Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Women in Skirts

When I finished my school psychology internship, I found myself competing for a job opening against only one other applicant: the male intern from my district. I knew him fairly well (we'd had the same mentor), so when I interviewed, I played up the strengths I had that he didn't: I love young children, I've done elementary school counseling, I am spontaneous and creative. He got the job, but I wasn't disappointed. If they wanted him for the job (a very responsible, organized, data-driven, compassionate man), I wouldn't have done well anyway. Sometimes a skirt just isn't the right fit and that is OK.

I wear a long skirt a few days a week and would probably wear them more often if I owned more casual ones. Long skirts are comfortable, flattering, and generally practical (except for bike riding). They are feminine and often quite pretty, even those designed for casual wear. So why do most women reserve skirts for formal occasions?

Quicksilver to Gold suggests that women avoid skirts because they want to conform to a gender neutral society. I think that is true in many cases. I know I avoided skirts in high school (and beyond) because I felt stupid in them. I didn't want to walk, sit, and look girly. I was proud of being an athlete and a good student. I did not want to be considered feminine, which I equated with weakness and playing dumb to attract attention. The message I heard from society, whether intended or not, was that to excel physically or intellectually I must abandon femininity.

My usual look in high school
(for the record, Molly was the sweetest dog of all time)

What I find particularly sad about teenage me, looking back, is that I went to a Catholic high school. Even if culture was pressuring me to choose between my femininity and my abilities, my school should have explicitly taught otherwise. Ms. Zynda was one teacher who did. She was pursuing her doctorate of theology and wore skirts. She followed our athletic teams and taught our class about chivalry. She gave and demanded respect. She did not mock, curse, or use bodily humor. She challenged us to think more deeply about our faith. She was a lady and a scholar. But she was just one woman. I'm afraid her example did not inspire me as much at the time as it has in retrospect.

Wearing a skirt does not make one a lady, nor does being a lady require a skirt. However, as skirts are a visible sign of femininity, I find their denigration in our society to be worrisome. Women and men are different. Generally speaking, they have different strengths and weaknesses, different aptitudes. If women think they need to decry anything feminine, they handicap themselves. Feminism, which gave women the freedom to wear pants, was supposed to promote women and bring them to their rightful place, equal with men. Sadly, it seems to have backfired.

The skirt is a symbol. Yes, I am feminine. I have been created by God as female, with all the blessings and challenges that entails. I am strong enough to birth a child. I am gentle enough to soothe an infant. I am silly enough to bring laughter to those around me. I am intelligent enough to study Scripture. I am motivated enough to change the world. I am emotional enough to sympathize with pain. I am also wearing a skirt.

4 comments:

  1. Some very interesting thoughts here...

    I very much agree that we are different and have different abilities, strengths, etc. that should be celebrated - I think it's actually a detriment to us as women to try to define our power and ability in the same terms as male power and ability - it leaves out many of the amazing things we alone are capable of (giving birth?).

    At the same time, there are many things we can do just as well or equally with men - and it can be tough to find that balance as I believe those things also need to be acknowledged.

    As for skirts - I just don't wear them because I find them uncomfortable. :)

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  2. Thanks for the feedback! I agree that we have a lot of common ground with men. And good for you for wearing what you like best! I see pants as being sort of like paid employment... A HUGE thank you is owed to feminists who fought to give women those rights, but women who choose not to exercise those rights shouldn't be judged harshly. I think true feminism would allow all women to pursue their goals, but that's not necessarily how it is playing out in our society today. :-(

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  3. I'm kind of weird about the whole skirt/pants thing. On the one hand, I like skirts. I think they look nice; my husband thinks they look nice; and of course I have no problem looking feminine!

    On the other hand I have had people come up to me and say, "So glad to see someone else who wears only skirts; pants are so immodest," or, "If you value your femininity, you will not wear pants," and I think that's just wrong.

    Femininity is such a complex thing, and there are very few things I'd write off as being strictly "unfeminine." As women go out and get traditionally male professions, they bring a certain feminine flair to the way they carry them out. It's neat to watch but hard to define.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, I proudly wear both skirts and pants. I'm proud to be a woman in the particular way that I do it (intellectual, yet very domestic; fond of a tease but trying not to be rude) -- but I would never tell anyone else what to wear or how to be a woman. Any time a woman is doing something, she is showing her femininity in the way she does that thing.

    I don't disagree with you at ALL, but just reflecting on how complicated this can be.

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  4. Sorry for not responding sooner; it's been a busy week. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It is complicated and the more I discuss it with others, the more complicated it seems to be. I like having black and white answers, so this area is a struggle for me. If I didn't have a child to raise, I don't think it would matter as much to me, just live and let live. But I want to model what is right for him. Sigh.

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