Just when you think the fashion and beauty industry has reached peak sexism, it outdoes itself, and you’re left wondering exactly how far we still have to go in the fight for equality. Take, for instance, the description of the “Diane Dress” in “Red Star” on fashion label Réalisation’s site. The dress itself looks like any other cute sundress--it’s vibrant with a recurring pattern, tie waist and flirty frills. But this particular dress has a “story”.
“Here’s what we know. Men love sundresses. We also know this point is actually pointless because we women dress for ourselves and ourselves only. But sometimes… just sometimes you need a get-out-of-jail-free card. Maybe you forgot to take the trash out or you scratched your dad’s car or maybe you were really late and you forgot do the one thing they asked you to do. Whatever the reason, The Diane dress is the solution. This is the dress that makes them forget why they were even mad at you in the first place and the only thing that really matters is: If you’re bad at being good, you better be damn good at getting out of it. Trust us. You’re welcome.”
I’m not sure who wrote this “story”, but it’s certainly someone who’s so entrenched within the patriarchy that there’s no way to extricate them. Of all the stories for the girl wearing this sundress, she got one about being so sexy when she wears it, men bend to her whim. The “story” reduces the wearer to the sum of her looks--her inherent value is based on how good she looks in the dress. Not her smarts or her sense of humor, or her resourcefulness or her maturity in taking responsibility for her own mistakes, but rather, the effectiveness of her fluttering eyelashes when paired with her legs protruding from a mini skirt or her cleavage popping from a deep v-neckline.
And don’t even get me started in the sexualization of the relationship between fathers and daughters.
The thing is, it’s not playing the patriarchy at all. It’s adhering to the exact rules laid out by it. It’s willingly making oneself the object of masculine desire in order to appease men. It’s playing into the idea that women are helpless, and that we don’t have autonomy over own our own actions, and that we must instead deal the “silly me!” card so that some burly knight in shining armor will come and clean up our mess. It’s an ugly and reductive stereotype being used to sell a pretty dress.
It's dangerous because it’s something we tell ourselves--or at least toy with telling ourselves--all the time: "If only I were prettier/taller/skinner/had bigger boobs/looked sexier in this outfit." To be a woman in a public space is a provocative act in itself, without any of those hyper-sexualized accoutrements--ask any woman who has even been catcalled, stalked or sexually assaulted just for being a woman in the wild. By selling the idea that women must be consciously provocative in a very specific sense designed to satiate male desire is just another way of distracting us from the radical, dangerous, revolutionary act of simply being female. It's just a way of taking our formidability, our vast unknowability, and our power, and whittling it into a shape that's less threatening to, and more acceptable for, masculinity. And every time we buy a Diane dress, or something similar, we're complicit in our own castration.
Oh, and the dress is $195. Objectification doesn't come cheap.