Posted by: sailingspirit | April 11, 2011

Both genders must use self-control

(From a discussion on women’s issues around the world, focus: the connection between coverage and respect)

You may be equally shocked when I tell you this: women in the Middle East feel sorry for us.  Yes, us!  In the same way many American women cluck and tisk about women Over There having to be covered up all the time, or not being allowed to enjoy certain freedoms we take for granted, the truth is they do the same tisking for poor American women.  They see American movies, TV, magazines, advertisements, etc. and how we have been reduced to nothing but sex objects, worth nothing unless we’re perfect and beautiful, worth less than the car or other marketable object we’re draped over, un-noticed if we’re not acting out in some extreme, attention-stealing manner.  They see the deluge of advertising shoved at us, convincing us of just how miserable and imperfect we really are, so that we will buy their products in an empty attempt to rebuild self-respect.  They see how we hate ourselves and our bodies, how we have developed every possible type of psychosis and disorder theremade, and how we are more truthfully slaves of image and exterior beauty than powerful masters of our own free destiny.  They feel sorry for us, because we are chained to the opinions of men who never respected us enough to begin with.  They count themselves lucky to be kept covered and out of the ugliness of the world by men who treat them as precious, too precious to flaunt to devouring eyes.

I have experienced both sides of this, and I can honestly say often times I would rather be one of them.  After all the years I’ve been seen but not truly heard, and wished I could just do what I needed to do without wasting time on foolishness like hair and makeup and control-top pantyhose, I wish I could just throw on a burka and go.  I have dated guys from both here and there, and was far and away treated better by guys from over there.  In fact, the way they treated me helped me see my own worth, and inspired me to start treating myself better.  Ever since, I look in the mirror and hear those voices saying, “Sweet one, why on earth are you so skinny?  Why aren’t you feeding yourself enough?  Why aren’t you taking good care of yourself?  Please, beautiful, come and eat, please, let me cook for you.  You are too skinny, too skinny!”

Here, I carry a whistle on my keychain and look under my car before I get in at night.  Because here, I fear the men who will hurt me.  There, I go for walks in the park late at night and enjoy the stars.  There, I don’t need to worry, because the men fear what would happen to them if they hurt me.

I, too, have experienced a rather unsettling feeling when close to fully-covered women.  Saying that you feel shut out and disconnected is exactly right–the way humans interact is based almost entirely on sensory exchange so when nearly all of our senses are cut off, our brains don’t quite know what to make of that.  Our brains kinda assume we’re sick or something–maybe we ate something bad and should throw it up.  It’s like motion sickness, but without the motion!  So when you can’t get any kind of reading about the person–sight, smell, etc.–it feels like you just can’t connect.

The secret lies in the most subtle cues that we typically ignore when we are getting the major ones.  For example, have you ever been able to identify a person from afar off based on the gait of his/her walk?  We each have a unique way of moving, so when we tune into that, we can use that.  Walking style, standing posture, gestures, etc.  Voice, of course, is another big one and much like a blind person develops better hearing capabilities, we can learn to pick up more from tonal inflection when we can’t read lips or see facial expressions.  But it takes practice.

I’m not certain of this, and of course it may vary by region in the same way the amount of personal coverage varies by preference and region, but I was just starting to pick up on a trend of touch when I last had to leave.  I think it may be that women who feel comfortable with each other are more likely to communicate through touch; in the way we might touch a friend when laughing over a good joke, or to direct attention to an item in a store, they might use touch to make up some for what they cannot see.  Close contact with friends and family members appears to be used far greater in some Middle Eastern countries than here–with the men, too.  In fact, I know of at least one place where male friends commonly rub noses as a greeting (similar to what Americans call “Eskimo kisses.”)  They hold hands, too.  Because the sexes are separated most of the time, their bonding within the sexes is stronger.  (With no implications whatsoever of homosexual leanings.)

