Recently I stumbled across an item posted by a friend about a burgeoning feminist fashion trend. Drawn into reading the article by the newly coined word in its title, “menocore,” I learned that young [white] women these days aspire to the confidence and ease that beckons to them from late in life— yes, the menopause years— or rather the fantasy version of it as staged and lighted by Eileen Fisher, J. Crew and sometimes Ralph Lauren. Formless earth-tones, natural fabrics, long, flowing and comfortable. It makes extra sense that I have never heard of menocore because I’d only just recently heard of its etymological cousin, mumblecore, a genre of apparently all boring movies featuring young white people that was recently credited with “changing the Hollywood landscape.”
I digress, sort of. While author Sara Tatyana Bernstein took the time to acknowledge the unseen (women of color) by alluding to the fact that the wealthy older women who serve as models for this look are “usually” white, she probably should’ve lead with the whiteness.
Because if you do see enough women of color to identify a fashion sense you could broadly apply to our demographic, you would not notice large numbers of us sporting this look outside of the Zion set from Matrix: Revolutions. I do not claim to represent whatever pockets of black women would splash out on a $400 taupe sweater from Eileen Fisher— they should feel free to comment. I can state with confidence however, that by and large, we don’t envision ourselves reading Joan Didion near a rocky seashore, presumably in one of those enclaves where some neighborhood board has mandated that all houses shall also be painted a tasteful slate gray, eggshell or raw sienna. By the time Bernstein writes that these enviable menopausal women are “white, thin and above all, rich,” I was LOLing hard at this article, which essentially explains why any young woman might wish she could enjoy a life of wealth and leisure as an old white lady—a bony one, swathed in baggy linen. This is where half-assed attempts at inclusivity backfire. I’ve read enough of these types of articles over the years to bother myself to respond.
Generally speaking, women of color do not share the aspiration to be “invisible,” a state the author of a hyperlinked paean to Eileen Fisher itali-sighs as if it’s a cool shower after an endless day spent under the smoldering gazes of random and sundry sleazoids.
Perhaps the sage is always a more muted green on the other side. Invisibility is not exactly nirvana. When you’re only seen as a _____ person, a blank that’s not filled in, the same way other blanks that don’t describe anything pertinent are left that way, you don’t have to worry about men in the workplace taking you seriously. You also are not on the market in the sense that doesn’t need quotation marks: a non-object. An unknown unknown. Sometimes you literally aren’t there because you’re not hired. You don’t get harassed, a plus! You also don’t get the perks that come with a place on the wish list. At my former job, a left wing magazine ::rolls eyes:: I observed the way the “cute” interns garnered more attention from my twice-their-age supervisor and sometimes plum assignments he didn’t think to toss the non-cute interns, whom he occasionally found tiresome in their ambition. I didn’t fit into either category because I was A Black Person. People of color mostly didn’t intern there and I eventually got into trouble for making too much noise about this. Wearing billowy neutrals wouldn’t’ve helped, alas.
Another recent article from the Man Repeller website referenced in the menocore article cites a stark difference in how women perceive themselves along racial lines, using Rihanna as a role model for a healthier attitude.
Coaching from the new, larger Rihanna’s publicist aside, Black women expressed the most confidence with their appearance at a whopping 59%. Latina women, according to this survey, fell somewhere in the middle at 32%. No one asked Asian women to gauge their self-confidence, although that’s certainly a valuable statistic if a survey is supposed to say something about “women.” But only a handful of white women— 25%— felt confident about themselves.
Another confident demographic, according to Time? People 65 and older.
Which underscores the notion that devotees of menocore seek to achieve a position that older women acquire through time and that black women (in particular) experience from birth: that of being “[O]ut of sync with the standard of beauty,” to quote the Time article. Careful, though: these desexualized demographics also share the characteristic of missing out on employment opportunities.
Which leads to my next problem with menocore, presumably a daytime look. After-hours or next season, when it suits her, so to speak, it’s entirely possible for the twenty- to forty-something white woman to don a different kind of apparel and make the beauty standard work for her.
When I told my friend who posted this article that it was so white, she sought common ground. “I think the womanist version is dressing like Sweet Honey in the Rock,” she offered. It’s a reasonable but false equivalence. There could be black menocore (a word that frankly makes my uterus contract) but not the same (or any) reason to wear it.
Since no amount of consumer products can standardize our beauty, black women eschew mainstream judgement, we don’t have to spend time wondering how to negotiate sexual politics. We can be as fabulous as drag queens. I don’t ask myself questions like: If I go blonde, will that make me look younger? Does this skirt accentuate my chunky thighs? My focus lies elsewhere: How dare he judge my hair when he has male pattern baldness? Does his insecurity spring from being short? If we’re to give these polls any weight, it should also be noted that men don’t feel any more confident than women. Chances are I have more confidence than many of these men. Is this an advantage?
“Our clothes can represent our values,” concludes Bernstein, listing “sustainability, and ethical production practices”— both laudable goals. But then she throws in “inclusivity” while insisting that we all fight side-by-side in these formless, sexless shades of drear, a menocorps. As Jessa Crispin writes in her manifesto Why I Am Not a Feminist:
“This is part of the problem in creating a unified front for feminism: the median feminist is going to be a middle-class, educated white woman. Her desires and needs cannot stand in for the needs of all women. And yet we’ve focused on facilitating her dreams for much of recent feminist history. Our goals have been things that would make her life easier.”
Just as menocore is as much about wealth as it is about age, what I’ve just written is less about menocore than it is about inclusion. Or rather the fantasy version of it.