A line of young men lay prone in the tall grass. A couple of them have binoculars into which they peer intently. One of the young men looks behind them carefully before trying to take the binoculars away from the guy beside him. All of their attention is focused on the group gathered on the beach below.
No, this isn’t Afghanistan. This is any nude beach in the world that has American men anywhere close to it.
American men, so far as I have ever seen, are fascinated by nude beaches. They rarely drop their shorts and go in, but they will hide in the bushes and peek over fences. Nowadays, they probably try to use drones and hidden webcams.
Why is this so?
I think the reason is that, for the most part, Americans simply don’t drop their drawers in public. And women don’t wander the streets topless. It’s just not done, and if it is done, people tend to be judged for it.
We like to think we are so much freer that other cultures. We like to think that we can do what we want, wear what we want, and there should never be any judgment.
Tell that to anyone who has gone to court over rape or abuse and have the case turn on it’s head and suddenly the victim’s own morality is called into question. And yes, this is still going on, just like men hiding in the weeds is still going on.
Open Toed Shoes
The last time I did a job search, I had to find myself some new shoes to interview in. Now, the fact that I have to have special shoes to interview in, that I may never wear again, has always pushed me the wrong way. I’m just not big into single use items. It’s a waste of money.
There I am, in the Macy’s shoe department, looking at black shoes. I find some I like. I try them on. They fit! (that’s a big deal since my feet don’t like shoes) I sit there and stare at them in dread, because I know for a fact that they are entirely inappropriate for an interview. The shoes in my hands are open toed pumps.
There’s a part of me that whispers, “Karin, surely that old rule is no longer true anymore. Surely, we are past such old-fashioned mores. Buy the shoes, Karin. You’ll wear them a lot and you won’t be wasting money.”
Good arguments, self. But still, I hesitated.
Finally, a woman walked over to the shoes I’d been looking at. She was younger than me, suited, and all put together. She must know the truth of today. I walk over to her, explain that I’m looking for shoes to interview in, and then show her the shoes I’d selected and asked her what she thought. She looked at the shoes, shook her head, and said “No, those are the wrong shoes.”
Things haven’t changed all that much.
What many people don’t know is that shoes that show the toes, at all, are considered sexy. It’s fucking toe cleavage! So, if you have pumps that show even a little bit of the space between the toes, the shoes are considered sexy. You could never wear them to an interview, or wear them at a conservative job such as at a bank, or if you work in politics. It’s simply not done.
I put the shoes back and selected a different pair (damn it), because even though I’m going for a tech job, I don’t want to take the chance that I’ll lose the opportunity just because my feet are too sexy.
I remember seeing a lot of hoo-ha on Crackbook because women in politics were being told that they were dressing inappropriately. They showed a picture of a woman sitting with a few men who were all in suits. The woman was in a sleeveless dress. She was probably wearing open toed shoes. I couldn’t see.
People were raising hell about it being sexist.
In Politics, especially in D.C., there is a dress code. It’s suit and tie. All the men wear a suit and tie. And not a sports coat either. That doesn’t work for them. A real suit. And a tie. And the jacket stays on, the tie stays tight, even if it’s 140 degrees in the shade. That is the uniform. Men who violate that code get put back into place.
Only in their office do they remove their jacket, loosen their tie and roll up their sleeves.
Do you really think all these men want to dress like that? Do you think they all enjoy feeling strangled all day by the stupid tie? Yeah, there may be some masochists out there, and some who had their suits made perfectly for them, who may be comfortable, but don’t you think a lot of them would love to wear a pair of chinos and a polo shirt? Of course they do.
If you work in politics, you wear the uniform. A sleeveless dress is not a part of the uniform. So, yeah, they got after the women. Women also need to wear a uniform. The uniform for women is a suit, a symbol for a tie (such as a scarf), and low-heeled pumps, no toe cleavage. I think the jury is still out on whether a skirt is required or if pants are acceptable.
In politics, and many schools, wearing a uniform puts everyone on the same level. Having that uniform be conservative means that most people can be comfortable with them.
Do you really want to see your senator on CSPAN making an argument while wearing a wife-beater? Would you have faith in that senator? Probably not.
Different dress is appropriate, at different places and times, in different cultures. That sense of appropriateness is alive in the United States.
Here in Seattle, every June, we have the most unique parade in the world. The Fremont Solstice Parade.
Most parades are full of politicians and special interest groups trying to share their message. There may be cars and banners with messages on them. They often seem like a spill-over from TV commercials.
The Fremont Solstice Parade is different. There are no printed words allowed. No motorized vehicles. Everyone with a place in the parade creates something spectacular. They work on their creations all year long. You have music, dancing, art exhibitions and hugging. Yes, I was in the parade a few times as part of the Seattle Superhuggers. We wore red capes with hearts on them and ran around hugging everyone. We were a favorite.
But, as wonderful and creative as the parade is, the favorite part of it for many people, are the Naked Bicyclists.
