The Fallacy of “Every Woman Should Own” Lists

In which women need the perfect leather jacket and boyfriend jeans, or their vaginas will malfunction.

In which women need the perfect leather jacket & boyfriend jeans, or their sex organs will malfunction.

According to the Internet and every fashion magazine since the dawn of time fashion magazines, there are a lot of things that every woman should own. A classic trench, the LBD, an array of different lipstick colors, “key” shoe styles, leopard print this, and patent leather that. Despite the absolute ridiculousness of lists deemed worthy of every vagina-wielder on the planet, they still manage to catch my eye, tapping perfectly into that ceaseless concern of what I might lack in the proper female department. As I click through these items that I apparently must have, I’m usually mocking the entire notion while also (somewhat shamefully) wondering if, perhaps, I really should buy whatever’s listed that I’ve yet to acquire.

Once I get passed the inevitable self-loathing that comes with reading such low-calorie bullshit, I move on to the insecure self-reflection that these pieces practically call for. Would I be closer to having it all if I possessed this perfectly curated set of embellishments?  Would I suddenly transform into a woman, with a capital W? Powerful yet pretty, submissive yet stern? Toeing some kind of invisible line between highly organized and totally carefree?

Images of Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie start rushing through my head on a wave of green juice, black Stella totes and ripped boyfriend jeans jumbled amongst them. Ah, and let’s not forget those requisite Rag & Bone booties. I think of their expertly balanced lifestyles—that astonishing ability to look chic at the airport all whilst juggling Africa’s starving population, their own starvation diets, highly successful careers, illness, nouveau divorce, and a bunch of adorable children. These aren’t women I consciously consider role models, or even really admire, and yet, they seem to perfectly parallel this vision of woman that most brands and publications are bent on selling. The result is that—despite my stronger affinity for ladies like Dunham and Adichie—I find myself questioning if the path to that ever-elusive happiness is paved in a very particular set of sartorial choices.

As far as marketing ploys go, this one continues to win, or so I assume, given its frequency. While I’ve never actually submitted to it, I’ve definitely come close, allowing these third parties to refashion my goals and dreams as suddenly impinging on the right ratio of plum lipsticks to black pointy-toed flats in my arsenal.

Amidst all the recent talk of a resurgent feminism in popular culture, we’re still rendering women as one monochrome body, with shared wants, needs, and desires. The prescription, essentially, is the same for us all. Discovering that such logic is faulty doesn’t require a lot of deep thinking—you can simply run through the various women you know in your head to realize that what works for one of them (whether it be a belief, a career choice, or a shade of freaking blue) won’t necessarily work for another.

This is fashion content at its worst: regurgitated guidance with roots that should be more at home sometime around 1950. Other than being offensive, it’s unoriginal and incredibly dull—a waste of its creators time and ours. It would be nice to see these mass publications and websites (apparently here to “service” us women) work just a wee bit harder at shaking up their content, rather than taking the easy route of deferring to tired and restrictive gender ideals.

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