Thursday, June 25, 2009

Short Skirts

It is summer, and the women at Las Pecinas College have donned their teeny skirts in celebration. They shuffle across the library in strappy sandals, tugging at their hemlines with every fifth step, hugging themselves and shivering in the chill of the air conditioning. They lean against their boyfriends, who wear long, baggy shorts that hang past their knees, oversized hooded sweatshirts, and basketball shoes. The backs of female thighs are suddenly visible everywhere, like blossoms emerging all at once from their winter slumbers—plump and dimpled, or bony and skinny, flattened across the back from sitting, sometimes marked with the faintly visible imprints of fabric chairs or slatted benches.

Why are they wearing these skirts, which seem to make them so chilly and uncomfortable? To look stylish? That’s not so bad. To show off their bodies? That seems okay.

Because they don’t feel sexy unless they look like they are wearing lingerie? That’s what I find a little disturbing.

As I understand it, the purpose of lingerie is to make its wearer as sexually appetizing as possible. It’s like the grill marks on a steak or the pumpkin sauce drizzled sparingly over ravioli; it stirs our appetite and increases our desire.

It seems appropriate to decorate your lover like you would decorate food during the moment of consumption—when you are about to have sex. But for women to feel that they must be maximally appetizing at all times, as they study in the library or attend a college class, seems perverse and tragic.

Notably, there is no lingerie for men—at least not for straight men. Their “sexy” underwear is all about status, Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger logos on waistbands that extend up over the tops of their pants.

My students, who are mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, often believe that the genders are equal now. I thought that, too, when I was their age. It’s an easy thing to think when you’ve been brought up in a modern school system where girls are increasingly more successful in school than boys and where advanced math and science classes are now taken by equal numbers of boys and girls.

Sometimes I and the other over-thirty-year-olds in the room try to enlighten our young compatriots about the gender inequity that has shaped our experience of work, relationships, families, and politics. When you explain to an eighteen-year-old woman the difficulties of getting adequate maternity leave or child care, her eyes become wide with respectful awe, as though you are recounting your experiences of the Great Depression. She nods politely, maybe utters a little “wow” under her breath, and you have suddenly attained the grandmotherly rank of historical relic, even though you’re talking about the present.

This is, after all, the same generation who says things like, “Well, this article about white privilege was written back in 1987, and there was probably a lot of racism back in those days.”

One area where gender inequity certainly touches their lives is the double standard concerning sexual behavior for men and women. They recognize this unfairness, and joke about it: a guy who sleeps around is a playa, a girl who sleeps around is a ho. Talking about this doesn’t really help them understand inequality, though, because even though they recognize this double standard, ultimately they subscribe to it themselves. The idea that men and women should have the same rights to have sex with whomever they please is like the idea that their parents were once young people just like themselves; they know it’s true in theory, but in practice they don’t really buy it.

If men and women are equal, then why aren’t all the men walking around campus in tiny shorts on the first slightly warm day of the year? Finally, I see nods of real recognition. “When our society is equal,” I say, “then when the weather turns warm, all the boys will be out with fake tans and hot pants and cropped tank tops.” Some girls laugh and nod, while others make disturbed faces. All the boys look disturbed.

“No one wants to see that,” one guy says.

He means he doesn’t want to see it. As a heterosexual male, what he wants to see is what everyone wants to see, and what he doesn’t want to see is what no one wants to see. That’s the meaning of hegemony.

“No, I mean, most of the guys I know wouldn’t look too good in skimpy clothes.” He points at his own stomach. “We’re really hairy and pale and out of shape.”

Well, men, if you want to be equal with women, I suggest you get to the tanning booth, or buy that convenient spray-on body tanner. All unsightly body hair should be waxed off. Then instead of eating breakfast, go for a run, and make sure to do lunges and crunches every day.

As with so many social inequities, there has been some progress on this front. Men are developing eating disorders now—manorexics, they are called, to distinguish their disease from the normal, female anorexia. Like nurses, models, and whores, anorexia is still necessarily feminine unless otherwise specified. But we can expect that in a few decades, young men will be rushing out to buy this season’s new short shorts, before all their football buddies do, and when the air turns a bit warm, their ass cheeks will be peeking tantalizingly out from under their clothing alongside those of their female equals.

Thanks to Adam Caldwell for the illustration. Check out his work at


Olive Green said...

I love this commercial parody my friend Justin sent in response:

Brian Madigan said...

This is really good. Takes me back to my days at DVC, and that was almost 10 years ago. I'm sure lots has changed, but this hasn't. The arrival of bare female skin always marked a change in the seasons.

brain said...

