I posed this question a while back, as some may remember. I have tried to get around to the key answers several times, but they refuse to resolve themselves properly. I seem to be engaged in combat with a ghost.
The ghost being there, I propose to let it reveal itself at a time of its own choosing rather than at a time of mine. It is an answer so capable of misinterpretation that the ground needs to be thoroughly prepared, the seeds carefully planted if they are going to turn into a comprehensible truth that is more than just a little more internet chatter.
The stoniness of the ground is illustrated – and I mean no unkindness to the poster concerned – by a response to my suggestion that when we say we ‘dress for ourselves’ we, to some extent, delude ourselves. ” I dress for myself,” said the respondent (I’m paraphrasing, not quoting) “and give no thought whatever to what anyone else thinks.”
This is commonly believed among women to be the truth. Questioning it is hard, but it is one of those hard questions that needs to be considered carefully before answering.
A hetero male like myself attends a function and finds at least one other male present identically dressed. No issue. At a formal function, and even at a formal function, the closer the hetero male is to uniformity the easier he is in his mind. At a less formal function, perhaps in that period of youth when most seek to emphasize their ‘uniqueness’, he may be mildly chagrined to find some other youth wearing exactly the same patterned shirt and blue jeans combo.
A woman arrives at a similar function and finds another woman identically dressed. For many, it seems, that is an issue.
You leave your home to go to work or to go out for the day. As you proceed down the street someone passing by seems, to you, to do a slight double-take. You’re not sure. A little while later much the same happens again. In a very short while you will be standing in front of a reflective surface checking that all is with your appearance as it should be. A seed of doubt has been planted. Why?
Why check yourself out? You did it in front of the mirror before you left and were satisfied. You dressed ‘for yourself’. How is it that someone else’s glance can make you uneasy?
Invited to a wedding you will not usually attend wearing the yoga pants and loose sweatshirt in which you may prefer to spend your off-duty hours, and that is not purely out of some sense that it would be disrespectful or irreverent to do so. And going to the office – even if there is no formal dress code – it’s unlikely that you will appear there in cut-off jeans and a ragged tee shirt just because you like the way they feel or look.
You stand before a mirror and look at an image that is not exactly your own, since it is inverted, and you apply the lipstick and face powder you didn’t bother to apply whilst you were doing chores earlier but do apply now that you propose to leave the house. Why? If you liked the way you looked before why will you not like it when you step outside the door?
Let’s go the ‘whole hog’. You’re going out to dinner, with friends of the same gender. You apply make-up. You carefully make the most of the hairdo that you have spent no inconsiderable amount of money on and yet which you can only see, like the make-up, in a mirror. You may go for the slinky number, for the low cut back or low cut front, for the uplift or the no-lift-at all nipple-poking-through-fabric look, and why?
You want to look ‘attractive’.
Flowers attract pollinating insects by their various forms of display; that is ‘they draw toward themselves’. The quality of magnets ‘attract’ – draw toward themselves – certain metals. Localities ‘attract’ – draw towards themselves – visitors by the display of their facilities.
So who do you seek to attract, to draw toward yourself? Yourself? Is putting on make-up, revealing or figure hugging clothes, skimpy underwear rendered visible by pantie-line or the simulation of semi-nudity that is avoiding the pantie-line altogether?
If you are doing all this ‘for you’ and with no thought for anyone else’s perception does it mean that what you really want is to hold, caress and even fuck yourself?
Don’t misunderstand me. You are entitled to wear – just as I am entitled to wear – anything you damned well please, and you are entitled to wear it in absolute safety. Come to that, we should all be entitled to wear absolutely nothing at all in absolute safety. Nothing, from nudity to the skimpiest outfit and a tight tee shirt emblazoned with the legend “Come Fuck Me!” entitles anyone to behave in a predatory way towards you.
NOTHING excuses the violation of another person.
But in order to properly understand the male-female dynamic, I believe it is necessary to come to terms with the truth. The ‘I’ for whom you and I dress is not some isolated and uniquely self-created individual. The ‘I’ for whom you and I dress has absorbed, often without question, values and constructs of the world around us. In no small part the ‘I’ for whom we dress is an ‘Other’, an internalised external other, the world that sees us.
This has consequences.