Monday, October 21, 2019

Gender Roles and Clothing

A friend (Hi Wulfwen!) posted this on Facebook and I realized it was something I've wanted to babble about for some time now.  Go ahead and read it.  I'll wait.

So these guys bought a couple shawls and their girlfriends dumped them because it somehow made them less ... manly?  Really?  Look at that thing - gray stripes on dark gray, with no fringe or flowers, no lace, and no pattern in the knit.  If it were a jacket or a hoodie it would be in the boring section of a men's clothing store.

As anyone who has studied history or anthropology knows, there is nothing about any particular style of clothing or accessory that inextricably links it to a gender. What in one place or time is considered effeminate will be seen elsewhere and when as masculine. Even when limited to the rural parts of the US this holds true.

Last week when I was picking up Thai food at a local restaurant I noticed one of the guys at the front dest was wearing one of those long sweaters. My first thought was that it looked really comfortable, so I complemented him on it. I did wonder though if he caught any flack for wearing it. Southwest Ohio isn't the most cosmopolitan part of the world.

I also asked myself if I would wear something like that. I still don't know, though mostly because I'm not sure it would look right on me - I'm kind of short and chubby.

The thing is I really like that our culture is loosening up on gender stereotypes. I'm cis-het, but I've been wearing tropical print shirts for decades because most of the colors in the men's section of the average clothing store are so damned boring.

Two years ago I admitted to myself that I'd wanted a purse since I was six years old. Shortly after that I saw one of my younger co-workers carrying a bag and I realized things had changed enough that I could carry one and not get beaten up by some knuckle-walker. So I bought this messenger bag and have been carrying it around ever since.

It is so nice not to have my pockets full of keys and stuff!

Earlier this year I got fed up with wearing socks that were white, black, or gray. Now I have socks that rarely match anything else I'm wearing and my inner-eight-year-old is happy!

There is sort of a catch. My wife, Cindy, does have a say in how I dress and accessorize. It's not because of any ultimatum though but because I value her opinion. If she says I'd look good in something and it's something I'd like to try out then that's cool.  If she says she's not going anywhere with me if I'm going to wear a tank top, tutu, black socks, and sandals then I'm inclined to rethink my sartorial choices.

I guess what I'm saying is that life is too short to wear things that are uncomfortable or ugly or dull (unless you're really into that sort of thing). Change is good. Wear whatever the hell you want. The chances are you'll end up encouraging someone else to wear what they want.

And anyone who tells you it's too masculine/feminine/whatever ... to hell with them.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Charity and Pride

I've been thinking a lot this year about charity - probably more than I should but if there's one thing I'm really good at it's overthinking.

At the most basic level charity is important because it helps those in need. That's sort of the whole point after all, but there's another level above that of what charity does for the benefactor.  Sure, it makes them feel good for having done something good.  More importantly, it pulls them out of their own internal world and reminds them that life isn't just about them; that there are other people out there struggling to get by.

That tells me it's important for at least some charity to be face-to-face.  Yes, it's much more efficient to give money to a big organization so they can deal with the logistics of feeding thousands on a daily basis, and this kind of giving is really needed.  But it's a kind of removed, impersonal act.  It's moving a blip from one account to another, easily divorced from the reality of what it means.

Putting food on a plate for someone has so much more impact.  You see another human being who is hungry and you're saying to them, "Here, I want you to live."

And then you feel good ... and this is where the pride comes in ... and that's not necessarily good.

To one degree or another, people have an inherent desire for validation from their peers.  If they've done something they want to tell others, and then be told it was a good thing to do.  This is perfectly natural and is an important part of how society works.  But when it's combined with charitable acts it tends to center thought on the benefactor rather than the beneficiary.  Giving becomes an act of seeking public approval and building social status rather than helping others.

A quick search on YouTube yields hundreds of videos of people giving. The titles shout things like "Giving Homeless People $1,000" and "FEEDING THE HOMELESS ON MY BIRTHDAY!!!"  They are testaments of generosity, but they've also received criticism for being "poverty porn" and for putting the recipients' lowest point in life out on the internet for the whole world to see.

Of course there's a flip side to this.  Public acts of charity encourage others to give as well.  They remind those who have that there are others who have not, and provide impetus to share the benefits of living in a society.

There's a surprising amount of things to think about
packed into this photo and its caption

I'm afraid I don't really have a conclusion that pulls this all together.  The best I can come up with is: Give if you can, sometimes publicly and sometimes privately.  If you have a lot to spare, give a lot.  If for whatever reason you can't give then help - even if it's just a small thing like helping a stranger up the stairs or tying someone's shoe.

It's a big, scary world out there sometimes and we're all in it together.