Saturday, 26 April 2014

Fashion Revolution Day and The Girl Effect

Hallo again!

So first I am going to apologize for my rather infrequent blog posts. I have found myself very busy with university, volunteering and day-to-day adventures and I have been finding it very hard to squeeze in the time. I also struggle with an anxiety disorder which means that a lot of the time I just can't bring myself to do things, even if I genuinely love them. So thank you for being patient!

 I am amazed by the reaction my posts have gotten though, particularly my last post. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and to comment, it has been an incredibly uplifting process. I feel like I am on the most amazing roller-coaster recently. Along with this blog and my Gender/ Anthropology degree, I have also been volunteering with The Trading Circle, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to trade women out of poverty with dignity and respect by providing sustainable, fair work. We have women working for us all over the world who make the most amazing clothes, fashion accessories, home-wares, toys and more. By focusing on women (92% of our producers are women), we are focusing on the majority of people living in poverty; at current, the accepted percentage of women making up those in poverty stands at 70%. Even if this statistic is dated (I'm not sure if there has been a major review since the 90's), the gendering of poverty is evident in the work and education gaps between men and women around the world and the make-up of those who are working in unnacceptable conditions such as sweat-shop labour. At current I believe the working figures show that around 85% of workers in sweat-shops are women. 

So as you may have figured, today I want to talk to you about ethical fashion choices, the power of fair-trade and women living in poverty. All of the clothes I am wearing in this post (like all my posts) are either thrifted, gifted, hand-me-downs or ethically made. 

So as many of you may know, last Thursday was the first ever Fashion Revolution Day. One year after the collapse of The Rana Plaza in Bangladesh killed over 1100 people, the date will now be perpetuated as an ongoing fight for the fair and reliable treatment and pay of those working to manufacture all manner of clothing and fashion accessories. I really wanted to make a post about this on the day, so I could be as topical as I could possibly be. When I didn't find the time, my initial thought was "well, I missed the boat here". I quickly realized just how ridiculous that was. Fashion Revolution Day should exist not only as an annual event but should carry over into our everyday consciousness. A day, international media attention and a #hashtag is a fantastic beginning (if this is the start of your fair-trade fashion journey), but the choice to buy clothes which are fair-trade or thrifted should be one that we attempt to make #permanently

My bag is from Cambridge and Co and my rain boots are PipDuck- I have some questions about PipDuck below.

Note my use of the word "attempt". I am going to be the first to admit that this can be easier said than done, even for the most conscientious buyer (also-cheap, ethical underwear? I have taken to either going without in protest/pure comfort/style or to continuously borrow my boyfriends' boxers until I finally deal with the contents of my own laundry basket, which probably has its own postcode). At current, the legislation and regulation that exists within the clothing and fashion industry can act to limit our access to the information we require in order to ascertain whether a company is ethical or not. Par example, I have just tried and failed to find out how my PipDuck rain boots (that my mummy gave me) were made. The most I have found is one article claiming that they are Australian made, but I am so far mostly unsatisfied. If anyone has done a little more thorough research or just has an excellent knowledge of the rain boot manufacturing industry, please leave me a comment to highlight my inadequate google-ing. 

I found this dress at a charity shop somewhere last year, and this petticoat at an awesome retro second-hand shop.

It is evident to me that the unethical process of manufacturing in much of the fashion industry is not solely an issue of developed/developing world equality issues. It is a clear example of how intersectionality comes into play in all facets of power divides and social hierarchies. By intersectionality I mean the crossover of issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and other compartmentalising structures that exist to create boundaries and categories that limit the space of most, and augment the space of some. What I mean to say is that these (arguably fictional) categories act to maintain the power of those who fit some or most of these categories: white, heterosexual, educated,money-making, male. It may seem like I'm steering away from my point here, so let me backtrack. Around the world, there is a serious accessibility issue here, and right now I am going to focus on how this is a gendered issue

When most people living in poverty are identified as women, we have to ask why this is. 
Women statistically have less access to education, medical attention, fair pay and safe working environments around the world. This is largely down to the same boundaries I highlighted earlier, which to some extent act to keep women in their supposed place. Women make up most of the sweat-shop labour demographic, and this is largely because making clothes is simply seen as a women's job, or at least a job that is available to those with less education- again, statistically, largely women. Women in poverty are performing tasks that no one else will do, making things that the Western buyer kind of half believe appeared out of thin air with a "Made in China" stamp. And so many of these workers are not being paid a living wage- ie, enough to sustain life. 

There are ways that over time, we can work to reverse these systems of oppression. One of the most accessible and simple ways to do this is to change your wardrobe. Buy thrifted or fairtrade items. My good friend Annika from The Pineneedle Collective has already put together a fantastic Ethical Fashion Directory that has some wonderful and affordable brands in it. 

