Saturday, 31 July 2010

More Thoughts on Modesty

Yesterday I came home to the Historical House with my shopping in a cloth book bag. I don't think I was too dowdy a figure: I was wearing a black brocade frock coat, a black brocade kneelength skirt, electric blue tights and a green shirt. I thought of this at once when, approaching the gate, I saw a foursome of young women in short shorts crowding through it. They were laughing and noisy and looked fun, so I smiled as I waited them to step aside and make way for me.

They didn't. They lurched towards me, and I had to duck around them as they made their way, four-abreast, into the woods. This and something else I couldn't put my finger on changed my first impression of them as Nice Young Things. The short shorts, which had merely startled, now seemed a mark in their disfavour.

I went in through the gate and saw my husband in front of the House with a plastic bag and an annoyed expression, picking things up.

"Darling," I said, when I was in hailing distance, "have you been having a party?"

He had not been having a party. He had come back from his office to find the four girls having a drinks party on the 300 year old raised porch. There was broken glass on the staircase; somehow an empty glass vodka bottle had been broken. There were other empty bottles on the green apron of the lawn.

Here come the girls...!

Four female friends, walking four-abreast. Who did they remind me of? But Samantha, Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda never dressed in uniform short shorts. They wore interesting, often classy, clothing they had obviously chosen with care. They were also older and, although they certainly drank cocktails, they never lurched around drunkenly before seven in the evening. They never blocked the way of an ordinary, less glamorous, woman on her way home to make supper.

But what have they engendered? It is a lot of fun, being in a group of female friends. It makes a woman feel powerful and, strangely, more free. So does vodka. I love few things better than getting together with three or four of my BFFs and chattering over a drink, even if that's only coffee. Three or four BFFs with two or three cocktails--that would be amazing. But there is a limit. Classy women remember to keep their voices down--not when they are decrying injustice--but when they are having fun. They don't sit on the porches of other people's houses--even when other people means merely a trust or "The People"--and smash bottles against the steps.

The world is not a stage set. It is not a telly advert in which young women, strong and free, stride out of the chemist's shop with bags of shampoo to a Sugababes soundtrack. The world is a community. Walkmans, CD players and now mobile phones and facebook have greatly blinded us to this fact, but we are noticed by those around us, and they judge us on our behaviour. Our lack of modesty--our virtual solipsism-- annoys and inconveniences others. It tears at the social fabric. It cheapens society. It cheapens us.


sciencegirl said...

All the world's a stage, but bad actors deserve donkey heads.

Kate P said...

Those girls' behavior was outrageous! They can't be arrested for that?

The sidewalk-crowding reminded me of a cartoon I saw long ago--did anybody else read "Highlights" magazine as a kid? They had a cartoon feature called "Goofus & Gallant" intended to teach appropriate behavior in a do/don't way. The only one that has stuck with me was this one:

Goofus and his friends take up the entire sidewalk. Other people trying to use the sidewalk look annoyed.

Gallant and his friends walk in pairs. The pairs are happily waving to the delighted elderly gentleman who is able to get by in the other direction, because there's room.

I wonder, is modesty part of good manners or is it a manifestation that one has good manners?

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what made you choose to use the "Sex and the City" ladies as positive examples. Those outfits, though enviably expensive and well-cared-for, are often quite skimpy and between one-night-stands, affairs with married men and general feminazi elitism, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha epitomize what NOT to do as a single woman. Also, there was the episode where it was said that a classy girl from Manhattan would have never worn a scrunchy and they used a larger, Southern, clearly less intelligent woman wearing a scrunchy to demonstrate that. Seems like a knocking on "less glamorous women" of its own.

I couldn't imagine sitting on ANY front porch that didn't belong to me without permission, let alone break things on it. But there are worse things they could be doing, short shorts or not. I'd rather be a distastefully dressed seraphic single than modestly dressed and oversexed.

Sorry, I just really hate "SatC." I used to watch it every night because it was the only thing on my 5 channel tv, but as I got older, the behaviors of the characters started really bothering me on a fundamental level.


Seraphic said...

Well, I don't hold up the SATC ladies as role models. I just point out that their public behaviour was not as bad as those who suddenly reminded me of them.

My post asks "What have they engendered?" And what they may have engendered is public female behaviour worse than their own public behaviour. This post is about public behaviour, not private. I hope it goes without saying that I think bed-hopping is wrong and terribly sad.

SATC was a cultural phenomenon amongst women, and therefore it is worth grappling with. If young women have (unfortunately) taken their cue from them, instead of trashing them completely, one might point out what they did do right.

I believe I've seen every episode although I have fastforwarded through a few of the scenes. I saw the first movie, but I was so annoyed at the totally unnecessary sex stuff (and the victory of Samantha's rather disgusting promiscuity) that I didn't go out of my way to see the second.

I enjoyed the series for its good writing, the Carrie character and, above all, the friendship amongst the women. The scrunchy scene was merely to show Berger that he was wrong to give a New York City woman character in his novel a scrunchy. (This, by the way, was a great way to show Carrie's inability to have a happy relationship with a novelist and a novelist's inability to hear criticism without freaking out.) It was not to poke fun at non-New Yorkers.

That said, I would never recommend SATC to anyone young; in fact, I now feel very uncomfortable watching it with women who have never been married.

I've been told there are women out there who have made SATC their guide to sexual life, which confuses me. It is quite obvious that their love lives are empty, unhappy and risible until they give up their dumb behaviour and settle down.

Seraphic said...
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