Sex and death

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There’s a story doing the rounds in cyberspace about a
father who wants to teach his adolescent daughter a lesson. In the family’s blog he is dressed
in very short shorts and stands provocatively at a bar for the benefit of what
I imagine to be someone’s iphone camera. 
Apparently, both
the father and his wife do not enjoy the spectacle of their daughter dressed in her short shorts.  They consider it unseemly, obscene,
inappropriate, disturbing, provocative – you name it.
 
Despite their protests, the daughter had insisted on
wearing her short shorts to a family dinner and so her father took a pair of his shorts from his room, cut off a few inches from the legs, and wore them out to dinner, too.
 
Did the daughter learn her lesson?  I’m not sure. I’ve been trying to
figure out what the lesson is.
Had the girl’s mother cut her own shorts down to size, the
comparison might have been more telling.  
I ask myself why these things matter?  Why do we care so much about young women wearing their short
shorts?  
 
Then there’s the Robin Thicke clip that’s also doing the rounds to the song Blurred Lines.  The lyrics are provocative, implying there are blurred lines to sexual consent. The men are in suits, the women naked.
 To counter this a group of Auckland University students created a spoof where the men, dressed only in white underpants, dance to the whims of the women who are fully clothed.  The lyrics are different, too.  An attack on misogyny.  
Not long after mini skirts came into vogue, women started
to burn their bras in protests against patriarchal constraints.  At the same time not wearing a bra
could be sexually provocative.
 
I cannot be sure what led me not to wear a bra on my
wedding day.  Was it simply because my wedding dress could not sit well with the imprint of
a bra beneath.  
My wedding dress was of a fabric that I believed could conceal the
fact that I did not wear a bra. At least in my mind it was sufficiently modest, though I later heard rumours that people like my mother were horrified.  
I have the horrors myself when I look back on another
time, a New Years Eve in the 1970s when I decided to go bra-less to a party at a friend’s
house in Ivanhoe.  
I had bought
myself a blouse, a long floppy sleeved and cropped blouse, the type you see
on a flamenco dancer.  It came
together tied in a knot across my midriff.  The white cotton was as thin as a summer nightie, and almost as transparent. 
I wore it with pride.  But now I find myself cringing at my exhibitionism if indeed
that is what it was.
 
That night people got drunk.  Someone pushed someone else into a swimming pool.  Fellows slipped off their clothes.  The
men, I might add, not the women.  
The women wore bathing suits, but several of our young male companions took
to skinny dipping. 
It was a night of arousal though nothing untoward happened
as far as I can remember, though to look on it from the outside it might have looked like an orgy.
I wonder then about what is or is not appropriate in this
life?  What determines our
behaviour?  What do we decide is
obscene and what not? 
Yesterday as family members stood around the grave side of an elderly aunt about to be
buried I checked out the depth of the hole.   
‘It’s
so deep,’ I said.
‘But look at that clay,’ one brother said.  ‘Oh to get my hands init.  To sculpt from it.’
‘It needs to be deep,’ someone else said, ‘so they can
fit another body on top.’
 
I looked into the hole in the ground and wondered what it must be like for my uncle to see his eventual resting place.   
My husband and I have yet to choose a burial plot.  I think about it.  Preparations for death.     
My sister has made a family pall of white silk, embroidered in gold thread.  It has sections to represent all the
members of our immediate family and in each section my sister has included both
zirconium crystals to represent the boys in each family on the extended line
and tiny pearl button to represent the girls.  
The pall symbolises the lives of our parents and their nine children, twenty three grandchildren and
twelve great grandchildren with another two on the way.  My sister hopes that every member of
our family will use this pall for their own funerals.  
I shrink a little inside whenever I see the pall.  It seems to me it will soak up so much
grief and I cannot help but think of the pall draped over my own coffin when I
die, or when my husband dies, my siblings, my mother and in time my children and then their
children.   
There’s something ominous about a pall, so unlike a
christening gown, which signals new life.  
‘When you’re dead you’re dead,’ my brother said.  ‘You won’t know.’  
‘But there’s the build up to death.’  One my cousins nodded her head in recognition of my qualms
but another sister insisted she does not think of these things. 
We chattered on about death until my oldest brother leaned
over, ‘I’m not sure now is the time to be analyzing such matters.’
People stood at the side of the grave and waited for the
funeral organisers to do their thing.  We fell silent, though a few chatterers further up the hill continued to talk.
 