Overall, there needs to be huge systemic and cultural change. Because women and girls are at the bottom of  so many social hierarchies, massive change could result from switching patterns and making detours before the same old structures are continuously built. The Girl Effect argues that this change can come about from a 12 year old girl. Let me leave you with this video of theirs below. Watch it.

                                                                Give to The Girl Effect!

Thanks for reading guys! Please feel free to comment, I love to read and respond to everything you say. You're all really clever and awesome and funny and I think we should all be friends. Or at least follow each other on Instagram (I only got Instagram about a month ago and I'm already hooked). Find me by clicking this link: click!me!yay!pics!

All my love, Katie

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dresses, Tresses and Gender Messes

Hi! Nice to see you again.

So yesterday I spent a better part of the day running around in the rain with Annika, trying to take pictures without getting her expensive camera wet (we ended up resorting to tying a plastic bag over the top of the tripod, which I consider to be the hallmark of Annikas' scientific innovation). 

I wasn't really planning for my next post to be me in a pretty dress. It's been a while since I've really worn dresses, and the deeper I delve into the world of Gender Studies the more I have almost unthinkingly veered away from anything super feminine.

I want to know why this is. So I put a little thought into it. 

The issue of femininity is a contested one. Particularly during Second Wave Feminism, important figures like Germaine Greer, and earlier even with Simone De Beauvoir, spoke about the restrictions and limitations of femininity. So began the revolution of subverting the feminine, in an attempt to push past the percieved limitations of our gender. Arguably it was about finding power and was a liberation from the shackles of a long history of societal expectations and oppression.

And it was understandable. When I read theory about really normalised ways that women are repressed and limited, my knee-jerk is anger and a sense of solidarity. Yes! F*$#@ dresses! I dont need to monitor and supress and preen and perfect my body! Down with femininity!

Or something like that. What I mean to say is that there is this readily consumed idea that whatever is feminine is, in turn, limited. Passive, powerless, the all dreaded cute. It has been totally normalised, even if we're not entirely conscious of it. Think about the cliche "workplace" environment, the typical sitcom office space. Think about dress codes. Think pantsuits, think button up blouses, think blazers. These kinds of clothes align with our idea of what's powerful. Someone on my instagram posted a picture of herself today in a black, a-line dress that she had just been told was too 'unprofessional' to wear to work. It is absolutely the norm to consider something that is ultra-feminine as '"unprofessional" and something that has a history of being considered masculine as "powerful". 

(Annika and I are budding CEO's)

I think that there are problems here. I think that the first problem exists in the idea that masculinity = professional and powerful and femininity = unprofessional and uh, powerless?
I think that another problem exists in the idea that femininity is intrinsic to the female gender and masculinity to the male. 

Personally I think that my wearing a dress is hardly prohibitive to my ability to do an office job. Microsoft Excel is hardly going to flip up tables if I'm wearing a tutu and glittery heels.

( I like this picture because it looks like Annika is teaching me how to perform femininity)

also do not believe that femininity is an essentialy 'female' reality, and visa versa with masculinity. I am hardly naturally predisposed to like the colour pink, or to want to play with dolls or to have long hair. These things, I believe, are inherently cultural coded and are the product of years of performing in a particular way based on social norms and hierachies. I don't really think that our idea of what is feminine or masculine is something that is essential to our existence as a particular gender. And in turn, gender isn't either.

Last time I posted my favourite clip of Judith Butler, explaining performativity of gender. If you didn't watch it, scroll down a bit, it's great. Basically what she's arguing is that no one is a man or a woman, but that being a man or woman is something that we do. The kind of gender determinism that most people experience goes something like "I am a girl, so I am X, Y, Z". There is an essentialism here that is often not questioned. I think that if we are presenting ourselves in certain ways, it's not because we were built that way- it's because we are part of a continually layered system of cultural constructs and value. 

Basically what I'm saying, is that I don't think we are meant to be any particular thing based on how we exited utero. 

I think there is potential in 'reclaiming' femininity as a means of subverting what we think is powerful, important and valuable. That being said, it might be a while before expectations of what it means to wear a pretty dress change. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do your thing, in whatever you want to wear, and be whoever you want to be anyway. And eventually, society might catch up to you. Hopefully.

Anyway, that was basically my justification for wearing a pretty dress. Today I am wearing jeans, no shoes and no bra and the story continues. 

I hope you are all having a great week!

Love, Katie :-)

Dress is from Bonne Chance Collections
Pin is from Ginger Pickle 
Tights are from an opshop somewhere
Boots are Doctor Martens