So Much More, p. 75-93 – Part 2: Pervy Paisley Power Pants

“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.

So yeah, can you tell I was out of ideas for how to title an “odds and ends” post before moving on to the next topic, and it was really late at night? But I promise that title isn’t just random crap, and that each of those words actually has something to do with one of the subjects covered in the post. I’ll go through them one and a time.

Pervy*

Continuing themes already discussed in previous posts, A&E once again extol the virtues of having your father supervise your clothing choices. (Though, in a tiny plus, mothers are at least mentioned this time.)

Where should I get guidelines for modest, excellent, feminine dress?

This is where our protectors come in. In the same way that they are responsible to keep you from making a foolish vow or commitment, they are to protect your character and reputation, and to protect you from making a mistake by revealing yourself. If your father (or mother) is concerned about the way you dress, you are blessed! You have a parent who loves you enough to want to protect you. We need to ask our fathers to set standards and make guidelines for us, instead of resisting them or pushing their limits. Because our fathers are men, they know what other men would find a stumbling block. They also know how they want their ambassadors to represent them.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, this squicks me out. Aside from implying that parents who don’t impose strict modesty rules on their daughters don’t love them (or at least love them insufficiently or defectively), it also strikes me a bit as asking fathers to regard their daughters sexually as a thought experiment. (Though to be fair, it doesn’t creep me out as much as previous statements saying girls should abide by their fathers’ color preferences when picking out clothes, which seems to me to be pushing the incest-y line way too far.) So if I was going to follow A&E’s modesty rules, I would definitely be having my mother advise me on my clothing choices instead of my father. But thankfully, as a non-patriocentrist, I don’t have to worry about this.

*Note for trolls and the indignant: this section title has been exaggerated for comic effect. I am not actually saying that all patriocentrist fathers are perverts.

Paisley

One of A&E’s featured stay-at-home daughters, Genevieve, was quoted in the last post when I discussed the (alleged) fine line between baggy clothes and masculine clothes. Genevieve, however, had even more to say on the topic of feminine and masculine clothing, and appears to have discovered distinctions between the two that are pretty far out even for a modesty proponent (at least in my experience):

One book I read described femininity as being the opposite of masculinity. This helped me a lot. I connected this concept with the ideas that I was learning that colours and colour combinations can be feminine or masculine, that various fabrics can be feminine or masculine, that cuts and styles and forms of tailoring can be feminine or masculine.

First, I worry that it’s unhealthy, in general, to fixate on men/maleness/masculinity and women/females/femininity being opposites. In my experience, an obsession with opposites, for many people, creates unnecessary (and sometimes downright imaginary) barriers in communication and breeds resentment, sometimes even dislike. There may in fact be some hardwired sex differences, but that should lead us to seek to to understand what they really are – and I’m reasonably certain that they’re not what Genevieve and A&E think they are – so we can work with, through and around them to better communicate. The solution is not to throw up our hands, exasperatedly exclaim that “men are a different species!” or “women are so confusing!”, and stop trying. In reality, as others have pointed out, “there is nothing in existence that so closely resembles the human female as the human male”[1], and we should remember this any time we are tempted to lose sight of the humanity of the other half of the human race, and reduce them to a bizarre alien from another planet speaking a semi-unintelligible language.

(And speaking of which, can the phrases “testosterone poisoning” and “semen headache” go die in a fire? Please? Thank you.)

Second, since Genevieve didn’t elaborate much on practical matters here, I have a few questions. She said that certain colors, fabrics, etc. are either masculine or feminine. Aside from the fact that this is loaded with cultural context and hardly a moral absolute, inquiring minds want to know, exactly which colors are feminine and which are masculine? Judging by the girls’ toy aisle in Walmart, pink are purple are widely considered feminine right now. And yet, if you put “men’s pink shirt” into Google Images, you will find a wide array of perfectly masculine button-down shirts that are the exact same shade of pink as that usually found in the girls’ toy aisle. There’s also a consistently large selection of purple ties in most men’s sections in department stores. I have a homeschool friend whose younger brother wears a purple tie pretty frequently, along with a pinstriped suit and matching pinstriped fedora, and he looks positively snazzy. Is he “effeminate” because of the color of his tie?

And since we’ve opened this box, why stop with colors? Are there certain patterns that are masculine or feminine? For instance, I love paisley. Lots of ties have paisley on them. (Seriously, put “paisley tie” into Google Images and look at all those awesome paisley ties. LOOK AT THEM.) So I frequently get jealous and wish that all that paisley was on socks or shirts, so I could get it on my body in a socially acceptable manner. But uh oh – does the huge variety of paisley ties in fact mean that paisley is inherently masculine, and thus I shouldn’t be wearing it?

