Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Evil Passions Of Men

James Michener, in Iberia, published this list of rules for women, which he found posted in a church in rural Spain in 1943, the year my parents married.  I grew up in Barcelona, but spent summers in the countryside, and although some of these rules don't ring a bell, some do.

Women shall not appear on the streets of this village with dresses that are too tight in those places which provoke the evil passions of men.  Ah, those evil passions.  I heard about them as a child and for years wondered what they were.  "Never trust a man who has a nose on his face," my mother's mother used to admonish me when I reached puberty.  All this caused my girl friends and me to grow up thinking of ourselves as sticks of dynamite, liable to cause widespread damage any minute.


They must never wear dresses that are too short.  By the time the 1950s came around, this was fortunately no longer an issue, because mid-calf skirts were the thing.

They must be particularly careful not to wear dresses that are low-cut in front.  While I mostly chewed my nails or amused myself by staring at the row of hairlines in the pew in front of me during Sunday sermons, I do remember one priest thundering against women who decorated their decolletage with a cross.

It is shameful for women to walk in the streets with short sleeves.  My mother and my aunts certainly wore short sleeves in summer, and no men that I know of burst into flames at the sight of their upper arms.  But they could not appear in church without sleeves down to their elbows.  This widely observed rule caused many problems when Northern Europe discovered Spain as the ultimate vacation spot and the churches were invaded by hordes of scantily dressed, sunburned walkyries.

Every woman who appears in the streets must wear stockings.  That rule had gone by the wayside by the time I was born.  In summer my mother and aunts would drop into church (for a visit with the Blessed Sacrament) in bare legs and espadrilles, though they may have put on stockings for Sunday Mass.  No mention is made of the need, first dictated by Saint Paul, for women to cover their heads in church.  It was too deeply ingrained.  And by "cover" I don't imply little hats, or those eensy "chapel veils" that used to do the job in the U.S.  Women wore mantillas to church, which covered their head and neck and were gorgeously embroidered, semi-transparent, and often more beautiful and more inflaming than the hair they were intended to hide.

Women must not wear transparent or network cloth over those parts which decency requires to be covered.  Must be the same parts that inflamed the evil passions of men.

At the age of twelve girls must begin to wear dresses that reach to the knee, and stockings at all times.  This rule was no longer in operation by the time I came along.

Little boys must not appear in the streets with their upper legs bare. What is this doing on a list of proscriptions for women?  I remember my male contemporaries wearing really short pants until they turned fourteen or so.  I remember their upper legs turning bright red in winter.  Maybe that too inflamed the evil passions of men.


Girls must never walk in out-of-the-way places because to do so is both immoral and dangerous. Obviously the "immoral" part indicates a strong tendency to blame the potential victim.  However, despite my belief that ideally women as well as men should be free to go anywhere, anytime, I think that while we wait for this imperfect world to become perfect it's a good idea for men and women to be led by common sense, and play it safe.

No decent woman or girl is ever seen on a bicycle.  Oh, my rusty, brakeless bicycle on which I rode the dusty summer roads around my grandparents' farm with the smell of rosemary in my nostrils, hoping for a glimpse of a shepherd and his flock under the blazing sun!

No decent woman is ever seen wearing trousers.  I wore not only trousers but shorts in the summer, but I never saw my mother in pants until we went to Ecuador and she had to buy a pair of blue jeans for trudging around in the jungle.

What they call in the cities ‘modern dancing’ is strictly forbidden.  I suspect this referred to dances imported from America, such as the fox-trot, which even when done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers don't hold a candle in sexiness or inflammatory potential to the most threadbare flamenco danced around a gipsy fire.

(Thanks to Dona artistseyestudio.com for reminding me of these rules.)

8 comments :

  1. fascinating and terrifying. girls were not allowed to wear trousers to school in duluth until high school. our bare legs froze in 20 below winters -- bare but for colored tights; we were also not allowed to wear nylons.

    i think one rule ("Men, get a grip!") instead of 20 would be much more efficient. And fair.

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    1. If only Adam had managed to "get a grip" instead of eating the apple and blaming the ensuing debacle on Eve!

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  2. The rules in Florida in the early 60's were a little different. What I recall most was, no spaghetti straps in church, cover your head with a chapel veil (the round one) or if you forgot the veil, a box of tissues was in the ladies bathroom with a bowl of hairpins for your convenience. Oh, how many times I wore a Kleenex, folded in half the long way, and secured by two jet black hairpins on my light auburn tresses. It was so shameful! My mother wore a mantilla and I longed for the day that I would be adult enough to wear one too. My sisters and I snickered at the adult women walking into church with a Kleenex and black hairpins on their crowns. Momma would pinch us.

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    1. The spaghetti strap rule reminds me of my Alabama Catholic high school prom in the 60s. Strapless gowns were considered occasions of sin, and were forbidden.

      Oh, how well I remember those Kleenexes and the hair pins!

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  3. I was raised with some left over Dutch reformed myths too that made no sense to me whatsoever. They seemed highly illogical to me who was such a sensible girl. They ended up giving me hang ups that took me some time to get over. Thank goodness feminism came around.

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  4. I loved this. It made me realise how far we've come. I remember my mother living in skirts (and often bare legs) even in the middle of winter. (Now she doesn't even own a skirt!) Our school uniforms included skirts with bare legs and (in the winter) long socks, and eventually pantyhose. Boys weren't allowed to wear trousers in the winter until they were in senior school.

    Even 20 years ago, when I was a diplomat and meeting Prime Ministers etc etc, I remember rushing home from the office in Bangkok to change into a skirt for an official meeting. These days it wouldn't matter - I mean, pants are okay for Hillary Clinton, so they'd be okay for a junior diplomat.

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  5. Indeed, things have changed. I spent a lot of energy over many years covering up cleavage (remember those little triangles known in the US as "dickies"?). Now, as the song says, goodness knows, anything goes....

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