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The size of women’s pockets have a strange, sexist, and oppressive history

Just last week at the airport, I was searching for my passport. It was far down my bag, hidden in my collection of lipsticks, nail files, and unexplainable candy wrappers. As I approached the front of the line, I started getting stressed, but I grabbed it just in time as the security guard laughed at me.

 As I was recovering from the stress-inducing moment that is my life, an old man next to me whipped out his strangely fancy passport cover from his suit jacket pocket and was in and out in about 30 seconds.

Pockets have been anti-feminist from the beginning.

Have you ever wondered why that is? Why is it that I am carrying this huge bag containing everything under the sun, and this business bro just has his suit jacket?

Pockets have been anti-feminist from the beginning.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, women’s pockets began in the 17th century. They weren’t yet sewn into clothing and were a separate article of clothing tied around a woman’s waist. Because of the price, pockets were a sign of wealth. They were large, embroidered, and incredibly delicate.

At this time, to avoid visibility, women wore pockets underneath their petticoat. So because the pockets were underneath all those all layers, they were accessible through a series of slits. This made them invisible, but accessible, and very inconvenient.

[image description: pockets sewn in the 19th century] Via Victoria and Albert Museum
Meanwhile, at the same time, pockets were sewn into the jackets, waistcoats, and breeches. For men, pockets have always been perfect. They have not changed the layout of pockets for men since the 17th century.

In the 1790s, pockets went out of style.

A Greek-inspired high waist draping dress replaced the typical Victorian hoop skirt. If there were two huge fanny packs on your hips, it would ruin the shape of the dress. Enter: the handbag.

At the time they were called reticules, and they were so small you could barely fit coins. Instead, women would wear them kind of like the pocket at the front of an apron, with a ribbon tying it in the back. That sounds less than convenient as well. But men still have pockets in their jackets and pants.

[image description: reticule, England, 1800-24. Victoria and Albert Museum] Via Victoria and Albert Museum
The 20th century is where things get interesting.

In 1933, Women’s Wear Daily “boldly” asked the “controversial” question, “should women wear trousers?” Women were going to work now, and it was only practical to allow it. So Marlene Dietrich, a woman, French pilot, and professional badass, then enters the scene, wearing some trousers, doing her thing, and once again shows womankind the amazing benefits of pockets.

In 1954, Christian Dior famously said: “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.”

Because of her, the style tended to be more utilitarian looking. And it was amazing.

[image description: Marlene Dietrich, pioneer of androgynous clothing, lounges by in a chair] Via Paul Cwojdzinski in Smithsonian Magazine
Later, though, the popular silhouettes changed. Where in the 1930s it was desirable to look like a full-figured Marilyn Monroe, the latter 20th century decided women should be skinny. Having things in your pockets at your hips apparently ruins the facade that your hips are prepubescent looking. So, naturally, pockets leave us again.

Skinny women have been the main fashion narrative, really, since forever. 

In 1954, Christian Dior famously said: “Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration.” And isn’t he right? Men have four functional pockets in each pair of pants. And women put their phones in their back pockets, because, well, it doesn’t fit in the front.

When is the last time you put anything in your front pocket?

Not that you need to be reminded, but the patriarchy is still in full swing.

Now that gender-fluid fashion is at the cusp of popularity, we are beginning to see a shift in what masculine/feminine is, the gaps between that dichotomy, and, an increase in pockets for women. This spring, a huge trend that is hitting stores are utilitarian styles, which means we can all embrace our inner Marlene Dietrich. At least I will be.

Not that you need to be reminded, but the patriarchy is still in full swing.

You’d think clothes are designed for women, that the fashion industry knows their market, and that the pieces designed would in some shape or form make comfort a priority- especially given the massive size of the female fashion industry. The reality is far from it.

Next time I am at the airport, I will definitely keep my passport in my pocket.

Because you know what? Marlene Dietrich would have – and I definitely can too.

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Beauty Lookbook

I hid behind perms for years, until the day I finally cracked and let my natural hair show

On my 12th birthday, my mom gave me the gift of a perm. For years, I had my natural hair in different intricate braided styles with different beads. But this time I was going to have sleek, long hair, devoid of any kinks. The Dominican hair salon that we went to usually complained about my kinky curly hair. It was always too much work to blow dry and straighten.

“Mami, you need to put perm. It will be easy,” the hairdresser would say.

My mom always resisted the idea. She had gotten a perm when she was around my age for the same reason. Kinky curly hair was too much work for hairstylists, but my mom didn’t want me to go through with it. Her wish was that I could accept my hair for what it was in its natural state, without all the chemicals and alterations.

