Who wears the pants around here?

Dear Cool Woman,

It all started with reading The Boston Girl. About a hundred pages into this book by Anita Diamant, Addie, the main character, visits a seemingly eccentric potter who wears pants. Because she was an early 1900s girl,  Addie jumped at the chance to try on this unorthodox garment.

Here’s her reaction:â€When I put them on, my whole body felt different and I wanted to see what it could do…. I never wanted to take them off, and it wasn’t just the physical feeling. I told Leslie, ‘It makes me want to try riding a bicycle and ice skating and all kinds of other things’…. And do you know what popped out of my mouth, ‘I’d like to go to college.’â€

Her imagination expanded simply by trying on a pair of pants. Women’s clothing  throughout history has been constricting, bulky and downright uncomfortable. How quickly we have forgotten the way the world used to be for women.

It seems that writing about the topic of women wearing pants is superficial, not worth our time. Yet, if “the clothes make the man,†then certainly, pants can have an affect on women. Maybe clothing customs point to a deeper issue.

For me, this passage from The Boston Girl brings back two memories. One is of my dad’s disapproving voice, “Judy wears the pants in the family.†What he meant was, Judy consistently overrules her husband’s God given authority of his family. While Dad loved his five girls, he had a clear opinion that real men didn’t allow this to happen.

Throughout history, the person wearing the pants (the man), made the decisions, so one approached him to make a binding agreement or sell a product. It seems like  some men would have been wise to share the decision-making power with their wives—but then in those days, most women weren’t looked upon for their logic, and those who were, got criticized.

An even more personal memory for me, pertains to the Harmony High school dress code of the late ’60s. Girls were allowed to wear pants—we called them slacks—but only on Fridays. Ok, if it was really cold out, we could wear them under our dresses (How attractive was that? As teenage girls, we’d rather suffer frostbite). But mom was not impressed. She didn’t approve of this new privilege because we were in school to learn and she didn’t want me to “tempt the boys†by wearing pants.

I didn’t understand or care about temptation, I just wanted to be like the other girls. Luckily, I was required to wear my cheerleading uniform on many Fridays, side-stepping the embarrassment of being left out. Seven years later, my sister couldn’t even remember a dress code—pants were no big deal by then. Maybe Title IX had something to do with it.

My own two experiences prompted me to do some research. The first women on record to wear pants were Scythian women in a battle with the Greeks, according to a Kathleen Cooper article (see the whole articles— articlehttp://the-toast.net/2014/08/07/wearing-pants-brief-history/). And after that, women dressed as men (even thought it was illegal) in order to fight in various wars, including the Civil War.

Wild West cowgirls and other women who didn’t want to starve or become prostitutes, took jobs that paid a living wage: mining, logging, ranching and running machines. To do these jobs, the workers needed to ditch their dresses. Interestingly, women were able to vote in the West before their East coast sisters. Could pants or the attitude about gender differences be the cause?

WWI and WWII brought the necessity for women to work outside the home. Again, in order to do the job, the pants fit. But after the war, it was argued that pants would make women more masculine, less obedient—and well, it would shake up the social order. By then, many women enjoyed working outside the home, while others found it dull necessary; and we’ve been making changes ever since.

Quantum leap forward to Arizona today. You’ll see casual slacks, sundresses and sandals but few stockings, slips or corsets. Even nuns have abandoned their habits, perhaps reflecting the spirit of Vatican II; rendering them more approachable and able to do the work they are called to do. When you look back at history, many rules have been made about covering the female body. I wonder why?

While American women don’t think twice about wearing pants, and often switch it up by wearing a dress, we do have a long way to go in the spectrum of gender equality issues. We’ve had some pant suit revolutions, burning bra parties and quieter evolutions along the way.

One of my nieces, Sam Needham, has always been a leader. She advocates for her LGBT community and I’m proud that she uses her business acumen to encourage women to embrace the tech world—where many of the high paying jobs are found.

Sam has a great perspective on this whole issue of wearing pants:

To me the question isn’t about are you wearing pants or not. The real question is are you living your life as your authentic self and do you feel safe to do so?

Fashion provides a vehicle for political activism, self-expression, self-representation and ultimately a reflection of living your authentic life. I find those who live authentically feel more empowered personally and professionally resulting in greater overall net gains in all areas.

There are still states where you can be fired for how you express your gender at work. This has to change.

I want this change for Sam and for all women—especially my toddler granddaughter. She has strong opinions right now, a mom who’s a great role mode and a dad who fully supports her every dream.

Luckily for young girls, modern versions of some of our familiar fairy tales depict a more assertive princess rather than a damsel waiting for a man to save her. Brave and Frozen come to mind. Hopefully, we who are the culture, model courage, strength, initiative and compassion so that  our young women find it natural to join men in attacking the ‘dark side’— making the world a better place to live.

I agree with Sam. It’s not what women wear that’s important, but their growth in authenticity fueled by self-trust. Only when we feel we can pursue our dreams with a sense of personal responsibility and hope, will we be free to achieve our goals.

So, “Let’s take off the pity party dress and put on some big girl panties!â€

May your self-trust build confidence,


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