Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spotlight on Mimi Nguyen

A few weeks ago I got back in touch with Mimi Nguyen, a former pen-pal of mine from the 90's grrl-zine days. After hearing from her at work I googled her and found out that she has taught a course on fashion and feminism that sounds interesting. We've since been corresponding a bit and she sent me a link to her blog, threadbared, which I've been reading this week and has made me feel less crazy.

About a year ago I went on an anti-fashion feminist tirade that was ultimately productive but led to a lot of hurt feelings and difficult conversations with some younger women in my community who felt insulted by my emotional spiel against something meaningful to them. Looking back, part of that was related to turning 40 and starting to feel alienated from youth culture yet still being totally immersed in it as a musician and an aging punk rocker.

I've calmed down a lot since then and even taken to reading the occasional fashion blog. Still, the "feminist" writing I have seen on fashion does not reflect the kind of analysis or complexity that I am looking for. I want to see writing about sweatshops. I'm sick of seeing the "feminist" orientalist trope of "the veil" as a symbol of oppression contrasted with fashion as a celebration of "freedom" practiced by western women. I want this discussion to go beyond the individualism that equates style with personal choice and personal choice with feminism, so therefore style=feminism. Mediocre "feminist" magazines, women-owned businesses and fashion shows that encourage consumerism are way too compatible with the insidious post-90's DIY boutique-y "hipster" "indie" culture that facilitates gentrification, fosters niche-marketing and lacks a radical political agenda.

This frustration is not just about being dissatisfied with feminism-as-fashion or not being able to find a fashion blog I can relate to on a personal level. It's about wanting to be a part of a truly radical anti-capitalist feminist movement and not seeing this happening in my community. I keep thinking that maybe if I keep looking I will find it, that perhaps I am more isolated than I realize as I get older here in Olympia, which is a college town filled with an ever migratory population of young/ish adults who call each other "kids". I want an economic analysis. I want to see post-colonial theory become more accessible. I want punk rock feminism to evolve and address racism, imperialism, empire and war.

Anyhow, reading threadbared this week as well as the new issue of make/shift, I finally feel like there is a glimmer of hope!

From their bio:

We are two clotheshorse academics who write, teach, and speak about the politics of fashion and beauty.

Minh-Ha T. Pham, based in New York City and San Francisco, shops sample sales with a keen and discerning eye. She writes about the ways in which national publics and polities are organized around traditional and new media that are increasingly shaped and limited by neoliberal discourses and policies. Focusing on the fashion media and the Vietnamese American media, both her projects are concerned with the complex and contradictory relations of communication technologies, consumerism, and capitalism.

Mimi Thi Nguyen, based outside of Chicago, scours thrift and vintage stores with reckless abandon. Situating her scholarly work within transnational feminist cultural studies, she writes about neoliberalism and humanitarianism, war and empire. A former zinester, Punk Planet columnist and Maximumrocknroll shitworker, she has also published on punk and queer subcultures.

In addition to writing fanzines (Aim Your Dick and Evolution of a Race Riot) Mimi Nguyen is also a former columnist for Punk Planet and has created an archival blog of her writing called Thread and Circuits.

Today she posted her own piece on Race & Riot Grrl, which you should totally read, especially in light of yesterday's post.


  1. Thanks for the links to Mimi's archival blog & her post on race & riot grrrl. The Evolution of a Race Riot comp zines that Mimi put together contained some of the best writings on race & subculture that I remember reading. I just found out about threadbared a few days ago & am looking forward to reading it -- I don't read many fashion blogs & am not particularly attentive to fashion in general, but I'm very interested to see how Minh-Ha & Mimi's academic/political interests shape their approach to fashion blogging.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I have literally been reading Mimi's writing all weekend, yet when I decided to post I didn't really write about her writing at all! I guess I will have to let it sink in. It is expansive and complex. It would be cool to do a Q & A with her at some point. threadbared is so good. I actually really enjoy Tavi Gevinson (13 year old fashion-blogger) as a writer, but, well, she is 13! And just discovering feminism...her level of aesthetic engagement is fascinating and she's a great writer. I consider her a true artist. You can read what threadbared has to say about fashion blogging here the girl in the picture is Tavi