Category Archives: feminism

Why #SquadGoals Is the Feminist Hashtag We Need

squadprofile
Today I want to hold up the social media triumph that is #squadgoals. Scrolling through my Instagram feed for fashion inspo, the weight of #squadgoals really hit me as I watched gang of cute girls after cute girls show off their stuff together. Who hasn’t see a killer picture of fashionable girls on theme – their perfection exponential with each member – and thought, ‘damn, I gotta get myself some cool friends like this!’ It’s all the fun of being your own imaginary girl band, street gang and babysitter’s club rolled into one. 

The best part about #squadgoals is that it acknowledges that truly fly girls are two things: one, stronger together and two, bent on bringing their sisters up instead of down. Squads celebrate friendship and the amazing skills of your fellow girls rather than competition. There is no room for the ‘token female’ trope here, and no need to be the only girl in the room to protect your insecurities. The other girls don’t make you less fabulous; they reflect their fabulousness onto you. It is inclusive and celebratory.

Lolita twinning and the popular “Angelic Pretty clones” of the 2008 – 2012 years took this idea and ran with it. The social taboo of many sitcoms – the idea of another girl wearing the same dress, or a “who wore it better” face off that we see in fashion magazines still today – was flipped on its head. Why get upset that there’s now another cute girl wearing something you love? Screw competing, let’s be doubly cute and take adorable pictures together! Twinning gives you and your bestie, or a whole girl gang of them, a special bond. Twinning is even picking up in more mainstream pop culture, either coordinating to wear similar clothes with your girlfriends for more #squadgoals love or occasionally, twinning with your significant other.

SQUADGOALS

 

The reason girls compete, according to feminist theory, is due to “tokenism” or sometimes called the Smurfette phenomenon. Media and male-oriented cultures and arenas have taught us there can be room for women – one, maybe. Check a few of these pop culture examples if you don’t believe me – or just see Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency video “The Smurfette Principle”. So while women make up 50% of the population, they’re not being represented that way. And when you think your spot as the only girl – ‘this town/club/video game isn’t big enough for the both us, cowgirl’ – is being threatened, suddenly it’s on you to prove why you’re a better candidate. It’s something that’s been taught to us until subconsciously ingrained. We witness it everywhere, from Hollywood films to comparison from our own friends, family and lovers. Pitting girls against each other can happen abstractly, such as a simple ‘you’re not like other girls‘ comment, or more blatantly, like guys rating women on a 1 – 10 scale. 

Teaching yourself to view your fellow girls as inspiration and allies instead of enemies can take conscious effort. Whether you can feel your jealousy rearing up when you see a cute selfie on your Instagram feed or your insecure voices whispering to you – ‘you’ll never be that cute/successful/eyebrows on point’ – it can strike when you least expect it.

I love this mantra to discourage the innate urge to compete:

squadquote

The solution to cool-girl-insecurity? Make friends with your local cool girl wildlife. Ask her how she does her eyebrows. Tell her you love those shoes. Also, she will probably tell you how she does her eyebrows and where she got those shoes. Cool girl tutorials, makeup guru videos and book-of-shadows shopping-tip swapping-realness? Uh, yes please. When you foster girl connection instead of girl competition, everyone wins. You get new friends, amazing squad super powers, and killer eyebrows. 

#Squadgoals is the magic we need, if we let it. Let the squad love in, ladies. I promise you’ll be glad you did. 

squadlove

Spotlight on: Subversive Kawaii

It’s a typical evening in my New England house. I’m sitting in front of the nightly news, wearing some kind of ruffly pink night-gown and pearl kitty ears. Paul Ryan comes on the screen, talking anti-choice propaganda and grinning condescendingly into the camera. I flip off the TV and have a few choice words for this guy who thankfully is not leaving his dirty socks all over the White House as we speak.

Later, I get on Facebook, where some of my lolita friends are have a discussion about the feminist repercussions of school dress-code. A white guy butts into the conversation to tell us exactly how, “as a man”, he doesn’t seen anything wrong with asking girls to “not dress like strippers” if they want to study algebra in peace. I have choice words for this guy, too.

