Friday, March 16, 2007

my last word on the dress thing

OK, any comments I might make on how young women dress today(as in yesterday's entry) would be incomplete without taking note of the wide difference between how American females dress and how females dress in the Muslim tradition, even in this country. But before I start out, a caution: I'm speaking here of the deeper psychological and cultural implications that I think exist behind the way we choose to dress.

About ten years ago, maybe a bit longer, I gave a talk on being a published writer at my old high school, which is a Catholic school for girls. It's still for girls only, but there have been a lot of changes since I went there in the 1950s. Now you can't tell a nun from a lay person on the staff. The girls still wear uniforms, but their skirts are apparently not regulated as to length -- certain girls had them so short it kind of took my breath away. And they sit on the floor without regard to what we so quaintly called modesty, and not a single teacher so much as blinked. I wonder if that word even exists anymore, or if it does, what they think it means.

Amid all the display of young legs in the room where I spoke, there was a Muslim student. She wore, I suppose, her own version of the school uniform. The colors were consistent, a soft blue-gray and white, and the fabric seemed the same as the skirts. But the Muslim girl wore a white, draping headscarf that covered even more of her face and neck than the wimples the nuns used to wear, her dress reached her ankles (as our old 50s uniforms did, or near enough), and her sleeves covered her hands except for the fingers. When she raised her eyes and looked straight at me, I saw she had an astonishingly beautiful face.

Years later after that visit to my old school, during the time after 9/11 when it was still possible to believe that at least some good might come out of American involvement Afghanistan, and GWB hadn't yet committed insanity on Iraq, I saw on the Independent Film Channel a doctumentary produced by an American woman in Afghanistan. It was about Muslim Afghan women who are forced by their husbands and their culture to remain at home, uneducated, and to cover themselves when they go out of the house for any reason. The Muslim woman who participated kept her entire head, eyes included, covered in a dark scarf the whole time. She showed the film maker the difference in how she dresses when she goes out -- in a voluminous blue burkha (however you spell it) that covers absolutely everything and has a kind of window-screen thing to see out of -- and how she dresses at home. At home, generally she wears dresses that look very much like most women wear anywhere, sleeves and buttons and average length skirts. But when she dresses for an evening with her husband, in outfits that he chooses, it's fantasy time. And his fantasy looks to Western eyes like something out of Victoria's Secret catalogues. The woman, who gave her age as 40-something, had a beautiful body. Even in this slightly grainy black and white documentary, you could tell she took good care of that body.

I thought it was more than just mildly disgusting, the whole concept that her gloating husband would have her dress that way for him alone. That it is his Allah-given right to see his wife's body, which nobody else can see.

I don't need to go on at any length about this -- I think most Americans, especially women, will be able to fill in the blanks for themselves.

As much as I deplore the way the teen girls are dressing now, I'll take it over the Muslim concept. I guess.

But I remain troubled. I think the girls and boys of today may be in trouble a few years hence, if their clothing reflects what I think it does about the values they are growing up to hold.

-- Dianne

Thursday, March 15, 2007

We Are What We Wear?

I've been thinking some more about this thing of why kids, and others, wear what we do. (Not thinking for three whole days since the last entry here, I grant you -- I just wasn't in the mood to deal with my recalcitrant e-connection, which has been giving me trouble.)

For example, I still have a whole section of my closet taken over by clothes I probably will never wear again, because they're my city clothes. My author-appearances clothes, which at the time I bought them I had assumed I'd have use for at least once a year for some time to come. My entry into retirement really did take me by surprise, and there sits the proof; but I keep those clothes well back in the closet where at least I don't have to look at them every time I open the door.

A friend offered, in response to my question Why do the kids dress the way they do, the suggestion that peer pressure and celebrity example has a lot to do with it. Given the clannishness of teens, which is an unavoidable part of growing up, I'm sure she's right.

But there's a deeper answer, and that's the one I'm after, the one I've been pondering ... even if I can never verify it. It's a cultural answer, just like the clothes I now wear myself are a cultural thing, and a sort of protective coloration thing. I live where I live now and so I want to look like it. I do not wear the smart black blazer over everything anymore, the way I did most days when I lived in San Francisco. In fact, I had more than one black blazer -- a linen one for summer that I clung to for years in spite of the fact that it wrinkled if you so much as breathed on it, and not just one but two winter ones, one of higher quality than the other. I still have "the other", but the linen one and the good wool one have gone to the thrift store, where slowly, slowly I am sure all the rest of my city clothes will go when I can bear to part with them.