And what about, say, plaid? Plaid is pretty masculine, right? Flannel shirts, kilts, tartan, etc. So maybe women shouldn’t wear plaid. Well, except this. And this. And this too. I guess maybe this isn’t turning out quite the way I planned…

Power

On a darker note, this appears shortly after the discussion of girls’ bodies belonging to their future husbands:

Solomon was the wisest man in the world, Samson was the strongest man in the world, and David was the most righteous man in the world. But the one thing that was strong enough to defeat them all was the femme fatale, the fatal woman. We, as women, can wield a very dangerous kind of power, and that kind of power can be twisted to be very ungodly. Unfortunately, we may enjoy that feeling of power, and this is a dangerous feeling for us. If we enjoy the admiration and feeling of power we get from wearing a questionable garment, it is causing us to stumble, and we must repent of our vanity.

My beef with this is not that there is such a thing as vanity and that it can be problematic – though for the record, I’m not sure where A&E got the idea that women who don’t follow their modesty standards are seeking some kind of “power high” off wearing “questionable garments” and attempting to control men with their clothes – rather, it’s the examples A&E give. To suggest that Bathsheba was some kind of “femme fatale” who was deliberately attempting to seduce David – who, BTW, I don’t recall ever being called “the most righteous man in the world” – is to completely ignore the actual account. At no point is Bathsheba ever faulted for anything; rather, the entire focus is on the fact that David has committed adultery and murder. In fact, I think there’s a pretty good case to be made that the initial act of adultery was nonconsensual, since David uses his authority as king to have Bathsheba removed from her house and brought to him. That has all the hallmarks of an abuse of power to get sex, and in modern parlance, we call that coercion or rape. If that’s the case, then A&E are blaming a rape victim for her own rape, simply because she had the nerve to take a bath outdoors, in an era predating indoor plumbing.

Pants

Near the end of the chapter, A&E profile someone named Bethany Vaughn who did something called the “Feminine Dress Challenge,” which, according to Vaughn’s original article (referenced in a footnote), is promoted by the popular patriocentrist website Ladies Against Feminism. I read Vaughn’s article in its entirety. In it, she repeats a number of eternally popular (and painfully unoriginal) antifeminist clichés, and seems to think not only that feminists never wear dresses on principle, but also that the dress itself has become some kind of endangered species. This is extremely strange to me given that at least one department store has an entire section of their website devoted to nothing but dresses, which, at the time I looked, contained 5433 different items (over 50 pages of results). But I digress. Let’s look at the parts of Vaughn’s article actually quoted by A&E, beginning with her description of how the “Feminine Dress Challenge” made her feel:

I immediately noticed that I felt more feminine. I felt like a woman! I felt lovely and wonderfully beautiful, delicate and charming, dainty and glowing.

First, let me just be clear right now, that there is nothing wrong with the fact that Vaughn likes wearing dresses. It is absolutely okay to wear dresses, and enjoy doing it. However, after reading the original post, I’d also like to point out that it’s entirely possible Vaughn pre-primed her own reaction. By her own admission, she spent several weeks accumulating dresses and skirts that fit her new modesty standards before beginning the experiment, and she “wanted to exude femininity in every area of [her] life.” In other words, if she had already cultivated a positive attitude toward dresses before starting the experiment, it’s not rocket science to figure out that she would end up enjoying wearing a dress.

Ultimately, though, that’s not the problem here. The problem here is that Vaughn presents her reaction as revealing some kind of universal truth about femininity, when in reality the only thing we learn from it is that Bethany Vaughn likes wearing dresses. When I wear dresses, I don’t have this reaction. I’m usually neutral at best, and annoyed at worst – not because of the dress per se, but because wearing a dress means I have to wear pantyhose (which, along with high heels, is Exhibit A in the “ways women unnecessarily torture themselves in the name of fashion” department). The dress I liked best was one that attempted to recreate Puritan dresses. It wasn’t perfectly accurate, but it was thick and heavy and had a petticoat underneath, which means it was warm (in a New England March) and, most importantly, didn’t involve pantyhose.

So there’s my anecdata about dresses. What makes it any better or worse than Bethany Vaughn’s? Vaughn would like you to believe that her anecdata gives us some mystical insight into the essential nature of femininity, while mine is just the result of feminist brainwashing. But how she’d go about proving that is anyone’s guess.

The next thing I noticed was that I became keenly aware of my movements and physical actions. Climbing over the seat of the van or running up the stairs or even sitting were oftentimes done in a very unfeminine way. When I have a dress on, I am careful to sit like a lady. I walked and carried myself differently.

