underground since'89

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Not Into Fashion Shows...

so, the prospect of another fashion show at the capitol theater is about as exciting to me as getting another tooth pulled...it is reminding me of 8th grade cheerleading tryouts...and while i am used to being alienated by the world at large and the mainstream of indie rock, i don't like it that the thing that the women in my town work so hard on these days is centered around the buying, selling, making and wearing of clothes. i recognize that fashion is considered an art form, and (as previously stated) yes, sometimes i like wearing outfits too, but i am not someone who thinks owning a business or being crafty is in-and-of-itself radical. so while i am hesitant to present my harsh critique here (what i really think would probably offend you) i have to say, no i will not be attending the fashion show or dying the gray out of my hair or putting myself on display any time soon. i am glad that women are being creative together, but sad that i can't relate...oh well i guess. maybe it's time to re-evaluate what feminism is. hmmm.

as an afterthought I should probably mention that i do think a political usage of style, especially with regards to youth cultural movements, (see dick hebdige subculture the meaning of style or the writing of stuart hall) is viable and can be potentially liberating, though when it comes to girls, focusing so much on appearance is always going to be a double-edged sword...and fashion, as an industry, "diy", boutique or mainstream, is not compelling to me...to each her own i suppose...i know we all have to pay the bills and...i won't voice my critique of the music industry here either, but rest assured i do have one...yep.

when I was in middle school my mom told me I didn't need to shave my legs or wear a bra or make up unless i WANTED to. in high school I found that these "choices" were less than free--if you didn't conform to traditional grooming habits for women, there were consequences. as a young woman, I resisted this programming in different ways, only conforming when I felt it was really a choice or when it seemed to make sense to comply, i.e. job interviews or whatever.

in bikini kill we tried to make the construction of femininity--and resistance to it-- visible as part of our performance. we used style politically. unfortunately this 'style' was commodified and entered the market place in weird sanitized versions...somewhere along the line, "fashion" became "hip" and the trendsetters became trendy.

as an adult woman who will be turning 40 this year, i find myself thinking a lot about what my mom told me in middle school. when i realized i was spending a bunch of money dying my hair because it was turning gray and women are supposed to try and look young forever, i stopped doing it. when i dye it next time it will be because i WANT to, not because i HAVE to if that makes sense.

in all this worrying about my appearance, the fashion show doesn't make me feel happy, it makes me stressed out. fuck it. i want to read books and try to create a world free from war, racial injustice and poverty. that to me is what it's all about. i don't give a shit what you wear. sure it's better to buy local, but do we really have to think about it so much?


whatwewantisfree said...

I know we've talked about this before, but I totally agree. It depresses me that knitting and making your own clothing is somehow seen as a revolutionary feminist act. I just don't get it, how is it transgressive or empowering? Reading Bust and venus, who I feel exemplify this vision so totally really brings it home that I just do not relate to the current girlculture and that I don't understand how Riot Grrl led to such a product/business lady based idea of doing things.

whatwewantisfree said...

I wanted to say that I don;t mean to alienate girls who love knitting, I am sure hanging out with your friends and making things is a fun way to spend time and make you feel part of something cool... I just wish that girls were starting bands and fucking shit up in a more activist anti-patriarchal fashion

kanako said...

basically a large portion of the olympia punk show attending community minus maybe 32 people have spent the last 9 weeks preparing for this rad event. it's not the "fashion" show you are claiming it to be. you sound really uninformed about the event. no one is going to be parading around all dressed up acting like a fashion model. this is OLYMPIA. the flyer for the event, I LOVE YOU, does not have the word fashion on it.

I'm excited to see Mary Russel's (the lead singer of sonskull, a fucking awesome punk band) choreography and her army of dancers preform to dave harvey and Christine's musical collaboration. Erin Markey (www.myspace.com/erinmarkey) is flying in from LA before she flys off to NY just to preform in I LOVE YOU. Bridget has poured her self into her piece and has roped in a dozen people to help her pull it off. I could go on and on, I think there are over 60 people in the program.