Where I live now is a rural, geographically isolated place, and the majority of people who've lived here a long time by choice are very happy with both the ruralness and the isolation. There's a phrase to describe it: "Behind the Redwood Curtain." We here on the North Coast do not feel connected to the rest of California, and we like it that way. Except when we need money to fix the roads and such, at which time we are forced to recognize that the rest of CA doesn't much notice we're here ... but I digress. The way most people around here dress reflects the isolationist attitude. We wear jeans and t-shirts in the summer, and jeans and sweatshirts in the winter. We do not wear raincoats in the rain, we just get wet -- though the oldest among us will sometimes stoop to opening an umbrella. Only female clerks in banks and retail stores wear dresses. I thought we'd become subject to a bad influence when the anchors on the local tv newscast started wearing blazers. I'm not kidding about any of this. A "well-dressed" person is invariably a tourist, and will be treated like one.

So how does that apply to my ponderous ponderings over the kids among us, the boys with their voluminous black garb and the girls with way too much skin and cleavage on a daily basis? It applies in the sense that, just as there's a reason for my adapting to the jeans-and-t-shirt outfits, there must be a reason for the girls going mostly naked, at least above the waist, while the boys cover themselves to the point of ridiculousness. The boys are hiding their masculinity. They are even hampering themselves from freedom of movement in those things they put on. Can you imagine if Billy the Kid had had to pull off a fast draw in such an outfit? And while the boys are hiding, the girls are flaunting. After centuries of repression the girl-women are saying "You can look but if you touch I'll cry rape and you'll be sorry!"

That's the Inner Curmudgeon's interpretation. And I'm sticking with it.

Next up, if my e-connection allows: The Muslim angle on the above.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Grumping right along...

I mentioned yesterday that my generation doesn't really have a label, and suggested we might be called the Silent Generation or the Between Generation. We never really got the attention like the Baby Boomers, and we don't have a collective identity.

Yet the women of my generations have been pioneers, we have broken ground. We can't all be Gloria Steinem (what I wouldn't have given, once, to look like her!), or even Nancy Pelosi, both members of my generation, but I'm sure there are thousands of us who muddled through our conflicts about being nice vs being effective and managed nevertheless to make a dent in our own ways. Once upon a time I had a job no woman had ever held before me, as a hospital administrator in a major teaching hospital where for a long time I was the only woman in administration. It was tough, but I needed to support my sons after a divorce and I needed the money that working in administration provided. Later on I nearly cracked up in that job, due to the fact that the years of experience and the contacts I made in the health admininstration profession convinced me that our healthcare system was on the way to being something I considered immoral ... but that's a story for another day, perhaps. For now, it's worth noting that I managed not to crash until my youngest was able to drive and was living with his father instead of with me. By the time I left that profession a couple of years later, no one was financially dependent on me anymore. We did what we had to do, we didn't expect it to be easy, or to be handed anything for free, the women of my generation.

If there's a name for the generation that's now in high school and college, I don't know what it is. Probably there is one. But if I had to name them, I'd call them the In Your Face generation. These young people seem to be so blatant about everything. They are the very opposite end of the spectrum from my youthful-becoming-lifelong conflicts over being nice. What is going on with these people?

I was noticing yesterday, just driving around doing errands, the difference between the ways the boys dress and the girls dress. Both sexes are over-the-top but in different directions. The boys I passed on the sidewalk, on their way home from the high school, were wearing huge trousers with crotches down to their knees, hems draped over the tops of their shoes -- how they can walk in those things I have no idea -- and roomy hoodies with the hoods up to almost completely cover their faces, in color their clothing almost universally black. A person just about couldn't be more covered up than those boys. Yet the girls, most of them, were in these little tops they call "shirts" -- would someone please tell them that a shirt has sleeves and a collar, which look more like lingerie or something you might sleep in -- and low-slung skin-tight jeans, usually with navel visible. Talk about inappropriate for the weather, not to mention whatever else! But here's the thing: Even their clothing is In Your Face.

