Stephanie Farnsworth looks at why we should be celebrating Jaden Smith’s latest career opportunity.
The most shocking thing about the news that Jaden Smith has featured as part of Louis Vuitton’s womenswear campaign is all of the vitriolic hatred to result from it. There are many elements to such a reaction but the bottom line is this: despite this rare attempt for the fashion industry to break down binaries, many so called radicals actually want to enforce them.
The most shocking thing about the news Jaden Smith has featured as part of Louis Vuitton’s womenswear campaign is all of the vitriolic hatred to result from it.
The most baffling thing has been the arguments employed by white cis feminists. I know they go out of their way to be transphobic and racist on occasion but the argument seems to be now that only women can wear certain clothes. Telling people how they can dress seems like something straight out of the 1950s.
I’ve seen photos throughout 2015 celebrating Ruby Rose, the new queer icon for smashing the binaries, yet this is because she fits the bill. She’s as much loved for her dissent from the binaries as she is for all the ways she fits into society’s ideas of what is beautiful: she’s white, slim, fits the conventional beauty norms and isn’t disabled. It’s okay for Ruby to wear ‘men’s clothes’ but not okay for a black young man to wear a skirt. These radicals are a bit too conservative for my liking.
I’ve seen photos throughout 2015 celebrating Ruby Rose, the new queer icon for smashing the binaries, yet this is because she fits the bill.
The argument over whether Jaden should be wearing women’s clothes is also entrenched in static ideas of what identities are. There has been little to no acknowledgement that gender can be fluid. Jaden is seen purely as cis, purely as masculine and his identity has been erased despite his own assertion that his experiences are much more fluid. Once again, this stems from the arrogance of cis people thinking they can define anybody’s identities. Gender can be nuanced and how one identifies today may be different tomorrow. A person may be a woman today, feel non-binary tomorrow, agender the day after, and a woman again a month from now – or it can be a lot more subtle and a lot more personal. Trying to drag Jaden out, erase his identity or to define him as anything as a third party is denying his autonomy and his valid experiences. I don’t know how Jaden identifies currently, and it’s none of my business.
Once again, this stems from the arrogance of cis people thinking they can define anybody’s identities.
It is also baffling when throughout history and through different cultures, it’s hardly been that unusual for a man to wear a skirt. Any person in England who says it is needs to seriously pay a visit to our northern neighbours. The gendering of clothes is entirely unnecessary. Clothes are an expression of identity. They are personal and they are not something that anyone else has the right to interfere in. It also makes zero sense when women now wear trousers and yet boys have been hauled out of school for requesting to wears skirts. Gender expression and expression of styles (because clothing does not always reflect a person’s gender as it is personal) can be central to a person’s happiness and confidence. It takes a particularly controlling nature to feel entitled to tell anyone what they can and can’t wear.
The criticisms of this campaign also reveal very narrow ideals about how a woman should look. Jaden aside, women’s bodies come in various shapes, types and sizes. There are horrendous arguments entrenched in bioessentialism about what a body is but the only person who can define their body is the one living in it. Many women will have a body shape like Jaden’s. It’s important that the clothes industry has a diverse range of models, not just because it’s important that everyone has a shot at that career, but because people need to be able to tell how clothes will fit and look. I never have any worries when shopping online. There are plenty of white women who are slim and with small breasts to look at so I instantly know what I’m getting when I click on my cart. However, there are barely any flat-chested models in women’s clothing, barely any women of colour modelling and just as rare are plus-sized models. Only ever presenting one body type in fashion campaigns or in clothing lines projects the fact that only a very narrow idea of beauty is allowed. It’s demeaning to all those who don’t fit those arbitrary boxes, and it’s also a headache when it comes to clothes shopping and trying to find clothes that are right for the individual.
It’s important that the clothes industry has a diverse range of models, not just because it’s important that everyone has a shot at that career, but because people need to be able to tell how clothes will fit and look.
Furthermore, Jaden’s race is – predictably – being erased in the comments or at worst, attracting overt hatred. The modelling industry is a tough enough place for any person of colour. People of colour in the modelling industry are often sexualised, used to fulfil racist ideas and tropes or erased all together. Many comments have claimed that Jaden is exploiting the trans movement (which is an argument that erases fluid identities, ironically) yet have failed to acknowledge the exploitation of people of colour throughout the decades in this industry. Their attempts at diminishing Jaden and this campaign smack of hypocrisy. They’re willing to claim exploitation to try to limit discussion and acknowledgement of different gender experiences but not at all concerned with the exploitation of people of colour which has gone on for an age. It’s a tactic purely to shut down debate on anything remotely venturing into the realm of trans.
It’s a tactic purely to shut down debate on anything remotely venturing into the realm of trans.
Smith’s news should be celebrated. It’s a small but significant display of progress in an industry that influences so many. Yet, typically it’s been used by transphobic people (particularly the ever vocal TERFs) to try to assert that one can only be a certain gender if they meet very specific criteria which they decide upon, and that one can only act in a way that they approve of. With these ‘progressive’ minds, who needs conservatives?
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