I support you not being into fashion and wanting to spend your energy creating a world free from war, racial injustice and poverty. I also hear you wanting to live in a world where women are not judged for their appearance. word. how do we nurture that? how do we influence young/other women to not buy into the bullshit?

Tobi, so many people, women, respect and look up to you in this community. Your scaring them.

I don't think dissing an event that involves all women and queers and three straight dudes exploring the notion of "I LOVE YOU" is productive or necessary to your arguments about the way women are oppressed by pressures to look a certain way. It has however made some folks really upset that have spent a lot of time on this event, to the point where they called me at midnight and wanted me to read your blog. I wish you would go to the show and then discuss what you don't like about the show as opposed to reading about how your assumptions have made you feel upset. I like that you are an anti-fashion feminist, I wish you would join my fuck it all I'm going to where dirty old sweat pants for 7 months straight club. I dare you too. and I know you are not anti community/anti women's produced events so what gives?

also, one is more apt to have empathy for sweat shop labor if they understand what that work entails. to the point where you won't even buy anything new, except underwear, or by a local designer. RAD. Go order your boots off the internet and have some plane fly it over but don't buy it from your QB waitress that sits at her machine after work trying to make extra income to support her other ventures, like touring with her band.

Tobi Vail said...

Hi Kanako,

It is alienating to me and I'm expressing that here. If feminists can't disagree, then what is the point? I am informed about what it means to be a woman in this world and my belief is that it is not healthy or radical to emphasize fashion in this larger setting of patriarchy and the objectification of women (to sound really second-wave).

I understand those who disagree and in this community they are in the majority. If my dissenting opinion, written in a fanzine is 'scary', then maybe that is a good thing--if it makes people think about another's perspective.
This version of feminism does not speak to me. That is my point.

I do not wish to feel silenced. Any feminist community I would want to be part of would involve dissent, criticism and a lot of differences of opinion and strategies.

I have been feeling alienated by feminism lately and by the emphasis on fashion within feminism in particular, so I am writing about that here. I don't really see that I am creating a problem, but I feel like your comment is sort of scolding me, like I should support something that I feel alienated by, or else experience that alienation in private?

I don't really think you are that kind of person. I think that your friends and community have put a lot of work into this event and you are excited about it and want to support them/it.

I think that is fine.

But I don't want to support something that I find alienating. I want to explore that alienation and try to understand where it is coming from. Mostly I have done that in private or in conversations with friends. I have been careful to say that I think it's cool that women are being creative and working together despite my criticisms and I have also kept most of my harsh criticisms to myself, for fear they would be taken wrong out of context and maybe not be constructive.

But I will not be silenced! I know that is not your intention. If you think I am ignorant about the fashion show, that is fine. I will remain so because I will not be attending! I don't want to go! I want to walk around feeling invisible. I wish that were possible.

For some reason I get more unwanted attention from strange men in sweatpants than in regular jeans-though I do wear them around the house.

My personal stance is to resist any urge to conform to caring about my appearance as a woman unless it makes sense for me to do so (the benefits out weigh the costs, or the costs are not worth it) or I feel like it is my free choice to do so.

Unfortunately I rarely feel free in this regard. I most always feel monitored in some way. In my personal search for freedom in this realm I am rejecting 'fashion', even feminist fashion.

I am down with the no-sweat shop aspect of things, though some of the fashion people I know have their stuff made in China so I know that "DIY" or boutique-y fashion people are not always so "DIY" in this regard. I would guess Olympia is different, but the larger context of "DIY" fashion, is not that different i seems...

I hope that we can give each other room to breathe, as it is a small town...I'd like to feel that way. If people feel disrespected by my anger, maybe they need to take a step back and think about the larger picture--of a woman struggling to resist caring about being judged by her appearance, struggling to feel free to choose how she presents herself--and that we experience this struggle differently and will engage in it differently.

I can see that someone would see the fashion show as a part of this struggle. But to me, ANY fashion show is part of the problem, even if there might be room for subversion for some--the larger context is an emphasis on appearance, which I see as counter-productive and even potentially alienating (at least for some of us).

