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Thursday, 24 May 2007

Modesty and gender

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Rob in Kenya writes:
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Where my partner and I were in northern China was VERY cold — we regularly saw our breath inside our apartments from October or so until April. People dressed in layers. What were called “sweater pants” were very common. Our students wore three or four sweaters on top (with a coat over them) and then a pair of knit wool pants (the sweater pants) under their regular pants. Males didn’t wear ties. Most of the Chinese men’s shirts were not designed to be worn with ties — and of course any tie would have been buried under sweaters and a jacket. No girl wore a skirt. She would have been much too cold. A female teacher who wore a skirt would have been looked at as very odd here — and she wouldn’t have appeared terribly “professional” according to our group leaders with pants under a skirt.

But, what was more interesting was that as time passed we eventually learned that for a woman to wear a skirt was considered very daring. It almost made her a “woman of questionable morals”. One female teacher reported that one day, caught up in the desire for spring to come sooner than it was coming, she put on a nice dress to feel better. The reaction she got from her students and fellow teachers was amazing. She was called a “movie star” and basically given multidues of comments about how “dressed up” she was. It was at this point that she started looking around and realizing that women just didn’t wear dresses. Everyone wore the same monotone clothes carefully designed so they would blend into a crowd.

Our group leaders had taught in Beijing where there are numerous foreigners and people are used to seeing them dress in their “foreign” ways so they hadn’t stood out like the teachers did in their “smaller” (if any town can be small in China), more provincial towns. We finally gave up on tryiing to follow their guidelines as we found that to dress “professionally” (according to their standards) was actually separating us from our students — makine them feel we were way above them.

That really drove home to me the fact that it is impossible to make “iron-clad” rules about what is important when it comes to dress. I even heard it said that in China the men wear the skirts (those long robe-like outfits for which I am sure there is a correct name that I don’t know) and the women the pants. That was appropriate clothing in their culture.

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Comments from The White Man:

Dresses, as they are usually worn, aren't necessarily the most modest attire for women. Often associated with "dressing up," they tend to be less modest than what the woman wears around the house, or even to bed. This is not necessary for men; why should it be for women? Try to imagine outfitting your average stage preacher in such a way as to match the modesty level of his wife's stage attire:

1. Take off his socks.
2. Cut his shoes down a ways to show off the bare tops of his feet. Cut around the toes to show them in all their glory.
3. Cut a slit up each leg of his slacks to just above the knee.
4. Put him in sheer not-quite-knee-length boxers that occasionally show through the slits.
5. Take off his tie and put it around his waist, both ends pointing down the middle of his backside.
6. Cut a large V out of the front of his shirt. Remove his undershirt and tie it back around his chest so the top of it shows through the trough of the V.
7. Decorate this exposed area with a string of pearls that ends just out of sight behind the undershirt.
8. Cut a big scoop out of the back of his suit coat and shirt, not quite as far down as the undershirt since this is a stage event and not a formal dinner.
9. Now send him up on the stage and let him preach!

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