As a girl, I face sexism, patriarchy, rape culture, whatever your favorite term is – both casual and blatant – every day in my life. And I have to admit, it makes me pretty angry. It’s frustrating, dehumanizing, and just downright rude. Sometimes you got to let it out.

So, I was very pleased to see a new Tumblr put my two favorite things together: pink, cuteness, and a take-no-prisoners attitude to rape culture, patriarchy, and Nice Guys. The ever-popular “offensive kawaii text” graphic subgenre on Tumblr is all about cute insults. So why not pair cute with anger against that creeper cat-caller on the street instead of the girl you can’t stand from your last meetup? Meet Subversive Kawaii.

What I really relate to in these graphics is the underlying message, rather than the straightforward text. Just because I’m cute and enjoy cute things, doesn’t mean you can walk on me. Just because I like pink and ribbons and glitter, doesn’t mean I’ll stand for being treated like a little girl without opinions of my own. Here’s the thing. When I am angry and have choice words and hand gestures for Paul Ryan on my television set, I am tired of being told to act like a lady and express my anger in a more respectful way. I don’t owe these guys my respect. I am five foot two, I have pink hair and I am wearing a tiara and I do not have to show you respect if I choose not to. I do not have to play nice.

 

I’m particularly fond of this one, too – it shows that Subversive Kawaii isn’t just about cis people. It’s good to see that we have some cute pastel that supports intersectional feminism – in this case, trans issues as well. Got pronoun choices? Tell ’em, you badass cutie.

Pink, kittens, and rainbows that threaten bodily harm on people who sexually objectify your body? All of my favorite things. If you want to know more about sexual objectification, I just watched a great TED talk by Caroline Heldman that explains it very well. I don’t think I quite understand objectification until I watched this lecture, and realized how often we’re objectified in culture – but how often women, even scarier, objectify themselves. I was amazed to see that I think of myself as an object all the time.

Okay, now that I’ve thoroughly pinkified your ideas of smashing the patriarchy (I hope), they also have an Etsy I’m hoping will get built up soon with all kinds of pink anti-misogyny products. In the meantime, I’m definitely eyeing their PRINCESS patch to spice up my pink denim jacket for spring.

MIG: New World of the Girls

I ran across this Japanese webzine recently and had to share! (Hopefully I’m not just a dork behind on the times, but…) MIG, short an acronym for Made in Girl, is a Japanese fashion zine created, as their slogan says, by girls, for girls! In fact their slogan is ‘New World of the Girls, Created By the Girls, For the Girls‘. How powerful is that?! The feminine street fashions of Japan really do seem to be women taking back fashion from the realm of ‘what will men think is hot?’ to, ‘what do I think is cute?’ Fashion as self-expression and a personal aesthetic instead of just ‘fitting in’, fashion as an individual journal entry and not as a showpiece for the rest of the world. I’m in love with that concept. This fashion zine, as well as being online, can also be found for free in random places around Tokyo, according to rumor. It’s a grand composite of all your favorite Japanese girl street fashions, from Angelic Pretty and the classiest cake hats around to dolly-kei’s Grimoire and the ever-popular fairy-kei mecca SPANK!

A model for syrup
While issue #1 is mostly photographs detailing various girly street styles, very much giving a feel of ‘street style girls are REAL girls too’, in issue #2 they have a feature called ‘GIRLS’ STORY’ – photography and brief articles on unique street style girls. From interviews with Angelic Pretty’s Maki and Asuka, they also have articles on the La Pafait girls (himegyaru), various female artists and designers, and even just simple street fashion loving girls. It is so wonderful to see girls celebrating the work of those like-minded, showing that while they may be different, they are really all part of the same movement. I love seeing some of the freedom expressed in Japan’s recent interpretation of street styles. I am a lolita, mostly a sweet lolita, through and through; but I am so fascinated watching the girls I see in street snaps work within the broad spectrum of feminine street style rather than just in their niche: mori girl with classic lolita, sweet lolitas adopting natural-kei, fairy-lolitas, and the oodles of himegyaru inspecting Angelic Pretty boutiques for accessories. In the west, it seems we are still standing on the shores of street fashion, bedecked in the trappings of lolita but unwilling to wade in.  Forget about the words ‘that’s not lolita’; replace them with the Blythe doll-like motto, ‘feels like so’. Don’t worry about being perfect or following a blueprint. Follow your own sense of style and beauty, and mix the colors in your paintbox until you find the perfect shade of fashion. Live in the new world of girls.

