There is a term I often hear from women : vulgarity. They say such or such thing a woman is wearing is vulgar. The epitome of vulgarity for many women is brown lip pencil with nude lipstick, I should make this experiment but I’m already sure of the results : when you ask women what is vulgar the top answer will be it.
When women say that an other woman is vulgar, when they put a judgement on an other woman clothes, make-up, attitude, what they do is defining themselves in contrast to this other woman. They put themselves higher. This word and how it is used is the most striking example of internalised misogyny you can witness, for it is very recurrent. When you compare and judge an other woman for the way she looks, the only thing you do is trying to rise to the top, but only within the boundaries set by patriarchy, meaning that you can never go past that glass ceiling on which sit all men.
They may even pity this woman, because she is so imprisoned within the male gaze. Poor thing, she tries to be sexy and slutty and this and that, because she lets herself be defined by the male gaze. Those women who pass judgement on other women think they are above this. That they are freer. Just like white feminists who think that muslim girls wearing a hijab are oppressed by their culture into doing so, these women think that vulgar women are oppressed by the society, and that themselves are free of any influence. The choices they make in terms of clothing and make-up are totally theirs. They “do it for themselves”. Not to be aesthetically pleasing to other men and women. No, just for themselves. They might even tell you, as if this was proof, that they do not follow the trends. They are above this, clearly. But we’re not free, at least not in this case. We are determined but our environment, be it in positive or negative, it shapes us in a way. This doesn’t tell who we are, or what we think from where we come from, but simply that our opinions are always subjected to numerous influences.
Vulgarity, vulgar comes from the latin, vulgus, which means « the crowd », «the multitude ». A vulgar person, is someone / something from the mass. Something common, simple, and, nowadays, the meaning has extended itself to something crude, which isn’t refined, which lacks delicateness. In this sense the opposite of being vulgar could be being delicate.
And this leads me to an other thought. Isn’t judgement vulgar ? Doesn’t it lack finesse too ? Judging someone on one’s appearance or attitude is somewhat rough, because you don’t know what moves them, the secret movements of their soul and their struggles and joys. Passing a judgement, under the cover of outspokenness or sometimes out of sheer clumsiness, is vulgar. It is not refined. It does not care about the details, it is just based on an overall vision of an infinitely complex thing, a human being. On the other hand, empathy and kindliness seem to me to encompass the concept of delicateness. I know women who will say « I told her she looked like a whore to help her », yeah, so that she realises. That is very wrong. You don’t « help » someone by insulting them. Because, yes, whore is an insult, it is used as a degrading term to designate women who, willingly or coercively, sell sex. Beside, the woman you just insulted probably doesn’t want nor need your « help ». If someone’s attitude or looks displease you, you can limit your interactions with them. It’s as simple as that. What these women do when they say these kind of things to other women, or have discussions about other women, is making sure that all women know that they will be judged on how they look and how they talk and how they smile. It is a way of saying : « watch out girl, you shouldn’t just fear patriarchal society when it comes to how you should feel about yourself, the oppressors are your peers too ».
Clothing, and therefore fashion is ambivalent. It is a tool that can be used to free and express oneself, but it seems that very often it is used as an oppression « backup ». I read an article by Greta Christina called Fashion is a feminist issue, and found this quote enlightening :
“Fashion is one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men. And I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain. It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so. And it’s a subtle but definite form of sexism to take one of the few forms of expression where women have more freedom, and treat it as a form of expression that’s inherently superficial and trivial. Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial.”
And indeed clothing and adornments are a big part of every cultures, it is a language, and, just like with language fashion can be a way of expressing oneself, it can be an outlet for many women (and men). It can be a way to be part of a group within the society, to affirm who you are, your identity. However, women are valued primarily for their looks, they are objectified for their beauty ; and when they want to take the power onto this and express themselves through fashion, they’re « derided as shallow and vain for doing so. » A woman can talk about shopping and clothes and colours and shapes and have a critical mind. You can like pampering yourself up and being aware of the limits of your own freedom within the society you live in when it comes to how you should look. If I talk to a group of people, wearing bright lipstick will not make the content of my speech more or less valid. Unfortunately it will have an effect on whether people think it is valid or not.
This is not a big secret I’m revealing now, a woman wearing tight clothes and those infamous lips circled with brown lip pencil can demonstrate more empathy and intelligence than any woman guarantor of good taste and good manners. It is not the amount of flesh showing that measures the value of someone. This definition of modesty given by Osama struck me.
“We have constantly misunderstood what “modesty” truly means. It means the modesty to realize that we may be wrong, to know that we may not be as good as we think, or even the modesty to realize that perhaps we are not as bad as we think we are. Modesty is difficult because it shuns extremes, in speech, in tone, in perceptions or positions, modesty is about the ability to ensure justice, despite any prejudice we may have.”
I’ve tried many time to express that, and all I could say was that vulgarity was a characteristic of one’s heart, not looks, and it felt incomplete. But now I feel it sums it all. Real vulgarity is meanness. The crowd is mean, the crowd is judgmental, the crowd is violent and doesn’t care to hurt. It is up to each and any of us to severe ourselves from the — vulgar — judgmental — crowd and elevate ourselves. Nobility and delicateness have nothing to do with looks or class or race. They can be found in one’s kind heart.