Sometimes you just have to write…
We ate dinner last night at a restaurant in the middle of Gent, on the Plein tegen zinloos geweld, which means “Plaza against random violence.”
It was a very hot day, a rare occurrence in this corner of the world, and the sun was going down, so it was still warm in the evening. We sat at a table outdoors in front of one of those typical Flemish Golden Age brick buildings with a step gable. The Starbucks across the plaza is also housed in one of those buildings, and the setting sun, reflecting in the windows above it, was right in my eyes for a while, limiting my vision to just the nearest tables.
As the sun shifted and my view widened, I began to look more closely at the people sitting around us and walking by on the plaza. There were families walking by, older people, young people, quite a few couples, people of all shapes and sizes. I assume that some were locals, while others were tourists like us.
And I noticed the women in particular: the clothing they wore. The skirts this year are shorter than they’ve been in years, and the shorts are even shorter than the skirts. I don’t see this as a good trend, mostly because there’s no way in hell I would ever appear in public with a skirt or shorts that expose that much of my legs.
I started thinking about why they were choosing to wear those short shorts. “It’s a hot day” was my first thought. Sure, it was hot, but if that was enough reason to wear them, then the men would wear them too.
Why don’t men wear short shorts? Why don’t they wear extremely low necklines to expose as much of their chests as possible? Why don’t they wear sleeveless tops?
And: why don’t men spend so much time checking how they look? I kept seeing women tugging up or down on shirts or shorts, looking down at their busts, putting their hands to their hair, and so on. No men seemed to do that kind of constant checking.
Women go to a whole lot more trouble to look attractive than men do:
Hair: They wear their hair in a variety of styles, almost always longer than men’s hair, and certainly more work to take care of. They have to wash it, comb it and style it. They have to put it up in ponytails or other more complicated hairdos when it’s hot like it was yesterday. I looked around at the men on the plaza. A few had put gel in their hair, but none had long hair. None would have to do much but wash it and towel it dry. So why don’t women cut their hair short so they can just wash and towel dry as well?
More hair: Men do shave their faces, but inch for inch, the women do far more shaving: legs, underarms, crotch. Why do women feel they have to remove so much of what is naturally part of them, while men don’t? The men don’t even have to shave their faces, though most do. (Yes, I know, women aren’t forced to shave either, but clearly they feel the pressure to do it anyway.)
Clothes: In addition to the short skirts or shorts, women expose more flesh in general than men. The men wear much more comfortable and much looser clothing. Why don’t women wear an oversized short-sleeved shirt and a baggy pair of shorts that go to the knee? And some women wear high heels that can’t possibly be comfortable. High heels, especially on uneven surfaces like this plaza, make women need to walk very carefully or lean on someone else (a man, generally). The men all had comfortable-looking flat sandals or shoes on.
Make-up: If there were any men with make-up around, they did a very artful job of it, because I couldn’t see it. On the other hand, many, perhaps most, of the women spent the time and money to put on make-up.
It just doesn’t seem fair. Women are going to all that trouble, presumably to attract a man, but the men don’t seem to feel the necessity to do the same. Why? The men surely want to attract a woman as much as the women want to attract a man, don’t they?
(For my purposes right now I’m leaving gays out of the equation. Hmm, now that I think about it, maybe they fit: gay men often put more effort into their appearance than straight men. They are trying to attract men, not women, so perhaps they fit the pattern too: to attract men takes more effort than to attract women?)
I asked Albert and my son what they thought about why this was. My son’s first reaction was that he thought it was historical: women were essentially required to focus on their appearance in the past, and it’s become more or less a tradition. He’s got a point: if your mother put a lot of emphasis on appearance as you were growing up, you’d do the same as an adult.
Albert said he thought it was evolutionary: evolutionarily speaking, women needed men to protect them, so they had to attract them. The men didn’t need to be physically attractive; they only needed to be strong and powerful – the alpha male – in order to attract women. And since evolution changes so slowly, we’re still programmed this way. He’s got a point too.
And yet, the human race has stepped outside evolution, hasn’t it? As a society and as individuals we do all sorts of things that go against evolution: for example, a couple that chooses not to have a child, or the fact that we care for mentally or physically handicapped people who, in a truly Darwinian society, would not have survived long.
Are women still busy trying to attract strong and powerful men? If that was so, wouldn’t there be a few strong, powerful men with a lot of women, and lots of weaker, less powerful men who didn’t attract any women? And if that was so, wouldn’t the weak men try other ways to attract women, like wearing tight clothing or putting on make-up?
What do you think? Why is there such a difference between the amount of effort women and men put in to attract each other? Or is there some effort men are making that I’m just not seeing?