This is why I said "To each her own" but I do feel sad that I can't relate to this version of feminism.
It's not like I'm going to sit around moping or letting my anger or fear of conflict silence me. I am trying to move things forward--if even just in my own life. I know there are women who can relate to my alienation (hi Layla) and that means a lot to me.

My feelings on the use of style for political purposes is a little muddled here...I will write more about this later...as a lot of this relates to my own experience in Bikini Kill and how I can't relate to a lot of the version of feminism that resulted out of what we tried to do.

Anyhow, if the fashion show people are having a good time building their community and are serious about fashion as art or subversion or whatever, then they will feel good about it, right?

If my opinion matters so much, maybe that should also be questioned here, as I am just one woman, trying to live my life...and to navigate my anger and resist oppression with dignity and respect.

maggie said...

I understand. the fashion shows in oly were very foreign to me - I never could relate but it sure seemed like everyone I knew was a part of it. I don't know how to make clothes and I don't have any interest in doing so.
I do like to support local people making clothes and I totally get that a celebration of that is important to them. I just never felt a part of it and it did seem super alienating to me.
I am not totally sure why.

Joaquin said...

I don't know where I had the impression that the I Love You show was a "fashion" show either...maybe because it says "See the new spring line" on the flyer...also, I thought I remembered it being referred to that way when I first heard about it as a part of an OFS staff meeting when it was proposed...maybe not...even so...though I don't believe in dirty words, fashion is one of the words like capitalist, religious, spiritual, colonial, ethnic, class (as in "she's got 'class'") etc...that needs justification in order for me to care about if someone brings it up in a positive sense. And so, I can be prejudicial and really not be too interested in something referred to as a fashion show...I could give the whole litany of reasons for being prejudiced against the word and the idea, I'm sure we all could...but if I Love YOu is a show, performance otherwise then tagging 'fashion' as vehicle or accessory for that performance will do nothing but alienate people such as myself of a political bent that is opposed to playing into established market economies based on consumerism, to be sweepingly general, especially if that marketing strategy has been traditionally based on de-humanization...put in it's most poisonous, insidious light, there is the example of Malcolm McClaren, D.I.Y. fashionist, who recognized the punk movement and cynically decided to invent the uniform by which he could market HIMSELF as the inventor of punk and in the process sell the whole fucking thing out...and now we have the Good Charlottes and Avril Levines of the world...to my mind it's just marketing and promotion based on style...and actually in punk's case stealing someone else's style, the queer world of the 70's, that the straight capitalist parasite McClaren appropriated to make himself rich...this is his claim...I love when those fashions are reclaimed by queer punks and queer people though and I hope that if there is a fashion component to I LOVE YOU, that that style of subversion is what's in play...I give enough credit to the people I know and like that are in the show to trust that they aren't just replicating the dominant hetero-patriarchal-capitalist power structure in the "underground" or what ever we call it these days...I definitely see that resistance in Kanako's words regarding buying locally made and used clothes etc...even underwear!...that said objectification/de-humanization/capitalism posing as art has to be taken head on where it is suspected by the people it fucks over...and that's all of us...I don't know what this show is about because, I haven't seen it, but I see no problem in taking on the fashion element that it uses to market itself with...that's discourse, that's radicalism, that's feminism...am I allowed to say that? Yes! And the show goes on...it's not like Dworkin and Mckinnon are legislating against it.

kanako said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
missus sarah adams said...

