I recently bought some eyeglasses online. When I was selecting frames, the site I was buying from allowed me to filter the list by whether I wanted by rim style (full rim, half rim, rimless), by shape, by size, and by frame color. It occurred to me that none of these were all that useful to me because what I found most important was that my glasses not make a statement of any kind. Needless to say, this is a difficult enough criterion to define that the site did not allow me to filter frames in this way.
I eventually found some frames I was happy with. But thinking about the issue of wanting my glasses to not make a statement also got me to wondering about whether such a goal is easier for men to achieve than it is for women.
Here are a few examples I came up with of situations where I think this difference holds.
I think men’s hair is easier to not make a statement with than women’s hair is. We can fall back on some easy haircuts that nobody is likely to notice or comment on. (This issue reminds me of a discussion at T&S a few years ago where a man wanted an easy “default” type haircut, while his wife wanted a little more of a statement.) I’m far from being an expert on women’s hair, but it seems to me that the sheer variety of hairstyles is so much greater that it’s difficult to avoid making a statement in one way or another. At the simplest level, if your hair is really long, you must be a fundamentalist; if it’s really short, you must be a lesbian. (I’m just repeating stereotypes, not endorsing them.)
Men’s clothes versus women’s clothes appear to bring up similar issues. The difference is really highlighted in how missionaries dress, for example. I realize that this is a limited example to draw any kind of conclusion from, but I like it because the Church’s guidelines for missionary dress appear to be oriented like my glasses preference toward not having clothing make too much of a statement. Anyway, as a missionary, I found pretty much the only article of clothing I wore with any wiggle room was my tie. Elders wear their white shirts and suits and ties. At most, they maybe ditch the suit jacket if it’s too hot. Sisters have to deal with a much wider variety of possibilities, which makes their clothing choices much more complicated and potential controversial (for example see this recent discussion at BCC.) I recall once as a missionary hearing one of my Zone Leaders criticize a companionship of sisters for wearing “quasi-pross” (where “pross,” which rhymes with “dross,” meant proselyting clothes) to a meeting early on a p-day. I remembering thinking even at the time that he should have cut them a little slack, since they were dealing with much more complicated clothing issues than he or any of the rest of us elders were having to.
Women’s choices when it comes to employment and child-rearing also seem to me to be much more difficult to navigate without being seen as making a statement of some kind than men’s are. Men have an easy “no comment” way to go. We can marry and have kids and work a full-time job and nobody is likely to say anything about it. But there’s no similar easy default for women. If women have kids and work for pay, they’ll be seen at least by some people as valuing material things over their kids. If they have kids and don’t work for pay, they’ll be seen by other people as not contributing enough to the family. If they don’t have kids, they’ll be seen as selfish. If they don’t marry, they’ll be pitied. It’s difficult for them to make a choice that draws no comment.
Three examples don’t provide great support for there actually being a pattern more generally. But maybe they hint at one. What do you think? I’d love to hear supporting examples or counterexamples or theories about why the pattern might or might not hold.