The Ascent of Woman.
Searching around Netflix the other day I stumbled across a fab four part doco series The Ascent of Woman. This series was created for BBC2 in the UK that charts the role of women in society over the course of 10,000 years. Dr. Amanda Foreman hosts this landmark series and it’s the first ever documentary to present the history of women from the dawn of civilisation to the modern day. The Ascent of Woman argues that the history of women isn’t a straight line from Eve’s apple to Margaret Sanger’s Pill. Instead, over the past ten thousand years it has veered wildly between extremes of freedom and oppression, inclusion and exclusion. The reason is that the status of women is a barometer of a society’s tolerance, fairness and openness. A poor record on women’s rights goes hand-in-hand with low economic output and high levels of violence. Amanda argues that for the next economic cycle to be the age of full participation, there has to be a woman-led revolution that unleashes the potential of all individuals.
Women’s Rights or Feminism?
What I appreciated about this series is that it didn’t suggest that women themselves are complacent victims. It noted that at times they were victims of the societal norms of the era, or victims of their circumstances (specifically poverty or caste) but presented the history of gender in a way that noted the importance of equality over dominance. This is a rhetoric that is sadly missing from many gender based discussions. Sometimes we get really focused on binary discussions of woman or man that we forget about equality. The discussion shouldn’t be who is better or worse off it should be ‘why aren’t we at a point where we no longer need to discuss rights based on what genitals you have’. Women’s rights are important, especially in many countries where there is oppression, violence, or other gender based disparity. But what ‘right’ should one gender or person really have over another? Ideally we would look at all people regardless of gender (or any other point of difference) as being the same as us. All of us have strength and softness inside of us. Neither should be assigned to be gender specific. Which is why feminism is such an important moment for ALL people, not just women, and as Freedman suggests, this revolution can be lead by women. If the dominant male rhetoric was to shift to allow for more emotional freedom then many who prescribe to the idea of ‘manliness’ would be free to explore things outside of ‘man-land’ (which is all about guns, sex, war, power, anger, violence and being strong). While there are is a gentle and slow softening of this ‘manly’ ideal it’s still quite a dominant part of our global narrative.
What has this got to do with fashion and sustainable style?
Many like to write fashion off as being ‘frivolous’ or unimportant. But if you happen to get a chance to watch this documentary (there is a YouTube of the first one above but my guess is that it’s no a legit copy and will likely disappear quickly) you will see that fashion has long been a part of the story of society, and the oppression or libration of women. What I really appreciated about this series is that Foreman was strategic in the presentation of veils, scarves and other items that were developed to preserve a ladies ‘modesty’. It is key to remember that while there is a historical association between modesty clothing and oppression, that some women are liberated and empowered by their choice to ‘cover up’ for religious or personal reasons. Adornment, clothing, makeup and hair is not always a sign of struggle or being subservient. Which is something that I personally feel gets lost in translation on social media feeds. While it’s nice to show the world a make-up free face, its also very important to remember that some people like and are empowered by this kind of adornment. Be sure that your message of empowerment or liberation (be it going make-up free or throwing off the shackles of covered nipples) isn’t going to make others feel bad about their decision to opt out of your liberation. On another note, the history of women is sprinkled with amazing creative pursuits and conquests. You will be very surprised at to all the beautiful things that have happened over time through the power of love between men and women, including some of the most beautiful buildings across the globe.