Sunday, February 18, 2018

Anatomy of a troll: why the yoga pants story is a Work of Art

Some texts demand close readings, and none more so than today's NYT op-ed by Honor Jones, "Why Yoga Pants Are Bad for Women." First, we have the author: not, as some surmised, a pseudonym. But it's the piece itself that I can't put aside. By design, no doubt, but, just, wow. Nearly a thousand comments! (Including from the requisite dude who doesn't care about fashion, doesn't care so much that he simply had to comment on a fashion article. Maybe several variations - haven't combed through all 910.) A nerve was, as they say, hit.

As a traditional op-ed, it's... not the greatest. It's not urgent, not topical, not consistent, but *is* mean-spirited. The premise - "Whatever happened to sweatpants?" - falls apart instantly, upon noticing that lots of people these days do indeed wear sweatpants, just not on the elliptical machine because they're too warm for that activity. 

As a trolling, 2018 NYT op-ed page installment, however, it is magnificent. I have this compelling, inexplicable need to pinpoint why. Here goes:

Feelings journalism:

"I got on the elliptical. A few women gave me funny looks. Maybe they felt sorry for me, or maybe they were concerned that my loose pants were going to get tangled in the machine’s gears. Men didn’t look at me at all."

What we're getting, to be clear, is not a report on something that happened. We're getting the author's feelings about others' feelings about her, as she imagines them. Projection, in other words. Like the original viral (also New Years-ish-themed!) yoga-class hate-read (the one in xoJane), we have a story built around one person's private anxieties, but presented as if offering the views of actual other people. I don't do yoga - maybe it lends itself to this? At any rate, feelings journalism is outrage-bait, because the reader immediately sees through the rhetoric and is like, you don't actually know what these other people are thinking, hmm!

A forced feminist thesis:

"It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress; that’s the job of male fashion photographers."

This is, I think, the key to the text. Jones is making a feminist case for women telling other women they're dressed all wrong. Because... well, because it's a woman saying it, and because it's kind of like high heels, except it isn't. The problem - which is to say, the genius - is that yoga pants aren't uncomfortable, or some sort of tax on being a woman. They're just... leggings, give or take, which more men would wear if this were socially acceptable. "We aren’t wearing these workout clothes because they’re cooler or more comfortable. [...] We’re wearing them because they’re sexy." 

Except, are we? If this is the Very Enlightened Feminist Case Against Yoga Pants, why does Jones refers to them as "pants that [...] threaten to show every dimple and roll in every woman over 30"? Is the issue that women shouldn't try to look hot at the gym, or - and how exactly is this feminist? - that women are trying and failing

But the over-30 addition is just part of the sinister genius of the op-ed. How many NYT readers (or others who come across the article) are women, over 30, who own stretch pants? Add to that trillion the men with opinions on stretch pants on women of various ages and physiques, and there you have it.

Sartorial side note: there was a time when leggings showed everything, but the technology has improved, which may explain why women are all wearing yoga pants these days.

#MeToo, misunderstood:

"We felt we had to look hot on dates — a given. We felt we had to look hot at the office — problematic. But now we’ve internalized the idea that we have to look hot at the gym? Give me a break. The gym is one of the few places where we’re supposed to be able to focus on how our bodies feel, not just on how they look. We need to remember that. Sweatpants can help."

This brings up an interesting angle: Why not concentrate your spending - and your primping - on gymwear? Maybe we've finally gotten it right - office clothes can be purchased for not much money at H&M or Uniqlo or whatever (black slacks, navy sweater, done), whereas the outfits worn in the setting that's both me-time (or me-time-adjacent) and a place where it's (relatively) OK to flirt (again, compared with at work; caveat that I've never actually belonged to a gym, and have no idea) are the ones you really save up for. Maybe leggings should cost more than blazers! In the name of work-life balance!

But what we're looking at here is, it's like the ukelele video. Choosing to mention the need to look hot at work, in a piece not really about that, but offering up only an ironic "problematic" as commentary, is... problematic! Which is, I think, the point.


"Frankly, I’m annoyed by the whole booming industry around women’s exercise..."

Is this an article about women wearing the wrong thing to the gym, or about it being wrong to be at the gym in the first place? 

Personal-finance judginess:

Telling people they're paying too much for X is just always always always irritating. You can't know that someone with $100 yoga pants didn't save up for those, or that this is somehow evidence of financial irresponsibility. Also? There are a whole lot of cheapo leggings out there, so the fact that a woman is wearing stretchy pants doesn't mean she's wearing those stretchy pants. And sales exist, as do thrift stores. As do people who quite simply knowingly pay a lot for workout wear because they want to, what's it to her???

The 2016 election:

"Pantsuits had a moment, back in 2016. I think women are ready to give them another chance."

Hillary! No troll is complete without the opportunity to spark a Twitter debate over whether Bernie would have, if given the chance, won.

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