xoxo,

The Beauty Myth: A Lolita Redux


Recently I’ve been reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolff, a feminist work discussing how our society’s deep need to beautiful is impressed upon women as a form of control and dominance. Its prime point is that beauty and the desire to be beautiful is used to make women

We as lolitas often strongly feel the unspoken, society-wielded ‘control’ over our individuality: the continual rejection and dismissal of the lolita is in hopes of making her get back in line and behave. The people staring, the man asking if it’s Halloween on the subway, and the rows of raised eyebrows. As I’ve previously discussed in Why Must My Public Be So Tiresome, the mainstream is constantly adjusting and hemming at the edges of society, trying to homogenize everything from fashion to politics. So when the Beauty Myth hit home in an unusual way – fear of being considered inadequate to society’s beauty standards controls women in much the same way we as lolitas are afraid of being ostracized.
To bring the idea home: how many times have you felt like you’d rather stay home than go out with that monster pimple on your chin? The days you dread going out with hair that won’t obey? What about days you find yourself constantly adjusting your petticoat and not meeting people’s eyes? Are they different? Or as a lolita, even as we try to rebel from the mainstream, we can still be held under the spell of the Beauty Myth. Movies and television insist that only beautiful people deserve to have their stories told, or even more strictly, that stories only happen to beautiful people. And as we primarily consume magazines as a culture, we are shown that only beautiful people are lolitas – perhaps, to an extreme, that only beautiful people should be lolitas.
Now, on a logical level, we all know that’s not true. Lolita is a wide fashion movement involving women from all areas of the globe, spanning the entire spectrum of appearances. If lolita fashion feels like the right way for you to dress and express yourself, then you shouldn’t be barred from that just because you’re not on the cover of magazine. But despite being rebellious, enlightened ladies of the 21st century, we’re still taken in by the Beauty Myth. As we’ve seen through online confessions and secrets, it’s obvious that the lolita community still has the many symptoms of the Beauty Myth: eating disorders, shapism, body dismorphic disorder, fear of aging, and competition rife with lookism everywhere. Is there any backing to this? Is this cultural structure impossible to escape, or do we have an added factor? 

Lolitas chase the doll or princess ideal, at the very least that of an elegant lady. In our clothes, we strive for perfection – perfectly layered ruffles and buttons, perfectly lined-up knee high socks. In our appearance, we look for perfection also: perfectly brushed-out bangs, turned-out curls, and exact liquid liner. Hair perfection has been chased so much that wigs have been introduced to the scene, almost consuming natural hair; natural hair switches in the wind, bends out of shape, and can’t hold a curl, whereas the wig always looks perfectly shaped and shiny. Photos and tutorials for natural hair are becoming fewer and farther between. False eyelashes are becoming more prevalent as well; and some lolitas never show their real nails. Perfection has made us hide our real selves in order to fit into the lolita version of the Beauty Myth. In a himegyaru documentary, one girl admits that she feels happiest when she feels ‘completely artificial’. There is safety in being artificial, a complete construct of product and perfection meant only for photos and sculptures. Artificial things are perfect, and even if they are judged to be imperfect, it is something that can be fixed. Souls that are laid bare are much more vulnerable.
And what about when you are unable, for any reason, to achieve the look you crave? There are periods in lolita when girls retreat from the style, discouraged that they’re not measuring up to the competition or their ideals. “It’s making me depressed,” I’ve heard friends say often. “I don’t feel like keeping up with it for a while.” Some return, some don’t. Even I have experienced thoughts like, “I’ll never get this coordinate to work,” or “My hair won’t do anything today, I just want to give up.” There are times when you feel you aren’t worthy of even the image in your head, let alone the image out there. Which is the stronger? Which holds you back more?