[bctt tweet=” She wanted me to accept my hair in its natural state.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Growing up, many of the shows I watched didn’t have people with my hair. Even people in my family didn’t really show off their naturally kinky hair.

Most of the time, the women I knew straightened their hair, either with heat or a perm, while others kept it hidden under protective styles. At a young age, I had already learned to hate my hair in its natural state. I was tired of having to sit between my mom’s legs as she cornrowed my hair and rubbed grease on my scalp. I envied my friends who had long straight hair, while I was stuck with my Afro-textured hair. At the time I didn’t realize that my hair was a symbol of my identity and complex history.

My quest to have sleek long hair was finally achieved when my mom decided to give me a perm.

The first time I was scared. My mother had warned me that if it was kept in for too long, it could burn my scalp and fry my hair. I remember the number of times I sat in the salon chair complaining of a burning sensation and the hairdresser telling me that it was okay, that I still had five more minutes. Sometimes it was complete torture, not only to myself but to my hair. After getting a perm, I would blow dry and straighten it with even more heat causing more damage to my strands. My hair wasn’t receiving the love that it needed because I was worried more about appearances than my own hair health.

There was a part of me that felt that this new hair wasn’t really me.

[bctt tweet=”My hair wasn’t receiving the love that it needed because I was worried more about appearances than my own hair health.” username=”wearethetempest”]

During my freshman year of college, my mother was the first to go natural. My mother had become sick and did an overhaul on her health. She started eating clean and everything else followed. At first, many people were shocked and even judged her on her looks.

“But natural hair is not attractive. How will you find a man with that hair?”

Natural hair has always had that negative connotation attached. To others, it was too nappy and must be hidden in order to be acceptable.

If your hair was going to be natural, it had to be the “right” natural. The curl had to be perfectly spiral and reach down your back in order to be attractive to others, mainly men. When my mom suggested that I go natural as well, I was hesitant. I was afraid of what my hair would actually look like. I knew my hair would not look like those loose curls and I was afraid of the work that would be involved. While I had continued to get perms, I had avoided heat as a way to heal my hair for all the damage I had done.

As a college student, caring for my hair and maintaining perms were getting expensive, but I also feared that being natural would cost just as much or even more.

[bctt tweet=”A woman’s appearance is always supposed to cater to the male gaze.” username=”wearethetempest”]

A year later, I decided not to follow up with a perm.

Of all the decisions in my life that I have ever made, this was the easiest one. I did it because I wasn’t loving my hair in all of its natural glory. As women, we’re trained to put effort into our looks and value our hair just as much as we value the other frivolous things that make us feminine. However, there is a difference when it comes to a Black woman loving her hair.

Black hair has always had a complex history attached: from the slave masters making sure Black women’s hair was cut or shaved to erase their identity to Angela Davis being blacklisted because of her Afro, to now, where girls are unable to go to school because their braids are too distracting.

I can’t remember the number of times a man has told me that I had  “good hair.”

Good hair is a myth. We all have good hair, it’s all about how we take care of it. You can’t expect to have good hair if you don’t put the effort in. When I became natural, YouTube became my resource for learning the ins and outs of my new texture. At first, I was overwhelmed by the videos and seeing the different hair textures made me envious.

But after about three years of being natural, I realized that I was never going to have the same type of hair as anyone else, and I don’t love myself or my hair any less.

[bctt tweet=”Black hair has always had a complex history attached.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I advocate for natural hair because I believe that in the journey towards self-love, we must be willing to accept ourselves as we are in order to be completely in tune with our soul. This isn’t to say that I don’t have bad hair days, or days when I want to shave my head because I definitely do.

After years of hiding behind what people told me looked good, it’s liberating to choose my own path and accept my beauty in its natural state.

Life Stories Weddings

“No boys allowed” weddings are so backwards. What year are we in?

Sex segregation? At a wedding? What century are you writing this from, Nayab?

I understand any possible incredulity at the concept. In fact, a few weeks ago, I would have been completely against the idea as well. But that is not the case anymore – and all it took was one innocent conversation on a Tuesday afternoon to get me to this place of indecision.

I come from a country, and a culture, that is no stranger to this tradition.

In Pakistan, it is actually common practice.

Sometimes there is a partition set up in the middle, and other times an aisle between separate seating areas is sufficient. But despite witnessing this kind of wedding for most of my life, I approached my sister with indignation about the topic, “It’s a wedding! I don’t get it! What is so goddamned immoral about sitting at a wedding with the opposite gender? It isn’t like we’re trying to jump each other’s bones! What’s the harm?”

I was livid at that moment.

[bctt tweet=”It is common practice in Pakistan to have sex-segregated weddings.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But what my sister said next made me think twice, “You’ve never felt uncomfortable being ogled at one of these shindigs? Didn’t you notice that no one does it when all the men are on the other side, and there’s a gap where you can leave your worries?”