Tobi, you haven't seen the show. It sounds like you have never seen one of my shows. It is weird that you want to judge it preemptively and have "harsh" critiques of something you haven't experienced. If the fashion shows in the 90s were dumb, I know. That's why I've tried to recontextualize them, to elevate fashion as art (I know that you understand this concept) by showcasing it in relationship to music and performance (valued art forms), and to arrange them around a topic and through a narrative. The shows have become....something else. SHOWS. Music hall. Variety. They honor the creativity in our town that is not produced though a drum kit, a guitar, and a microphone, which sometimes feels like the only acceptable punk format. They are awesome outpourings of radical creative energy. Collaboration, community, feminism in action. They have nothing to do with buying or selling clothes. I get that the commodification of craftiness as feminism is annoying via mainstream culture. All that bullshit is annoying to me too, which is why I left the words "fashion show" out this time. Because everybody makes assumptions about what that means, and those assumptions are boring. Your analysis is pretty boring. We all make hundreds of personal aesthetic decisions, just because we change our relationship with one (dyeing hair, wearing sweatpants) doesn't mean we transcend the experience of female objectification, though sometimes it feels that way, and can be personally empowering. That doesn't mean that I want to turn around and judge other women who groom themselves differently. Its all about whatever makes YOU feel good. Seeing you, as a preeminent feminist thinker in my community, criticize this event out of fear and alienation bums me out for both of us, but it doesn't scare me. I'm glad you've brought this up, because it is valuable discourse. Though I do feel that my work has been groundlessly disrespected. I really think you should see the show. I'd love to read a critique based on your experience of it. The critique presented here has nothing to do with I Love You.

Tabitha Says said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tobi Vail said...

hi sarah.

you are right i am making assumptions and joaquin (and kanako) are right i am prejudicial against what i perceive as 'fashion' or whatever i assume this show to be about

sorry my struggle to feel ok in this world (which is what i'm honestly using not wanting to see the show as a springboard to explore) resulted in an analysis that is boring to you...but it's not boring to me! this stuff is actually quite difficult for me to talk about and is something i've been writing/thinking about a lot lately so this is just the tip of the iceberg for me...

but you all are right-- i shouldn't lump everything in together. that is sloppy thinking... i guess i should disclose here that i don't like performance art generally...i don't like 'entertainment' for the most part, where i have to sit down and watch something...though i do like film, used to be a dancer and have in rare cases enjoyed seeing performances in a sit down type of setting...so i guess i shouldn't generalize (again).

as you might have guessed, the punk show is my preferred format. i love the chaos and thrive on music, even when it's bad and uninteresting, i can always get something out of it. i recognize that there should be room for other modes of expression, but they don't interest me so much...

i am still angry that there aren't radical feminist punk rock bands that rule every scene...and i hate the 80's pop culture vibe that permeates everything these days...some of this is a generation gap for sure....and me being at a stage in my life where i am beginning to process what it really means to become a middle-aged woman in a world so based on youth and female objectification. this is very emotional and painful for many women, as are the feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness we often have when we discover what that really means...this is something I have just recently started to consider and the anger and rage I feel at the world is really unprecedented...

i guess i'll have to think about it some more..before i really know what i am trying to say....but thanks for all your comments. sorry if my emotional outburst and personal alienation led to an unfair, sloppy analysis. that is really not my style...or maybe it is, ha. at least initially...

i would go to the show if i thought it would be something positive for me, but i personally feel i need to not sit in a theater and think about these things when i feel like screaming and kicking and crying about clothes and mirrors and the process of looking and being looked at and wish i could just disappear underneath an invisibility cloak most of the time.

i have been reading and spending time alone for the past few years and not really aware of how things might have changed since 2004 or whatever...but there hasn't been anything feminist happening in Olympia that I've wanted to be a part of for awhile now...and in its place, this is where people are putting their energy...so that is why the show is my springboard. i don't like to feel alienated from feminism in Olympia...but that is where i am at...not just with this, but generally. rather than silently freak out, i decided to post something here. i didn't think that would really impact anyone so much and was mainly just hoping to clarify my thinking, which it seems to be doing...but i don't think that speaking out about fear (if that is what it is) and alienation is negative...

thanks for your response.

Anonymous said...

hey I just wanted to say (in reference to the 1st comment above) that knitting your own clothes actually does have a point.for girls and boys. It's not a way we accept our opression, but we express our creativity and fight globalisation (all the sweatshops and stuff). I also don't have the best opinion about fashion shows, but I just think that everyone wants to express themselves by appearance- (eg with dying your hair) and what's a better act of individuality than wearing your own self-made clothes?

love, anna

Anonymous said...

