Thursday, September 30, 2010

The triangle makes all the difference

I can remember playing on the playground on my 3rd grade picture day, thinking I would like to grow up to be a woman who wore dresses and skirts instead of pants.  I recall thinking a dress was the ultimate sign of femininity, and therefore the best choice for any woman who wanted to be thought of as a woman.  I had dreamy visions of the pioneer women marching across the prairies in their long skirts, and housewives tying aprons around their beautiful dresses and doing the dishes.

Now, I've been trained to think that dresses and skirts aren't always practical.  And by today's standards for dress, I would have to agree. Hemlines have risen considerably in the last thirty years, and I can't even begin to imagine how a woman could get down on the floor in her power pencil skirt and clean up the blocks her child flung across the room.  Perhaps it would be the getting up that would prove to be more tricky.  Having sat with a child on my lap in church in a  modest-length dress, I marvel at a woman's ability to keep that hemline from creeping too far up when a fidgety child looses patience with sitting and wants to stand on her lap.

And yet, I think my 3rd grade self was on to something. Dresses and skirts have been the symbol of womanhood for, well, ever.   In fact, it's such a mark of our gender, that we put a cute little triangle on our bathroom sign's stick person to designate the female from the male.  Women in pants has only crept into the standards in the last 50 years of our history.  I'm beginning to wonder if we've lost something when we threw out the dress and pulled on the pants.  I'm beginning to wonder if we've lost our sense of femininity and have forgotten what it means to be a woman.

A woman in a dress must be alert and careful with herself.  Knees must be touching, and ankles crossed, tucked in ever so neatly under her chair.  She must be aware of her hemline when she bends over, and she must wear shoes that accent the prettiness of her dress (even if it is a full-length, everyday, "working" dress).  But isn't that was being a woman is all about?  Isn't part of the calling to be alert and aware- not just with her attire, but her house, her children, her marriage? And she does it with grace and dignity, though she may be gritting her teeth because it's uncomfortable.

A woman dusting the baseboards, cooking dinner, or rinsing a soiled diaper while wearing a dress seems quaint.  But put that same woman in pants, and suddenly, she seems mundane.  There is nothing about her to set apart from the humdrum and dirt involved in her work.  Even in her raggedy dress, Cinderella was charming.  The dress serves as the reminder that it is a woman doing the tasks in her careful, loving manner, not a machine or robot doing what it has been trained to do.  The focus shifts from the work to the person.

I'm not saying that wearing pants is ungodly, or that no women should pants, ever.  I much prefer to rinse the soiled diapers while wearing my comfortable jeans than a dress.  But I do wonder how much we'd gain if we'd chuck the pants and opt for a sensible skirt or washable dress more often. Perhaps dusting could be womanly again.

She radiates tenderness!Mary Cassatt, The Child's Bath


  1. Thanks! I'm having a good time with it. I've really enjoyed yours as well. It has really challenged the ways I used to do things, and has influenced my present way of thinking and acting in many ways. So thank you for writing.

  2. OK, I've got to come back here and ask how one keeps warm in the winter. Please don't say tights (they're cute, I just hate wearing them).

  3. "For this reason, let everyone value his Baptism as a daily dress (Galatians 3:27) in which he is to walk constantly. Then he may ever be found in the faith and its fruit, so that he may suppress the old man and grow up in the new."--LC Part IV.84 Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions