Tuesday, November 8, 2016

putting on the pantsuit

Ah, the pantsuit. It's been an object of derision for as long as it's been around. Of course, it's little different from the suit — leaving aside the essential difference, namely who's wearing it.

There's a tidy iconographical rhyme in the phenomenon of Pantsuit Nation. It's yet another way in which a group of Davids reclaims a symbol or term ("bitch"; "queer") to wield against Goliath.

Anne Hollander was talking about this in the 90s. She pointed out that the Western woman's silhouette was denied legs, the symbol of action and agency. Every time women got a bit of power — say, in the 20s, when women, newly enfranchised to vote, entered the urban workforce in a new way, or in the 60s, when they began to clamor against other forms of disenfranchisement — the female silhouette gained legs. It happened either through the raising of hemlines to reveal the leg, or through pants.

At this fun moment, our culture seems ready to embrace all it considered dorky a moment ago. Men are embracing the previously unsexy mantle of soccer-dadhood. (Witness the ads for the newly revamped Chrysler Pacifica, which aim to make the minivan an object of neighborly admiration. Minivan: The New Grill!)

And, this Election Day, women are putting on pantsuits, the fluorescent-lit symbol of all that is dreary about the workplace. For five minutes, the pantsuit has become a badge of honor and a tribute to the strength of those who paved the way.

Hope that idea has legs.

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