(Un)Fashioning Power

Several students present their discoveries about the issue of slut-shaming.

Several students present their discoveries about the issue of slut-shaming.

“Style is Political” –Cynthia Enloe in Globalization and Militarism

On December 4th the Women’s and Gender Studies 220: Power, Privilege and Gender class presented their final projects in the Kryzsko Student Activities Center. These projects examined the role of privilege and oppression in individual fashion choices. Overall, the intent of educating peers was successful, with approximately 30 visitors. Here is what each group had to say about their projects.

Examining Cultural Appropriation

For our class action, we put on an (Un)Fashioning Power fair, in which we addressed the issue of cultural appropriation. We attempted to raise awareness and educate our peers on the issues with cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is taking elements such as clothing, designs and accessories from oppressed cultures and using them to make profits and as fashion statements without fully recognizing the complex history behind the people who really own these elements. On a micro-level, we taught people about the issue and made them aware of how these things occur in our everyday lives, even within our own community. On a macro-level, we informed people of the main issues occurring throughout the country, including examples from every day fashion, sports mascots, pop culture and Halloween costumes. A lot of people had never heard of cultural appropriation before and weren’t sure why it was an issue, so we told them it was an issue because it enforces negative stereotypes of specific cultures, and it also devalues the experiences of the people whose culture we are appropriating.

Addressing Slut-Shaming

What does a “slut” wear? What is a “slut”? Is “slut” a gendered term? Should “sluts” be ashamed of themselves?

Our feminist curiosity motivated us to ask our peers and community to answer these questions about “slut-shaming,” a term coined by contemporary feminist authors to describe the various ways culture shames sexually active women. In our group, we defined “slut-shaming” as presumed or real sexual activity; women behaving in ways which do not conform with unspoken expectations of women’s purity; can include access to birth control, sexual activity, social interactions/associations, being raped/sexually assaulted, choices for clothing and fashion.

In our presentation, our goal was to ask our audience to define “slut” on a sticky note and compare the answers. We discovered that there was not one clear definition of “slut”, rather as many definitions as there were people. Some common themes we found in the definitions included “promiscuity,” and “the way a woman dresses”, which clearly fit the definition of slut-shaming; this also allowed us to explain how “slut-shaming” leads to dehumanization of women and the justification of a “rape culture.” On the bright side, we were able to share activism taken against “slut-shaming” and help each individual re-evaluate their own definition (and use) of the word “slut.”

Demilitarizing Fashion

The action we educated our peers about was militarism in fashion. Enloe states in Globalization and Militarism that “Style is political.” We branched off that and showed our peers how fashion is political. We talked about the origins of khaki, camouflage and the bikini. This ties with how our society follows the path of least resistance by normalizing militarism, in this case the history behind our clothes.

We also discussed and challenged our peers on their awareness of government spending and how tax-paying citizens are affected. After posing questions to our peers, we were able to give them a peek into how much money goes towards military funds. On a micro level, our peers were able to see the amount of dollars spent in tax dollars toward past wars. On top of that, we had a resource available for peers to see past war costs across the United States, on a macro level. 57% of the 2014 fiscal year discretionary spending will be towards the military, and only 6% towards education systems. Out of the thirty people who attended our presentations, the majority of our peers were shocked!

Globalization: Consumption and Production

We chose to make a power point and a poster board explaining how globalization is tied to sweatshops. We showed popular brand names such as Nike, Adidas, Old Navy and Walmart to get people’s attention. We chose to take the “Path of Greater Resistance” to make people aware of how we can attempt to improve working conditions and low wages that go behind the making of clothing (Allan Johnson, Power, Privilege, and Difference). We were able to connect with our audience by being able to show where some of the clothing they were wearing was produced and consumed. We hope by taking part in this action that we were able to make people aware of the many sweatshops around the world.

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