Last week, as part of a cultural discovery project for one of my classes, I spent three days wearing ‘girls’ clothes while going about my day. I wanted to explore the general reaction and preconceptions that people in my city have to clothing, especially in regards to gender. To me, the idea that a piece of fabric or accessory can be so intertwined with who are in our conscious is perplexing. I didn’t want to show off, or offend anyone by my act of curiosity. Rather, I wanted to act as a meticulous observer of the times, to see if the community around me was really as open-minded as I wanted to believe that it was. After all, if such things really only had a place in the realm of high-fashion and in Scottish tradition, then something bigger must be at work.
On the first day, I wore a long-sleeve pink top cropped at the collarbone. I received many compliments, a few glares and even a free Venti gingerbread latte. On the second, I rocked a pink blouse with a high-waisted belt. Again, the same amount of well-wishes, questions and passing eye-rolls. These things were to be expected, as it isn’t necessarily the norm to see someone like me wearing things like these. I felt collected and confident in these modest outfits, seemingly convinced that the world around me could care less about the clothes someone wore. Most affirming was the response to my nails, which were almost always met with a cheerful grin, a high-five and a few words of encouragement.
What happened on the third day changed my perspective on humanity forever. I dressed myself as I normally would; band t-shirt, cardigan, plain Vans, etc. However, instead of black jeans, I complimented the outfit with a plain black skirt and matching set of tights. For me, this was a huge step in self-image. Years ago, I was barely confident enough to leave the house for school. These days, the opposite couldn’t be more true. As I set off about my day, the absolute worst in people came out in a full-force flurry of expletives and discomfort. I was ridiculed in whispers. I was mocked in glances. I was obnoxiously and filthily cat-called by a construction crew who, from behind, couldn’t tell that I was a man. Stopping by a bathroom before a lecture, a frat-bro went out of his way to shove me into the adjacent wall after eyeing me up and down on his way out. Expletives and names that might induce me to vomit were I to repeat them, were casually thrown in my direction with almost zero passing thought. By day’s end, I feared a full-on breakdown, unable to stand up for myself or what I believed in to maintain the integrity of the observer’s perspective. In a way, I had no right to feel that way, mostly because of the realization that this is the way that many have to live their lives. I fought back tears as every stare and ill-formed word engrained themselves in my sub-conscious.
Though I may not know you, I think that it’s important that we all come to understand why these things happen. In my book, cat-calling, shaming and harassment are among the worst actions we can engage in. As a heterosexual male, I will never truly know the fear that women may experience while walking home from work, going see a friend for lunch, or being sized-up in public based on their clothing. I will never truly know the gut-rot that a transgender individual may feel while being eyed up and down at the store or in class, strangers seeming to think as if the clothing they see before them begs a legal invitation of ridicule. I will never truly know the plights of these people, but as an ally and a human being invested in true equality, it is now my obligation to stand up for them as if I did.
What scares me the most is not the glances, mixed emotions, or 10-page paper that will inevitably come as a by-product of this project. No, what scares me is that this is the world we live in. We exist in a place where individuals living their truths can be subjected, directly or otherwise, to fear simply for living those truths. We live in an age where feeling ‘normal’ in your own clothing can create unfathomable contention with strangers, despite them having zero investment in their lives. We live in a world where the material, the fabric, the pieces that adorn you are somehow allowed to say more about who you are than the convictions in your heart and the sincerity in your deeds.
I don’t know about you, but I refuse that world. I refuse to let these things overcome the passion and genuine honesty that I’ve been so fortunate to bear witness to in my time. I refuse to let backwards, unprogressive mindsets stifle the glow and drive of those who are undeservingly robbed of it. Don’t say it can’t happen to you. If it happened to me, under the most average of circumstances on the streets in a progressive-leaning city, it could happen to anyone, and that is something I truly do not understand.
After all, it’s just a skirt.
What is it about a piece of inanimate, plain fabric that scares you so much?
Witnessing Hate first hand:
I went to the mall, and a little girl called me a terrorist.
My name is Ela. I am seventeen years old. I am not Muslim, but my friend told me about her friend being discriminated against for wearing a hijab. So I decided to see the discrimination firsthand to get a better understanding of what Muslim women go through.
My friend and I pinned scarves around our heads, and then we went to the mall. Normally, vendors try to get us to buy things and ask us to sample a snack. Clerks usually ask us if we need help, tell us about sales, and smile at us. Not today. People, including vendors, clerks, and other shoppers, wouldn’t look at us. They didn’t talk to us. They acted like we didn’t exist. They didn’t want to be caught staring at us, so they didn’t look at all.
And then, in one store, a girl (who looked about four years old) asked her mom if my friend and I were terrorists. She wasn’t trying to be mean or anything. I don’t even think she could have grasped the idea of prejudice. However, her mother’s response is one I can never forgive or forget. The mother hushed her child, glared at me, and then took her daughter by the hand and led her out of the store.
All that because I put a scarf on my head. Just like that, a mother taught her little girl that being Muslim was evil. It didn’t matter that I was a nice person. All that mattered was that I looked different. That little girl may grow up and teach her children the same thing.
This experiment gave me a huge wakeup call. It lasted for only a few hours, so I can’t even begin to imagine how much prejudice Muslim girls go through every day. It reminded me of something that many people know but rarely remember: the women in hijabs are people, just like all those women out there who aren’t Muslim.
People of Tumblr, please help me spread this message. Treat Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Taoists, etc., exactly the way you want to be treated, regardless of what they’re wearing or not wearing, no exceptions. Reblog this. Tell your friends. I don’t know that the world will ever totally wipe out prejudice, but we can try, one blog at a time.
