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Misogyny Rears Its Ugly Head | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion

Misogyny Rears Its Ugly Head

January 21, 2013

by Gracia Ventus

I’m not sure if you guys have noticed it but I rarely, if ever, wear body-conscious clothes (especially from the waist up). However it was not an issue that I consciously thought of until recently, when I wore this outfit on my holiday. I was walking at the side of the road, when a lorry drove by in which the driver let out some catcalls. There may even be some dude honking his car too, I can’t remember too well now. And that’s when I thought, ‘Oh yes that’s right. Men.’ Specifically, the neanderthals who have not joined us in the 21st century.

Disclaimer: I will use the word ‘men’ in this post to refer to misogynists, not ALL men, and possibly some women too.


Some years ago, my mom sat me down for that awkward ‘talk’, which was not quite about the birds and the bees, but still terribly awkward because my mom, who is rather traditional, has a habit of using implicit phrases. Long story short I was told to never wear any low-cut tops because my chest size is ‘special’. What she meant was, ‘them chest are too big for your own good’, so I have to cover them up. She made sure that I never step out of the house in a shirt that threatened to expose even an inch of cleavage. My mother, bless her heart, meant well, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that she might not be, quite right.

You see, the reasons she gave in support of modesty was mainly self-respect (so that other people will respect me), and to minimise unwarranted sexual attention, like the kind I described in the beginning. While I appreciate those reasons, I felt that they were rather misguided, especially in light of the recent uproar over gender-based violence in India. Personally, I no longer hold the view that respect for people should be given on how one dresses, although it’s easier said than done because we are all judgmental creatures. Her conviction was a reaction towards the conservative South-east Asian culture we grow up in. Eventually I began to internalise the thought that I’m responsible for attracting unwanted attention to myself, and I end up feeling uncomfortable with my own body whenever I’m in my home environment. I feel most free whenever I am away from my parents’ conservative views, and in places where people are less stringent about modesty. Yes I know misogyny exists everywhere, but I seem to have discovered that there is a correlation between misogyny (towards women’s body) and level of modesty expected from the female members of the society. Over the years I’ve learnt that it is easier to cover up than to expect men to respect women regardless of how they dress, hence why I’ve found myself going out of my way to avoid V-neck tops, or putting on an extra layer over a fitted top just to avoid being ogled at.

It doesn’t help that most designers and mainstream fashion media glamourise one type of silhouette only, which is the hourglass figure (‘How to make your boobs look bigger, how to make your derriere more perky! Tits! Ass! Badonkadonk!) Thank goodness for designers such as Rick, Rei and Yohji (yes I’m on first name basis with them today) who have built their own universe that provide a refuge for me, in which I can hide under all those drapes and silhouettes that de-gender oneself without resorting to sweatshirts and tracksuits (although one might argue that Rick is a bit of a masochist). Perhaps this is why I am drawn to these niche designers, I feel so liberated and empowered in their clothes while at the same time allowing me to express my feminity without flaunting my physical attributes. And yet, a part of me questions the validity of my convictions. Am I truly exercising my free will to dress for myself, or is this simply a self-defence mechanism in dealing with patriarchy, that I am in fact acting based on my own internalisation? Would I find my alter ego in a parallel dimension decked in a bodycon Herve Leger mini dress because she’s living in a gender-equal society?

I am not ashamed of my own body, but I do not want to be objectified. Sure, there are women who revel in being sexualised (remember Angela from American Beauty?), but I would rather be appreciated for the knowledge I have gained and the tastes I have cultivated for myself over the years. Being at the butt end of catcalls is demeaning, having someone appreciate the ensemble I’ve put on myself is flattering (unless it’s a thinly veiled disguise to get into my pants). Sadly word on the street is that most men don’t really notice what girls wear, unless they are gay. At the same time, I would like to clarify that I’m not all too keen to expose a lot of skin (because I’d rather be swathed in beautiful fabrics, duh!), but at the end of the day I want to have the freedom to choose what I put on myself, that I do not have to think twice if this v-neck shirt will instigate sexual harassment.