BUT I believe that it is not good to make such a fuss about your clothes- like making fashion shows or something. there's more important things in the world and I think women shouldn't concentrate on such "occupation therapy".
(do you understand me?I'm from Austria+my English isn't perfect--)

Anonymous said...

... BUT of course I understand that fashion could also be seen as another art (although I rather don't see it as this) , and that we could not care about people saying that we accept the objectification of women by making fashion shows and stuff.

I think the problem is the question: when we are opressed and stop being ourselves and doing what we like, aren't we REALLY opressed then?
what if they force us to wear something and we hate them but wear it anyway cause we like it and screw everything else they tell us - do we resist then, or do we accept our opression?

I personally resist to do anything that fashion or role expectations tell me to do, just because it makes me PUKE to fit into THEIR picture.

when I see a fashion show, I am angry because: surely someone could watch it and acknowledge the women for their creativity, but there could also be others who look at the women as objects.
and it's pretty hard to find them all to kick them in the balls..

so I also like punk shows more, I like the really rancid punk self-representation of girls, because it pisses the right people off. (the fucking wankers out there). and I HATE it when those wankers start to like those girls without becoming anything different than wankers. (that's also why I hate it when bands become famous- cause dumb people listen to them then.)

okay, puhh.. I made up my mind about so many things now.

love, anna

Heather Moore said...

This dialogue is inspiring. It just goes to show that all the many forms of feminism are still under constant scrutiny and are ever evolving.

With that I also think there is much change/evolution that occurs when you expose yourself to expression of self/creativity. The more we conceal ourselves from what others are doing around us the less diverse we become as individuals.

It is the greatest form of flattery for another person to mimic something you have done. And we are all seeking to participate in the push and pull of our own identity against society. In some cases it is the best choice to say "dress like the masses" and in other cases it is better to "suit yourself". The point is that you are making that choice.

I love the story of a mother talking to her middle school age daughter and imploring her to make her own choices. This is exactly what I tell my 8 year old daughter and I can only hope the idea sticks really hard to her. While our mothers are giving us this great advice it is still our own individual job to decide what is best for who we are. Yes there will always be a multiplicity of forces at play, but some times these can be like fuel to a fire.

I can remember the fashion shows from back in the 90s here and what I loved the most was appreciating how people were expressing them selves in their clothing. These shows offer new takes on a piece of clothing that one can take away and use to morph their own self expression.

One last thought... Some of us here in this community like to keep our money here, and when you have the opportunity to see what people here are creating it is inspiring. It gives us a venue where to put our hard earned dollars. I like buying locally made/created clothes.

I also think of most music/comedic/spoken word/performance art as having an element of "fashion" or perhaps "costuming" involved.

Thanks for thinking

Erin Markey said...

Remember when Eve ruined it for everyone by putting on a loincloth? Fuck her! I suppose it's God's fault for using one of Adam's ribs to make her in the first place.


Thus, I Love You: The Spring Collection.

Tobi Vail said...

I feel a little scolded by some of the comments i've received, off and on blog, like I shouldn't be so critical or something and recognize that my disdain for fashion and fashion shows generally have influenced my thinking on this event in particular, which I admittedly know little about and am making assumptions about based on previous events I have attended at Ladyfests, Yo Yo etc. I'm also lumping together some of my feelings about this event in particular with discussions I've had with close friends who sell/make clothes as part of their art and commerce.

Still I think it's important to have these discussion and for feminists to be critical, rather than to have to support everything that they don't feel included in. I feel like it might be harsh to read that someone isn't into the idea of something while you are working hard at it and I recognize that it's easy to criticize something you have no stake in--I don't like performance art generally for example and have little interest in fashion as a medium--but it is not so easy to write about what you do like, or create something radical and collaborative.

