Thursday, June 12, 2008

On Androgyny and Modesty

This week I took my kids to an event for a day of instruction and fun. I was both bemused and chagrined when the instructor took the question of a young boy at the back of the class and proceeded, then and throughout the rest of the day, to refer to him as "her" and "she". Why the confusion? For two reasons, at least. First, the unfortunate lad sported one of those dual-purpose names that are given in approximately equal proportion these days to baby girls and boys. And he wore his hair down around his shoulders. Indeed, in this family mom, sister, and brother were more or less interchangeable--long hair, pants, neutral colors.

I felt sorry for the kid. The first time it happened he shot an anguished-angry look at his mother, who just smiled and shrugged. I'm hoping that the incident shakes him up just enough that he goes out and gets a crew-cut this summer, but not enough that he either a) starts to question his gender or b) decides to ditch all the hair and becomes some sort of angry skinhead.

I couldn't help but reflect on the contrast with my own children, especially my oldest daughter who was with me. Out of at least fifty girls and women at this event, my daughter was the only one not wearing pants/shorts. She was stylish, cute, modest (there's no need for modest to be synonymous with frumpy and ugly), but unmistakably feminine. In fact, she got several compliments on her outfit from the other girls.

Pretending that gender doesn't matter is one of the more laughable neuroses of our modern "culture" (gotta put that word in quotes, because it's not really much of a culture.) But it's not really a laughing matter because an enormous amount of social decline can be traced directly to gender confusion. But of course everyday experience and simple common sense tell us in innumerable ways that gender distinctions are hard coded into our genetics and into our souls. And the connection between body and soul has one of its most obvious expressions in the way we dress. Traditionalists have been in the vanguard on this, emphasizing lost virtues such as modesty and maintaining gender distinctions in dress in the face of an increasingly vulgar, sexualized, and androgynous society (although a lack of charity and prudence when discussing these points with others can easily degenerate into rash judgment; we're all feeling our way forward on these issues and we need to cut each other some slack as we sort things out.)

I don't think we need to dress like the Amish (to the contrary, as I said I do not think modest and feminine need equate to plain and frumpy) but I do find it very encouraging to see a trend in both traditionalist and neo-conservative circles which takes modest and gender-distinct dress seriously. To rebuild a culture requires a serious eye toward living a counter-culture.

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