Saturday, 25 February 2012

Skirting The Issue

Source for this picture here.

Spring has sprung! The weather here the last few days has been beautiful. Today Papa Bear and I went for a walk through the park, and it was so lovely to hear all the different birdsong, and feel the sun on our faces. Of course, it is not properly warm yet, and the early mornings and evenings are still very chilly, but during the day the air feels light and fresh and the sunlight is a very welcome sight. Everywhere small buds - aconites, crocuses, hyacynths and snowdrops, are unfurling their beautiful petals and furnishing the ground with splashes of spring colour. It was truely so lovely today we didn't want to go back indoors! But back we did go - and here am I, busily typing away again finishing off this post which I started to write 2 or 3 days ago now! Papa Bear is sitting beside me and we are enjoying the lovely music of the concert violinist, Andre Rieu, who is on the TV performing a concert in South Africa. I really enjoy watching his concerts - the costumes and settings are always so beautiful! And the music is really wonderful to listen to. Papa Bear has already had me waltzing around the living room tonight!

Little Bear asked me a question the other day which has really had me thinking. As always with children, the question came when I was least expecting it - while we were preparing the tea together! She asked me:-

"If people think it's OK for women to wear trousers, why isn't it OK for men to wear skirts?"

I must admit, I was pretty much lost for words when she asked me this! It's not something I've ever even thought of. For one thing, in our culture women traditionally don't wear trousers - we wear skirts that cover our knees and which are loose enough to hide the shape of our bodies. The influence of popular Western culture and the dissolving of our traditions as our people become more integrated into society has meant that a lot of girls do now wear trousers, but Little Bear and I do not. But this was a question that I'd never considered before - and it inspired some very interesting conversation!

The Bible specifically tells us what God's commands for men and women regarding dress are. We're meant to look different - because we are different. In the Old Testament we are told quite clearly that women must not wear men's clothing, and men must not wear women's:-

"The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God". (Deuteronomy 22, 5).

And this is expanded upon in the New Testament, in Timothy 2, verses 9-10, where we're told specifically that women are to dress modestly ...

"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works".

And Paul, writing in Titus, takes this even further:

"The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed
". (Titus 2, 3 - 5).

The reason for this emphasis on appearance is not just to command that we are physically different from people who are not Christians - so that we stand out among them as beacons for Christ - by having apparel that identifies us as having certain character qualities; modesty, humility, meekness, gentleness, that are attributable to our Christian faith, but also that our beauty, our Godliness, must be internal; our outward appearance should not be showy, or over-adorned because our true beauty comes from our behaviour, not our appearance.

So what has happened - and why has it only happened to women?

It is only as recently as the 1960's that wearing trousers began to be acceptable for women. Before then, they were worn by women as work clothes, but as most women did not work outside the home - especially after marriage - this was not common practice, and they were seen very much as a means to an end - like a tool, with which to enable them to do a job properly. It is this fact, that they were primarily worn to enable women to carry out their work, which is at the root of the question that Little Bear asked me. Men don't wear skirts, because they are not practical for working outside the home in.

But there's more to it than that. The fact that wearing trousers was not considered socially acceptable except for women who were working (which in turn, was also not considered socially acceptable before the "women's lib" movement of the 1960's) doesn't explain why it still isn't socially acceptable for men to wear skirts - since women wear skirts, and nowadays, many women also work.

To me, this is about something far more fundamental. The idea of a man wearing a skirt is something that even the most liberal of egalitarians would probably feel uncomfortable with. It is symbolic of an extreme blurring of the boundaries between the physical identities of men and women that seems, even to the most modern of minds, to be inappropriate. Most men would feel very embarrased if they were to go out in public wearing a skirt, and they would certainly recieve derision and mockery in a way that most women don't if they go outside wearing trousers. When men do dress up publicly in women's clothes, it is usually seen as a comical, mocking attempt to satirise women, a sort of performing act, like a pantomime dame. No one would take seriously a man who turned up for work, dressed in a skirt.

But does this not contradict the arguments that are made by feminist and equal rights groups, that say that men and women should be treated the same because they are the same? To me it seems that it does. Obviously, the fact that it is socially acceptable for a woman to wear trousers, but not for a man to wear a skirt, suggests that beneath the loudly trumpeted theories and beliefs, even the egalitarians know that fundamentally men and women are NOT the same. And to my mind, that's because at the root of this, they don't really seem to want equal rights for everyone. Put another way, if trousers are practical garments for work, and skirts aren't, and it isn't socially acceptable therefore for men to wear them, then doesn't it follow that work is still considered by most people to be a principally male activity? And furthermore that skirts are the perfect uniform for working IN the home in - which is what women are called to do?

Despite all the claims and postulations of libertarian theories about the rights of women, they do not seem to have been able to address this issue, which suggests to me that what they want cannot be equal rights. To me, instead, it's about having more rights for women, than there are for men. Men, the libertarians seem to believe, have got it all already. They don't need to have anyone fighting their corner, because they've got everything that women supposedly want - they can work, be financially independent, have no home or caring responsibilities, make decisions, be in charge. Why should anyone want to change that? What they want is for women to BE men. They don't want anyone to wear the skirt!

How tragic it is that God's beautifully ordered plan for all of us seems to have gone so awry. In a world where men and women can have their bodies mutilated by surgeons to make them look as if they were born of the other gender, and where children are being brought up to be "gender neutral" because their parents erroneously believe this will buy them "more freedom to express themselves", the true worth of our God-given natures has become distorted into an ugly parody of ourselves. Men seem to want to be women because they think that is the only way they can express the gentler side of their personalities. Women seem to want to be men because they think it will be more fulfilling if they don't stay at home to care for their children, and they want to have a turn at being the boss. And everyone thinks they'll be happier this way. In our fallen world, pursuing happiness is lauded over any other goal. As long as we're all happy, who cares what we have to do to achieve it?

The answer to true happiness doesn't lie in us assuming the appearance or behaviour of the opposite sex. It lies in us discovering, in all its wonder and glory, the potential that we have, as the people God has created us to be. It lies in us striving to reach this potential through serving Him, and through fulfilling the roles that are His will for us. We can only know true joy if we are living out God's plan, and only through prayer and dutiful study of the Scriptures, can we know what this plan is. It's a lifelong journey, but every step of the way is a new discovery, and if we trust in our Father God as we walk the path He has laid out for us, we shall never stumble far away from Him, no matter how rough and rocky that path may be.

Let's adorn ourselves with garments that shout out our high calling, and make ourselves beacons for Christ. God knows what is in our hearts - let that passion and joy shine out and inspire those around us. And let us never forget that, both as men and as women,

... "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them". (Ephesians 2, 10)