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“Always wear cute pajamas to bed; you never know who you’ll meet in your dreams.”
I painted that quote on a canvas last summer, and now it’s hanging up by my bed. While visiting my room, some of my friends have eyed this quote with disdain. To them, the message it conveys seems silly, too “girly”, and even anti-feminist. Why would I allow my clothing choices to be dictated by my hopes of attracting a man? Am I implying that women’s bodies exist solely for the enjoyment of men? How can I be a feminist and care about how men view me?
I have two responses to these accusations. First off, reread the quote. Where does it say anything about a man? Don’t make assumptions.
And second, there’s nothing wrong with a woman dressing a certain way to attract potential partners. Using your looks to exert autonomy over your sexuality can be incredibly empowering. The real problem lies in women feeling obligated to cater their appearances towards others’ wishes, even when they don’t want to. But if a girl willingly chooses to wear makeup or put on a special outfit in the hopes of catching someone’s eye, she should be proud of her decision. It’s her body, and she should be able to decide how to present herself without feeling ashamed of how she might be perceived as anti-feminist.
Female empowerment can take many different forms, and women shouldn’t feel like they have to defy traditionally feminine stereotypes in order to be “good” feminists. Feminists are often thought of as having to be career-oriented, incredibly assertive, and uninterested in more “traditional” activities like cooking or knitting. But the truth is, anyone can be a feminist, and you don’t have to wear a pantsuit everyday or throw out your apron to make the cut. In fact, ranking “girlier” traits as inferior and undesirable reinforces the idea that there’s something inherently weak about being a woman, which feeds back into sexist stereotypes that only serve to demean women.
A woman’s power lies in her ability to choose. It’s not what she decides to do, but rather that she has the autonomy to make her own decisions. She should embrace this power by making choices that enable her to live her best life, whether they fit gender stereotypes or not.
Some women wear makeup to attract potential partners, and that’s just as valid as wearing makeup solely to feel beautiful in it. Moreover, some women choose to not wear any makeup, and that’s valid, too. A woman climbing the corporate ladder deserves just as much respect and recognition as a woman who stays home to manage her household. A woman doing construction work is just as powerful as a woman working in a bakery. A woman who breastfeeds is just as capable as a woman who chooses to feed her baby with a bottle. Long hair is just as great as short hair. Hot pink heels and a floral dress can be just as empowering as a blazer.
We need to stop judging women for the valid choices that they make about their own lives. Not only is it condescending and disrespectful, but it’s also directly opposed to the values of feminism. True feminism lifts people up and encourages them to live freely and authentically, not to hide their true selves in an effort to break stereotypes and be “good” feminists. Moreover, all true feminists have a duty to extend this philosophy to all, regardless of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other trait.
There’s not one way to be a woman, so choose what fits you best at any given time. Some nights, I’ll don my leather jacket and knee-high black boots to go out for a night of independent badassery. Other nights, I’ll put on my brightest red lipstick and a soft pink A-line dress, hoping to impress a special someone. Or maybe I’ll wear that same pink dress to be an independent badass, because screw your gender stereotypes.
And when I return home from my nighttime escapades, I’ll open my dresser drawer, reach past my boring oversized t-shirts, and pull out my cloud-printed shirt and pants set. I’ll feel the gentle surge of power pulse through me as I slide on my cute pajamas and slip into dreams of Mrs. Right. No one can take that power away from me.
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