Where are these young people going with their choices in clothes? What is it they're trying to express? Why do they do it?

My oldest granddaughter is 13. I wonder if she dresses like that. I'd say, if I had teenagers I'd forbid them to dress that way, but I know it wouldn't do any good. When I myself was that age I wore a school uniform, but by the time I was in college I wasn't above taking an extra outfit with me to the city and changing out of my everyday, more acceptable clothes for a night of tramping around North Beach, to the Purple Onion etc. I'm talking San Francisco in the late 50s, when the Beats were thriving. I wore black on those nights, myself -- I think I was 18 when I began hanging out in North Beach on weekends. I guess kids too will do what they gotta do, and I know that. What I really want to know is WHY these today act and dress the way they do?

One thing for certain: They aren't going to grow up conflicted about whether they should or should not say what's on their mind. And I seriously doubt they even have the concept of being "nice" the way I was taught to be nice. Most likely that's a good thing, in your face or not.

-- Dianne

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Why Curmudgeon?

I was born at the time when Hitler was beginning to take over Europe, a couple of years before the US decided to get into WWII. My generation has no handly handle, like Baby Boomers, or the Me Generation. We have no group identity that I know of. Some of us became The Beat Generation, but I think on the whole we were more the Silent Generation. Or maybe the Between Generation. Most of us grew up with that war hanging very heavy over our heads. It's astounding to me now, to know that our country has now been in Iraq for about the same length of time that we were involved in bringing WWII to an end.

I graduated from college in 1959, a year ahead of most people my age because I skipped the fourth grade. I got married the day after graduation and had my first child slightly less than two years later, while my husband was still in grad school working for a PhD. My second child -- both boys -- came about nine months after he got the degree, so you can see how that worked out. I didn't go back to grad school myself until my youngest was 3 years old and I had inherited a bit of money that allowed me to get a babysitter and to pay the tuition. By that time it was the 60s and I was able to be involved in the civil rights movement on campus, which I did in a big way, and that was how I more or less joined the world again. That was when the adult in me really began to grow. Motherhood was still just an extension of who I thought I was supposed to be, and that idea was planted in me not by my own mother but by my maternal grandmother.

My grandmother was a bit of a rebel, but she was also a thoroughly Southern woman, a "lady", and I grew up with a consciousness of needing to be a nice person first, and a good person second. I think it was hard for me, always, to see that there even might be a difference between being nice and being good.

It was an immersion into the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War protest movement that taught me the difference, because being nice wasn't getting us anywhere. Yet I still have the conflict, still feel it every time I get riled up about something.

I have been in a more or less continual state of rile, if there is such a thing, since George W Bush began doing the things he has done after 9-11.

And I might never have been aware that I even have an Inner Curmudgeon if these things hadn't happened. Who knows, I might have even slid into aging gracefully, or something similar to it.

When I was getting my master's degree in psychology I had a very wise teacher who told us that growth never occurs when a person's inner self is in a state of balance and peace. It's the turmoil that makes us grow.

More tomorrow.

(Oh, and just so you'll know, I've promised myself not to edit what I post here, so here it goes, typos and all.)

-- Dianne

Saturday, March 10, 2007

And we're off....

The beginning of anything is always hard, always feels a bit like jumping off a height of some sort, even if not exactly a cliff.

So where am I coming from with this title for my blog -- which I would have preferred to call a journal but I guess that was not to be, considering as how I had problems with the site that would have allowed me to create a journal and so I turned to good ole google, where the word is blog.

Where I'm coming from is this: I am of a certain age, and have decided to fully acknowledge my age and to write from the inside-out of it. This means that what I have to say may not be of any interest to people who are younger, but in fact it may not be of any interest to anybody anyway. So I'm doing this primarily for myself, to make myself think about things that I seem otherwise to be continually pushing to the back of my mind. I am calling my blog Chasing the Inner Curmudgeon because that's the part of me that I'm always pushing away ... yet that part of me does have quite a bit to day. And let's face it, I'm running out of time in which to say it.

So for today, that's enough. More will develop here over time.