While my son’s religious yeshiva recently invited mothers to an evening of mother-son learning, my daughters’ mixed-gender school decided to hold an event for women that revolves around “styling.” The flier reads: “Dear community chaverot (meaning either female members or female friends), you are invited to a unique evening on the subject of ‘Style Together’ ….”
Some apparently famous fashion writer/stylist will be lecturing on the subject of “How to use fashion to transmit social messages,” followed by tips on dressing for image and personality or whatever. The flier is brightly adorned with silhouettes of tall skinny young women wearing flared mini-dresses and high heels, with flowers in their hair. How fashion sends social messages, indeed.
I can imagine the protests already, before I’ve even started explaining why this is so upsetting to me:
What’s the big deal? It’s just a fun evening. Don’t we all want to dress well anyway? Isn’t this useful information? Practically every school has fashion-show fundraisers, so how is this different? Come on, why are you being such a stick in the mud? This is why people say feminists are too serious. Let women have their night out. It’s just a night for women to get together and bond — like going for manicures
(Suddenly midrash manicures don’t look so bad — at least they have a midrash component).
The reason why this is all wrong is because the evening is being billed as an opportunity to teach women how to do life better — and it’s all about appearances.
Once again it is gendered. It’s an event teaching women to equate success with our bodies. The message is that despite all women’s achievements, despite our attempts to be valued for our minds, to be treated as equals politically and economically, to do away with sexual harassment and abuse, to get the world to see beyond the thinness or sexiness of our bodies and made-up faces and respect us for our spirits and intelligence, here we are, reverting to the age-old message that our value in this world is a function of our knees, our shoulders, our sensual poses, our smiles. Bat those eyelashes, ladies, swing those hips, dress for success….(Insert image here of me with an open mouth and a finger pointing to the back of my throat).
This is just backward! The message is so retrograde that I feel like I’m an episode of “Mad Men.” I mean, we might as well have Betty Draper here teaching us how to get what we want without getting a single crease or smudging our mascara.
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is a feminist thought-leader, anthropologist, and writer whose research and ideas help shape a vision for a compassionate society. She has published five books on gender in society, and today helps women amplify their own voices and find their power through Lioness Booksand Media. She coaches women through the writing process, edits, and ghost-writes women's books, and publishes women's writing through Lioness. She also speaks and consults with groups and organizations around the world on gender issues and women's experiences in the world. Would you like to schedule a chat? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org