A Greek alabastron depicting a Scythian Amazon woman, circa 480 BC. British Museum
Ancient Greek art from 300 B.C. depicts Scythian Amazon women as male equals, clad in pants and armory. In 1200 A.D., though Mongol women wore dresses for ceremonies and weddings, they dressed like men so that they could ride their horses and fight in battle. In 1600 A.D., though women were discreet with wearing pants under their skirts, they persisted with their pantalettes. In 1851, Amelia Bloomer advocated for the “Turkish dress,” which included a short skirt and trousers, eventually to be called “bloomers.” In 1931, Katherine Hepburn rocked the Hollywood scene wearing pants, and in 1969, Republican Representative Charlotte T. Reid showed up for work in a bell-bottom pantsuit.
 
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway of the
Starship Voyager. Circa 2267.
Where have we gone wrong that in 2017 we are even having a conversation about how women should dress? Two hundred and fifty years from now, in the fictional world of Star Trek, Captain Katherine Janeway wears a uniform just like her second in command, Chakotay, and the rest of her crew. It will be disappointing for future generations if it takes us over 200 years to get to that place where women’s dress code is no longer a concept.
 
Fashion is important. It is a form of self-expression, and sometimes all we have is five seconds to make a first impression. In many cases, what we wear is advantageous in defining us. It has its disadvantages as well for Oscar Wilde once said, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Even if it is not ugly and intolerable, it certainly is temporary and expensive.
We bow to fashion, and we bow to it often. From Kim K. to FLOTUS, from designers to models, from commercials to film to television, fashion is everywhere we look. Advertisements for fashion are countless, and they permeate our lives even on an unconscious level through the billboards we mindlessly drive by every day. Magazines that are showcased by the cashier remind our young girls that the only way society will notice them is if they are underweight, well dressed, and Photoshopped. Boys magazines, consisting of comic books, mechanics, cars, science, and gaming, on the other hand, are designated to the greeting card and magazine section of the store. Fashion magazines unconsciously tell our young boys to objectify girls and dismiss their intelligence. However, the magazines designated for young boys tell our young girls that a critical and scientific thought process is for boys and men. Our future women have become clouded with so many misperceptions that they literally and figuratively do not see the marvel of curiosity and the rewards of scientific knowledge.
 
With all the progress that we make as women, we find ourselves three steps behind our advancements because our environment is unconsciously teaching our children that girls and women are to focus on looking beautiful, whereas boys and men are encouraged to learn STEM-based topics. Yet, girls who find no interest in these fashion magazines and gravitate towards Popular Science over and above Teen Vogue, still struggle with the juxtaposition of focus, as they are torn between fashion and STEM-based subjects.

AMERICANS SPEND MORE ON FASHION THAN BOOKS

According to gathered data from sources that include U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau, New York Fed, National Show Retailers Association, TABS Analytics and the NDP Group, Americans spend over $660 billion dollars on fashion related items a year. This data includes money spent on clothing, makeup, shoes, and jewelry.
 
In contrast, the Association of American Publishers states that in 2015, the U.S. book industry produced about $28 billion in net revenue. That same year, the National Association of College Stores showed that U.S. college students spent $12 billion annually on textbooks. Hence, Americans spend only $40 billion dollars a year on books. In other words, Americans spend 95 percent more on fashion related items than we do on books.
 
If we are wondering why there are so few girls and women working in STEM fields, we need to look at how we condition our young girls to view themselves. We need to start with a new focus. Our young girls are being taught to compete on a level void of intelligence, but rather equipped with a skinny body and ideal clothes. Advertisements subject us women, daily, to the reminder that our self-worth should be contingent on whether we are or are not having a good hair day. As such, we are forgoing the idea that our self-worth should depend on the kindness of our hearts, and the content of our minds. By switching that focus, we can show girls that self-esteem comes from self-love, living bravely, and attaining intellectual objectives.

To make progress, we need to start on an unconscious level and look at the expectations and pressures that we are placing on our young girls. If we, as women, want equal footing next to our male peers, we must begin to step up with a new message that can permeate our environment.

By ENERGY.GOV [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 

SWITCH THE FOCUS

If we want to create a new landscape for women, let’s create a new direction and begin by changing our marketing and advertising platforms. Let’s speak up and speak out to our magazines for more STEM articles, let’s speak up and speak out to our advertisers for more STEM-based commercials, let’s speak up and speak out against all the billboards that seek to objectify us. Let’s celebrate those women who do not fit the stereotype: women who are black, gay, Muslim, handicap, tall, transgender, voluptuous, large, small, Latina and more. Let us honor women who are astronauts, scientists, racecar drivers, basketball players, football players, musicians, and steel workers. The lists of our races, genetics, and roles are endless. If we want to diminish the stereotypes, we must create a pedestal that shines a spotlight on us all.
If we want to develop a balanced landscape for our children, let’s change the media and the culture that surrounds it. Though our films depict fictional sheroes like Wonder Woman, Gamora, Storm, and Black Widow, they still serve to objectify women. Let’s begin to ask for more fictional sheroes like Princess Leia (in the white robe, not the gold bikini), Rey, Ahsoka Tano, and Oracle from DC Comics. For those who don’t know Oracle, she was Barbara Gordon in the graphic novel, The Killing Joke. In that novel, the Joker shoots and paralyzes her, which sends her into a deep depression. However, in the DC graphic novel, Suicide Squad, Oracle overcomes her physical and emotional obstacles, while recognizing her genius aptitude in computer science. Using her intellect and photographic memory, she becomes a computer hacker, spymaster, and information broker for law enforcement and other superheroes. To some degree, Oracle represents all women who have faced down sexism, innuendos, objectification, rape, and trauma, only to overcome through the super power of resiliency. 
 
Taking a cue from this example, let’s modify the way we look at each other. We are not the stereotypical, spiteful characters as defined by television and film. At our very core, we are nurturing, loving, and caring individuals. Though we can competelike no other, with power, determination, grace, and ferocity, we also have the capacity to love and support each other without personalizing our disappointments; because we know, as sisters, we will hold each other up.
By U.S. Air Force photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
So, in light of all this, does it matter what we wear? At some point, we need to dial down the push for fashion, the stereotyping of nastiness, and the reminders of our typecast insecurities. Instead, we need to dial up the push for education, knowledge, and healthy intellectual competition. The discussion about women’s dress code should not even be a topic in the 21st century. With all of the challenges that we, as women, have overcome, the idea of revisiting a woman’s dress code is insulting to all the sisters who have fought and prevailed before us. They did not conquer for us because they looked nice. Rather, they triumphed for future women because they possessed something more than a wardrobe: they possessed passion, education, strength, heroism, perception, intellect, and determination. We owe it to our past sisters and our future generations to possess those same qualities; we owe it to our past sisters and future generations to create an environment where the tacit application that underlies who we are is our capabilities, because, as women, we are capable beyond measure.