I was reading the Globe and Mail on my way to work and came across this article about the resurgence of aprons as fashionable items. While this doesn’t have anything to do with modesty directly, it does discuss femininity and gender-roles related to one small item of clothing. It isn’t even a clothing item. It’s an accessory.
When discussing modesty in the modern world it is nearly impossible to avoid discussing feminism briefly. Many argue that modesty is the very opposite of liberation; it is anti-feminist. Modesty is thought to be a denial of your true self. In a culture where individuality is the supreme value, a denial of any part of your identity is declared anathema. (We’ll leave the “Modesty is a realisation of self and not a denial of self,” argument for another time.)
So the question is: Can an apron be just an apron?
The one quote that is truly irritating comes from Shira Tarran, a blogger for Ms. Magazine:
“These aprons are reinforcing ideas that domestic labour like cooking is women’s work and there’s nothing ironic or progressive about unpaid work, even if we want to wrap it up in a pretty decoration”
Dear Ms Tarran, no one said my husband couldn’t wear my cherry print apron in the kitchen. He may want to protect his clothes while making his fantastic grilled-cheese sandwiches.
The view-point that I think younger women tend to identify with suggests, “the apron doesn’t define the way it used to.”
Like other apronistas, she argues that the unforgiving work schedules that have threatened domestic life to near extinction today have conversely made the apron a symbol of respite – at least for some women.
My mom was born in 1950. I was born in the early 80s. In terms of personality we are the same woman born more than 30 years apart. Our conservatism and liberalism make us aliens to each other. For as long as I can remember, my mother has identified as a feminist. For most of my life I thought the feminists were all a bunch of old, crazy women who were out of touch with the modern reality. My mother and I illustrate the gap in 2nd and 3rd wave feminist thought.
I teach knitting classes. It is interesting how many women, who fall into the same generation as the second wave feminism, are picking up knitting needles as a hobby for pure enjoyment. Many women of this generation didn’t learn in their younger years because such a domestic art was a symbol of enforced domesticity. Bowing to the patriarchy of old would elicit scorn from your enlightened and liberated peers.
Women of my generation ( approximately 30 and younger) haven’t had the same ideas to fight against. We have always assumed that we are the equal of men and, therefore, deserving of all rights and privileges that a man enjoys. We understand that we have the right to a career if we want it. Being a stay at home parent is a choice. Domestic arts could simply exist as a creative hobby.
Maybe that’s it, It isn’t a feminism issue as much as it is a generational issue. Younger women see vintage fashions and see the glamour and ideals of by-gone days. Women who lived through the early years of the 20th century have a different point of reference. An apron brings up all the memories of the fights they thought they’d won. The idea that younger women would throw all the previous generation’s efforts out the window and don symbols of feminine servitude is a disrespect at the most basic level. To our predecessors it is, to a far lesser extent, like winning one of the wars to preserve democracy and then turning around and running into the arms of the fascists or communists. The generational gap is really at the heart of the issue.
I don’t much care for militant feminism. I recognise equality in the human race. Equality is not defined as sameness. To me it really is just an apron. It represents nothing more than a fashion statement.