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Blog Debate with Louise Mensch and Glosswitch: can you dress for men, and still be a feminist?

(124 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 04-Jun-13 11:46:04


Can you dress for men, and still be a feminist? In today's guest blog, two forthright MN bloggers debate the question.

Louise Mensch is the novelist and outspoken former Tory MP for Corby, who resigned her seat last August in order to move to New York, where her husband is based. She recently launched her blog Unfashionista (subtitled "the lazy girl's guide to gloss"), in which she has written controversially about feminism, fashion - and why women should dress in a way that their male partner finds attractive.

Challenging her position is Mumsnet blogger and contributor to the New Statesman and the Guardian, Glosswitch. She writes about feminism, family and pretty much anything else you care to mention over on her blog, Glosswatch (subtitled "humourless mummy, cuddly feminist").

Read the debate, and tell us where you stand here on the thread - and don't forget to post your URL if you blog on this issue.

PS if you enjoy it, do share it via the FB/Twittter buttons at the top of the page!

tenlittlebuns Wed 05-Jun-13 10:24:10

I really agree with BristolBanshee: I think Louise is talking about her own relationship here, a specific kind of relationship, where this kind of thing is important – an alpha male for whom it is important his partner looks good in a conventional kind of way (well coiffed hair; no baggy clothes), and a woman who is happy to oblige/gets some kind of status from this (I don't mean this in a derogatory kind of way).

But relationships, like people, come in all kinds of hues, as does attraction. For DH and I the attraction is principally intellectual. It's a 'basic kindness' for me to engage with him intellectually I suppose – and he was pissed off post-baby when I didn't want to talk Nietzsche at the end of the day. The visual comes into play for him only when I take my clothes off; up till then I don't think for us our clothes etc. are used as a form of respecting one another.

The problem comes when we start to generalize off our own particular experience. Don't we have enough gender generalization already?

Vegehamwidge Wed 05-Jun-13 10:42:33

Lol her newest post is about how the new doctor (Dr Who) shouldn't be a woman because he is an alpha-male!! And there is a need for more dominant alpha-males in the world. That's what all chicks want. Sexism brings sexual chemistry!
Very feminist!

Technotropic Wed 05-Jun-13 10:43:26

If this is promoted as something only 'required' of women then in it is antifeminist

But it's not though is it. The male grooming market is huge and growing rapidly because more men are making an effort, both for themselves and their partners (or prospective partners).

juneau Wed 05-Jun-13 10:45:49

radio yes, I get that, but I expect the same of him. I realise I didn't say that in my original post, but I think making an effort for one another is an important part of a committed love relationship. Louise makes that point too - that she expects her DH to keep lifting weights to look good for her. My DH doesn't lift weights very often (I'd like him to, but he's never been much a gym bunny and I knew that when I married him, so I accept it), but he looks pretty much the same as he did when I met him 11 years ago and that's the important thing - to keep making an effort. A good marriage needs constant work IME, and some of the work required is to do with personal physical appearance.

radioeggs Wed 05-Jun-13 10:47:14

But it's not though is it.

Well it seems LouiseMensch1 would find that development against the 'natural' (sexist) order of things..

Vegehamwidge Wed 05-Jun-13 10:53:14

My big problem with OP is that she thinks all "chicks" should be like her, that is, non-visual and wanting make a lot of effort for our domineering ugly (men's looks aren't important!!)"alpha male" husbands. Who we have sexual tension with because they are "unrepentant" and sexist.

Vegehamwidge Wed 05-Jun-13 10:54:39

Seriously OP keep your fetishes to yourself wink

juneau Wed 05-Jun-13 10:58:27

Having said all that, TBH I like to look decent for myself, more than anyone else. So I suppose my DH benefits from what I'd do anyway.

cerealqueen Wed 05-Jun-13 11:28:14

I like to look good for Dh, I see it as a natural part of good grooming, its a basic instinct, same goes for him. If we go out, I dress up for him, wear things I know he likes me in, vice versa.

TheConstantLurker Wed 05-Jun-13 11:36:08

I think basically to get involved in a situation where another person's opinion on what you look like or wear assumes such importance in your joint relationship is a mistake.
The initial premise should be that you find each other attractive as people. Clothes, hair, make up are all very superficial trappings and can change day to day, year to year.
I find Louise Mensch's opinion on what women and men should do very prescriptive and limited and I agree that it would be much better if she kept it to herself and within her own relationship.

