"... a doll I can carry, the girl that I marry will be" or "I'm gonna buy a paper doll..." are lyrics from two 20th century musical "salutes to womankind." What they tell us is that we are constructs of man. We must be small, cute, perky and shave our body hair so we continue to be children. Our attributes must be the attributes that our culture requires and approves of. It neither wants nor requires brains and ability from woman.
Someone once wrote that if there was any logic, men would ride sidesaddle and wear skirts. Except for the hardy Scotsman, our culture does not support such logic. Traditionally, males have been wearing clothing that allows them comfort and freedom of movement. Even in the fanciest dress, the tux, he wears substantial shoes and clothing that allow him to react adequately to an unexpected danger.
Women's clothing was and still is restrictive. A dress may reach to the floor or barely cover her butt -- it still restricts. Her shoes are usually flimsy, poorly made and with heels which not only limit her agility, but are also extremely hazardous to her health. Women's clothing is both designed and intended to render her helpless.
Men mostly dress alike. Suits vary from brown, black and shades of gray. Ties may come in a variety of colors and designs, but the male dress, almost the world over, is a uniform -- it is our culture's designated-person-apparel. No such conformity can be found in woman's dress, short of a school uniform or military attire (and these too discriminate between the genders.) Little boys are dressed in uniform early on and shown to be "just like daddy." Little girls are food: "sugar and spice and everything nice" and are dressed like dollies.
Our culture works on many levels to divide women from each other. It accentuates and encourages differences by its support for the "fashion" industry and the women who genuflect to it. It has caused us to believe that there is no fate worse than being seen in a dress that is identical to that worn by another woman. When this happens, the embarrassment of each woman is acute. We are well trained to compete with and find reasons to hate and disparage other women.
Wouldn't it be just great if the two women, who found themselves at a dance in identical dress, would just look around them and point at all the males (all alike in their penguin suits), laugh uproariously and give each other the high five?
It won't happen. That would take guts and independent thought. Women are too well trained. Our culture's not-so-subliminal-messages program, condition and control us. Our well-trained responses show that most women are not equipped to be thinkers and do the world's work as men have been doing for thousands of years. All we are interested in is what we can heap on our bodies in the form of cloths, jewelry or cosmetics. Right? How can one possibly trust such childish creatures to raise children?
How much of what you and I are, or think we should be, is the construct of our culture or society? We, who have worked outside of the home, know that even now, when there is more tolerance, if a woman wants to get ahead in most jobs, she must wear a dress. The pantsuit or jeans give us the freedom of movement and comfort AND COVERING that our jobs demand but our culture denies us because of our gender.
Why do we hide what we are with makeup? Why is the necessity for hair enhancement or destruction, a woman thing. Are we ashamed, or have we been made ashamed, of what we are -- woman? We often hear women say, "Oh, I don't do this for men, I do it for myself. I like the way I look. It makes me feel good." Never mind: "I enjoy being [considered all my life] a girl!"
However, when women really think about it, many come to the realization that their feelings are culturally induced. Some rationalize by thinking, "we get Brownie-points for constructing ourselves to fit the mold that our culture has preordained. Hey, let them call me what they wish because I can manipulate men and their world and get what I want without effort."
The question is, who is doing the manipulating here?
Copyright 1997 Renee T. Louise and Ruth M. Sprague, Ph.D. These articles may be republished for noncommercial use only, provided that they are copied intact, and that this copyright notice is attached. Address all queries to: TWANDA@ConnRiver.net.
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