?Batman, Pass Me My Man Repellent Spray?
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.
The feature “From Man Getter to Man Repeller” shows, with a few simple accessories, just how easy it is to turn a perfectly good outfit into one that no self-respecting man would ever want to have sex with you in! Medine refers to large frames as “birth control glasses” and even jokingly suggests particular fashion choices as “Ten looks to kick start your anti-mating regime for spring.”
Though her blog is written in a humorous tone, the language she chooses is a continuous reinforcement of Naomi Wolf’s “Beauty Myth”, that women must adhere to a particular visual aesthetic in order to attract a sexual partner.
The Man Repeller is definitely funny, but upon closer inspection, it exemplifies internalized misogyny. By claiming that no one would ever have sex with you while wearing something, it reinforces the notion that a woman’s physical appearance is directly related to her sexual currency.
Medine’s method of eschewing of male attention reads something like a 7th grade science experiment where she goes out wearing a ‘normal’ outfit to see if it made a difference in her attractiveness to men, and lo and behold she gets asked out on a date by a man. Though I doubt her conclusions were airtight, I can’t help but question her hypothesis. We all know physicality is an important part of attraction, but what about personality, a sense of humour, and all those other important factors in the recipe for sexual chemistry? If some women have a Woody Allen Complex, where super attractive women to fall for homely, bookish men by virtue of their humour and intellect, then isn’t there something similar out there for men? Oh, that’s right, women have to be perfect-looking all the time or else we won’t get good jobs, find love and end up complete disasters.
Though the Man Repeller is meant to be celebratory of weird fashion choices, it sadly ends up being the opposite. Medine’s words imply that women have relinquished control over their own sex lives, accepting that men are the power-wielders in the minefield of sexual attraction. The haunting male gaze is always right over our shoulders instilling fear in single women that the outward expression of their individuality may be the reason for their romantic failures. Ultimately, Medine is more Camille Paglia than Cindy Sherman, and her blog does nothing to deflect the power of the male gaze.
Isabel Slone is a 21-year-old completing her degree in Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo. She enjoys sequins, cats, The Smiths and chronicles her daily outfits at http://hipstermusings.blogspot.com.