Aramel (aramel_calawen) wrote,

On dress sense, culture, and random ranting.

Our school's due to have a singing competition tomorrow, with classes competing against each other in a choral sing-off. Sounds perfect, right?

Yep, till you get to the bit where you're deciding what the class will wear.

As one of the people in my class with some performing experience, I went shopping with two or three other people, looking for shirts/blouses to buy for the girls who're going on stage. We spotted one of those really lovely blouses with lacy collars and tiny faux-pearl buttons, and I fell in love with them at first sight.

So I draw my classmates' attention to it, and suggest that we get some long, colourful skirts to match. Collective objection ensues.

"It's too feminine!" complained one. And another, "I'm not wearing that, it's so womanly!"

And the guy who's directing the choir rolled his eyes and said pointedly, "You know, you might not care about wearing a skirt, but some girls are actually modest."

Now, from this reaction you might think I wanted them to go on-stage in their underwear. However, the garment that caused such hubbub is...

I am annoyed. It's not so much what the boys in the class say, though that certainly plays its part (in what world is an ankle-length dress immodest?). The thing that really makes me furious is how many of the girls also quail and refuse to touch a garment with a few ruffles on. I mean, it's fine if you say it's not your style, but what the hell is "it's too feminine" supposed to mean?

Now, there's a reason for this, and that reason is not "they're all blind". It might be our culture, which has such strange expectations and double standards for girls, especially teenagers of sixteen or seventeen, which is the age most people in my class are.

The attitude of society goes something like this: girls should act "feminine": that is, shy and retiring. They should speak softly, never object or argue, and should blush at the drop of a hat. Girls should be pretty, but "good girls" are pretty despite how they dress themselves, and not because of it. In other words, "good girls" do not take pleasure in dressing up, and should indeed wear extremely sexless clothes in order to avoid catching the attention of the opposite sex.

I should probably add here that being attracted or indeed attractive to the opposite sex is the Mortal Sin of all sins in Chinese schools. Beat someone up? Flunked all your tests? Cheated? Sure, you can be forgiven. But heavens help you if the teachers find out you've got a boyfriend or girlfriend.

(My school uniform. The face has been censored for privacy because it's not me, but one of my friends.)

In any case, as the point of school uniforms in China is to avoid being attractive, and indeed society itself is bent on keeping teens away from each other and away from attraction, it therefore follows that "good girls" do not dress up. They do not wear "feminine" clothes. Especially not skirts. In fairly elitist schools like mine, girls who dress up are automatically considered airheaded, uneducated, and goodness knows what else.

Which all makes me a bit grumpy, since one of my interests is sewing and costuming, and I do think dresses and skirts can be rather pleasant to wear at times. I wear them when I can (which is about once a year when uniforms aren't mandatory), and perhaps more than I would if it weren't such a point of contention, since I wanted to make a point: that it's acceptable to care about your appearance, that there's no shame in it if you do - though also no fault if you honestly don't want to bother.

I don't know if I have gotten the point across, though. I also wonder what impact this shame our schools and society instill in girls - shame of their own beauty, and perhaps of their femininity and their bodies - will have on them in later life. And sometimes I just want to vent, as I am doing now, because it's so bloody pointless.

For goodness' sake, this isn't Victorian England. The zeitgeist has changed. Society in general has moved on and stopped obsessing about what women wear, and whether they might "tempt" people. What I wear does not determine who I am; at best, it reflects it. So get over it already.

At least there was a small triumph, which was more from coincidence than anything else. All the other blouses were sold out, so we ended up buying the pretty lace-and-pearl ones after all, and we'll all be wearing them if only for ten minutes. I suppose it's a start, at least.

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