So far as I remember, and I have a pretty good memory for someone this old, it starts out as a Bad Thing: a four-year-old girl at the top of her little lungs, shrieking "Mommy! He's looking at me!" The age range is comewhat flexible, but the complaint is always the same. Mommy, as mommies do, shifts immediately into Don't Make Me Come Down There mode, and delivers the standard reproach: "Leave your sister alone." The lad in question, according to the script, is required to ask "What did I do?" He will not receive a comprehensible answer, because such things were simply not done in those days.

The wise parents dismiss this as standard sibling squabbling, the sort they've seen a thousand times before, and they understand that this dynamic operates at any age. At the beginning of World Tour '03, I schlepped my two kids up to the Mall of America, having said one time that I would and their never having forgotten that I said it, and there was brief squabbling over who got to ride shotgun and the occasional pulling of hair. Any Dad knows the drill, and the fact that the younger of the two siblings was just about to turn twenty-two makes no difference whatsoever.

For us boys, the standard Catholic schoolgirl uniform was a thing of wonder, and the leveling of the playing field added to our mesmerization: any of the girls, regardless of dimensions, would be at least hinting at the sort of womanly roundness that we all pretended we understood, and this being the end of the 1960s, substantial expanses of leg were on display. While school staff carefully regulated just how substantial those expanses were, well, that came with the need to level the playing field. For some reason, the legs I remember best belonged to a girl whose parents had decreed "No razor" until age 18 or 21 or 50 or whatever. Standard-issue hosiery, "suntan" color, did not entirely conceal her pelt. Still, while she was perhaps too slight for a chorus line, those swirling circles of hair did not at all detract from the fact that these legs were darn near Rockettes-worthy, and I always suspected that she knew it.

But that was then. In the here and now, what used to be an expression of appreciation is now a manifestation of microaggression, the patriarchy staking a claim to which it has no legal right. It helps, of course, that those screaming this most loudly are the ones who are least likely to get this kind of cross-species scrutiny in the first place. And guys, fearful of being cut off entirely, largely react by wussing out, lest a worthy specimen, or an unworthy HR official, make trouble for them. But the dynamic is the same one they've heard so many times before: "Mommy! He's looking at me!" We are strong, we are invincble, we are Woman — but don't you dare notice.

My younger sister was born on this date in 1962. She'd have found risible this entire don't-look-at-me scheme; as a legitimate Wild Child, she'd prepared herself for almost any situation that might arise. I don't think I ever learned her true liquor capacity, which was considerable, and which undoubtely contributed to her early demise; I do know that her fear of the dreaded Male Gaze was essentially nonexistent, given her tendency to forgo clothing for days at a time. Bad parenting, you wonder? She has a son now past forty, and he's perfectly sane. Normal, even.

The Vent

#1112
  8 June 2019

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