Here’s a gratuitous makeup shot. I’m a bit of a n00b when it comes to makeup but I’m trying!

PS. I wrote this piece as an exploration into my style philosophy, but it seems that I may have come up with more questions than answers. This was a difficult subject to write as my thoughts were all over the place. I would love to hear your perspective on this issue, regardless of your stance.


23 thoughts on “Misogyny Rears Its Ugly Head

  • inkarlcerating

    by inkarlcerating on January 22, 2013 at 12:45 am

    I SWEAR to god that dress has a soul. the way it languidly drapes and fall with gravity is amazing… seeing it in purson would make me mad!


  • Syed

    by Syed on January 22, 2013 at 12:47 am

    This is a subject very close to my heart and something I’m still trying to understand. I have never been at ease with how my body looks, so dressing used to be very much a way of covering up to avoid that negative attention by means of distraction (of course it often ended up amplifying it instead). I still dress in a way that covers up, and indeed often engulfs my body, but it is done from another perspective entirely – of hopefully creating something beautiful. Dress used to be a way of hiding, but now it’s a way of feeling secure and beautiful.

    The reason I think Rei/Yohji/Rick/et al. are interesting is because of their understanding of the body and how it moves. We tend to be taught that those designers who can cut a beautifully figure-hugging dress are somehow more knowledgeable, but I think that in order to create a dynamic that works in the way some of the more conceptual Comme dresses do (…well I say conceptual, but they always end up instore), requires an incredible understanding.

    You have to know how the body curves, how it moves, how the fabric plays against it, to create the shapes and clothing patterns Comme or Yohji have done. It allows the clothing to be presented and worn on a cerebral level, that acknowledges the body, but also tries to create something new from it – and that additional level is something I love. I wouldn’t say it was ‘better’ than a figure hugging dress with plunging neckline and barely there closures, because that also requires a massive amount of skill to perfect – rather I am simply more drawn to it.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      “dressing used to be very much a way of covering up to avoid that negative attention by means of distraction”

      You took the words right out of my mouth.

      No doubt cutting a dress that hugs the figure to a T without resorting to lycra is equally as difficult, but yes, not all women (and men) want to subscribe to the traditional silhouettes. My fascination with Rick/Rei/Junya may have begun as a source of refuge, but it is their ability to understand and break the rules that garnered a tremendous amount of respect from me.

  • aya1293

    by aya1293 on January 22, 2013 at 7:17 am

    In my case, I have generally not really felt comfortable exposing my chest (even though I’m as flat as a board) or my waist/hips. The chest because I just didn’t like to expose it, I felt negative connotations were tied together with that as well as the influence of my asian, reserved heritage. My hips and waist are the same but more so just because I am insecure about them.

    Similarly, I too avoid tight clothing but I feel I may be opposite to you? Because overall, I chose to wear these types of clothes because that is what I genuinely love. Contrary to your case, I get called a boy or too boysish and “Are you/Is that a boy?” all the time because of my body type, clothing choice and short hair. I always thought to myself “ok so a women has to have long hair and wear skirts and dresses??”. How sexist. Although I look a certain way, I am just as feminine as any other female around.

    Despite these things, I stay true to myself because I love what I wear, my hair style, and most part of my body. Boyish or feminine, it doesn’t really matter. You are who you are and my boyfriend loves me regardless :)

    I understand your situation too. It’s very frustrating. I think it boils down to what is more important to you? Would you rather avoid scum bags remarks and limit yourself or are you ok with putting up with these remarks and portraying your true self? Do what you want to because the labels given to how women look doesn’t seem like they will ever change.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      To answer your question, if I were to say honestly, I’d wear a tight fitting Rick top in London/Melbourne/NYC and not give a tooting hoot, but I may still be hesitant in a more conservative society (often it can be about safety issues). But unpleasant remarks unrelated to body image does not affect me nor limit my imagination. Like you, I love the clothes I wear and I feel completely okay with not subscribing to conventional form of beauty.

