August 16, 2006
From the Burka to the Bikini
"I think I was just lectured on the birds and the bees at the hardware store," I tell my sister. "I needed a junction for these two hoses because they wouldn't fit together, and I got this 'all hoses connect, male/female, just insert one end into another' lecture."
"It's your lingerie top," my sister responds.
"First of all," I huff, "just because it's lacy doesn't mean it's lingerie, and secondly it's a hundred degrees outside."
But then I wondered, did I get treated differently because of what I wore? If I had wandered into the irrigation aisle with a baseball hat and oversized T-shirt, would I have avoided the attitude?
What society feels is appropriate for a woman to wear has changed over the ages, although it doesn't have as much to do with how we women feel about it as how men feel about it. I imagine our great grandmothers who donned full layered dresses as "bathing costumes" to plunge into the ocean and think it's a wonder they didn't drown.
Recently, in Iran, they had an Islamic fashion show, a 10-day event organized by the police force and the commerce ministry in response to young Iranian women's slackening of the fully covered Hijab dress code. Not surprisingly, the press noted the problem of the designs appearing "strikingly uniform in their dark coloring and full length."
A female Iranian author pointed out that wearing the veil started out as a voluntary religious act by women of the Muslim faith but was turned into a political one by Khomeini's revolution when it became mandatory. The Qur'an notes that women should not be unveiled except in front of certain close male family members or "old male servants who lack vigor." One young woman was stoned to death because her full-length chador had revealed a small patch of skin, and a revolutionary guard said it incited him into a sexual frenzy.
In some cultures, like certain Jewish Orthodox communities, it is considered immodest for a married woman to show her real hair to anyone other than her husband, and thus must wear a wig in public. In other European or South American cultures, a man thinks nothing of his wife hosting a pool party in only a bikini bottom.
But even the most progressive of women will still talk about their "business attire" and need to cover up and de-feminize in the workplace to be taken seriously. Female staff members even went along with Michael Ovitz's ban on open toed shoes in the office. I guess Hollywood is filled with foot fetishists.
Are men really so totally ruled by their testosterone that they are incapable of looking at an attractive or even unattractive woman without sexualizing her? What about the dark ages of rape trials when the victim was interrogated about what she was wearing?
You can only imagine what these men with poor impulse control would do on a hot summer night at Pink Elephant where the modesty factor is a piece of double sided tape which keeps your slinky silk top on just the right side of your areola. You'd think Victoria's Secret would go out of business not because of objections to their seductive lingerie but because all the men would be locked in bathrooms with the catalogue.
So where is the male dress code? In some Muslim societies the man is required to wear long sleeves and cover from the naval to the knee. Ghetto guys with low-slung pants and Abercrombie and Fitch male models with washboard abs showing down to their short hairs clearly wouldn't cut it.
Yet, in defense of the cover-up, some women say they like the fact that a man can't focus on their appearance and instead has to pay attention to their personality and their mind. Others believe certain body parts, when kept private between a husband and wife, keep their bond more sacred and make it worth holding out for marriage. It's a matter of choice not dictation.
So, how did the hardware store story end, you may ask. I decided I liked the look of the salesman's hose, so I bought it.
You can send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.