And, in many parts of that region as well, the sense of smell is very, very important to them.  So they will converse at much closer ranges than we’re comfortable doing, in order to gain information via smell.  In the same way a mother uses subtle changes in smell to discern the state of her baby, they use smell to figure out what’s going on with a person–where they’ve been, what they’ve eaten, the state of their health, etc.  I mean no disrespect by this next statement but it’s the same concept as dogs using smell to figure out who you are.  (Thank goodness we’re comfortable enough with the unknown to not need to smell crotches!)  Even the amount of air expressed when speaking communicates some level of emphasis and emotion, and can give clues.  In stark contrast to our culture, where we believe we can hide things well and people only get what we outwardly say, they can read people who aren’t even speaking.  Like today’s speaker said, they’ll know when you’re faking it, so don’t bother.  They’re extremely good at picking up on the seemingly impossible subtleties, as perhaps most starkly evidenced by the Bedu camel trackers.

Here in the states I have almost no interaction with burka-ed women, so I can’t say I’m much better at it than you.  I rely mostly on voice and gestures.  I try to think of it like attempting to talk to a friend through a closed bathroom door.  But keep in mind how people define “stranger,” and who their closest people typically are.  For us, keeping a distance from a stranger is (usually) applied equally to men and women who are not in our immediate family or friendship circles.  Where cultures keep the sexes largely separated, that would be rather moot, so she is already more comfortable being approached by you than you are approaching her.  It’s kinda like how we’re more comfortable interacting with each other in the Ladies’ restroom than we are outside of it, say, in the restaurant or department store.  Why should it be any different?  No one talks about it openly, yet we all seem to feel a greater sense of solidarity in there.  It is, afterall, a place where intimate things happen and where we’re certain only a restricted sub-part of the population will enter.  It’s where we let our guard down, because we need a break from keeping it up outside that room.  That is, those of us who are exposed need to keep it up.  Perhaps you’ll find it easier to break the ice in a location like a Ladies’ restroom, using a comment like “Your perfume smells really pretty.  What is it called?”

….Mmmm, yes, K I agree.  In fact I wonder if we would not see a dramatic reduction in things like pornography addiction, prostitution soliciting, human slavery/trafficking, domestic violence, etc. in this country if we (Americans) covered up our women more and removed all high-exposure imagery from the public domain (billboards, TV commercials, magazine ads, bus stop shelters, etc.).  In my parents’ youth, it was not allowed to show a married couple sharing a bed on TV.  In my grandparents’ generation, it was not acceptable to show a toilet on TV.  The stats clearly show a dramatic rise of problems over the course of these three generations, correlating to the increased permissiveness in our media.  Not to say problems were non-existant before, but dramatically less.  Thus, it should be reversible.

Clearly, mere prosecution via law enforcement or shaming (in a country that no longer has any shame) is not working well enough.  How can we possibly expect, or even hope for, a healthier and more respectful mindset amongst our citizens when we’re putting it in their faces–and therefore minds–CONSTANTLY?  I mean, it’s really just a giant game of “I’m not touching you I’m not touching you I’m not touching you…”  Every kid cracks and smacks their sibling, right?  What do the parents say?  “Stop provoking him/her.”  Well, can we take our own advice or what?  Furthermore, I think it crucial to be pro-active preventing such crimes against women, not reactive after the damage has been done.  I was once battered but because there were no witnesses, law enforcement said their hands were tied; they were obligated to protect the perpetrator against possible false accusations as much as they were to protect me.  This was no kind of justice!  This was not effective in preventing him from doing it again!  What kind of system is this, ‘Rape me once, shame on me but rape me twice, shame on you’???  The nerve of all of them, suggesting I get counselling, when he’s the one who doesn’t know right from wrong!  It must be prevented, and like K suggested we do have the ability to do that by controlling visual stimuli.

I, for one, after coming to realize all this (thanks to the more conservative international men who thought me worthy) started changing my wardrobe selections a few years ago and can honestly report I get more compliments now than before.  Not just men–actually, more from other women, even women complimenting me on my fashion sense in general.  They want to know how they can dress more like I do.  Isn’t that something?  Sophisticated is sexy!  I think that says a lot about the power of the visual and our ability to easily wield that power for good.  Great comment, K.

But it must also be said that men MUST be taught morality and self-control.  This is not just a women’s issue, this is a humankind issue.  No matter how unwise a woman’s wardrobe choice might be, it is still the man’s fault for abusing her.  Temptation is an influence, NOT a force.  Nothing forces a man to do it.  He chooses it.  Weakness in this area can, and must, be trained out at an early age.  Who are the trainers responsible?

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