This is simply an example of Vaughn focusing on the wrong thing. She seems to think that the awareness necessary when wearing a dress or skirt is something essentially “feminine” or “ladylike.” In reality, it’s not a gendered behavior at all, but simply a practical reality when wearing any item of clothing that’s open on the bottom. For a perfect example of what I mean, here’s this picture of a rather unfortunate man in a kilt who happened to get caught in a breeze. There are dozens of similar (and worse) ones all over the internet. That’s because men in kilts have to observe all the same “ladylike” rules of movement and sitting that Vaughn has to follow when she wears a skirt. Vaughn may associate all these rules with femininity due to many centuries of Western women wearing exclusively dresses and skirts, but that doesn’t make them essentially or “ontologically” feminine.

And now, at long last, the “rules and regs” section of chapter 7 is over. In the next post, I’ll explore the promises A&E make to their readers, to get them to actually agree to all those burdensome rules and regs.

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8 comments on “So Much More, p. 75-93 – Part 2: Pervy Paisley Power Pants

  1. fiddlrts says:

    Sigh.

    I do think that the “move like a lady” has some pretty pernicious results in real life, not the least of which is that it discourages women from exercising. (That’s a bit rich, considering the corresponding advice to keep one’s body attractive so that one’s husband won’t cheat…) In a number of families that I knew during my Gothard years, this meant that the men and boys were generally a healthy weight and condition, while the women – and young, pre-pubescent girls – were overweight or obese and unable to easily hike or engage in other strenuous pursuits.

    It just isn’t practical to be “ladylike” and also vigorous. But I suspect that isn’t the point. If your view of women is that they are weak and in need of constant protection, a woman who can outperform you athletically is a real threat to the worldview.

    • Hester says:

      Not to mention it, as usual, completely ignores history and the fact that women had to be pretty physically sturdy to actually manufacture everything self-sufficiently like the “home economy” folks want them to do. Take, for just one example, the upper body endurance needed to churn butter for hours on end. That being said, most of the patriocentrist-y women I know have the genetic good fortune of being naturally thin and waiflike. They also all happen to be mostly flat-chested, or at least “small,” so they even won out on the do-your-breasts-bounce-while-running lottery. (Which was my first thought when you mentioned women being discouraged from exercising. I mean, how do you do even moderately vigorous aerobic exercise without your chest moving, and thus “defrauding” any man in the vicinity?)

      And of course there are double standards here too. Men in kilts can jump trenches carrying guns and no one cares.

      On a funnier note, I folded clothes for a homeless ministry as a teenager, and since this is CT, the land of UCONN Huskies basketball (seriously, you can buy the UCONN women’s coach’s mother’s tomato sauce in the grocery store here – not kidding), the ministry did some fundraising / charity event that involved UCONN women’s basketball tickets somehow. The woman who helped run the ministry got a grumpy phone call from a guy who thought they shouldn’t be promoting the women’s games, because it was a sin for women to break a sweat. I can only assume that this guy was either single, or his wife sits in a chair all day.

  2. Kathi says:

    How old were A & E when they wrote this? I’m guessing late teens, early 20’s? The idealistic, self-righteous attitude is flowing through the writing. If they’re that young and don’t have any friends or influences outside of their religious environment, it’s easy to understand why they generalize women who don’t fit their mold. However, if they had friends outside of their environment that they respected, I’m sure that their tune would change. There’s always hope.

    • Hester says:

      They said they were 15 and 17 when they started writing the book. Unfortunately AFAIK they’re still single and living on the family compound with their dad ~10 years later. 😦

      • Kathi says:

        Blech. In Homeschool Dropouts I picked up a smug, we’re-better-than-the-rest attitude from all of those kids.

  3. Susan aka VelvetVoice says:

    I’d like to point out that Bathsheba was probably taking a ritual bath, and the bathtub was probably positioned by prescription, meaning it was in semi-public view. Some comps I know try to find blame in all of these Bible women. I had an argument with someone over Dinah, he didn’t come around for six months. It was restful!

    Aren’t our UCONN girls great? I lament the fact that they aren’t offered these big commercial deals and chances to join a national professional league.

  4. tamtam says:

    I forgot where I read this, but while falling down the internet rabbit hole of fundie survivor blogs one night, I came across a quote from a preacher who taught that “Satan created women” and used that as his justification for treating females horribly. Reading through this post made me think of that quote.

    Those of us who have even a basic knowledge of the Bible know that it was God who created woman. The creation of life is exclusively God’s domain, not Satan’s.

  5. Reyes says:

    Sorry for the late comment, but it’s interesting to me that clothing for small children has become MORE gendered over the last few decades, both because of parents being able to discover the gender of a baby long before birth and because marketers figure they can sell twice as many clothes that way. If pink/dresses/etc had some magical feminizing power, shouldn’t this have ushered in a new era of more ladylike daughters rather than the “masculine” feminists they are complaining about?

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