March 30, 2011 • Pop Culture
“Batman, Pass Me My Man Repellent Spray”
Fashion blog, Man Repeller, has been garnering praise for deflecting the male gaze, but writer Isabel Slone looks at whether the blog merely reflects internalized misogyny.
I don’t remember exactly the first time I saw the Man Repeller. It was most likely during one of my whirlwind click-fests where I open about 30 “new tabs” on fashion-related things that seem entertaining, pretty or at least worth a mere five seconds of my time. But I do remember being struck with a sense of uneasiness, like something was off.
The concept is pretty typical for a fashion blog. Cute, young, skinny white girl takes pictures of her outfits occasionally and provides commentary on fashion items she deems notable. Usually fashion blog commentary deals exclusively with how much they love Chloe shoes or Martin Margiela or something of equally banal ilk that has the power to capture people’s attention so long as you’re pretty. But the Man Repeller doesn’t talk about pretty things. In fact, Leandra Medine moves in the opposite direction, self-deprecating her fashion choices to the point of no return. A man repeller is defined as "outfitting oneself in a sartorially offensive way that will result in repelling members of the opposite sex."
The Man Repeller is supposed to be celebratory of those strange creations brought to us by high-fashion houses that the unseasoned masses just don’t understand. Are drop-crotch pants unflattering on all people and suggest the presence of a filled-up, stinky adult diaper? Are turbans reserved for religious Eastern men? Leandra Medine doesn’t think so. In fact, she wears them with all the pride and aplomb of the confident young woman she is. Not to mention she looks extremely good in all of it. Medine’s style is pretty simple, tame even despite the occasional run-in with multi-coloured print mixing. Her style is traditionally sexy, and she dresses like a woman who is "into fashion" would dress; with lots of shrunken motorcycle jackets, skinny jeans and red lipstick as if she’s just waiting in line to get snapped by a street style photographer.
Though the Man Repeller is a long way from those irritating generic feature articles showing you the best shapes to hide your tummy/thighs/ass/arms/(insert offensive body part here), it chalks in with just as many negative points on the other side of the spectrum on my feminist-o-meter. Her constant talk of "birth control glasses" or "looking like spermicide" invokes the haunting ‘male gaze’ that permeates our every move as women. The male gaze concept was introduced by feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey, and occurs when the audience is placed in the perspective of a heterosexual man. Women are passive subjects to be looked at, while men are the active agents doing the looking.
Initially, the idea of acknowledging the power of style to attract or deflect the male gaze is empowering. A New York Times article on Medine states, “There is a bit of Cindy Sherman in what Ms. Medine is doing: proudly obstructing the male gaze by disguising her body with androgynous or intimidating silhouettes.” The problem is her keen and constant invocations of male attitudes serve as a reminder for women to be self-conscious about their fashion choices at all times.