      Sorry to hear about the insensitive remarks you’ve received, but please let your boyfriend know he’s got himself a great lady :)

  • Lizzie Lo

    by Lizzie Lo on January 22, 2013 at 10:52 am

    i loved this…
    you had me at the first pic… and then i started reading…
    i believe im not keen with owning a female body [and i somehow prepared my body to shape itself due to my neglecting of being a woman in this mexican-macho society i grew up on] because i, on the contraire to you, got hips and legs [no boobs]… in a way made boys drool, i felt like a piece of meat hanging at a boucherie… objectified, and maybe its just my perception but i preferred to build/shape-up my intellect and cover all my curves [while trying my best loosing them, i did not want to be part of the common prostituted female sexiness] and fell into the, so feared by society, androgyny…
    being asked if i am a girl or a boy, molested by the people who i deal with daily made me find my refuge in facts, numbers, chemistry and culture… international limitless freedom; fashion or best Anti-Fashion… and i found confidence in myself because i knew i was not wrong…

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 9:43 pm


      You’re the example of the old saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Many women opt for the easy way out by depending on the assets they’ve been born with, so I’d like to commend you for battling sexism in your own ways.

  • Wil

    by Wil on January 22, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I feel the same gratitude (as a male) towards these designers. There is a liberation in not having to perform to the masculine ideal every day. I can be a man without having to remind everyone every day by choosing clothes that reinforce my secondary sexual characteristics. My pale draped RO cardigan is my favourite piece for this reason, I float like a ghost through the streets when wearing it.

    And I (a straight man) always notice a woman’s clothes separately from my attraction to her, but it is very hard to comment on the former without seeming to be making remark upon the latter. So I avoid it altogether, unless I know her well enough to be clearly understood.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      Hi Wil,

      Thanks for your honest input. It’s great to know that there are considerate men out there, but rest assured that most women can differentiate sincerity from veiled flattery. I’d say complimenting someone’s outfit usually makes her day, but as always the context in which you deliver your compliment matters so as not to be taken the wrong way.

      I think we both need to send Rick a thank you card one of these days. Cheers!

  • Mika

    by Mika on January 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Such a great topic to discuss and hits very close to home!

    This is something most of us worry about when dressing when ideally it shouldn’t be an issue. We’re always on the guard. I’m not comfortable wearing close-fitting clothing up top too, though unlike you I’m flat chested but even then it’s a losing battle. People are always going to find something to point out. It’s very frustrating.

    I’m glad that despite this there are designers out there offering an alternative aesthetic that isn’t necessarily dowdy or unflattering yet exudes quiet confidence. It might be a different kind of sexy from what constitutes sexy as dictated by the mainstream media, but not everyone wants to be Kate Upton :) Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look like that but it’s a comforting thought that someone like Rei Kawakubo exists, whose clothes are the antithesis of overt sexiness.

    I’d love to think that by choosing to dress the way I do people will focus on my ideas instead of my non-existent tits and ass haha.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm

      “People are always going to find something to point out.”

      Ugh yes, unfortunately it happens everyday to everyone. When we choose to put in a little bit more effort in our appearance, some people think that we’re insecure and superficial, and when we don’t, we’re called slobs.

      We’ll just have to ignore them and move on with our lives.

  • Sarah

    by Sarah on January 22, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    I have a touch of this in my own fashion choices. I dress mostly androgynously and in things that aren’t form-fitted (then again, those usually have more interesting cuts and create better silhouettes), and some of these choices are made precisely because I don’t want to be objectified. I do like some things that are very feminine, but for the past year I’ve not been able to let myself wear anything like that, partly for fear of being sexualised. I feel safer in things that are severe and a bit aggressive, quite like armor. So I get what you’re saying. And it really is a shame.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 9:22 pm

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I, too, have mentioned a few times on this blog that clothing is like an armour to me. Confidence has to stem from the inside, but clothes help to amplify it. Hopefully society will be even more accepting in the future for the sake of the next generations.