1,000 Photos a Day on the Trans Siberian
Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol spent a month taking pictures in three cities and from the train windows between to make “Arrivals & Departures” — a collection of images from the Trans Siberian Railway.
The cities he focuses on are Moscow, Ulan Bator, and Beijing. He’d take pictures, hop on the train and start choosing the best ones with his girlfriend. From 30,000 pictures they settled on about sixty.
I give props to this guy for writing a good, authentic piece about his experience as a stay at home father.
But, does he think that a woman- sorry, mother- doesn’t feel the need to throw “hatchet into a tree” or to find time for some solitude in a boat, in the middle of nowhere, just like him…away from her children, to reassert her independence? (Most of the time, this becomes the derivative experience of locking the bathroom door, and calling to Calgon for some solitude.)
The experiences he shares in this piece strike me less as a “man’s experience” than just the experience of parenting. As I read it, it seemed no less similar or regular than the hundreds of stories from my friends who are mothers (minus the being stared at like an exotic animal part).
I think as a society we make this mistake so often- delegating things or experiences as “male” or “female”, “manly” or “feminine”, when they are merely human experiences. I think our society, and species, is just on the verge of moving in the direction of taking people as individuals, and not an embodiment of a set of gender values. Very much on the cusp- with a long way to go; but, I do see the glimmer of what I consider to be an enlightened perspective.
Does he as a man process things differently than a woman? Oh yes, I don’t deny that. We are most definitely not the “same”. But, we are so much more the same than different, and I think we’re catching on to that.
Reading this article, there were places where it struck me that the writer was only suffering through any small amounts of questioning his manhood because society has told him all his life that what he’s doing is women’s work. It’s only women’s work because women have been doing it. And, from that repetitive behavior have our social norms been born. Regardless of how progressive he and his wife- or his readers, or me, or you- are, we’ve nonetheless been fed these “rules” and stereotypes all our lives in a thousand subtle ways.
Is the “female energy” more nurturing naturally? Yes, I believe so. But, the spirit of masculine and feminine, I believe, is less about whether you have a penis and more about who you are. We all carry masculine and feminine within us.
What I’d argue is that what he was really recounting was the struggle of an individual against the all too powerful pull of losing yourself to your children and their needs. Again, his experience didn’t seem much different than what most mothers experience, especially ones with a strong sense of self, who also have other goals in life. It’s a balancing act between individual and family unit, rather than some sort of pioneering experience for men. He just chose to frame it in what I would consider the more traditional framework of men jumping into traditional female roles. And, I’m not even sure he realized that.
It might not look it to the casual outside observer, but stay-at-home dads are a tough breed. Behind all of the dangling diaper-bags, strollers, children’s songs, and dried-up drool is a very capable man. A man who can transfer two snoozing children, one on each arm, from the mini-van through the heat of the day — unlocking the door to the house and slipping them into their respective beds without waking them up. A man who, on little to no sleep, must plan for any and every situation, magnificent or mundane. A man who must learn not to panic through bouts of uncontrollable backseat tears and screams while driving in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. A man who truly knows the value of taking a long, deep breath.
Stay-at-home mothers feel these same stresses. But the ways men deal with them are another matter entirely. As proud and contented as I feel with my children, and as comfortable as I am with the choices my wife and I have made, there are definitely times when I find myself desperately needing to do something specific to assert my manhood. I daydream about spending weekends with a few buddies in the mountains, throwing a hatchet into a tree, or finding the time to grab a paddle and spend hours of solitude on a river in a canoe.
Read more. [Image: Melissa Jordan]
The Real Truth Bout Cats and Dogs
I’ve been thinking about cats and dogs lately. When these two animals come up, the conversation always inevitably leads to a discussion of preferences (as though they’re ice cream flavors….isn’t it funny no one ever asks, “Are you an iguana person, or a snake person?”)
What you hear most often from “dog people” is that dogs are sweeter; cats are so cold, they say. There’s just something more “loving” about a dog.
As humans, one of the main reasons we keep animals as pets is the love we get. The unconditional, at our fingertips, on-demand love. Essentially, dog people are saying they want their love- and they want it now. We like dogs because they respond to our beck and call. Cats give you love….when they’re good and ready, allright?!
So, I can understand why dog people are mad at cats. Cats aren’t necessarily “cold”. We just say that because they’re just a bit too human, and their response doesn’t satisfy the expectation of “pet” behavior. And, so, many people “hate them”.
We cannot snap our fingers and have a cat sit at our feet. We cannot demand they get into bed with us and cuddle. If they do, it’s only because they want to. Cats refuse to play the game and are essentially declaring that they are sentient beings and have a right to their own decisions (…in so much as possible without having to hunt for their own food).
Cats have managed to meet the minimum of our “pet”requirements for centuries…never fully accepting what we demand of them but doing just enough to convince us to keep loving them. They’ve found a balance between our expectations and their own needs. You’d never presume to ask your cat to “roll over”, and you know it. And, they know you know it.
Workaholism in America
I enjoyed this blogger’s personal, Serbian perspective on our American work culture. She affirms what I’ve felt and believed for many years- and those who travel often also know that we’re kind nutty when it comes to our work round these parts.
One surprising statement I didn’t see coming was her reference to another’s work that blames this divinity of “work” for things like the Holocaust. There’s actually a point there, about the banality of evil, and how putting “work” above all easily leads to “but I was just taking orders”. I found myself happily enlightened by this point.
Interestingly, she mentions that France, whose 35 hour work week apparently has led to higher productivity. Not surprising. We all know we work better with a break- or three. So, why do we insist on running furiously on the career treadmill in this country?