BSP Podcast: Charlotte Knowles & Filipa Melo Lopes on Dressing Like a Feminist

podcast update

This episode of the BSP Podcast sees Charlotte Knowles & Filipa Melo Lopes presenting a paper from our 2022 conference.

Season 6 episode 143: 21 May 2024

Season 6 continues with another presentation from our 2022 annual conference, Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Spatiality. This episode features a presentation from Charlotte Knowles, University of Groningen and Filipa Melo Lopes, University of Edinburgh.

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Charlotte Knowles and Filipa Melo Lopes
‘How to Dress Like a Feminist’

From Mary Wollstonecraft to Sandra Bartky, feminist philosophers have historically denounced women’s attention to clothes as a form of complicity with patriarchal hierarchy. Through self-objectifying and laborious forms of dress, women constitute themselves as passive objects, rather than active subjects. The key to liberation, then, has been said to lie in ‘opting out’ of care for one’s appearance. However, this strategy problematically dismisses the pleasure and the sense of creative self-fashioning that women experience in selecting, wearing, and making clothes. Feminist philosophers face therefore an impasse: either we acknowledge the oppressive function of clothes, but risk ignoring women’s lived experience; or we recognise the genuine pleasure and expressive freedom derived from clothes but undermine our ability to critique them. What then, if anything, can we say about what it is to ‘dress well’, in an ethical sense, in a patriarchal society? To answer this question, we adopt a phenomenological perspective, focussing on the relational, dynamic and embodied nature of meaning. We argue that the meaning of clothes is never entirely fixed and that they sit within a relational whole of significations (a ‘world’). Therefore, complicity with gender hierarchy is not a matter of what one wears, but primarily of how one wears it: of one’s relation to clothing and to the world. We develop a phenomenological account of Effortless Dressing that seeks to do justice to feminist critiques, whilst also recognising the pleasure and possibilities that can be found in practices of dressing. We argue ‘effortlessness’ involves: 1) a recognition that clothes have meaning, but that this meaning is not entirely fixed, 2) a critical awareness of the social scripts around dressing, and 3) a relation to clothes that values them for how they enable us to do things in the world, rather than as ends in themselves. 

Biographies: Charlotte Knowles is an Assistant Professor in Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Groningen. Her primary research areas lie in feminist philosophy and phenomenology, particularly Heidegger and Beauvoir. These interests come together in her work on complicity where she explores issues of freedom, responsibility, agency and oppression from a phenomenological perspective, in order to examine why women sometimes reinforce or uphold their own subordination. || Filipa Melo Lopes is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, where she researches feminist politics, sexual ethics, social philosophy, and the philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir. Her recent publications include Beauvoirian analyses of incel violence and the #Metoo movement. 

Further Information:

This recording is taken from our Annual UK Conference 2022: Engaged Phenomenology II: Explorations of Embodiment, Emotions, and Sociality (Exeter, UK / Hybrid) with the University of Exeter. Sponsored by the Wellcome Centre, Egenis, and the Shame and Medicine project. For the conference our speakers either presented in person at Exeter or remotely to people online and in-room, and the podcast episodes are recorded from the live broadcast feeds.

The British Society for Phenomenology is a not-for-profit organisation set up with the intention of promoting research and awareness in the field of Phenomenology and other cognate arms of philosophical thought. Currently, the society accomplishes these aims through its journal, events, and podcast. Why not find out more, join the society, and subscribe to our journal the JBSP?