When human silence prevailed I heard the birds twitter in the trees
above and fell back to thinking not so much of my aunt whose body was about to
be lowered into the ground but of the rest of us still alive who are left
trying to make sense of how we might go on living in a world filled with rules
and regulations about how we should behave.  
I still cringe at
the sight of me in my see through blouse.  
My older self wonders how could she
do it?  
My younger self says, who cares?  
The celebrant read out a poem.  Her words stay with me.  ‘Your bones are made of stars/ your blood is filled with oceans.’  
There’s more to us all than our appearance or desires.  
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9 Comments on Sex and death

  1. Maggie May
    September 14, 2013 at 6:07 am (4 years ago)

    This was such a gift to read. Thank you, Elizabeth.

    Reply
  2. River
    September 14, 2013 at 7:55 am (4 years ago)

    I clicked on the link to see the short shorts, they look exactly like the shorts my husband and I used to wear and we had four small children at the time! They don't look too short to me. Our shorts were also cut off jeans, they'd worn through at the knees so we cut them to shorts and got a few extra years wear from them. I have a pair of cut ff jeans shorts even now that are almost as short because they've been fraying away and I still wear them at 61.
    I think he might have had a point about not wearing short shorts to a restaurant, but were the shorts decent and what type of restaurant was it? A "family" restaurant where parents take young children? Then okay, probably more kids would be wearing short shorts. A "swish" chandelier-and-crystal-glassware restaurant would be a different matter. No short shorts there.

    Reply
  3. Jim Murdoch
    September 14, 2013 at 9:53 am (4 years ago)

    Woody Allen’s film Love and Death was originally to be called Sex and Death but United Artists disapproved.

    I remember the first—actually only—time I saw a girl in a see-through top. It was on my very first trip to the Glasgow Mitchell Library, the city’s big reference library, so I’d be about sixteen and the place was full of college types. At the counter while I waited for my books there was a girl of maybe eighteen in a transparent top with no bra. It was a top of many colours, like an oil stain, and probably nylon or maybe silk from the look of it and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Off her breasts. I couldn’t tell you now what she looked like. I actually couldn’t even tell you what her breasts looked like other than the fact they weren’t enormous or anything. But there they were, a few feet away from me. I wasn’t aroused. I was too fascinated to get excited, too nervous, too taken aback. None of the women I had grown up with would ever do anything like that. If I caught a glimpse of a bra strap on a shoulder it was as much. What got me was the fact she was clearly not bothered—she wasn’t doing this for a dare of anything—and no one else seemed to be bothered or even have noticed as if it was the most normal thing in the world for her to be standing there without a bra on for all the world to gawp at. The thing is, if I walked into the Mitchell Library today and saw the same thing I don’t think I would feel any differently than I did forty years ago. I’ve never got used to how fashions have changed and how women will deliberately wear dresses that are too small so that their underwear is visible.

    They did a study in Caerphilly a few years back. Apparently they found that there the mortality risk was 50% lower in men with high frequency of orgasm than in men with low frequency of orgasm. So sex and death are connected. Why am I not surprised? The article made an interesting point about the need to promote the benefits of a healthy sex life. We have the “five a day” campaign for fruit and veg. I wonder what the government’s recommended weekly dose of sex might be. That would be a fun campaign to get to run. More fun that the “save water, share a bath” campaign from … I think it was the late seventies.

    My family had/has no traditions when it comes to death. My parents were both cremated and the ashes disposed of by the crematorium. We don’t romanticise death in any way, shape or form. We’re not heartless—we all cried and grieved in our ways—but we didn’t make more of the ceremonies than was needed; it was an opportunity for friends and family to come together to remember. Two or three hours later it was all done and it was just the family. I can’t honestly remember that much about either day but you know me and my memory.

