A Clothed Discussion

Men and women are different. I know this because I learned it back in 7th-grade health class. They sent the boys into one room to watch a film while the girls were in an adjoining classroom watching their own sexy movie. Our film on the ways a young man’s body changes was rather tedious, but we could hear squeals of . . well . . .something . . . coming from the class next door. There was something about the female body that was more exciting than the film we were being forced to watch. We tried to sneak next door but our coach, Mr. Roberts, stood there barring the door to paradise.

Then it wasn’t long before I began picking up clues that bumps in various places weren’t the only defining characteristics of the female species and this is where it all got hairy. I learned that it just wasn’t the biology that made one sex different from another, it was their priorities.

I have a friend who I’ll call Sylvia since she seldom reads a newspaper. Sylvia has appeared in several of my plays and she’s been an audience favorite for years around the Jacksonville area. It never fails: I’ll pass out scripts to my cast and Syl’s first question will be “What will we be wearing?” No mention of plot, of rehearsal dates, of the actual meaning of the play, simply a concern for her costume. She knows me well enough by now to know that at this point in a play’s production I’ve given little or no thought to costuming but she asks anyway. I give her the same answer . . . “I have no idea.”

For years I thought this was purely Sylvia’s quirk then I began to notice that several other female members of my play casts were suffering from the same angst if I’d put off telling them what to wear. What I thought was a minor detail in the show was of major concern to the ladies in the cast and the men didn’t care one whit. That’s when I found that this female obsession with what to wear wasn’t limited to theatre.

National Public Radio was doing a feature on folks who’d be attending the Presidential Inauguration in Washington. The interviewer was a lively young gal who’d ask each respondent questions about which ball they’d be attending and where they’d be staying. The questions varied from person to person but in every single case she asked the attendee what he or she would be wearing. This was NPR, not Hollywood Tonight. Why was she doing this? One guy who was attending as a part of a group called Bikers for Trump simply said, “Hell, I don’t know. I ain’t there yet.” That would have been my answer. But it was then that it hit me that this obsession for clothing might be a purely sex-oriented thing. Now stop right there! I am not being sexist! I’m doing a factual sociological study.

Whenever I return to Arenzville I try to stop in at the local fast stop to buy gas or get a cup of coffee. Actually, I’m just hoping to find out what’s happened in town since I moved to Jacksonville. More often than not the liar’s table will be commandeered by a group of Domino Ladies who hold forth there most days to chat and flip their pieces around the table. Most days when I walk up to say hello the queen of the domonio-ettes, Lois, will comment on my shirt. I’ll be honest . . . if you’d cover my eyes most days I wouldn’t be able to tell you what shirt I was wearing. After all, it was hours ago when I got dressed. Lois is a quick-witted and somewhat caustic old German who’s not beneath saying something like, “Is that the best shirt you’ve got?” Why do ladies care and men are clueless? I can’t remember a bit of this being covered in that seventh-grade health class film.

Actually, a married man should be writing this column since I’ve heard husbands tell tales of the dressing advice they get from their wives. In fact, I know men who’ve not shopped for their own clothing since the day they got married. I guess that makes a relationship smoother. If your pants don’t match your tie then it’s her fault.

In nearly all of the animal kingdoms it’s the male who’s the showboat. Female cardinals are drab compared to their male counterparts and the mane of a male lion is much flashier than the little ruffle of fur encompassing the neck of a lioness. So when did the human animal get it all backwards? I can’t imagine a female lion reminding her mate to be sure and wear his mane that morning, but I don’t think that lions watch health films. Maybe they’re just stupid. At least that’s the excuse I use.

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