To this, I had nothing to snap back with. I couldn’t because it was the truth. But I still had my questions, like why does a woman’s comfort have to be synonymous with distance from men? Why was it portrayed as such a helpless thing in my society, the inability of a man to keep his eyes to himself?

Once, I asked a boy about it.

He asked me, in return, “If you were to come across, uh, the Sistine Chapel, let’s say, would you be able to help looking?”

It was evident from the look on his face that he was expecting me to be flattered by the comparison. And I almost wish that it was that easy. But it’s not; a woman is not an object, nor a work of art such as Michelangelo’s magnificent work, and she is not shaped or adorned for a voyeuristic male gaze.

Despite the compliment reference, this reason did not, and does not, sit well with me.

But it wasn’t time to think about it, for my sister was far from done with me.

“What about the women who cover their heads and faces because of religion, and want to look beautiful?” she fired my way, “Don’t they deserve to get to do their hair and leave it open, and to wear lipstick instead of just eye-makeup? It’s not fair to limit them to their beliefs.”

Again, I was shocked into silence. Sheepishly, all I could really do was shrug because the point she made hit home for me. I understood what she meant, even though I wasn’t happy about it.

[bctt tweet=”I understood what she meant, even though I wasn’t happy about it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In the midst of my indignation, I forgot to take into account that feminism looks different for everyone because of their cultural differences. Different women have different values and I can’t disregard that because of my own beliefs.

I so badly wanted to be right that I lost sight of something I believe in; to my very core.

I can’t say that I am completely convinced that sex-segregated weddings are something that I agree with, or that it is something I would ever choose for my own wedding. Nevertheless, I also can’t say that I feel right judging anyone who opts for it.

And despite my uncertainty about the concept of sex-segregation at a wedding, I strongly feel that we need to have more open conversations about it.

Gender & Identity Life

I’m a proud feminist, but sometimes I love getting catcalled

Last fall, I was in Baltimore with my husband. He was there for business, so I had a lot of time to wander the city by myself. It was still relatively warm, so one day I wore a flowy, low-cut sundress, without a bra.

While out at the mall, I was catcalled at least three times in the span of five minutes.

A range of thoughts rushed through my head. My first thought was “Guess I’ve still got it!” I was gratified that my appearance was validated by the male gaze. But almost immediately after the gratification registered, I began to feel shame. I’d asked for this by wearing a low-cut dress without a bra.

I felt kind of like a slut.

Then the feminist in me kicked in.

I began getting angry at the men for assuming they had the right to comment on my body, and for assuming their assessment of me was valid and necessary. Then I started to get angry at myself for enjoying their catcalls. I was a feminist. Didn’t I know that catcalling was a form of harassment? Didn’t I know that objectifying women was a product of a patriarchal society that oppressed women? I was deeply conflicted.

I often use humor to cope with overwhelming emotions, so I posted the following status update on my Facebook:


I had meant it to be a sarcastic joke, but as we all find out at some point in our online existences, sarcasm doesn’t always come across in text on the screen.

A bunch of my intelligent, insightful, feminist friends started commenting. Some of them took the joke as a reproach for enjoying catcalls. They strongly expressed their opinions that there was nothing wrong with being a feminist who enjoys being catcalled.

Some of my other friends sympathized with me, saying they also felt guilty when they enjoyed being catcalled; that it made them feel like a bad feminist.

Still, others launched into arguments against catcalling, asserting that women need to confront cat-callers to stop the harassment from occurring.

Others shared that they thought their sexuality was empowering and that they felt they gained control over men who ogled their bodies.

We live in a patriarchal society, which means that men control the power structures and they control the messages that society uses to manipulate women.

One of those messages is that women are only valuable if they are beautiful. And since men control the power structures, they’re the ones who get to decide what’s beautiful.

Women are taught that their value can only be given to them by a man who thinks they are beautiful. This is one of the reasons why women like being catcalled so much.

We see it as confirming our worth.

If women ever want to break free from the oppression of the patriarchy, we have to deconstruct and confront manifestations of the patriarchy, which means confronting things like catcalling. This can happen in a variety of different ways.

Maybe it’s just an internal confrontation: why did I enjoy being catcalled? Did I really enjoy it or am I fooling myself because it actually made me uncomfortable? What societal messages make me enjoy validation from the male gaze?

Most simply put, all female experiences have value and women are allowed to feel and do whatever fulfills them and makes them happy. So, if being catcalled makes you happy because you love your body and you love that other people love your body, good for you!

You’re not any less of a feminist.

