Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Societal Clothing Strangeness

It would have been impossible for me to have the life experiences I've had, from counselor at boy scout camp to physics major to young woman in a professional world dominated by the good ole' boys, and not be a feminist.  I am unabashedly a feminist, despite the fact that some feminists are flat out nuts or just haven't matured in their thinking.  Can't throw the baby out with the bathwater, you know?

Western women fought long and hard to wear pants because pants made things like walking, running, climbing, and riding more practical, and it was only a myth of the upper class that women didn't need to do physical labor in order to survive. Maintaining a cultural ideal that one class of people shouldn't do physically exerting things is utterly impractical in itself, but I digress.  It's been a long time now that it has started to seem silly to us to have one gender wear one type of clothing and another a different type just because That's How We Do Things--and pants won out over skirts as the clothing item for all because they are easier to do more things in while still keeping those taboo parts covered up.

We still reserve the right for women to wear skirts or pants as they desire, a privilege which I used to refuse adamantly on the grounds of practicality and also wanting to display myself as un-feminine as possible under the mistaken assumption that anything female is automatically inferior to anything male.  (I called myself a feminist even then, yet I believed this.)  Entering Dirty Hippie College, and then the professional world where what constitutes acceptable women's dress is complicated, I changed my tune somewhat.  Since shorts aren't acceptable professional dress for anybody but skirts don't have to be floor-length to be professional, hot summer days at the office actually favor loose skirts made of light material.  They are far cooler, and because not tight-fitting, far more comfortable.

Yet whenever I wear a skirt, my hippie, socially awkward and hyper-practical Significant Other always points out that it's not fair because he can't wear one too.

And I admit, my first temptation is to retort in a feminist rage with all the things that used to and still do suck more for women and so if a man can't wear a type of clothing of limited usefulness, too frikkin bad, while my second temptation is to retort that he can wear one if he wants, no one is stopping him.

But both of those responses are wrong, firstly because taking the attitude of "your complaint doesn't matter because it's worse for me" doesn't acknowledge the fact that we'd all be better off if we just said heck with all things that suck and didn't keep score on who they sucked worse for, and secondly because social pressure is real and powerful even if it sometimes dumb.  Aside from Dirty Hippie College and certain social clubs and Power Puff events, there isn't and probably won't ever be a concerted effort to make men + skirts not unacceptably deviant, partially because skirts are generally less practical than pants, but mostly, I believe, because according to a majority of men (and also to my high school self), the worst social faux paus of all is to seem to be like a woman.  He'd risk being shunned, laughed at, fired, and potentially being the victim of street violence if he wore a skirt, so yes, actually, plenty of people are stopping him.

It really is a small thing, compared to all the many other problems in the world, compared to the remaining things that are unfair for women in society as well as compared to the other things in society that don't do men any favors. I'm not even sure he tells me this because he wants to wear a skirt and is sad he can't, I think he's just good at noticing and railing against rules that don't make any sense to him.  For those limited times when skirts do make more sense, it is pretty ridiculous that they are off limits to men because That's How We Do Things.

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