Dissident living

December 7, 2013

Elizabeth Dillers text Bad Press talks about the body, and how the body is being used in different ways and seen as a productive machine and a project to be as perfect as possible. To me, it’s much about a kind of a dehumanization of the body and it is a constant on-going process all around us.

The passage about the white, clean shirt interested me the most.
The shirt is disciplined at every stage to conform to and unspoken social contract” says Diller on page 64. The white shirt is a product, designed in every stage, to be a rational process that is proper in all stages. It is also a product designed for a specific person: a working man.

When I was in Paris the last weekend it stroke me how a woman never can be right. Because already from the beginning, the man is the norm and it doesn’t matter how much you try, because it’s already decided that you as a woman is wrong. You are the second best. I was thinking of this because of clothes. The shirt, tie and suit as the “right” way to dress in a business situation only applies to men, and it creates the unspoken social contract that Diller mentions. As a women you are free to dress like this, but you can never be right because you are not a  part of the unspoken social contract.

“When worn, the residue of the orthogonal logic of efficiency is registered on the surface of the body. The parallel creases ad crisp, square corners of a clean, pressed shirt have become sought after emblems of refinement. The by-product of efficiency has become a new object of its desire.”

I think it’s time for something else to take place. The social contract of efficiency, cleanliness, properness, perfection is something we can leave behind and focus to the future.

I just love Diller’s experiments with the dissident ironing and to me, it’s easy to relate to design. Designers and architects propose spatial configurations of rooms and things, and we t h i n k that we know how people are going to use it. But we don’t really do that. I guess we don’t really use our own apartments really as they we’re designed and let’s take that a step further. It’s time for dissident living.

Matilda Schuman

Source: Elizabeth Diller, ‘Bad Press’ in Francesca Hughes, ed. The Architect Reconstructing her Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996, pp. 74-95.


One Response to “Dissident living”

  1. Johan Alvfors Says:

    It is striking how we came to quote exactly the same passage! I also interpreted the text much the same way as you, and drew almost the same conclusion.

    I think your notice of the impossibility for women to conform to the norm is interesting, correct and sad – that is the nature of an oppressing norm. However, as you described the “perfect businessman” dress in the “right” clothes, I came to think about my own ambiguous relation to these norms. It has been something I hated already as a small child – I shun the shirts I had to wear on festive occasions. As I grew older, I have used the “tool” och “correct dress” in certain situations (as performer, in political situations), but still lived very much outside of considering it an ideal. On the contrary, it strikes me how thin (albeit viscous) the polished ice of the “successful man”-image is, and how a slight shift of attitude can crush it. One person can seldom destroy a norm, but one person can, at their own cost, distinguish himself (or herself? I don’t really know) from that norm. In the case of the shirt, that cost has always been very low to me. I find it very easy to see the ridiculousness in all those men dressing the same, worrying about their orthogonal creases. Not to ignore the fact that it is real and has implications for other people, but rather because I can feel better that way; I can see beyond it and be part in the game with my own rules.

    As I said, my cost for deviation is low – and coming to thing about it, it might be because the option of conformity is open to me, I just have to open the wardrobe. I always wonder if this option is open to my female friends. At least I know some of them much more comfortable in a suit than me – although I never interrogated them further on the issue. Maybe you have a perspective on this?
    Johan A

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