History in a nut shell… A few guys showed up at the parade and tried to ride naked on their bikes and got arrested. It evolved to a game of the police “trying” to arrest them. Then, they quit trying t arrest them at all. More people joined in until they had hundreds of naked people on bikes in the parade. Then they officially (unofficially since it’s still a crime) added them to the parade by letting the bicyclists go first before the parade officially started. The shear nakedness got old and they started decorating themselves and their bikes. Now they are just as flamboyant and creative as the rest of the parade.
But still, they don’t have any clothes on.
Check out the trailer for “Beyond Naked”, a documentary about the Naked Bicyclists. And heck, watch the whole thing. You know you want to.
We stand on the sidelines, watching the Naked Bicyclists, shocked and flabbergasted, and envying their courage. No matter how long this has gone on, it’s still a spectacle because wongs flapping, nuts swinging, and boobies bouncing so freely is just not a part of our culture. Any place else and we’d all be judging them.
Heck, there are a few people who try to just go to the parade naked without being in the parade. I’ve watched people watch them with eyes very different that the eyes that watched the cyclists.
I think it’s important to understand what a people, as a culture, feels is appropriate.
For all of American’s belief that they are so free, as a culture, we still have a lot of hang-ups. We still have a strong sense of what is appropriate and what is not. Things change slowly.
I remember I was at a Sunday family-oriented dance when a woman showed up for the first time and took off her top and went dancing around freely at the dance.
It’s a hard thing. Now, most of the people there probably had a sense of well, why can’t it be okay for a woman to be topless at a dance like that? Do we want our kids to think that it’s shameful?
Yet, on the other hand, we do have that sense of appropriateness. And this was a family-friendly dance. She was asked to put her top back on. In the past, men have also been asked to put their tops on as well.
She took it as a repression. I tried to talk to her about it. You know, maybe coming to a Sunday family dance is not the best place to assert your right to be topless.
It shows how what we believe and what we believe is appropriate can be mixed. It’s important to understand that, especially when dealing with other cultures.
Dig if you will, a picture… A young woman moves to the United States with her family. In her culture, women wear the Hijab. It’s what she grew up with, it’s what she knows. She continues to wear it.
She rides the bus, head down. People are looking at her like she’s weird. Sometimes people say bad things to her. She feels very uncomfortable.
She goes to school and sees the girls in her classroom. They are wearing jeans and t-shirts. Or skirts. Their hair is out there for all to see. Arms are bare. The boys don’t look at them weird because of it. It’s normal to them. All of her classmates look at her weirdly, she’s the odd one out.
So, she decides she’s going to become more American. She finds someone to help her and goes over to their place before school. She removes the Hijab and puts on jeans and a shirt. Her new friend fixes her hair and puts some makeup on her. She looks in the mirror but doesn’t know herself. But she looks more like the girls in her class, so she puts her discomfort aside and goes to school.
She gets some teasing about the change, but they look at her differently. Maybe she can do this.
She and her new friend get on the bus to go home. She’s feeling very proud of herself for taking this step.
Then, she sees someone she knows. It’s a friend of her father’s. He looks at her and she knows that he recognizes her. His eyes hold judgment and disgust as they roam down her body. She shrinks.
When she gets to her new friend’s house, she changes back into her Hijab, and never tries to leave it behind again.
Let’s look at a possible fantasy story.
An American girl moves to a new country with her family. In American culture, women wear both bottoms and tops. It’s what she and her family are used to. It’s what they see as appropriate.
In this new country, women often don’t wear tops and they never wear a bathing suit at the beach.
Our American girl can get by wearing tops although she is teased sometimes for never taking her top off. The problem comes when they all go to the beach. She puts on her bikini and off she goes to the beach.
At the beach, she notices that she gets a lot of stares from people. Some people make bad comments to her. She feels uncomfortable.
She looks around and sees only her classmates. She thinks maybe it’s okay to remove her bikini and try to fit in with the group. So, she does and everyone claps. She feels uncomfortable because it doesn’t seem to be right, being naked like this. She figures eventually she’ll learn.
She hears something over to the side. She looks. There, in the tall grass, is a group of her brother’s friends watching. She notices that one of them is taking pictures of her. She shrinks.
She puts her bikini on and never goes naked again.
The dilemma comes when you have different cultures coming together. They have different ideas of what is appropriate and what is not.
One culture may feel superior in terms of freedoms, but they still have rules, codified and unspoken, about what is acceptable.
This is felt keenly in the United States. We call ourselves a “melting pot”, but when things melt together, they become unrecognizable. We think we have diversity, yet the pressure to conform is huge. We’re more like the Borg.
In some cultures, only a husband should see a woman’s hair, but toe cleavage is acceptable. In other culture, hair is an accessory. Heck, I once saw a picture of a woman wearing a string bikini but her hair was still covered.
In our countries past, women only wore their hair down for their husband. Otherwise, it was put up. Long dresses, full sleeves.
Things don’t change much. It’s just a matter of what it is, and the degree.
People don’t change easily, and people you live with tend to be more important than the person getting after you on the bus, or on the beach.
It’s a hard spot to be in. Just riding the bus can be traumatic. For some people, like my heroines, there’s no winning. No matter what they do, they lose.
It’s something to think about…hard…