There must be a reason, though no-one has ever told me, why it is that women hang up their underwear in bathrooms. I have tried to figure it out whenever I have been invited out for a meal or something, to a house with women in it. You go to the loo and there they are, languishing on taps; trailing off shower nozzels; dangling from window fasteners; draped over the basin.
Why? Men don’t do it – and I have done my own washing for long enough (before any of you women start howling) to know that I have never been gripped by a sudden and inexplicable desire to dangle my Jockies over a tap!
It’s not that there is anything essentially wrong with it, I suppose. It just seems to me to be very strange. Especially, when sometimes bits and pieces of lingerie seem to be forgotten there. Lives get lived around them. They become part of the bathroom, like some strange, bizarre ornament. Age starts to solidify them. They start to glue themselves to the thing they were placed on. When you touch them, they crackle. When you lift them, they seem to maintain the shape of the thing they have been clinging to.
The questions remain: Why were they placed there in the first place? Is it something that mummies teach their daughters to do from a very early age and is it followed unquestioningly by every generation?
I ask, because on one occasion, I had a frightening encounter with several generations of women’s underwear, happily cohabiting in one bath room. I knew they belonged to different people, because some were slinky and frilly and flowery, while others were vast and a sort of off-brown colour and seemed to have vast amounts of elastic everywhere. Some pieces looked more like something one would use to restrain a lunatic, than wear routinely.
Personally, I have never understood the mechanics of some of the strange pieces of clothing which women wear and I have certainly never contemplated wearing them myself. Which is why I was more than curious, the other day, to meet someone who confessed to me to being a cross-dresser. Actually, he likes wearing the underwear, not the top wear. So, if he didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t guess. He was in his late twenties, masculine but quite pretty in a strange sort of way – and heterosexual. He told me about his fetish almost like he was telling me he preferred a BMW to a Merc. He told me he didn’t like men very much and he loved women. He had a girlfriend, and she didn’t know, though he wished he could tell her.
In the same week, I was told about a pre-school where the children were encouraged to cross dress for a day. It was meant to be a sort of “fun” thing to do and most children and parents entered into the spirit of the thing and had a great time. Sure, some of the parents thought it was horrible and revolting and were certainly not going to have their little Skye or Tristan in a dress. Heaven forbid!
But I was told this by one of the mothers who, like me, thought it a really imaginative, brave and laudable thing to do, on the part of the school. She asked her little boy, as she adjusted the pink bow in his hair and brushed up his rouge, whether he was expecting anybody to laugh at him. “No”, he said, “we have been told that everyone is doing it, so no-one is going to laugh.”
My friend, the mummy in question, pointed out to me the dynamics of what was hidden behind some of that kind of thinking. “You almost never find men or boys being allowed to dress ‘down’ and wear women’s clothes,” she said, “though it is quite OK for girls to dress ‘up’ and look like men and entrench all this ‘power dressing’ stuff which seems so much a part of the scene at the moment”.
And my hat, there is certainly a great deal of it about these days! All our parliamentary women (and one or two extra parliamentary ones as well) power-dress like crazy. Except, it isn’t the pseudo men-in-a-suit look at all. It is those extraordinarily large, violently colourful (in the green-to-red-to-orange-to-purple range) dresses with lots of machine embroidery – in a sort of West African style, with one helluva matching head-dress and a pair of Cazel sunglasses, which makes up the womanly power-dressing look of today.
I once sat in a steakhouse in Randburg with a friend. A more macho setting, one could not hope for. And in walked a really sexy looking woman – short skirt, legs to- die-for doll, stunning hair, which she swooshed around her. The heads turned appreciatively. There was a wink there and a nudge here. The boys were all eyeing her. She turned to the waiter to order and turned out to be very much a man! Like everyone else, I was a bit flabbergasted. The waitron fainted. But I don’t think I have ever admired quite so much, in my life. I didn’t want to dress like him, or her, or whatever, but which of us could honestly say we couldn’t do with a bit of that kind of courage?
(First published inb the Natal Witness 04.04.1997)