However, if you like being catcalled because you hate your body and you’re seeking validation from others in order to find self-worth, and you believe your self-worth is based on your appearance, I suggest you read some feminist literature and do some hard thinking.

If you think about these questions and still come up with the answer that you love yourself and your body and you love other people enjoying your body, then you are an amazing woman.

If, on the other hand, you come up with some troubling thoughts and feelings about yourself and how you value yourself, then take some time to educate yourself on how patriarchal systems of oppression function.

Devote some time to learning to love yourself and your body. If you’ve done this and you’ve decided that catcalling actually makes you really uncomfortable, consider how you might react the next time you get catcalled.

You don’t have to stop every cat-caller you see and give them a college-level lecture on patriarchal systems and feminism, but you could say, “That makes me really uncomfortable, please don’t do that.”

Or you could say, “My body is not for your consumption,” and just walk away.

Or if you’re not comfortable confronting cat-callers directly, maybe the next time you see another woman being catcalled you could help the woman. Ask her to walk with you and leave the situation. Let her process her feelings about being catcalled.

These are all effective and productive ways to fight the patriarchy.

So, back to the original question: does it make you a bad feminist if you enjoy being catcalled? Hell to the no.

You are an individual woman with individual thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and it’s not feminism’s job to tell you how to think, feel, or process your experiences. What feminism can do is give you a new framework to process your experiences in order to see them through a different lens.

Use the framework as you will.

Beauty Lookbook

Dear fifteen-year-old me, stop being so damn judgmental of other women

Later on today, I am taking part in a photo shoot for the Interfaith Youth Core’s Better Together Coach program – which is super exciting! And along with the outfit I’m packing for it, I’m packing makeup to put on later. Seeing the way I view makeup now, verses how angsty fifteen-year-old highschool me viewed makeup, it’s funny to see my current actions. Fifteen-year-old me would biting current me’s head off.

But if I could talk to fifteen-year-old me, I would try to make her to better understand my current decisions.

I would explain to fifteen-year-old me that I’m packing makeup not because I’m uncomfortable with my face, but I’m packing it because I’m very comfortable with my face. It’ll stand out in the photos more, and I’ll also touch my face less (which we all know is how we spread germs to ourselves). I’m no makeup guru like the fabulous Fatima Ali, but I do appreciate and trust makeup more than I used to.

[bctt tweet=”I’m packing it because I’m very comfortable with my face.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In middle school, I struggled with low self-esteem and anxiety. This caused me to douse myself in makeup and damage my hair with greasy products and use flat irons too much and too poorly. Towards the end of eighth grade, I was able to learn to love myself and my appearance better while also forcing myself to take care of myself better.

Come high school, I cut my hair a lot shorter for it to become healthy again, learned better hair care routines, and decided to stop wearing makeup. I wouldn’t wear makeup unless I was told to for a family function or something along the lines of that.

This was all because I began to view makeup as a sign of weakness and an indicator of low self-esteem, because I knew that’s what I used it for in the past. I believed that makeup was only marketed to women so that women could please men – which could explain why we had a tendency to be more sensitized about the way we look to others. I would always be the one to say to my sisters or other women, “You look so much prettier without it, why try to please others?”

I didn’t trust makeup anymore.

[bctt tweet=”I began to view makeup as a sign of weakness and an indicator of low self-esteem” username=”wearethetempest”]

I thought I was empowering women when I said the statement mentioned earlier, and it actually did encourage a few. However, what I was saying for most women was not empowering, it was judgmental in the guise of female empowerment. And I should have known better; as someone who has struggled with body image at a young age, why perpetuate that to others?

After my freshman year of college, my sisters, cousin, aunt, and mother were all comparing and contrasting eye shadows and lipsticks while talking about their favorite products. Even with the few amount of makeup tools I had, they invited me into the conversation. And it was… fun. It wasn’t a circle of talking about how to please others, it was a conversation that allowed building one another up with the many ways we can look pretty. This was also around the same time I discovered Mary Kay products and became a beauty consultant for a little while, because I liked how comfortable the products were on the face.

[bctt tweet=”It was building one another up with the many ways we can look pretty.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It would still be nice to live in a society where men and women can make better distinctions of when women are wearing makeup and when they’re not – especially without referring to makeup wearers as “tired” when they’re not. I still believe that myself and other women look better without makeup, but I don’t believe that all women wear makeup to please others or wear it because of a lack of confidence. Seeing my sister wear makeup a lot, taking so much time with contour and sticking one too many things in her eyes, why would she dedicate that time to anyone but herself?

I still don’t wear makeup often, but when I do, it’s to feel good and look good. And if fifteen-year-old me were to have a conversation with the me now, I would hope she would be happy with how far I’ve come.