Is there an answer to handling the Beauty Myth? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, playing into ‘being artificial’ – being someone else – is a lot of fun, and perhaps some of why we like lolita and other extreme alternate fashion. You can be pink-haired or blue-haired or both with wigs; have crazy curls your own hair would never master; make your eyes look dramatic or cherubic with soft lashes. I love the artistic side of lolita – something I’d never want to give up! But on the other, not being aware of the Beauty Myth and its possible side effects has dangerous consequences. The Beauty Myth says that women are only as smart, funny, talented, or successful so long as they are beautiful – despite all else. All worth comes after our appearance. The antidote? Keep that in mind. It’s easy to get trapped into that thinking as we watch the world go by, obsessed with beautiful people (celebrities, models), their fall from grace (so-and-so celebrity massively gains 55 lbs! other-celebrity gets not-so-secret nose job!), and the constant revolving circus of beauty products, anti-aging, roots, weight gain… the list goes on and on. Know that no matter what your hair, nails, clothes, skin, or body looks like today, you still have so much to offer the world. You don’t have to be perfectly beautiful or even be a perfect lolita. If it’s an ordinary day, I wear my real hair. Sometimes my bangs will blow around, sometimes my hair will uncurl – and it won’t look perfect. But don’t let this stop your from living your life. Dolls are beautiful. But they are hardly real.

Fight the myth. Be real. 

The Dangers of Standing Out

As we waited for the subway, among the other milling New Yorkers, a man approached me and said his friend would like a photo with us. I glanced back at the ‘friend’ who seemed to be more interested in the pavement. The man had a leer I didn’t like; what’s worse, he reminded me strongly of a creepy ex-boyfriend of mine with twenty years added. It wasn’t his physique or his haircut or his nose; it was a bright, unhealthy glow in his eyes and twitch in his gums. I tried not to look him or his friend directly in the eye while I said, no, no photos. The guy asked demandingly, why? A bad sign. Feeling irritated and wary, I said that we were just waiting for the train like everyone else and are not available for photos.

My friends and I boarded the subway and snagged some empty seats. Within moments we realized that the guys who had just been bothering us had sat down directly across from us and had a large camera out, snapping photos and then, even worse, directly filming us – with a blinking red light like a pervert’s eye. The guy was leaning over to his friend and giggling as they watched the screen. We were not people sitting across from them. We were not real girls. We were little images on a screen, clearly for their enjoyment. Our only defense was to speak more and more loudly about pathetic people who get their kicks from bothering girls on the subway. After ten or fifteen minutes of this stalemate, a couple from the other end blocked the camera, giving the guy a great shot of the boyfriend’s butt. Thus we made it to our stop and escaped. I couldn’t help but glance backwards as we ran down the platform. The man was craned around in his seat, grinning like we were old friends. My heart hardened, and in true New York style, I flipped him the finger while Miss Lumpy grabbed my arm and ushered me away.

Fastforward a few weekends. My boyfriend lives in a very small, rural town in northern Connecticut, where there’s no radio reception tucked into the edges of the mountains and the sunsets melt across the hills – a place I’ve often called ‘God’s country.’ He doesn’t agree. I didn’t really understand it – the railroads, the sunlight, the fireflies that wink in the dark – what’s not to like? Not only recently, when the carnival came to town, did his meaning hit home. The carnival there was small, set up on a green no bigger than a soccer field. I was excited to nab some cotton candy, ride the carousel, and take photos. He was nonplussed but willing to go until I mentioned I’d wear my Starry Night Theatre skirt from Angelic Pretty. He said to me: “Doll, I love you and I love how you dress. But you can’t wear lolita to this. It’ll be a problem.” I laughed it off. People stared at his supermarket, yeah. People said things about my hair. What could they say that I hadn’t heard before? I had long stopped caring about the comments and gawks.