So I guess I am trying to set forth my opinion but also acknowledge that while i respect being creative, I personally am not interested in attending an event of this nature. This may be reactionary, but that is a stage that is sometimes necessary to go through. I am experiencing a lot of anger these days and alienation from my community. In setting this forth publicly, I guess I am just trying to exist on my own terms. I know it won't win me any popularity contests. In fact just the opposite. I can live with that. I am pretty much a loner these days anyhow. Being totally unconcerned with social status aside, people do give my opinion more weight than they maybe should. I have often been advised to take responsibility for this and to pick my battles or choose my words carefully and even in this case, I do, have and will follow this rule. I sort of regret saying anything at all at this point. Oh well.

Heather Moore said...

Hey Tobi, Don't stop speaking your mind!

I get it that we all could use better tact with our thoughts and comments, but the most important thing is that people keep talking and sharing their personal truths. Its the best way for us all to be stimulated into thought and perhaps growths.

CO said...

"fashion prescribes the ritual according to which the commodity fetish demands to be worshiped."
Walter Benjamin The Arcades Project

this is statement is about the functional and objective nature of fashion. It has nothing to do with subjective intentions. But it does structure the world these intentions function in. We all function in this world because we make it.

Anonymous said...

I also think that honesty is more important than being tactful and polite. When the whole thing is based on mutual respect, then it's a wonderful thing. Every girl's (and boy's) opinion and feelings are important. We can help each other working out things and developing by discussing.

That's what I like about riot grrrl (as it appeared to me) so much: That it's so honest and you really get the feeling that you have something to say.

Tobi Vail said...

Thanks for all the comments mansikka....and to Heather for the encouragement and dialogue. I ended up apologizing for singling out this show in particular to one of the organizers, as I didn't mean to send negativity towards a group of people trying to organize a radical community based event...still I do have a lot of questions/criticisms and personal issues of "DIY" fashion and as it intersects with a feminism that doesn't speak to me as far as where I am at in my life and the issues I am dealing with as a woman.
I will continue to think and probably write about this in the future, though I will try to be more careful about how I present them--I hate having to support things rather than voicing my critique, simply because they are "feminist" because it reminds me of how silenced I felt during riot grrl and am perhaps reacting in some ways to that idea.

I don't think that everything women or feminists do needs to be supported and believe that criticism, difference and multiple voices should be heard on issues such as fashion.

I am particularly interested in exploring how 'fashion' relates to the objectification of women and unfair emphasis on clothes/appearance women face in this world (we are not given a choice that is free as our actions on this have consequences) and the economics of such matters. The economic question feeds into the larger situation of how DIY 'boutiques', logos/branding and buying/selling generally function within the larger capitalist system..this criticism would parallel a discussion of how independent labels now function as part of the music industry and question what this means in terms of corporatism generally, with regards to marketing and identity.

This all would interrogate the boug-y hipster-turned-yuppy culture we see in places like Portland or Brooklyn, where conspicuos consumption allows people to buy an identity of marketed self-expression via the indy-brands they consume from CDs to clothes.

This feeds into the situation of artists being at the forefront of gentrification and how this relates to development and big corporations marketing shoes for example by giving them to kids in bands and DIY groups writing jingles to get the licensing money and groups getting flown out to Paris to play fashion week...etc.

It's true I could offer a more reality-based critique had I gone to the show but I really was not interested in going for all the reasons mentioned previously. Instead I had a nice long walk around Olympia as the sun was going down talking with my best friend about radicalism and dissent.

Thanks for the dialogue everyone and again, sorry for sending negativity to people who were trying to do something positive.

I want to print the lyrics of Anger Means by 80's DC hardcore band Ignition here, but I can't be bothered to type them out. But in short: I know what my anger means.

Tobi Vail said...

anticipating further comments of people feeling attacked...not meaning to say that being a working class musician trying to make a living and employing diverse strategies for social change is the problem, nor is the situation of small business owners trying to challenge corporate rule and give their workers health insurance--rather trying to examine the larger capitalist system as a whole and question what it means to be radical and make a living, etc

Anonymous said...