Saturday, September 26, 2009

Are You a Boy, or Are You a Girl?

I remember, back in the sixties, when The Barbarians sang "Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl." The first two lines summed up some of the confusion of the period:

"Are you a boy? Or are you a girl?
"With your long blond hair you look like a girl...."

Time Passes, Change Happens

Before the sixties, in America, it was pretty easy to tell who was a boy and who was a girl. The boys had very short hair, and wore trousers. The girls had very long hair, and wore dresses or skirts and blouses - never mind how cold it was, or what exposure to sub-zero temperatures was doing to their legs.

Those were the 'good old days' - and I don't want to go back. I remember enough of what the "Happy Days" years were really like.

Before the 20th century in America, it was even easier. As soon as a boy could manage it, he grew a beard. Girls went to painful extremes to make sure they had no visible facial hair - and still do. Which for some European ethnic groups could almost be called heroic behavior. We're a hairy bunch.

Then, decades before I was born, men in America started trying to make the lower part of their faces look like a woman's. I've no clue why. (September 19, 2009)

Culture, Common Sense, and the "Effete" Practice of Men Growing Beards

The no-beards rule had been in place for so long that it's been accepted as 'normal' in some subcultures. Not all that long ago, I heard a fundamentalist/evangelical fellow - an educated man - express alarm and disgust at the "effete" habit of men growing beards. That word's an exact quote.

I still haven't figured out what he thought he meant. (September 19, 2009)

That's an isolated incident. Most fundamentalists and/or evangelicals seem to have a pretty solid grasp of which secondary sex characteristics go with which sex.

On the other hand, several groups have rather fixed ideas about what sort of clothing boys should wear, what sort girls should wear - and what happens when a girl wears clothing they don't approve of.

Wearing Pants Makes You Look Like a Boy?!

Although this is a thoroughly Catholic family, my wife and daughters normally wear pants and shirts. Dresses, or something with a skirt, are for Mass and special occasions. "Everybody does it" isn't a valid excuse: but the fact is that the regional culture is very post-sixties, and skirts are optional for women.

We're not trying to 'fit in' by abandoning important principles: but we're following principles, not habits of another age.

I heard of a conversation about what was 'proper.' The gist of it was this: girls shouldn't wear pants, because then they'll look like boys.

Oh-kay. Before adolescence, there's something to that. Once we get past the age of fourteen or so, though, not so much. There aren't all that many teenage girls or women who look male - no matter what they've got on. Assuming that they're not trying to hide their sexuality.

The same goes for teenage boys and men. Some of us are fine-featured and lightly-built enough to pass as women - if we work at it. But it takes effort. For one thing, the hip-to-shoulder ratio tends to be a giveaway.

As for pants being a universal sign of masculinity: Scotsmen, highlanders, anyway, wore kilts - a sort of skirt. And I don't think it would have been prudent to tell a highlander that he dressed like a woman.

So It's Okay for a Man to Wear a Dress and Makeup?

I didn't say that it's okay for a man to dress as a woman. Or a woman to dress as a man. The point is that what is appropriate for men and women has changed - a lot - over the millennia and across the world.
" 'A woman shall not wear an article proper to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's dress; for anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, your God."
(Deuteronomy 22:5)
I have no problem with following that rule. On the other hand, if I tried to wear articles proper to a man living in the plain of Moab over two dozen centuries back, I'd have to stay inside all winter. It gets cold here in central Minnesota.

Don't get me wrong: I think that traditional clothing for men in the Arab world is both literally and figuratively cool. I've worn a close approximation - and it's just what I'd want to wear in a hot, dry climate.

But as I said, I live in central Minnesota in the early Information Age. If I tried to dress the way Moses did, I'd be getting caught in machinery and - more to the point - look like I was wearing a dress.

Change Happens: Deal With It

I've talked about "appropriate" clothing before, in a post about modesty. (August 16, 2009) I think a point made there applies here, too:
"The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person."
I think it's important that men dress like men, and women like women. But exactly what that means has changed - a lot - as millennia rolled by.

Personally, I like the look of 'normal' clothing from a number of periods: including 1940s America. The zoot suit was a bit extreme, but men's and women's clothing had quite a lot of style then.

But I don't think it's particularly 'Biblical' to wear a killer coat with drape shape and reet pleats. And I don't think Moses was unmanly because he didn't.

Sure, it's a bit easier to tell who's who when everyone who wears one tube from the waist down is a girl, and everyone who wears a tube that branches into two tubes is a boy. But since the sixties, the American subcultures I've been around have worked out distinctive styles, so that there's still a difference between what men and women wear.

Which is the way most of us like it.
" 'God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image . . ., God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.'115

" 'God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them';116 He blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply';117 'When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.'118"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2331)
That's from Article 6 in the Catechism: the part discussing another one of those rules: "You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 5:18) and the follow-up on that rule: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27, 28)

I can see why some folks see the Catholic Church as run by a bunch of prudish killjoys. 'Nothing but "thou shalt nots".'

But the same authority that set down that rule about adultery told us to be fruitful and multiply. Human sexuality is a gift that we're supposed to respect - and use.

The way I see it, the rules are there to show us how to handle the fires of creation without getting burned. It's sort of like nuclear power. Keep the pumps running and the coolant flowing, and you've got abundant power. Start playing with the pumps, and you've got Chernobyl.

Which is another topic, for another day.Background:

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.