February 25, 2017

No real way to #DressLikeAWoman

In redefining womanhood, we perpetuate the same problem we’re trying to solve

Kasey Caines argues that the hashtag #DressLikeAWoman has negative effects that contrdict its intended purpose.
While the #DressLikeAWoman hashtag attempts to promote equality by showing that woman and their dress can’t be reduced to a single description, it doesn’t confront that defining women is in itself problematic. 
 
A recent article by CBC News discussed how the hashtag #DressLikeAWoman took over social media after it was recently revealed that American President Donald Trump holds his female staff to a strict dress code.
 
It was reported by individuals working closely with Trump’s campaign that he expects his female staff to “dress like women”, a statement that’s highly problematic not only in its sexist connotation, but in supposing that there are certain characteristics that define womanhood at all. It implies possessing a set of traditionally feminine qualities, and in doing so distinguishes a certain sphere of society in which these qualities can be neatly placed.
 
Stars such as Brie Larson have since stepped up, coining the “Dress Like a Woman” hashtag to advocate that a woman isn’t defined by a particular set of traits, and therefore can’t be confined to a particular code of dress.
Upon reading this article my initial response was to ask, “if someone is expected to dress like a woman, then what does it mean to be a woman?” 
 
This question is seemingly answered in the various careers the article features women in, depicting them as astronauts, athletes and doctors, all positions that illustrate them as active participants in the workplace.
 
A related Forbes article, titled “Working Women Respond To White House Dress Code Report With #DressLikeAWoman Campaign,” reported that, following Trump’s statement, “working women and their allies across genders took to social media, both to balk at the notion that there’s any one way an entire sex should dress and to show off their own professional attire, from surgery scrubs to army fatigues.” 
 
As in the CBC News article, it depicts Twitter posts of women sporting the various forms of dress standard they are held to in their careers, none of which depicting one specific way in which they are expected to present themselves at work.
 
However, we can see in both articles that while the hashtag is being widely used by females seeking to oppose Trump’s sexist beliefs, these posts aren’t entirely inclusive. It primarily promotes working women who reject traditional gender roles and strive for equality in the workforce, however in doing so it shifts the definition of womanhood rather than eradicating it altogether. 
 
Although the hashtag emerges from the good intention of eradicating a standard model of what it means to be a woman, it fails to acknowledge that defining “womanhood” itself is problematic. Instead, it seems to do little more than shift the view of what womanhood entails from that of a traditional woman to a working female.
 
This poses additional issues in a day-and-age where gender restrictions are rapidly collapsing. A woman can no longer be defined by the physiological capacity to bear children, and is now a term that encompasses a wide demographic in the LGBTQ+ community where womanhood is embraced as a quality of being, not of physical body.
 
When people imagine what it means to be a woman in the 21st century, the image of strength and independence comes to mind. We picture women fighting for the same equality in modern society that men have always possessed, demonstrating their unique, internal strength to close the gap between what it traditionally means to be a man or woman. 
 
We imagine women like Game of Thrones character Brienne of Tarth who blur the lines between male and female to show not only that a difference in reproductive system doesn’t mean a difference in ability or skill, but that women can excel and even surpass men in stereotypically male-dominated spheres.
 
To be a woman in the 21st century is to shatter the traditional understanding of what it means to be a woman 100 years ago — a wife, a mother and a figure lacking influence in the social and political world. As we see in these articles and twitter coverage however, this means glossing over the women who choose to define themselves by these more traditional standards.
 
Even companies such as Wildfang — that sells women’s work wear — are jumping on board, covering their Instagram page with diverse, innovative women alongside the hashtag and captions like “Hey Donald, was this what you had in mind?”
 
Featuring acclaimed women in this movement without a doubt contributes to expanding the parameters that women are traditionally defined in, however redefining womanhood — as this article does — isn’t enough: it’s simply shifting our definition while maintaining guidelines under which women are expected to fall. In doing so, a large portion of women inevitably drift into the limelight where their definition of who they are isn’t visibly acknowledged, which is exactly what the hashtag aims to reject.
 
In order to reject restrictions of what it means to dress like a woman, it means we have to reject defining what womanhood is at all, and in doing so reject the idea that there is a single way one gender should dress.
 
Kasey Caines is fourth-year English major.
 

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