Xenia Wed 05-Jun-13 11:50:08

Most women do not find older men attractive and plenty of us want a man who looks good. It is a gender neutral issue. Those of us who earn 10x what our men do and are successful unlike the traditional Steford Wife Mensch dynamic have a different view from LM. We are not needing menfor their money and because they are old enough to be our fathers, but because they may look good in a way older men never do. We are as likely to outearn the man as the other way around.

However, that said I would expect a man to have my BMI/level of fitness and no way should be look any scruffier than heneeds me to look. It is about money and power. Plenty of women are ambitious and like succeeding. We do not follow men abroad they are as likely to follow our careers and we are not after a man for money thankfully.

So the message to men is lose that fat and wear better clothes or we may stop finding you attractive particularly as you age. These issues are gender neutral. I dispute that women are not interested in looks and just the wallet of their man. LM may be but most of us are not.

donnie Wed 05-Jun-13 12:38:38

IME it's just that I cannot be arsed any more. I was extremely good looking and size 8 - 10 (the olden days size 8 which is now more like a 4) back in my heydey, but now I am sliding into middle age. I have too bloody much to do and it all takes so much longer once your natural gorgeousness has gone, as mine has. Ditto my OH.

Also, even if I did want plastic surgery and all that stuff, where would I get the money? the teaching profession doesn't give out bonuses, although I have been known to get the odd box of chocs or bottle of wine - which then makes me even more fat.

Louise your assertion that keeping yourself attractive for your husband is a "basic act of kindness" to me is nonsense, sorry.

KristinaM Wed 05-Jun-13 12:50:15

" most women do not find older men attractive"

Really Xenia? You astound me. I woudl hazard a guess that a large proportion of women on mumsnet are having sex with men who are older than them.

Are you suggesting that they don't find them attractive? Or that they are only doing because these men are rich and successful ?

WinkyWinkola Wed 05-Jun-13 13:36:18

Donnie, has sizing changed then? Please say it has. grin

I used to be a 10-12 and at 6ft, loved it. Now at 41, I'm 16-18 and I cannot believe it and can't bear to go shopping.

louisianablue2000 Wed 05-Jun-13 13:40:54

Just check out Peter Mensch on wikipedia. I suspect if I was wife no 3 I'd be a bit insecure about keeping my husband as well. Personally I'm happy being wife no 1 to my lovely nerdy DH who has no idea what clothes I have on but loves telling people how smart I am and what a good career I have.

Here's my advice: marry a man who loves you for your brain. You get to wear comfortable shoes and don't have to worry about him running off with a younger woman.

Xenia Wed 05-Jun-13 14:11:05

The Femininst issues here are why did PM not change his name to his 3rd wife's surname? Why did he not move to the UK to support her career and drive her children to school?
I also stand by the point that old people of either sex look worse than younger ones. I agree some women have a 17 - 20 years older husband but that is usually because he earns more than she does and lo and behold LM does not earn 10x what her second husband does.

If I am now told Mr M is moving to the UK to support his wife's career on the basis his is going to be about 20 years shorter than hers as he is much older, that he is considering taking her name and that he does more of the housework and childcare then she does I will be very pleased.

juneau Wed 05-Jun-13 15:39:41

Another point about feminism - can we please get past the idea that to be a serious feminist you have to eschew personal grooming and any sense of style? That's what made feminism so deeply uncool and unattractive to so many women for so long. I grew up thinking feminists were hairy, dungaree-clad, bra-less women banging on about Trident - and I simply couldn't relate to that. Whether you highlight your hair or get a facelift or prefer to be exactly as nature intended, you can still be a feminist.

Snorbs Wed 05-Jun-13 15:59:59

Declaration of interest - I'm a man. I'd far rather have a relationship with a woman who dresses to make herself happy rather than one who is constantly seeking my approval in what she wears. I like self-confident women.

