Confusing the Men

A New York Times article by Vanessa Friedman said this:

The clothes were like a dare to the watching world, a refusal to cater to pretty-girls-in-pretty-dresses gender expectations and a good-natured riposte to the idea that provocation is an invitation. An “I see your judgment and raise you one” piece of fashion politics.

The writer is referring to sequence of very revealing outfits worn by actress Kristen Stewart as she toured various events to promote her film “Love Lies Bleeding”.  I find it kind of incoherent.  Do you?  How is a provocative outfit a “riposte” to the idea that “provocation is an invitation”?  What is the “riposte” part?  Is what she is referring actually better known as a tease?

We are told– endlessly, it seems– that the “male gaze” objectifies and dehumanizes women.  Male directors demand that actresses reveal their bodies to gratify fantasies of male sexual desire.  Wolf whistles and leering stares are acts of oppression.  Choosing a new employee based on sexual appeal instead of skill or qualification is very, very wrong.

So what is the meaning of Ms. Friedman celebrating Stewart brazen exhibitionism?  She states:

Ms. Stewart and her stylist, Tara Swennen, have taken the film’s carnality and covert politics and translated them for the promotional panopticon, forcing anybody watching to confront their own preconceptions about women’s bodies, their sexuality and exactly what empowerment means, while at the same time undermining the whole circus of branded celebrity dressing.

Does that actually mean anything, other than, having it both ways?  We can decry the male gaze while manipulating it?  Instead of admitting that some women– at least– cultivate the male gaze and revel in it, and profit from it, and feel exhilarated by the attention, we can twist the logic into a cultural pretzel in which up is down and down is sideways.  Kristen Stewart is getting a kick out of the looks she wants: she is making a political statement.  Don’t you dare believe she enjoys the attention.

If you believe Ms. Friedman.

Or you can believe Stewart gets her kicks.




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