#AskHerMore and preaching in heels

I'll admit right away that I didn't watch the Oscars this year, but one of the first things I saw in each recap was a mention of Reese Witherspoon's #AskHerMore campaign and Patricia Arquette's appeal for equal pay.  The feminist edge to the Academy Awards elicited mixed reactions, it seems, which I can understand.  Many woman cheered, while others complained, disappointed, that the show had far too serious a tone, that maybe the year's biggest event was not the time or place to air such grievances.


But, of course, that was the point: When better to call attention to an issue?  Why not tag on to an already huge platform and highlight how differently women and men are treated when they have supposedly reached the very pinnacle of their careers?

I don't think that the problem is the dresses or the hair or the diamonds.  I imagine most of the women on Sunday night's red carpet enjoyed or at least actively participated in the crafting of their looks, and, while I could begin an entirely other conversation on how we celebrate one particular type of beauty, how its limited, and how its a problem, I want to keep things simple here and say that fashion is fun.  Fashion is a form of self-expression, what we want the world to know about us at first glance.  


I always say that we were not created as floating, ghost-like souls, so our bodies must matter.  The dichotomy that we've set up is really unfortunate, then: either one does serious work or looks pretty; it's either brains or beauty.  Younger generations have begun to complicate that presumption somewhat, but it still operates.  Just look at all of the shapeless clergy shirts on women pastors and priests and men's suits on women lawyers.  To be taken seriously in fields previously dominated by men, women must look like men.  If women dare to stray from the unspoken dress code, that becomes all anyone can talk about: instead of engaging the content of the sermon or the case, the only topic worth mentioning is the high heels or earrings the woman professional chose to wear.  It often is a lose-lose: (many) women downplay their own tastes and preferences to be taken seriously or they honor their own likes and dislikes but lose respect and credibility.


What I hope becomes possible is a both-and: We can care about outward appearance and be respected for our brains and wit.  Fussing over silhouettes or pant length may not interest everyone--although I do notice, to my delight, that there seems to be growing attention to male fashion, and it is becoming more socially acceptable for men to adopt characteristically "feminine" habits towards dress and grooming--and I don't argue that it should.  But I hope that the way forward is decidedly less narrow, less constraining.

Maybe the point is not that the press shouldn't ask Reese who she is wearing (although they might ask her that after seeking her reflections on her attitude towards taking on her latest role) but that they should spend as much time asking Kanye West and Neil Patrick Harris and Brad Pitt the same.

Emily Rowell Brown