    Carrie and I are both very clear about what we want to happen when we die: nothing, or as near to nothing as can be got away with. No service. No coffins. No urns. No memorials or trees planted in our name. I’ve never understood the idea of having to go to a place to remember someone—I’ve never visited a grave in my life although I have wandered round a few cemeteries in my time—nor have I ever understood why people feel the need to go to church to talk to God. I guess I’ve never really got the concept of ceremony, the marking or respect by following a few made-up rules: go here, say this, wear that, repeat these words. I don’t suppose I’m very sentimental. I miss my parents but I can’t and don’t remember the anniversaries of their passing.

    Reply
  4. PhilipH
    September 14, 2013 at 10:02 am (4 years ago)

    The suit in the window, a brilliant shiny royal blue; must buy it.

    Dancing at the Orchid Ballroom tonight, brand new bright blue suit on. Feeling ace!

    Walking down the road to get to the bus stop. Why are people smiling and looking at me? Is it the suit?

    Turned back. Indoors suit off. Dark grey 'bird's eye' double-breasted suit on.

    Gave the new blue suit to my younger brother. He loved it.

    Even now, decades later, I feel embarrassed about the 'loud' blue suit.

    The young, I think, just want to be noticed. Stand out from the crowd. I guess I did. Then I must have thought people were laughing at me in my flashy outfit. I felt uncomfortable and couldn't wear it.

    However, I wouldn't mind wearing it in my coffin! Couldn't care less then.

    Reply
  5. Glenn Ingersoll
    September 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm (4 years ago)

    Nice piece. I like the questions, and the personalities evoked, even the two versions of the same one – the younger & the older.

    I remember answering an internet questionnaire once that was supposed to direct us to a world religion, the one that matched our answers best. I got directed to Islam, which puzzled me until I remembered how many times I'd given "modesty" a thumbs up. But I don't think the word meant the same for both of us. I mean "humility" and as far as I'm concerned you can be naked and humble or wrapped up without any skin showing and be immodest. If that's true in Islam, it's certainly not a governing ideology.

    Reply
  6. Kirk
    September 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm (4 years ago)

    I think you're right, Elisabeth, it would have made more sense if the mother, rather than the father, wore the short shorts. We live in an era where men's shorts rarely go above the knee. Women have the option of going much further. If it's a casual-dress restaurant, it would be all right for the daughter to wear such shorts. The father's the one that would have gotten the weird stares. We also live in an era where women are simply allow to be more sexually provocative when it comes to dress. For instance, suppose it had been an upscale "fine dining" restaurant? The daughter wouldn't have been allowed to wear shorts of any length, but she could have worn a low-cut sleaveless top. The father couldn't. There's one place where a man CAN dress sexually provoctive–but, well, there you're not really expected to have a wife or daughter in tow.

    As for the general question of how much a women can show in public, doesn't what kind of physical condition you're in have something to do with it? If you go to a beach, you'll see some women in one-piece bathing suits and others in bikinis. Now, are the women in one-piece suits dressed that way because they're sexually modest, or are they perhaps simply not as thin as the women in bikinis? Just as thin women are more likely to wear short shorts, mini-skirts, etc. Nothing to do with sex. On the hand, I have seen non-thin women wear low-cut tops that really off the breasts. I'm willing to bet that DOES have something to do with looking sexually alluring.

    Just sayin'.

    Reply
  7. Anthony Duce
    September 14, 2013 at 11:05 pm (4 years ago)

    I really do like your writing and the subjects you bring to the surface and then expose just enough, to wish I’d been there☺
    I think most of us are more open to show more of our physical selves when we are young. It’s rebellion of course, but also the logic behind hiding areas of our bodies from one another really is sort of stupid. It’s only as we age and see how nudity is treated, that to survive we give up and go along.
    I wonder if as we age we become less confident of our bodies in a youth oriented social perception of physical beauty as well. Of course there is also all the laws that get in the way, from too many centuries of organized religions where, believing is promoted over thinking and common sense. And so we just give up and remain covered up, realizing it’s not worth the fight. Or maybe we just find others who are accepting, and remote places to get away from what is obviously the majority who don’t realize how stupid the cover up has always been.

    Reply
  8. Elizabeth
    September 15, 2013 at 4:40 am (4 years ago)

    This was beautiful — meandering, lyrical — all of it. The last two lines — the quote and then your sentence were just perfect.

    Reply
  9. Joan
    September 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm (4 years ago)

    I would love to know who wrote that poem.

    Reply

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