A View from Within: Ruth Jean-Marie Speaks
Senior Editor Ruth Jean-Marie was asked to speak about society's interpretation of the way women dress and the comments that Chef Ayesha Curry made in December regarding the way women dress "nowadays".
I don't think Ayesha Curry's position was malicious but I do think her response was indicative of where we stand in society and how women's dress is still considered the decision of the masses instead of the individual. The nuances of her statement is what I draw issue with. As it's Curry's decision to dress as she pleases and for who she pleases (and she does it well!), her public admission suggests that everyone should curry that favor--see what I did there? "The one who matters" should be oneself. Husbands matter. Wives matter. Partners in general matter, but to support standards that are sexist in nature is what's problematic for me.
My existence isn't prefaced upon the existence of men, nor is my survival. My value doesn't appear if someone argues for it or if they choose to acknowledge it. And my worth is enveloped in the mere and simple fact that I exist. How I dress, how I behave, what I say and what I do aren't indicators of my value and they surely aren't done with the hope of acceptance in mind. This sort of understanding, unfortunately, is lost in the folds of society. Though the way women present themselves is generally tied to what they deem appropriate--that appropriateness is still subjective and informed by patriarchy.
There is an unfortunate desire to control women's attire, attributing value and worth based on unfounded opinions and archaic norms. To dress conservatively or to dress provocatively should be the choice of the individual. Being so narrowly defined by clothing is unfair. It's outdated. It forces women to adhere to rules that they didn't construct and oftentimes might not agree with. And the problem with the discussion is that it puts on a platform a decision that is not society's to necessarily make. I don't disagree that the way a woman presents herself is indicative of what she believes; it'd be foolish to say otherwise, as religious and cultural norms prove the point. What I'm saying is associating value to one's personhood based on standards that are biased and sexist is the issue. This issue, a complex one, too often goes unthought of and undiscussed. It's deemed a norm, a given--one that underlies the way we interact with others, underlies the way we create laws and uphold them, the way we determine how much respect someone gets.
Society tends to have a predisposition to create a false hierarchical understanding of worth where women seldom place at the top unless, of course, they succumb to a patriarchal understanding of "what's what". When women define themselves by their chastity and virtue, it inadvertently supports these perspectives--narratives that suggest women's bodies are for the consumption of men and therefore should cover if they want to avoid the negative opinions of these same men. The definition of one's character is too often associated with their choice of dress instead of the characteristics necessary to be a good person. The way a woman dresses unfortunately impacts her experiences but in actuality should be the burden of the ignorant. She is then placed in a position to pursue the ideal (and dress how she pleases) or surrender to the reality and dress how society argues she should--whether that suits her tastes or not. I'm not so naïve as to think the ideal and reality merge in this way, but wouldn't it be nice?
Ruth Jean-Marie is a graduate of New York University where she received her Master’s of Science degree in Global Affairs. Dedicating her life to the alleviation of misery around the world, her greatest goal is to become a superhero. Her interests include fashion, equality for women and Black people--that real equality, not the surface level stuff, traveling around the world and writing. She's excited about life and intends on living it. She also has a mild obsession with shoes, shopping and sharing her opinion. You'll hear all about it. Follow Ruth on Twitter and on Instagram.