Quick analysis:

1) The reason men don't have to run around shirtless, oiled up in tiny shorts, is because women are perfectly willing to date men who aren't shirtless, oiled up in tiny shorts. Compare this to the phrase "no fat chicks."

So what are you going to do? Start a union?

But need anything be done at all? Why?

Did you know Twin Peaks Tavern is called "The glass coffin" because it is glass and its patrons are not young hotness? That's not victimization of women; all the parties are men. The truth may be the obvious and incurable: looks are more important to men.

In case it wasn't obvious, there's now a study on the obvious. Now it's scientifically supported and obvious,21985,25705279-5012748,00.html

There's a silver lining though: the road to hotness for girls is easily defined. For men (read the study) there is no clear hotness solution.

Is that fair? What is "fair?" Life is not fair. "Fair" is a lie people tell themselves so they don't start crying all the time.

2) I compare the effort to "save" young girls to the Weathermen or the Narodniks trying to "free" poor blacks or the peasants respectively. Did they really want to be "freed"? Seems like not. Both those efforts were dismal failures, separated by 100 years of history and an entire continent.

Tina Fey didn't need saving. Your peers are not the miniskirt girls, they are Tina Fey (I just picked her because she's famous). It seems to me most people don't want to be "saved." Which makes me sad. You can present a way up, but most people won't grab it. At least it's there for your padawan Tina Fey though... if you find her in the throngs of shivering miniskirts.

Girls with no self esteem are sad. But their male counterparts are no less sad. Together they graduate, get a job, watch TV for several decades of evenings, pump out a kid, die. Aspirations stay dreams and not implementation. Perfectly content to watch TV and complain. Why spoil a good thing? No one is starving. Eat. Survive. Reproduce. Repeat.

3) Male lingerie exists, but it's not clothing.

Have you talked to boys about what kind of car they drive? Men don't buy cars for themselves, they buy cars for the image projected to other people. How about Godiva chocolate, who do you think that is for? Boys don't buy Godiva chocolate to eat themselves. For one thing, it's not good chocolate. It's a status symbol to give to girls. Branding!

And that is why I support the robot uprising.

Olive Green said...

Brian: Yes, DVC is the height of gratuituous flesh-baring. I like boobs and everything, but DVC used to burn my eyes a little.
1. Excuse me, but I'm not willing to date men who do not walk around oiled up in little shorts (and ain't I a woman?). This has sadly led me into a life of celibacy and fag-haggery. Therefore, I advocate more men in small shorts.
2. You might find saving young wayward girls to be a hopeless enterprise. I work at a community college; it's my job.
3. I actually had that same idea about male status symbols in here, but it was too much of a digression so I took it out(you did a nicer job connecting it)--I only left the part about status underwear. I will have to write a post about this, and then we can go out and save all those high-maintenance boys.

brain said...

Won't someone please think of the (man)children?

You need a houseboy!

Melinda said...

Terrific and provocative, honey! But just one little thing...I seem to recall that during our college days, we weren't content to wear clothing that resembled lingerie. We actually wore lingerie as clothing, even the beige kind. Don't you remember? So how is that different? Is it more transgressive, or is it basically the same thing - ie the fashion of the times?

Olive Green said...

Haha, busted! I must point out that I don't advocate that people behave the way I did in college (for the love of humanity).

Jessica said...

Celibacy and fag-haggery! O the humanity!

I don't think being Tina Fey is the "out" here-- read any article about Tina Fey, and notice that she is almost always defined in relation to all the lingerie-clad starlets in the world. I think back to my own early twenties and realize how many of my sartorial choices were defined by what was hot and slutty and what was not; even when I made choices that were not hot and slutty (eg not shaving, or only wearing flat shoes, both of which I'd given up by my late twenties) it was done precisely BECAUSE I was trying to define myself as NOT in it for maximum sexual effect. Women everywhere, every morning, make choices about how much sexuality they want to project to the world, and women in their teens and early twenties usually go for maximum hotness because they think of it as their wheelhouse, their birthright, their duty... and it's distracting, which is why I made a lot of the choices I did when I was younger.

I these choices become a little easier for many women post age 25, perhaps in part because we're past the age when people think of us in a reflxively lecherous way (or not-lecherous way, if you don't happen to meet minimum hotness standards), and perhaps in part because once you start actually having sex regularly you realize that sex and hotness aren't synonymous.

One thing I think it interesting is how judgemental we are about women over a certain age projecting the kind of sexuality we expect from women in their twenties-- cougars, anyone? Ladies over 40 in miniskirts? I would guess your proverbial 18 year old male student laughs about this stuff, too. Why does he get to make the rules?

Melinda said...

I'm about to be that 40-year-old in a miniskirt!

This just reminded me of how Halloween is the world's biggest excuse to dress up like a hooker, no matter what your age.