The strangest thing popped into my inbox the other day: a BCBG ad for this season’s statement jewelry. Front and center were a couple of iterations of what you see on your left: a knuckle ring. I kid you not.
Look closely and you’ll find that the “ring” is actually two of them linking your fingers together on the inside, with a bejeweled bar across the top of two fingers on the outside. It appears to be an ironic riff on the brass knuckles of gangster movie fame.
If your education in 1930’s films has been neglected, brass knuckles were four linked metal rings with a bar of concealed weight that, when the bad guy made a fist, gave him a sneaky and powerful punch.
Back to BCBG, couple the knuckle rings with the must-have shoes of the season – platform gladiator sandals – and you have a look that screams power. I’m going somewhere with this, but it probably isn’t where you think. But before we move on, let me just say that I have never been one to judge a feminist for her fashion. In fact, I applaud feminists who aren’t afraid to wear pink (when it’s the new black), who don’t shy away from lipstick, who dress to please themselves, whether it’s sensible shoes or sexy stilettos, khaki pants or trendy little pencil skirts. Either/or is in itself is a sign of power: What we wear is more than just utility.
In fact, I remember back when I was a new mom, with a pretty sweet free-lancing gig that allowed me to work from home when Shannon was a baby. Every once in a while, when the workload built up, my boss would go sideways, call me up and rant that either I did a full-on nine-to-five in the office everyday or the arrangement was kaput. At which point, I would call the babysitter and speed to the office, where I always managed to talk myself back into working from home. At such meetings, I always wore the same pair of don’t-mess-with-me high heeled boots.
I am the first to say that my boss never noticed my boots. They meant nothing to him. But they meant a lot to me. On those days, they gave me a sense of power (and, I confess, height) which for some reason gave me the juice to speak up.
Which brings us back to the knuckle rings and all the other overt Wonder Woman fashion statements: are they signs of power for women who have seized it – or props for women who still feel they have none? Here comes my point.
For too long women have been told they have no voice, that they’ve been silenced by the patriarchy. Which was one hell of a wake-up call and rallying cry back in the early days of the women’s movement. And maybe it’s still true to a certain extent. But what I wonder is if one of the unintended consequences of the rhetoric is that many women have come to believe it — and have silenced themselves, convinced that no one will listen.
Or feel that that their only source of power is in trappings like knuckle rings.
Which was why I was so proud of Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball, the young Newsweek women who were willing to bite the hand that feeds them in the blistering piece entitled “Are We There Yet?” (Answer: No) that Shannon wrote about on Tuesday. It wasn’t only what they wrote that so impressed me, but the fact that they had the guts to write it. That, to quote my favorite VP, is a big, fucking deal.
What’s also a pretty big deal is the fact that Newsweek ran with the story. It’s front and center and last I heard, Bennett, Ellison and Ball are still employed.
I see two lessons here. First, we’ve got a long way to go before the work of the women’s movement is done. But second is the subtext: we do indeed have a voice. We just have to use it.
And we probably don’t need knuckle rings to do so. Unless, of course, we think they’re cool.