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September 16, 2010

When in Rome

Retriever weighs in on the Sainz silliness:

As a young American teen in Europe, I knew that we American girls were viewed as sluts and whores by some European men because of our less formal and more revealing dress and more relaxed social manners even if we were actually fairly sedate in our romantic and sexual behavior. Puritanical more like. That was then, not now...My parents severely lectured us to accommodate local mores and customs about decency and not showing too much flesh, etc, covering up in church, etc. as a result.

We signal things with our clothes and accessories, and parents have anxiously worried what their daughters are signaling from time immemorial (and been accused of jealousy or fuddy-duddiness for their "No daughter of mine is going out looking like THAT!") One reason fathers are so important to the upbringing of daughters is that they both offer wholesome male admiration, and protect them from unwanted male advances.

Like it or not, even in modern USA, women from certain cultures whose looks or talents or the man they marry bring them to prominence often get into trouble nowadays because their fashion choices or etiquette are not "professional" enough. Not because of racism, but because of the disruptive effects of exhibitionism and sexy attire in professional workplaces. Think of that most famous Main Squeeze: MO. Who can't seem to get it right. Who insists in wearing flamboyant "look at me" clothes in a job that is essentially a supporting, nurturing, role.

Like Retriever, I've lived in a lot of different places. Growing up, I moved pretty much every year.

One thing you can't help noticing when you move around is that there is no inalienable right to unconditional acceptance. You will be judged, not by your own standards, but according to local customs, mores, manners, and traditions. And that's how it should be, really. You're asking to be accepted into a community that existed long before you arrived. So while you have the right to choose your own values, you don't have the right to demand that others approve of your choices (or substitute your values for their own). Believe it or not, it's not all about you.

This is hardly a phenomenon limited to women, by the way.

No matter where we lived during my sons' growing up years, I insisted that they wear a shirt with a collar to school and keep their hair neat and reasonably short. Once they got home, they were free to "express their individuality" by dressing pretty much as they pleased.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with my oldest boy when he was 17. Like many young men, he became enamored of the gansta wannabe look: baggy pants that revealed far more than I wished to see of his teenaged tuckus, woolen caps pulled down over his hair, etc. No matter how I tried to explain that he looked like a thug-in-training, he wanted to dress like his friends. And as long as he wasn't in school or with me, I let him (though not without parental comment). "There is no free lunch in America" is a lesson best learned at home.

One night he returned home from an evening out with friends in a state of teen outrage. Apparently a cop had pulled them over and treated them like perps. They weren't arrested or anything. He just didn't understand why the officer regarded them with suspicion. What really bothered him, I suspect, is that he wasn't used to being treated that way - a phenomenon due in no small part to the fact that he didn't look like the kind of young man who causes problems.

I gently pointed out to him that if you dress like a badass and adopt a sullen attitude, people assume that image reflects the "real you". If you don't want them to assume you're up to no good, don't go out of your way to dress like a perp. And if you do intentionally adopt that image, don't whine when people take you at face value.

This was something of a breakthrough moment in our then-troubled relationship. I think it was one of the first times when he actually understood why his mother was such a pain in the ass sometimes.

Heh :)

PS:guess what my son does for a living now? Perhaps one day I'll ask him if he takes clothing into consideration?

Posted by Cassandra at September 16, 2010 12:58 PM

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PS:guess what my son does for a living now?

Haberdasher at hip-hop hoedowns.


Posted by: BillT at September 16, 2010 03:17 PM

My daughter discovered makeup early in high school, and after that, she had to do her face every morning before going off to school. It was getting ridiculous, and I asked her why she was doing that. She answered that it made her look better. I suggested that she was way overdoing it. She didn't need makeup, she was a beautiful young woman in her own right. If she wanted to use makeup as art with her face as the canvas, that was fine, but she didn't need it for appearance's sake. And I asked her how much she was spending on that.

I also told her she could have her first date when she was 35, and I'd sit on the couch between them.

She listened to one, but not the other....

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at September 16, 2010 03:31 PM

Women... we are stubborn :p

Posted by: Cassandra at September 16, 2010 03:34 PM

Having pants that fall down, is like wearing a tight skirt.

You can't fight. You can't run. You are, essentially, only a "man" in the sense that you

1. rely on a gun or 2. rely on bodyguards.

Any boy that aspires to hold his own and not be considered a dead weight to friends in a security situation, would have the sense to avoid such entanglements. But the point is usually not made to them until it is no longer valid.

Social status trumps security, only for the foolish or ignorant.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 16, 2010 03:56 PM

So, you're saying that you won't extend multicultural acceptance? Her experience as an unwise Latina means nothing to you?

Posted by: Grim at September 16, 2010 05:49 PM

Profiling clothing?

You were far more tolerant than I am...but where we live, dressing like a gangsta is more the exception, not the rule. Tattoos and body piercings are part of that mix now.

We watched 'West Side Story' for the first time about a year ago. Even the thugs dressed (by comparison with today's standards) rather wholesomely. The CLUs were astounded that they looked so clean and decent! Go figure.

Posted by: Cricket at September 16, 2010 06:22 PM

Well, calling it "gangsta" is probably a bit of an exaggeration on my part :p We were in California, and the way he wanted to dress was pretty subdued compared to a lot of kids.

I'm a big believer that you have to leave some room for them to rebel. When I went to college at 18, there were a lot of kids there who had never had any freedom and - as far as I could tell - hadn't had the opportunity to make mistakes.

I don't think that's a good thing.

With both my boys, I backed off gradually starting in their junior year. I wanted them to learn to handle freedom and make a few mistakes while we were still there to pick up the pieces if need be. I don't know if that was the right thing or not, but it seemed to work pretty well.

Parenting is one of those endeavors where you never have any guarantees.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 16, 2010 06:31 PM

Thanks for the link, Cass. Loved your story...Lest I sound like a total prune, I should confess that I did all the usual teen stuff like roll up the uniform skirt waistband once the teachers had measured to make sure none of us had skirts more than four inches above the knee.

And there was the small matter of "Non-Uni" My boarding school allowed us two non-uniform outfits a term. My parents gave me a budget and I blew mine on a lime green mini and a striped tank to match and some equally hideous Tshirt dress. After a few lewd comments from the local boys, when I wore them on our Saturday afternoon free time out of uniform, I realized it had been a Serious Error, but my parents refused to give me any more money til the next term. So I was doomed to wear only my uniform on our Saturday afternoons the rest of the term. It sounds corny, but the experience taught me the value of NOT being conspicuous and not buying cheap looking clothes.

Posted by: retriever at September 16, 2010 07:01 PM

Even the thugs dressed (by comparison with today's standards) rather wholesomely.

The costuming wasn't overtly "hood" -- as in, "hoodlum" -- but some clues were obvious to a viewer with '50s eyes, such as the garrison belts. A rumble artist honed the bottom of the buckle to a knife edge, but filed it on the inside, where it wouldn't show; a small piece gone from the seam in the 'rees just below the knee meant a car aerial tucked down inside; engineer boots generally held a shiv in place next to the ankle -- studded straps on the boots meant "no shiv," but that he was a stomper.

That's the problem with the juvies these days -- no concept of *subtlety*...

Posted by: BillT at September 17, 2010 03:53 AM

Lest I sound like a total prune, I should confess that I did all the usual teen stuff like roll up the uniform skirt waistband once the teachers had measured to make sure none of us had skirts more than four inches above the knee.

That made me laugh.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 17, 2010 06:18 AM