coming.
In any event, Holmquist wrote:
The fact is, women are free to wear anything they want these days. But I can’t help but wonder: Do many women deny themselves the respect they are craving by the way they dress? Is it possible that women who embrace their femininity and are unashamed to dress in a respectable, gender-specific way, such as Melania Trump exhibited the other day, are actually ahead of the pack when it comes to earning that respect?
Of course women are free to wear what they please. So are all the non-women out there. And yet, women, like men, are judged by the way they present themselves. Their attire shows how they want the world to see them. The psycho notion that no one should care how the world sees him or her should be thrown on the bonfire of the high-heeled vanities.
Do women command more respect when they dress more like ladies? Do they lose respect when they pretend to be one of the guys? Does a more virile appearance suggest that they do not know who they are or do not like being what they are?
I suspect that they do. But, then again, what do I know?
I suggest that we do better to discuss women’s issues in terms of fashion than in terms of reproductive anatomy. Why does it happen that any time the nation has a conversation about women’s issues the focus is directed below the waist?
Why does anyone imagine that women will receive more respect for wearing pussy hats? Yes, I know that pussy hats are fashion forward these days. They make a statement— I do not dare to imagine which—but do they command more respect for professional women? Which puts women in a better light: an ankle-length dress or a pussy hat?
No, that is not a trick question.