Is man repelling high fashion really feminist?
- Published: 13 February 2011
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On her blog The Man Repeller Lendra Medine posts pictures of high fashion that are bizarre and designed to be completely unappealing to heterosexual men. Is the act of choosing not to dress for men purely feminist, or is this Man Repelling movement simply the domain of class privilege which entails the implicit approval of the workings of the fashion industry? Erin Stewart argues how labelling this movement as ‘feminist’ may be pre-emptive.
13 February 2011
A ‘Man Repeller’, Medine writes on her popular blog, is someone who dresses “in a sartorially offensive way that will result in repelling members of the opposite sex”.
Possible ways in which a woman might do this are through the gratuitous use of shoulder pads, harem pants, clogs and full-length jumpsuits. For more examples of potentially ‘man repelling’ outfits, one only needs to visit Medine’s blog, or watch one of the Sex and the City films.
Some articles have hailed Medine’s work as absolutely feminist. Supposedly, it’s all about not dressing to please men but instead dressing to show an interest in fashion, to pledge allegiances to favourite designers and to just wear things that they find cool or interesting. These girls and women are essentially uninterested in the opinions of men. This is meant to be empowering.
The Harvard Crimson reports:
‘The Man Repeller,’ started by Leandra Medine, is her colorful confessional of why all her on-trend clothing from jodphurs to double denim is far from concerned with flattering the body and thus far from helping her love life.
Similarly, the New York Times writes:
“I think she tapped into something here,” said the blogger’s mother, who was leaving for a yoga class. “She is relating fashion to feminism. She is saying women dress for themselves.”… [she is] proudly obstructing the male gaze by disguising her body with androgynous or intimidating silhouettes.
The benefit of this, according to the New York Times is that it allows Medine and other women with similar taste to ‘filter’ men who are ‘superficial’ for rejecting a woman on the basis of her outfit. It also means that Medine gets to express her taste. \
But isn’t there a way to do this without spending so much money?
Regardless of the perceived feminist nature of ‘repelling men’, the movement is undeniably classist with its suggestions that you need to constantly buy stuff. This mode of feminism is utterly restrictive.
Very few women can actually afford the kinds of clothing that are apparently ‘setting women free’ of the male gaze. Designer garments cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, with one clothing item sometimes costing as much as the total value of an average woman’s wardrobe.
Medine, who lives on Manhattan Island in New York, is hardly a spokesperson for the woman with an average salary.
The Star reports:
Medine adores, swoons, purchases and is inspired by most of the trends she writes about. Medine shops at Zara, the Mecca of Man Repelling… Her father owns a string of Caribbean jewellery stores called Goodmark, catering to the cruise-ship trade, and picks up the tab for some of her indulgences.
Few women in the world have such luxuries.
On top of the classist nature of this phenomenon, it also fails to truly challenge the fashion world, which to some extent is responsible for many of the worries women, regardless of class, face in their daily lives.
The fashion industry regularly discriminates in terms of size and race of models. It promotes the ideal of ‘the perfect body’ which is impossible to maintain for most of the world’s women, and yet necessary for enthusiastic participation in adorning designer outfits.
Illustrating the complexities of ‘man repelling’ in terms of empowerment is not to disparage those who identify themselves as part of the movement, but rather to point out that there are difficulties in saying that it is ‘feminist’ in a hierarchical socio-economic context and given the fact that the fashion industry has been largely responsible for systematically oppressing women.
Erin Stewart is an Associate Editor at the Scavenger.
Image: Via Man Repeller