In this symposium inspired by our Berthe Morisot exhibition, curators, scholars, and designers explore the complicated relationship between feminism and fashion.
Mainstream feminism has long argued that the pursuit of fashion is inherently oppressive for women—from the fussy nineteenth-century ensembles depicted by Berthe Morisot to the sexualized styles pervading today’s pop culture. In recent decades, however, a more inclusive, intersectional feminism has opened up a way of thinking about fashion as a powerful form of self-definition and political expression. Hardly restrictive, fashion is now viewed as a versatile tool with enormous potential for subverting expectations around gender and sexuality; for delivering sharp political statements; and for asserting one’s own agency in a culture that constantly wants to prescribe what women should be. Even the corseted women in Morisot’s paintings might be understood as harnessing fashion’s potential to express something of the self.
Talks will address clothing’s role in political movements like black women’s liberation and nineteenth-century dress reform; the relationship between sexuality, objectification, and empowerment; and the portrayal of fashion in art forms like film and painting. We will also hear from two cutting-edge designers whose work actively addresses some of the key concerns of contemporary intersectional feminism.
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