How to dress like a feminist: A relational ethics of non-complicity

Charlotte Knowles*, Filipa Melo Lopes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Feminists have always been concerned with how the clothes women wear can reinforce and reproduce gender hierarchy. However, they have strongly disagreed about what to do in response: some have suggested that the key to feminist liberation is to stop caring about how one dresses; others have replied that the solution is to give women increased choices. In this paper, we argue that neither of these dominant approaches is satisfactory and that, ultimately, they have led to an impasse that pervades the contemporary feminist debate. The problem is that both sides of the debate understand women’s complicity in patriarchal subordination as a matter of what women wear and do. Instead, we propose a phenomenological analysis that understands complicity as based in our relations to our clothes. Starting from this phenomenological perspective, we sketch a new relational feminist ethics of dressing. This alternative ethical paradigm cannot yield a simple recipe for how to dress or tell us what garments are off-limits. But it can offer a way to make critical feminist judgements about clothes without veering into a stifling new prescriptivism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy
Early online date12 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jul 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • feminist philosophy
  • applied ethics
  • complicity
  • phenomenology
  • clothes


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