Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feminsit Fashion: What about the workers?

I stumbled upon the old post from Feministe entitled Lipstick Feminism and Dressing the Part Which discuses beauty and fashion as it tends to be debated amongst feminists and others:

"Beauty as power is something that is taught to every young girl. Common adjectives that are used to compliment girls often refer to how pretty, sweet, or kind that they are. Very seldom do we reward girls for their intelligence, assertiveness, or passion. As a child becomes a woman she internalizes the idea that is what is most valuable about her, is her physical appearance."

"Feminism has engaged with beauty on many levels. Some feminists feel that performing beauty even to gain personally is internalizing the male gaze. Others feel that the daily ritual is a sign of their autonomy in that they actively chose which beauty procedures that they will adhere too and which they will reject based on personal desire. The debate between the lipstick feminists and the I will not subject my body to social discipline feminists has been waged since the 1970′s.

What is beauty without the finery and the flash? Each season the fashion industry deploys an army of models to inform us how to best maximize on our feminine whiles. One simply cannot be caught wearing the wrong shade, or sporting a purse that is the wrong size. On the other side of the equation, you have women that are blissfully unaware of the fashion trends and dress for comfort over style. These are the “utility women,” who find power in thwarting the seasonal call to the mall. Utility women take pride in dressing only in what makes them feel comfortable, while at the same time voraciously attacking their dolled up sisters as patriarchal dupes."

However then the piece goes on to note that this debate ignores the greater implications of fashion and beauty - whether one chooses to buy designer or shop at a retail discount store they are still participating in the impoverishment of other women who work in the factories where these goods are produced.

"When women who are middle/upper class engage in a debate as to whether an article of clothing, or makeup is suitably feminist what they are ignoring is that they are in a position to engage in this particular conversation, because they exist with class privilege."

According to The Feminist Majority Foundation, “Women make up 90 percent of sweatshop laborers. Women are paid as little as six cents an hour and work ten to twelve hour shifts. In many instances overtime is mandatory. In some cases, women are allowed only two drinks of water and one bathroom break per shift. Sexual harassment, corporal punishment, and verbal abuse are all means used by supervisors to instill fear and keep employees in line.

Many of the companies directly running sweatshops are small and don’t have much name recognition. However, virtually every retailer in the U.S. has ties to sweatshops. The U.S. is the biggest market for the garment industry and almost all the garment sales in this country are controlled by 5 corporations: Wal-Mart, JC Penney, Sears, The May Company (owns and operates Lord & Taylor, Hecht1s, Filene1s and others) and Federated Department Stores (owns and operates Bloomingdale1s, Macy1s, Burdine1s, Stern1s and others).

Several industry leaders have been cited for labor abuses by the Department of Labor. Of these Guess? Clothing Co. is one of the worst offenders – Guess? was suspended indefinitely from the Department of Labor’s list of “good guys” because their contractors were cited for so many sweatshop violations.

Other companies contract out their production to overseas manufacturers whose labor rights violations have been exposed by U.S. and international human rights groups. These include Nike, Disney, Wal-Mart, Reebok, Phillips- Van Heusen, the Gap, Liz Claiborne and Ralph Lauren.

The argument is clearly more important than whether one is dressing to please oneself or others. There is no denying that basically any purchase you make comes at the exploitation of women. Why is this dialogue missing from both the feminist and style communities when we talk about fashion?