Saturday, April 24, 2010

I See London, I See France, I See Human Dysfunction

Like many parents, I have the amazing ability to work myself into a complete panic over some unlikely catastrophe. When my wife and daughter go someplace without me, I imagine the grisly details of some car crash, up to the moment when I have to identify their bodies.

What parent hasn't shuddered to think what it could be like to live such a nightmare?

At the same time, I have tremendous powers of denial of what's actually going on. When I discovered a suspicious lump (you know, in one of those places where I really would not want to find any sort of lump), I managed to not think about it at all for weeks at a time.

"Meh, whatever," I'd say to myself. "Maybe they'll have to castrate me or something. I'll worry about it when the time comes."

The lump turned otu to be harmless, but I got to feeling stupid about this misappropriation of stress.

Then I realized that the entire human race is guilty of it, even highly respected world leaders.

In France, for instance, the government is about to ban veils worn by many Islamic women. The burqa, which covers wearers from head to toe when in public, remains controversial all over Western Europe because of its perceived purpose.

"In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to the Associated Press.

How fascinating. Here in America, we deprive women of identity by having them wear too little clothing.

Feminist thinkers have long argued that the swimsuit issue, among other instances in which men are encouraged to observe and appreciate underdressed female bodies, objectifies women. We are supposed to see only a body, and not a whole human being.

So, if a woman wears too little clothing, she is a prisoner. When she wears too much, she is also a prisoner.

But who gets to decide what clothing is too little or too much?

Women must find this frustrating, particularly because they are apt to find themselves judged for much more moderate indiscretions, as well, be it a skirt that's a little too short, a shirt that's a little too tight, or earrings that are a little too big.

But men, at least those of us who are paying attention, are at a complete loss. If we notice something, we're objectifying. If we comment, we're harassing.

But if we don't notice, we're demonized for that, too (ask the woman in your life if she would like you to notice any slight changes in her hairstyle; if she does not say yes, I'll send you $100).

Apparently, we don't recognize her individuality and self-expression if we don't acknowledge and appreciate certain aspects of her appearance.

I'd like to propose a radical solution:

How about if we just work on actual problems, instead of theoretical ones?

Let's reject the notion that someone can be "cut off from social life" and "deprived of identity" based solely on wardrobe. Instead, let's funnel resources to preventing domestic abuse and violence against women across all cultures.

And, yes, there will be times when guys "objectify" women because we're focused on their looks rather than some deeper aspect of their human essence.

But everyone does this. We're superficial creatures. Accept it, recognize it for what it is, and move on.

Stop fretting about imaginary car wrecks and petty insults. Do what you can to fight those actual, real-life lumps.

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