You may have noticed a post I shared on Facebook yesterday about a store clerk who made a little girl cry because she was looking at boys' suits.
This woman went on to say it was child abuse to let her cross-dress. Comments after I posted that were all supportive of the child, and of freedom of expression in clothing, and many were, like me, tomboys as children too. I've already written about this several times:
And related issues, and I may or may not repeat myself here, so if you are a regular reader, forgive me, if not, catch up.
Right, so what is really going on here? I think we have long established that gender identity, sexual orientation, and clothing choices are three different things, but there's another matter involved in this entire charade, and that is social conformity.
People conform for a variety of reasons. Habit. Fear. Bigotry. Kindness. I think you'll agree these are all quite different, so conforming in and of itself isn't "bad", it all depends on why you are doing it. If you choose to conform yourself - for whatever reason - that's entirely your business. It is one of those choices you are free to make, and may it always be that way.
At the same time it is vital that we allow people not to conform, and give them exactly that same freedom.
Conformity is a very primitive urge. As much as we think we are so civilized, enlightened and progressive, these primitive urges are deep in our DNA, and we have to deal with them sometimes, as they can cause problems. So, in most modern societies there are lots of choices open to us and these are encouraged. But every so often conformity is demanded. The school uniform debate is an excellent example of this. If you've never been part of that debate you have missed some fascinating insights into the psyches of ordinary people.
I think it's a good idea to reflect on our own reasons for doing seemingly very ordinary things. Sometimes, if we are honest, we realise we are doing them for really quite peculiar reasons. Sadly, most people don't bother to think. They live mostly automatically. They allow others to influence them out of sheer laziness. Sometimes it is just easier to conform.
Out of all these things we have choices about, some create more controversy than others. Non-thinking people think it is a given that others will agree with them, and seem to be taken by surprise when they don't. In the example at the beginning of this post, part of that store clerk's problem was "shock". She has obviously not mixed with freethinkers very much.
We aren't able ask her why she thinks that cross-dressing is harmful. We can guess that she associates it with something adult and sexual, because that is the usual reason. So you know where her mind is going. Furthermore, we can guess that she associates it with gender identity, and then sexual orientation, both of which are not necessarily relevant even when it is an adult in question. It's certainly not relevant in a child.
We can probably guess, in fact, that this woman is homophobic, and the chances are that it is for religious reasons. But we must not assume this, because these guesses are potentially as bad as the assumptions she is making herself. That said, the chances that she's a bigoted homophobic fundie are far greater than the chances this little girl will continue to wear boys' suits as she grows up, let alone anything else. Kids have phases.
What she didn't say, surprisingly, which I've heard many times, is that it's "not natural" for girls to want to dress as boys. If you read the link to my previous post, you will see that the whole idea of what constitutes male or female clothing is based purely on the whims of fashion.
Eating cooked food is not natural.
Driving a car is not natural.
Wearing clothes is not natural.
Natural has nothing to do with fashion. Nothing. Natural isn't necessarily even "a good thing".
Cyanide is natural
Volcanoes are natural
Rabies is natural
And, naked is natural. Hear that? This is so obvious it shouldn't even need to be said, but the people who have it in their heads that the fashion in the western world in 2015 is somehow normal need to be reminded of this. Do me a favour and remind them every chance you get.
But I'm not finished. This is a part of a bigger problem, and you know what that is. Discrimination by clothing is possibly the most ridiculous discrimination of all.
It is particularly ridiculous because women can't win. We can't. If we dress the way men like, then we are to blame if we are sexually assaulted. If we dress the other way, we are accused of not dressing like women. This is not accidental either, it's all part of patriarchy. Control what women wear and you have yet another way to control women, right? It makes no difference that some of the loudest critics of what women wear are women. They have been successfully brainwashed.
And of course, the younger you brainwash them, the more chance they will conform.
I am happy to be living in these times when women are fighting back.
I am not so happy about the backlash coming from the right-wing. They fear that men are losing control, and they want that power back. There are many ways.
We all know one of them:
“What if all women were bigger and stronger than you? And thought they were smarter? What if women were the ones who started wars? What if too many of your friends had been raped by women wielding giant dildos and no K-Y Jelly? What if the state trooper who pulled you over on the New Jersey Turnpike was a woman and carried a gun? What if the ability to menstruate was the prerequisite for most high-paying jobs? What if your attractiveness to women depended on the size of your penis? What if every time women saw you they’d hoot and make jerking motions with their hands?
What if women were always making jokes about how ugly penises are and how bad sperm tastes? What if you had to explain what’s wrong with your car to big sweaty women with greasy hands who stared at your crotch in a garage where you are surrounded by posters of naked men with hard-ons? What if men’s magazines featured cover photos of 14-year-old boys with socks tucked into the front of their jeans and articles like: “How to tell if your wife is unfaithful” or “What your doctor won’t tell you about your prostate” or “The truth about impotence”? What if the doctor who examined your prostate was a woman and called you “Honey”? What if you had to inhale your boss’ stale cigar breath as she insisted that sleeping with her was part of the job? What if you couldn’t get away because the company dress code required you wear shoes designed to keep you from running? And what if after all that women still wanted you to love them?”
~ For The Men Who Still Don’t Get It, Carol Diehl
Alas, it'll only be read by those who care, and some of those still won't really get it.
I don't expect there will ever be a time when all people will be open-minded about the choices others make, because the conformist attitude is, apart from anything else, a personality type. But I do believe that for some people it's a question of education. Of being exposed to more non-mainstream people, to be encouraged to think about these issues and why it matters.
Let me be perfectly blunt here. You, whoever you are, sit somewhere on the scale of conformity, because we all do. Nobody is at zero and nobody is at max. There will always be people who conform more or less than you do, and if it is a long way from your position, you may have difficulty understanding it. As I have said many time, it's OK not to understand, and it's especially OK to admit it. It's not OK to be spiteful in your words, or to discriminate based on not understanding something.
You see, chances are, you're wrong. Because nobody really knows what's right in these matters, because they are all just a matter of opinion.