There have been a series of very interesting opinions expressed on the matter here at the FF website:
Symmetry of opposites
The first thing to note – actually noted by my wife Delia, rational biologist extraordinaire – is that both authorsare allies in actively fighting for the rights and freedoms of all human beings.
And then there is a fantastic symmetry of opposites in Marguerite’s and Liz’s articles. I love symmetry and opposites are just another form of symmetry, so let’s see if I can explain it in words (rather than with an equation or a table):
- Marguerite argues that people need to keep in mind how others will see them when choosing their clothes, and then fails to foresee how others will be distuberd vis-a-vis of her ideas.
- Liz is vehement about expressing herself freely and in absolute – uncompromising – terms, while at the same time wishes for educated compassion from others when discussing sexual assault.
Conclusion one: both authors are on the same side and both end up doing with “words” the opposite of what they say should be done with “clothes”.
The lacking in humans’ clothes
Then, I think that none of the articles develops enough what I think is a crucial point about the animals wearing the clothes: those great apes we call humans.
Inside each human animal there is a rational being who performs and appreciates art, strives for democracy, uses the scientific method, and respects fellow humans regardless of their peculiarities. Most of these are recently acquired notions, the oldest – art? – being a few tens of thousands years old.
And then there is an instinctive being, driven by the reptilian part of the brain, acting without further, or even much, consideration. It pays no heed to the words, but to the way they are spoken or the stance of that uttering them. It makes decisions in a split second without further thought. Instinct is a reliable tool, honed by millions of years of evolution.
I am not going to say that one is better than the other. In fact, much to the contrary. Both serve humans very faithfully and reliably. When they do so in agreement, we’re in luck. But it is not uncommon that they give contradicting opinions regarding the same situation.
I think that that is the case regarding attire. So let’s remove the clothes off of this, so to speak.
Wearing clothes is a human invention. Most of the time it hinders me: ingrown hairs, sweaty discomfort, you name it; I am sure everyone, at one time or the other has wished they could just drop part or all of their clothes, especially in tropical environments. But as many human inventions, clothing also serves a very clear purpose, especially for those who ventured to inhabit the colder habitats in this planet. For those people removing clothes is folly, as – without shelter – damage to the body ensues quickly.
Another aspect of clothing is bedizening (yes, I scoured the dictionary for that one). Since long that the more you wear, the shinier you wear, and the more unique you wear, the more important you purport to be. The traditional example is jewelry, but it applies broadly to material goods, from iGadgets, to motor-vehicles, to dwellings, and including clothes. What humans wear is part of what they own, which is part of how they show – and gauge! – their social status in human society.
Finally, and more to the slutty point, clothing covers the most often sexualized body parts. Swollen penises or erect nipples can be tell-tale signs of – not necessarily conscious – interest in engaging in sexual activity. Clothing keeps those reptilian reactions or conscious thoughts tucked away from the view of others. Most of the time, anyway. But then, it is not a surprise that sex-workers that roam the streets entice clients into engaging their services by exposing as much as they can their sex-related body parts. Or that push-up bras for lasses, and bum enhancers for lads, are a hit.
So, clothing is an expression of an individual’s intelectual, artistic or social freedom. It protects you from the cold, the wind and the sun. But clothing is also a means to get attention given its role in keeping sexualized body parts out of sight.
And herein lies the problem as I see it: it is not only that clothes have multiple roles for those wearing them, they can also be perceived in a plethora of ways by whoever sees what the wearer allows them to see. And it is not just clothes: it’s body language, intonation, scent, you name it (because I don’t know more). So you end up with many combinations of wearer intent and viewer interpretation. When the wearer is not being sexual, but the viewer interprets it that way, violation of the wearer’s rights can ensue.
This is not an excuse for the viewer not to think about how they act on what they perceive. Rape is rape; as soon as one party says it is over it should be over there and then. Period.
Think “job interview” for a moment. This does not even need concern your attire for the interview (although every advice out there mentions clothing, right?).
The fulcrum is that as long as you do not show that you are what the hiring party thinks or feels that they need, you’re screwed. What they think or feel that they need. Not what they need or who you are. It does not matter who you are or if you are what they need. They must be convinced that you are what they think they need. I know it is over-elaborate, but it is to the point: your identity is also what other animals perceive of it (as long as you share your habitat with them). Generalization: those need not even be just humans animals; for any animal you share your enviroment with, you are what they perceive.
So, I am not an expert in human animals (my trade is fundamental particles,) but one thing never ceases to fascinate me: that all of this thinking happens inside the same human brains. Gotta love those human brains! (Both the rational and reptilian bits.)
Conclusion two: things are not just what we make them look like, but also what others want or can see in us.