Matt Smith

If miniskirts were shorter

Modes of dress among Thai female students

This month I want to talk about the shortness of the skirts these days at university – indeed, about the young female students’ mode of dress in general. So let me begin, then, by describing what has recently brought this topic to my attention. My wife and I noticed that so short have the women’s skirts become that, in some cases, as the wearer is walking along underpants are, through the slit at the back that is presumably provided to make motion possible in the first place (the tightness of said apparel is also an issue)…so short have the miniskirts become that at each step underpants are clearly visible. There seems to be, furthermore, a shortage of adult-sized blouses in my town, and of buttons; in the case of blouses, they are so tight that it seems a miracle that the students can squeeze into them, and they certainly leave no contour of the body to the observer’s imagination. In the case of buttons, if we start from the bottom of the blouse heading upwards barely enough are provided to restrain the breasts from altogether - in the effort, no doubt, to escape the constrictions of the shirt - gaining their freedom. In short, while it is clearly the overabundance of girly mags and depictions of tarted-up movie-stars on the TV the girls are drawing on for inspiration, there’s one thing that is painfully apparent – in all truth, the girls are dressed up in a very fair resemblance of the way one sees women depicted in the hors d’oeuvres pages, or opening stages, of photo shoots in gentlemen’s magazines.

Now I know that some of you happen to find this very titillating. And, in fact, consider it to be one of the perks of the job. I have to admit too that I find the view subconsciously very stimulating – like most of you (male readers), I have been encultured by my society to form, or to mentally internalise, a picture of females that, when these particular clues (the upper leg, a hint of breast, a bit of lacy garnishing) are apparent, activates the sexual machinery of the body. However, I find myself siding, albeit for perhaps somewhat different reasons, with the Thai sticks-in-the-mud on this one – I find myself fervently wishing that, when they are choosing what to wear at particularly university, the young women wouldn’t decorate themselves in ways that so closely parallel the ways males in our society have learned to be turned on.

And what are the reasons for this prudishness? Well, they are, essentially, twofold. Firstly, the way they dress often makes me feel awkward in the classroom. As part of lecturing, or my public speaking practice, I alternate scanning the audience with putting the focus on individual students – so too, I often ask individuals questions to get them engaged, as well as provide personal assistance to students during activities (the latter frequently involves me crouching down next to their desk to explain things to them, or leaning over them to make corrections). And the way they are dressed in this respect throws somewhat of a spanner into the educational works – it is no longer viable for me to do any of these things without there being at least the possibility that my interest in students who are dressed provocatively exceeds the desire to teach. Furthermore, while I am happy to ignore the way they’re dressed, it taking an extremely overzealous imagination to pretend that they have chosen their appearance so that their middle-aged and slightly pot-bellied English teacher will get his rocks off, embarrassment is sometimes unavoidable – I have been mortified to discover that, when I ask the students in question questions or go over to help them, in the sights of my gaze or as I closely approach them they suddenly become acutely aware of their near nudity, and either put their hand over their cleavage or start pulling down their dresses. The problem here isn’t, I would stress, that I’m staring at their bare flesh, because frankly I have no interest in doing this whatsoever – the problem is that so revealingly are they dressed, any attention directed towards them whatsoever hints at the kind of attention they’re fearing.

And it’s not even them letting me down in this way that I worry about, although I hardly like it – more concerningly, they’re letting themselves, and even the rest of the class, down as well. What do I mean by this? Well, while I try my best not to do this, because they do cause me embarrassment at times it is very difficult for me to stop myself from avoiding looking at or asking underdressed students questions during class, and it does make me feel just a little bit wary of approaching them – hence, they miss out on this valuable personal attention. Moreover, in respect to the classroom dynamic, because this reluctance to engage with them is an interruption to the way I would other wise teach, or because it does prevent me at least a little bit from employing the teaching practice I am prone to use, I find myself out of stride – with the loss of fluidity of my lessons, there is a slight but nonetheless quite sad diminishment in the quality of them as well. It takes more, I mean, to employ the slang of my home region in Australia, than a few young women ‘flanging out’ for the young blokes at the university to get Matt Smith all het up and anxious, or to take the emphasis off my work – nonetheless I find myself putting finger to keyboard this month at least partially on account of the fact that I do find the situation to be a little bit of a worry, and that all of these things add up.

Following on from which, of course, there is the other reason I'm what people would generally construe to be such a conservative on this issue – there’s nothing conservative about the nature of this gripe, however, it’s what the most progressive supporters of real feminism, or feminism that seeks true equality of the sexes, have been complaining about for decades. In essence, women are doing themselves a great disservice by dressing up like sex objects. Although to agree with this, you have to understand firstly the history of humanity – here, in the briefest of forms, is what lends validity to the statement. When people took up farming, and particularly in the types of environment where farming was naturally preferable in the first place – harsher, less biodiverse environments with higher mortality rates – women became valuable commodities; having a lot of children makes agriculture a heck of a lot easier, as well as ensures the future of your community, and of course women are the child-bearers. Once women were thus consigned to the insidiously droll fate of being breeders and domestic slaves, the two roles walking hand in hand with one another, or once the quality of their slavery became dependent on their personal attractiveness, they had a lot of incentive to make the most of a bad deal by dressing the way the whim of men desired; on the other hand, them being reduced to subservience at the hands of men, men had a lot of authority to enforce the female dress code as well. In the past, when men were more concerned with marrying a virgin, their sellers (their family) would increase their value by ensuring they looked the part, and it served them to aspire to dressing in this manner as well; in the present day, with men being considerably less concerned with the need for their sex toy to get about the place done up like a nun, and having less authority to force women to be like this anyway, the other aspect of what makes women desirable partners in the dominant paradigm, their jubbly bits, have come to the front of the fray. The point is, dressing up like either a nun or a harlot, or even just making yourself pretty in innocent pink for male delectation, doesn’t do jack about the way men are thinking about women, and thus the overall terrible way in which they are treated in society – as part of being a good teacher, I think it essential to take an interest in providing them with sufficient nous to get control of their human rights. Hence, as I said, the other great concern I have with the way they are sporting themselves about.

Anyway, in conclusion here, there are a couple of things I’d like to get back to. The first is my wife – I bring her up again here because the discussion makes me think that yes, the problem is very deeply rooted – she’s a very educated and intelligent woman, and yet even with her I find that body image issues, all of which like I say can be traced back to this terrible need to dress up (in reality to forego a number of very important human liberties) in respect to the nature of men’s desires, plague away at her mind. And yes, of course she reads my articles, she takes a very close academic interest in this phenomenon herself. The other thing I want to get back to is the aforementioned ‘sticks-in-the-mud’, who go posting the anti-sexy dress billboards around the universities, and who might not even be sticks in the mud at all (like I say to protest can actually be an extremely socially progressive thing) – on what grounds exactly is it on which they are protesting? If they want women to dress up because it is ‘tradition’ – the same tradition that, in the not so distant past, saw women as trade commodities, and that emphasised the propriety of their dress code principally because it increased their value in the marital economy – then yes, they most certainly are sticks in the mud. On the other hand, if they are doing it for progressive reasons, then they hardly deserve at all to be described as such. I guess the only way I’m ever going to find out will be by looking into this further, or by talking to my Thai colleagues about it – it has me sufficiently curious, at any rate, to consider giving this a go.

In parting, I guess I also better tell everyone from whence the title of the article originates – it’s from a little ditty taught to me by my dad, who I believe also happened to hear it from his dad as well. It goes like this.

‘If miniskirts were shorter, said the fairy to the gnome, there’d be two more cheeks to powder and a lot more hair to comb.’

Obviously, it suits this article.


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