I'm not your toy
Women have been many things down through the centuries. They have been helpmates, wives, lovers, sisters, mothers, chattels, slaves, and, yes, toys. “Toy” is not usually the woman’s choice as a role, but some clothing styles tend to play up this role, along with the emphasis on having a new, in-style wardrobe each year.
Clothing as a Statement
Clothing has long played a part as the way a woman can assert herself or state her role. It has also been a way of labeling or restricting women so that they are unable to do simple physical things. One of the most visible steps toward voting suffrage and financial freedom was the adoption of clothing that allowed women to move freely and to safely engage in activities such as riding horses or bicycles, operating machinery, running, jumping and swimming. The other was enabling women to have their own income.
Garment Factories as a Dangerous Road to Independence
Work in clothing factories offered women a chance to earn money doing something besides menial domestic work. But the life of a “factory girl” was and is by no means a luxurious one. In addition to long hours and low wages, the working conditions can be difficult or even dangerous. From the fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 to the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, factory work has been tedious, difficult and often unnecessarily dangerous. The doors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory were locked so the worker could not escape the fire. 147 women died. The Rana Plaza was built on marshy ground. When it collapsed, 1,135 people were killed. This has brought a call for transparency in the chain of production in the garment industry and created a spotlight on those “Made In” labels.
Women’s Fashion and the Larger World View
This brings a new aspect to women’s fashions. Like Mahatma Gandhi who eventually wore only garments he had woven himself, women are recognizing that it is important to wear clothing made from fibers that are grown ecologically and created by factory workers who have humane working conditions and who are paid a living wage. It also shines a light on the fashion industry that thrives on a change of style each season. There is a greater focus on sustainable, simple, comfortable clothing that can be worn for several years.
Your Clothing, Your Message
The clothing you wear sends a message. The current trend is often toward brightly colored clothing that fits close to the body – sometimes uncomfortably close. Odd cutouts in different parts of the garment can render an otherwise perfectly wearable garment unacceptable in the workplace or school. Wear a garment for too many years, and soon you have to defend it as “vintage” rather than “old.” Bell bottoms are long out of style, skinny jeans are “in” – but just wait a year or two, and the trend is likely to reverse. The most important message your clothing can possibly send is on that “Made in” label, the one that proves your t-shirt, jeans, work or formal wear was made from fibers that were grown ecologically and created by people who could feel safe while working and were paid good wages for their labor.
Not Toys, But Hard-Working Human Beings
Women are not toys. You can prove it by wearing clothing that shows that you understand the role of the women and men who labored to create them. More than that, you can support women’s sustainable cottage industries. Economics writers and professors will tell you that to change the world, you should support women.