Xenia Wed 05-Jun-13 16:12:02

I agree you can be a feminist and want to look what you regard as good but it is gender neutral. If instead you earn a lot less than a man on whom you rely for money then of course your looks matter as that is your currency and his do not. It is no surprise that Ecclestone is not quite as attractive as wives 1 and 2 nor that Joan Collins et al have attractive fit younger men. It is all about money and power and if we can ensure women earn more than men or at least are equal the requirement to keep a man because of your looks, the commercial aspect to housewifery in effect - that you keep him through your looks and he pays, then we can make progress.

Xenia, you might want to re-examine that assumption that SAHMs are being 'kept' because of their looks.

I'd hazard a guess that the partnerships mentioned above of two intellectual but slobby types include the usual proportions of SAHM or PT working women.

YoniMatopoeia Wed 05-Jun-13 18:16:14

If your man is with you, it is a dead cert that he has self-selected. He likes the way YOU look. He wants to see you at YOUR best. In fitted clothes that show your body (the one he's attracted to), with washed and blow-dried hair, with very light make-up that lets him see your skin and face

Louise you are talking about how it works, and your husbands expectation in your relationship. You certainly aren't talking about mine.

For you to generalise that that is the same for all of us, and all we women should be dressing and grooming to keep our man happy is madness, frankly.

My husband (incidently 8 years younger and earns less) likes all sorts of things about me (how could he not grin ) and certainly tells me that I am sexy, even when, gasp, I am wearing baggy stained decorating clothes. He would never expect me to dress or groom in a way to please him, and if I did he would not think or feel that I was doing that to please him.

He would much rather I greet him at the door with a gin and tonic when he is home late, listen to his day, then make him laugh.

So when you say that all women should wear fitted clothes and "washed and blow-dried hair,, with very light makeup" to please their man, you are also presuming that men are one amorphous mass who all want the same thing.

It just seems to be more of the "women, you must make sure your hair is tidy and your clothes show the shape of your body (which must be attractive), and improve that face of yours, or you are worth less and are letting yourself and your man down"

Fine if it is how it works in your relationship, but don't suggest it for everyone.

And as for what my husband does for me to make him attractive to me? Not pumping iron. Maybe the ironing though wink - he does all of it in our house.

Vegehamwidge Wed 05-Jun-13 18:26:28

At least this whole thing caused Mners to share sweet stories about their own relationships smile Love without blow-dried hair and weight can exist!

donnie Wed 05-Jun-13 19:01:08

Winky - it has indeed changed, but not in the way you'd like wink. I used to be an 8, sometimes 10, when I weighed 7 stone. That's what a diet of cigarettes, alcohol and no food does for you!Now twenty years on I am still a 10 and am 2 stone heavier. Go figure!

donnie Wed 05-Jun-13 19:01:41

although sadly I am still on the fags n booze....

MiniTheMinx Wed 05-Jun-13 19:22:58

Fashions in desirability have changed over the cause of human history, once being voluptuous and rubenesque with lilly white skin. At other times waif thin with a sun tan. The fashions were mostly dictated by the mores of royalty, dictated by wealth and power. Red hair was desirable when Lizzie sat on the throne, in the 18th century there was a fashion for grey wigs. Poverty has never set the tone in fashionable desirability.

And what is fashionably desirable now? and what are the influences that shape male desire. Could it be all forms of popular print and digital media? Is this why men desire women who are slim with inflated balloons on board, women who resemble pre-pubescent children below the waist, with tangerine skin and button noses. Who wears heels to slow her down and remind her that she is essentially not an active person but a decoration. Something to hang you wealth and social power on, a reflection of how successful he is. Thus it has always been.

It starts in Reception when all the boys follow little Masie with the long blonde hair and not one of them dare to say "no I like Molly, she has pretty short dark hair and loves climbing trees" it ends with women of all ages battling to achieve the unobtainable whilst their men folk stay up late to watch the more visually stimulating barbie who has perfected the unobtainable to a greater a degree. (that's a generalisation, obv) but no greater than suggesting that ALL men are visual creatures. Better to acknowledge that ALL men are social creatures, who believe that their value is in what is reflected back at them, be it you or the regard they are shown by other men, in particular the alpha males.

I agree with Xenia, when women have economic power it is quite likely that she will call the shots on what is desirable and men may have to waste endless hours in pursuit of the unobtainable whilst lining our pockets with the profits.

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