He wasn’t kidding. It wasn’t until he said that he’d have to bring a knife that I began to understand. As he explained: there would be problems. They would be drinking. They would confront me, confront us both. It’d be five or six to his one. There aren’t any police in his town – just a local trooper for the nearby villages. They didn’t like outsiders and they didn’t like anyone different. These were the kind of people who were going to start a fight if too many minorities came to their carnival. This was a small town with small people. It is far from New York City, far from Boston, far from even Connecicut’s capital, Hartford. It wasn’t the place for people to stand out.
I have been bothered in public before. Heckled, crazy questions, slurred at, photographed, all the usual things. Sometimes it was implied that our style was sexual. I’ve been called a cracker, hooker, freak, an embarrassment to my family. But there is an invisible line. Sticks and stones may break my bones, surely, but so can threats and videos uploaded to myserious websites and forums in the shadowy corners of the Internet, where footage of girls unknown to the danger can be replayed again and again to anyone who wants to see it. The memories and angers we replay in our own heads, at their disrespect, at the blatantly obvious fact that we are not human to these people. They do not know that we are lovers of toy dogs, makers of jewelry, collectors of Godzilla figures or writers of children’s books or anything else. And what is worse, they don’t care. Their ten minutes of fun have ruined the rest of the day, a shadow of primitive fear and suspicion that hovers over our previous joviality. Or worse, for those who are actually attacked and suffer the abuse, their few hours of fun have ruined lives. The lives of these girls, who had no idea what was coming; the lives of their friends and families and lovers who will suffer alongside them and never be the same.

How often does this happen to people in our community? How often does this happen to the alternative subcultures as a whole? Is it as rare as the media makes it out to be, or is it unreported? Do we pass these stories around furtively even amongst ourselves? I’ve heard snippets of rumors – girls who have had black paint thrown at them from cars, or that a man threw a slushie into a crowd of lolitas. Even more disturbing, a friend of a friend was actually attacked on the bus. While with another lolita and on their ride home, the man harassing her began to choke her. After both girls fought back viciously, the man suddenly just got up and left. When my friend angrily turned to two other men who had witnessed the attack and done nothing, they said it was their own fault for instigating the attacker. How had they been instigating? By ‘looking like that’.

This isn’t just a question of being lolitas, and it isn’t just a question of being young girls or even adult women. This isn’t just about feminism and a woman’s right to take the subway in the middle of the day with her friends without worrying about being attacked. This is about the right of expression and right to follow a subculture. Subculture violence is not limited to our tiny kingdom – S.O.P.H.I.E, Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere, began when its namesake, Sophie Lancaster, was kicked to death in her small English town for being a Goth. She died protecting her longtime boyfriend from the blows of their teenaged attackers. This music video/animation was done in her honor to show exactly how she died and what the SOPHIE Foundation stands for. If you haven’t seen it, please watch it; if you believe this should never happen again, repost/retweet/retumbl and get the word out.
Time and time again, lolitas have insisted that we are not out for attention. We do not dress up to be stared at or asked about or to feel some kind of limelight. It’s been stated as much to me that the reason I and my friends get dressed up and go into the city is to be a spectacle. They say tha we must want and enjoy that kind of attention, if we keep doing it. They fail to realize that lolita is not about other people. In such a tell-all, reality-show, made-for-TV, pix-or-it-didn’t-happen culture, we do not actually care about the people around us. If a lolita is alone in the forest, is she still a lolita? She doesn’t need an audience to be a lolita. Lolita is for the individual. Lolita is about what I find attractive and how it makes me feel beautiful. It is my standard of beauty that I have adopted for myself, and how I want to see myself. It is how, after a time, I feel comfortable and how I see myself. It’s always a shock for me to leave my bubble of friends and family and realize that to others, even my hair makes me alien to them. But to try to assimilate would be trying to be something else – something I am simply not programmed to do.

I admit, it took me a long time to write this article. This subject was hard to discuss, let alone write about and feel the closeness of home. I am lucky enough to live in a mostly tolerant, if unimpressed area. I’m from the edges of New York City, I love to spend my time in bohemian Seattle. I’ve never had to endure the hard edges of the deep South or the deeply conservative Bible Belt. I can only imagine how much worse it is for lolitas in areas even more restricted, even more determined to keep their world homogenous. And how they will go to any lengths to do that. For those who have experienced anything similar to what I have discussed, violence, sexual harassment – stay strong. You can do it. Don’t stop being who you are.
Note: I’ve added LC’s first ‘feminism’ tag, necessary for anyone who wants to start reading all of my lolita + feminism articles or who supports feminism from any subculture.
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