Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:38:34 AM EST
I keep saying how I don't have much time to write, how I'm all BUSY, but then I keep getting irritated by things I'm reading and, mere DAYS ago, I have to end up writing over THREE THOUSAND words on HCR (which, admittedly, was somewhat cathartic, but that's beside the point) and I pop in after a HELLISH day Thursday just to relax a bit and see what's what and what do I find? You guys having a whole mini-meta to-do, not only about the French burka fiasco, but ALSO getting pissy about gender roles and WHO is commenting about said French fiasco. In the midst of this, a very good question is asked: "My question is what makes you[a female] better able to understand their situation than me[a male]?"
Well, gather 'round the thread, boys, cuz your good friend, Izzy, has something to say -- you know I love you, right? So try not to take offense, but there's a thing or two I think you need to know and I want you to listen closely. Very closely, and... HEY! don't even THINK about commenting yet! I am NOT talking down to you! It's just that when it comes to CLOTHES (and of course shoes), then we females damned well ARE in the 'expert' category and you, as a male, have NO IDEA the breadth and depth of your ignorance on this topic.
I'm sorry but I felt I needed to be blunt and agressive. Now that I have your attention, follow me over the jump and I'll tell you all about it. I'll start with my underwear...
front-paged with trepidation by afew
Yes, you read that correctly. I said underwear. If you can't already sense all the ways that my underwear, my civilized-freedom-loving-first-world largely-unseen but who-knows-how-risque bits of fabric of my own choosing could POSSIBLY relate to the heavy fabric symbol-of-oppression, mobile-jail-in-woolens garment that is the burka, then you need some education on the topic.
Ask yourself a question, guys, and give yourself a really honest answer -- does YOUR underwear talk to you? Because mine does. When I go to the store to buy a bra, the bras all tell me that my chest isn't right. I LIKE what I imagine to be my stylishly streamlined, non-bulbousy, silhouette, but the only bras I can find in my size either have daisies or a ton of padding. The lingerie department has ACRES of these.
If I search really hard and really put an effort into looking, I can usually find a couple of sports bras or MAYBE an unpadded lacy one, but by and large, the bra department tells me that I need bigger boobs. Either that or I must be 12 (btw, to veer off course for a second, I'm not sure if tweens hitting puberty are really all that fond of daisies, or if there's some subliminal and/or allegorical 'blossoming' message there, but it's been a constant for as long as I've been alive).
And speaking of flowers, if you've ever heard a feminist holding forth about the Madonna-whore complex and had your doubts, really take a look around that lingerie department -- it's either innocence or sex; feminine flowers or vampy blacks; virginal white lace, or trampy scarlet satins; demure pastels or... well, we're back to the black and red. SOMETIMES, there's a mixed message -- black and lacy or pastel and slutty, but it's always something.
Also... wait, you know what? I'm just going to skip the sub-category of cartoon underwear, which falls into the innocence side and I'm sure somewhere there's a dissertation making liberal use of the word infantilizing, but... I just can't cope at the moment. Let me just present exhibit A -- the Hello Kitty thong:
I mentioned sports bras earlier and sports is one of two categories where you can find utilitarian, functional, non-sex-related underwear. Our two choices are athletic or old. That's right, the other area is where you find the granny panties and cross-your-heart bras, which are more of a harness really. These are usually confined to a bit of back wall, sometimes even hidden in drawers. Tellingly, these are unavailable in either black or red, the message being, I suppose, that if you're buying them, you don't have to worry about being sexy.
Personally, I've never known anyone under the age of 50 who wears them and I can't imagine any woman in her 20s or 30s willingly letting a date get a glimpse of such underwear, unless it was PERHAPS one of those new-burlesque-retro-revival hipster types luring someone who had a very specific kink. Even then, there'd have to be compensatory hair and make-up details that would be quite time-consuming and require some training and expertise.
But such is the pressure we're under. Even I, who in the grand scheme of things slide more towards the not giving a shit side of the what'll-people-think spectrum, can't envision casually pulling off the granny-panty harness-bra look without being buttressed with extenuating circumstances.
