[Content Note: Oppressive Religions and Cultures]
A few weeks ago, I rode in the car with Husband while we went to pick up pizza. This, in itself, was not noteworthy. What was unusual is that I was wearing my pajama pants.
I rarely wear my pajama pants -- which are basic, no-frills sweat pants -- in public. I know a lot of other girls and women do, because I see them in the stores with pretty pajama patterns or sleek sports logos, but my mother never wore sweat pants as anything other than sleep- and lounge-wear and so somehow I've internalized that sweat pants are for Private Places Only.
This is actually in fact a bit of a conundrum. Because of my back and spine issues, sweat pants are frequently far more comfortable for me than jeans or slacks or khakis or really anything with a defined concept of "waist". So I end up wearing sweat pants a lot around the house, but never outside. Until a few weeks ago when I ordered pizza and then felt guilty for sending Husband to the store by himself and hopped into the car with him. Because of my dithering about whether to stay home or not, I didn't have time to change: it was either "go in sweat pants" or "stay home entirely". And I chose the former.
And I felt uncomfortable the whole time. Even though I didn't even get out of the car, even though I just sat in the passenger seat on the way to the pizza place and back, I felt indescribably uncomfortable. I could feel the sweat pants against my skin -- the same sensation they make at home, and yet totally, horribly wrong. The closest I can come to describing the discomfort is that I felt improper, or naked, but even these terms don't work well for me: I practically pride myself on being Improper and Unladylike and I have zero issues with zipping around stores in a spaghetti strap that shows an eyeful of cleavage. But sweat pants in public felt totally wrong and I couldn't wait to get home. Once I crossed that threshold, I was safe again, no longer improperly-nakedly-sweatpantsed.
I can't justify why I feel so strange and uncomfortable wearing sweat pants in public. I know this feeling is one born out of sheer habit; never did my mother tell me that girls who wear sweat pants in public will go to the fifth level of Hades to be gnawed upon by giant moths. I know that this feeling of mine is not reasonable in a "justify this with scientific evidence" sort of way. I know that a good many people -- probably most people -- do not share my feelings.
Yet my feelings are there. If someone forced me to go about in public in sweat pants, or to go to work or school in them, or to attend legal proceedings with them on, I would be uncomfortably driven to distraction. I would feel like my right to dress myself in a manner that I felt was acceptable for my needs of decency and modesty was being infringed upon.
Which is why I find it noteworthy that so many people are trying to legislate how women may dress in courtrooms and schools.
Now, I've never worn a veil. I rarely cover my hair -- scarfs, hats, and shawls make me feel restricted and are usually pushed aside by my unruly curly hair. I've never gone about in public with my face covered, unless you count really blustery winter days when the alternative to a face scarf was having my lips freeze shut. I've certainly never lived or grown up in a culture where veil-wearing was commonplace, customary, expected, or mandatory.
And I don't agree with religions or cultures that pressure women to adhere to dress choices against their will. As a child, I attended schools where wearing skirts was mandatory. I hate skirts, and I hated being forced to wear clothing I didn't want to wear. I still hate that I was forced to wear skirts to school; at no point in my life have I felt that particular mandatory dress code was appropriate in any way. I will never, ever attend a function where a dress or a skirt is mandatory; I'll wear the blingyest slacks you like to a formal function, but I won't wear a skirt. That's my choice. Mine. And any culture or religion that says I must wear a skirt is as wrong in my opinion as a culture or religion that says I must wear sweat pants in public.
Yet some women -- because of factors that are personal to them and their right to make -- choose to wear skirts. Some choose to wear sweat pants in public. And some choose to wear veils.
I don't know if my acquired reticence to wear sweat pants in public is in any way similar to some women's choice to wear veils in public. I think I felt a moment of recognition, a slight insight into the way a childhood environment can influence feelings and sensations in ways that other people might not recognize as logical. I like to hope that maybe pushing my own boundaries, even accidentally, can help me to understand that those boundaries can exist for other people, and in different locations.
A very great deal of feminism is about Trusting Women. Trusting them to make their own reproductive choices. Trusting them to cast their vote in the way that seems most beneficial to them. Trusting them to choose their own careers, their own husbands, their family planning. And -- I like to think -- trusting them to dress in ways that make them most comfortable, both in public and in private.
For what it's worth, I abhor cultures who force women to dress in ways that make some of them uncomfortable.
I just don't think the best way to counter those cultures is to force women to dress in ways that make some of them uncomfortable.