Why Dresses? A Reclamation Story
I remember being a little girl and asking my mom why I had to wear a dress at Christmas while my brother got to wear pants that let him run around and play. I remember wondering why girls sometimes could wear pants but boys could never wear dresses.
What was it about dresses? A kind of underlying confusion about why everyone was so much more concerned with what I wore instead of with what my brother wore—whether it was just to school or a family gathering—remained with me throughout my childhood. However, I didn’t really think much of it until I grew older.
When I did grow older I learned about sex slavery.
I learned that there are women still today who are bought and sold for the sole purpose of giving pleasure to men, and of women who are beaten and exploited because they are seen as expendable and exploitable. It is their femininity that causes these things. Their femininity costs them their lives and the chance to grow into the human beings that they could be; human beings with passions and ambitions and joy. It baffled and angered me that the same femininity that came with my dresses gave me a sense of strength and capability but simultaneously was twisted into a sign of weakness and powerlessness to girls who were enslaved.
This was never going to be ok with me, and led me to begin asking “why?”
Why femininity? Why dresses?
Throughout history, dresses have kept women separate from men. While men’s clothing was made for practicality and a freedom of movement, dresses were made to hide—or sometimes to strategically expose—the most valuable and sacred parts of a woman. Dresses arguably became a tool to remind women of their role as second-class citizens who were primarily used to bear children. For too long, with the dress came also the identity that women were sub-par to men and made to be owned.
Over time, however, women have begun to reject these labels that had been given to them over the course of history and have worked to create a new identity associated with their femininity. They became scientists and business owners and politicians and voters who were just as capable as men; but for many of them, as they did these things their dresses remained. It wasn’t until recently that women began to commonly wear pants in western society, and in many other parts of the world pants are still not socially acceptable for women.
It is the dress then that is uniquely capable to stand as our flag in our fight to free the women caught in sex slavery. It is the dress that embodies the complex but powerful history of women, and all the reasons behind our fight for freedom.
In the end, it’s more than a dress.
" It is the dress that embodies the complex but powerful history of women, and all the reasons behind our fight for freedom. "
The dress remained as women took a stand for themselves and reimagined what their life could be like. Just as dress-wearing-women throughout the course of history have managed to reclaim their dignity and freedom in being “woman,” so will we reclaim the dignity and freedom of those called expendable and deemed exploitable. In our dresses, we will reimagine what life could be like if all women were free to chase their passions and create their own destinies.
Because we know that you can do anything in a dress, this December we have chosen to end slavery and bring freedom to women in our own backyard and across the globe.
About the Author
Beth Woods is a lover of all things outdoors, animals, and random dance parties in the car. She lives in College Station, Texas where she is studying international relations and French at Texas A&M University and hopes to continue advocating against slavery for her career someday.