  • R@!$4

    by R@!$4 on January 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    you own a special column with those hands X’d, miss editor at large please! guess its why we tend to be much safer in gay clubs. Everyone’s a BFF whilst wolves stay out.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      Hah, I wouldn’t go so far to say that Rice, long way to go to be an editor :P You’re closer to it than I am.

  • PY

    by PY on January 23, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Bah male privilege! On a somewhat related note this reminds me of a few things I read on Tumblr about harassment! (http://unwinona.tumblr.com/post/30861660109/i-debated-whether-or-not-to-share-this-story and http://herbackboneisaplum.tumblr.com/post/37314878607/missjuliaf-herwitchiness-rape-trigger)

    Also, I know that I personally find the idea of dressing for sex appeal completely horrifying (and all that magazine advice about ‘what men like’ makes me want to go on a hulk rage). I think I consciously dress in a way that’s anti-feminine, but I recognise that this is almost purely a consequence of unbalanced gender relations and in a perfect world, yes, we should be able to wear anything (no matter how much of an eyesore) and not be made to feel insulted for it.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks PY. I’d steal your Balenciaga sweater if I could :D

      I’d also like to urge anyone who’s scrolled this far to read the links that have been posted.

  • Vienna Wedekind

    by Vienna Wedekind on January 24, 2013 at 3:06 am

    this skirt is as beautiful as it’s long!


  • Mew Chawalit

    by Mew Chawalit on January 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    I try to dress in what I like, that’s all.
    I hold the view, that women should wear whatever they should, without men coming into consideration. I will wear a low-cut shirt, because I don’t care about about the guys and I want to, or I will wear a loose drapery shirt with an over-sized jacket that covers up all my curves. I’ve never felt very shy with my body, as I’m actually very proud of it, which I know is rather unusual for a lot of girls at my age (I’m 17). I wrestle, and I also used to do gymnastics as well, so I have a very muscular, toned body. I’ve had both guys and girls comment on how muscular my arms and legs are a lot, haha.
    In my opinion, the mainstream idea of “sexy” is just so narrow. Personally, I think you look sexy and powerful in this dress, like a female warrior persona, and I mean that in the best way possible. I think that sometimes, though, that dressing modestly enforces the idea that women /should/ dress sexy, because by /trying/ to dress modest one categorizes one type of clothing very definitively as ‘sexy’ and another type as ‘modest’.
    I do hope that sort of made sense.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on January 28, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Yes I think I quite understand what you meant by the segregation of overt sexuality and modesty.

      Many times it’s not just the guys, girls can be equally demeaning to women as well, calling other girls slutty and trashy. Also quite often women hesitate to wear what they want due to safety reasons. It’s great that you live in an environment where you’re free to dress whichever way you like. You sound seriously fit and I envy you for that.

  • Lucinda

    by Lucinda on January 30, 2013 at 8:54 am

    These days I tend towards body conscious clothes, more from a lack of self-consciousness. I cared too much in my youth about being objectified that today a miniskirt feels like an act of defiance.

    The male gaze however is a difficult one. A polite comment may be welcome, a wolf-whistle never. I used to live with my parents in an ethnically monocultural suburb of Sydney. I would grit my teeth walking to and from the train station every day. Sometimes I would wear a coat, even when the weather didn’t call for one. It wasn’t until I visited my parents the other weekend that I realised how much I now value the ‘freedom’ of living in the city proper.

    • The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus

      by The Rosenrot | Gracia Ventus on February 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      Ah, I can totally relate to that. I’ve lived in different parts of the world, and it’s only when I come back to my parents’ home do I realise that I’ve taken for granted the freedom I had to wear whatever I want.


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