And so I endlessly search. Always keeping an eye out for the comfortable, cotton underwear that doesn't either appall or dismay me and often pondering what kind of underwear the fierce lesbians are wearing and where they shop. I suspect the sports departments and, to be honest, I've often resorted to that myself, even though the very word 'sports' irritates me.
When I DO find something I like, I buy in bulk. I have an actual, physical FEAR of going shopping one year to find that ALL underpants have fallen out of fashion and only thongs are available, at which point I guess I'll be resorting to buying boxers in the boy's department.
So maybe you're getting an inkling of the kind of pressure we women are under, but are thinking so what? It's just underwear, it's purely a private matter, it's not like this affects you in public, but you'd be wrong. Think about women in the work place. Some corporations SPELL OUT in their employee manuals what kind of underwear a woman can wear. Even without a dress code, working women HAVE to wear bras. Can you imagine any braless women even getting hired in a 'respectable' profession? And before you say it, this is NOT equivalent to wearing a suit and tie. A dress code is one thing, but this is something else.
You men are not being told to be ashamed of a part of your body. You're not being judged as being flamboyant, provocative, or slovenly if you're not all bound up so no one can see your true shape or if your nipples get hard. Hard nipples, btw, are the bane of some women's existence. Some women actually buy padded bras, NOT for the breast size-enhancing qualities, but as armor against viewable nipplage. Women have a reputation for getting chillier than men, but has it ever occurred to you that maybe raising the heat at the office or wearing a sweater is a preventive measure? NO ONE wants to hear 'headlight' jokes at work.
And this isn't even getting into the thousands of largely unspoken rules. We're supposed to not look too feminine, shunning all those florals and laces and frills that we apparently want to wear UNDER our clothes, or we won't be taken seriously. We're not supposed to look masculine, or there's something wrong with us and we probably have some sort of ATTITUDE or something. We're supposed to look womanly without being matronly, feminine without being sexy or silly. And god forbid our skirts should be that inch too short or our heels that bit too high and some man at work gets the idea that we're using our WILES or some such.
You may have noticed by now that a LOT of this has to do with our sexuality. And this is in ADDITION to our often being told throughout childhood to look and act 'ladylike' because we all know what the opposite of that is. I'm hoping that the pressure of being ladylike is fading for girls these days, but I suspect it's still there. What I KNOW still exists is the constant pressure from puberty onwards to be a good girl and not a slut. Sure, there are 'slutty' and 'bad girl' fashions, complete with obligatory moral panic in the press, but even these looks are coded within the kid's cultures, sending signals about where the lines are that separate the fashionable good ones from the gross bad ones.
The point being that, as women, we are judged to a really ridiculous degree by our clothing pretty much our whole lives. You know what? Judged doesn't begin to cover it. Add in 'defined' and we're getting a little closer. Saying oppressed is NOT a stretch, although not, of course, burka-levels of oppression, but oppression none-the-less, even if much of it is unspoken. Being told what to wear, often based on our sexuality, is simply part of most cultural narratives.
So, yes, as a woman, I think I can speak to issues surrounding clothing and oppression, even if it's in a completely different environment from mine, with a tiny bit more insight than your average male. And, yes, males are also entitled to their opinions. And while I don't resent you voicing an opinion, I DO resent the casual assumption that it's every bit as informed as mine.
It's probably a near-universal experience to feel the discomfort and embarrassment of wearing clothes that make us feel out of place. It is, however, a special humiliation that I wager most women and few men have experienced, to wear clothes that make you feel like a whore.
If you've never had your worth as a person dismissed because you're "dressed slutty," if you've never been given a talking-to at work because you wore something and "people might take it the wrong way," if you've never been told you're asking to be raped if you "go out in that," then you probably don't understand how PERSONALLY women take it when MEN, even ones halfway around the world in a culture we know squat about, tell our sisters what is and is not acceptable to wear.
And if ANYONE reading this is all hot to start banning symbols of oppression, would you please start with the bra? I'd love to be free of them -- they're uncomfortable as hell and burning them clearly didn't work.