A while back (i.e., May), fellow barefooter Mike Berrow put together a compilation of twitter tweets showing a lot of folks say they’d go barefoot if it were socially acceptable.
But it mostly is acceptable. So why don’t these people give it a try?
So, here are those tweets.
Here’s what they all pretty much say:
I would be barefoot all day, everyday, if that were socially acceptable.
The thing is, in many respects it is somewhat socially acceptable. But there is a lot of pressure to the contrary.
A lot of us manage to go barefoot all the time (though it helps to be retired) with what I’d have to call minimal hassling.
It’s not that hassling doesn’t occur, it’s just that it is a lot less frequent than you might imagine. In particular, it’s a lot less frequent than you might imagine if you are just starting out to try to go barefoot in public more often.
But what is it that makes people feel it is socially unacceptable to go barefoot in public?
It is that hassle, and it is the confrontations. Those confrontations, and the sidelong glances, and the comments, and the asides are a very human part of being a social animal.
Social norms are often enforced, not by laws, but by each of us making it known to others what is acceptable or not.
I was reminded of this by a May 15 article in Slate, How Men Can Fight Sexism by Wearing Very Short Shorts. That article was prompted by one in the Wall Street Journal, which, being the Wall Street Journal, was profiling a business. In that case, the business was selling shorter shorts for men.
But most of the articles and the commentary on it were all forms of social pressure, making sure that everybody knew that short shorts on men are not socially acceptable.
From the Slate article we see this gem of a comment:
“Men in short shorts, it’s just wrong. Don’t wear short shorts out, your balls need to breathe and we don’t need to see it. God.”
Remind you of anything? Yeah, the sort of thing barefooters hear.
And it’s relentless. From last year in the Huffington Post, Guys, There Is A Right Way And A Wrong Way To Wear Shorts, the very first item is “They can’t be too short (no one wants to see man thighs)”.
Or we get this gem, when a site named qfak.com which asks the question, “Should men wear short shorts in public?” gets the answer:
Never. My 50-year-old dad wore short shorts for the first time to go to the park and I was so scarred. It’s just so wrong, even on young people. Men’s thighs are not the most attractive things out there …
There is also when MSN explores The Top 10 Items Guys Should Never Wear and “Short Shorts” is on the list, with the comment:
As a general rule, men’s legs are not sexy. They are either stalky or bony and almost always too pale for the light of day. Keep those ghostly creatures under wraps with long, loose fitting shorts.
That is all social pressure. That is the herd-instinct trying to make sure that what is socially acceptable remains socially acceptable. (And note how the comment is so similar to the ones we hear about how ugly feet are and that they ought to remain covered.)
That is exactly what happens with going barefooted in public.
The thing is, when it comes to men’s shorts, it’s all rather recent. (And by the same token, when it comes to bare feet, it is also somewhat recent, though we are talking 100 years for bare feet as opposed to 30 years for shorts.)
The movie Breaking Away was also recently shown on cable. This movie was from 1979. Here are the teenage boys when they were heading to the quarry.
Short shorts looked perfectly acceptable back there, so there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with them. It’s just what you are used to, but then for some reason people feel they have to enforce anything different.
Here’s another shot from the movie, when college students are coming out of a class.
Short shorts on the girl; short shorts on the boy.
Heck, even the swimwear was short, as we see from another quarry scene.
Speedo-type swimwear on guys was perfectly ok. Try that now and you will generate the same sorts of comments, the social pressure, that short shorts or bare feet will generate. In fact, if anything, they’ll try to shame the person much worse.
And it wasn’t isolated. Here’s another quarry scene.
You didn’t hear any snide comments wondering about being gay (back when that was an insult), or that men’s thighs shouldn’t be seen, or using words like “stalky” or “bony”. It was simply socially acceptable, people saw them every day, and thus they looked “normal”.
Going back to bare feet, we see exactly how the social acceptableness is enforced when we look at Britney Spears. They were always dumping on her for going barefoot.
And the point of that wasn’t just to dump on Britney—it was also to let all the rest of us know just how socially unacceptable it was to go barefoot. That’s how it is enforced. It actually takes quite a bit of strength of character to resist something like that.
And then when she went into a gas station restroom barefoot . . .
Britney Spears’ Most Outrageous Moments. That story made sure to hit all the “right” notes to discourage as many barefooters as possible.
Yep, here it is: The photo that made us all cringe. Most people we know won’t even use a gas station bathroom, let alone enter one without shoes! But our Britney clearly had no issues going barefoot. We don’t even want to know what foot fungi she picked up from that escapade.
Heck, they’re still at it. This photo is from 2012, and the caption is the one that appeared in the article.
[Photo from Britney Spears is the picture of a happy mother....]
It’s a form of Slut Shaming. It’s always out there; it’s a way of enforcing norms. And the really stupid thing is that most of those norms are just a peculiarity of a particular culture at a particular time and place. It’s not a question of being bad or immoral—it’s a question of being different, and they feel they need to quash those differences.
Here’s one more that I found, Britney Spears has Nothing on Me. It comes from a hospital blog in Cedar Rapids, IA. Just the title is trying to apply social pressure. And the story is about the mother’s (young) daughter who goes barefoot a lot, even into restaurant restrooms. But of course it has to be stopped. Why? Because.
Kevin finally pointed out to Sonja that there are signs saying “no shirt, no shoes, no service” displayed at most businesses. He also pointed out you could get in really big trouble if you don’t wear your shoes in public places. Ok, so that’s a threat, but it seems to be working. Sonja has started asking if she does or does not have to put shoes on when leaving the house even if it’s just to play in the yard.
That’s how we see it started. “Big trouble.” No wonder why so many think going barefoot is illegal. That’s how socially unacceptable taboos are enforced. Catch’em early.
Let me end with a brighter note: a picture of me! ;-)
This is me with my daughter and my mother at the creek in the back of my house. It’s from 1989.
I mostly kept on wearing shorts (I won’t say I wore “short” shorts). There takes a certain mindset to resist the social pressure.
It still affects a person—my shorts these days aren’t as short as they used to be 25-35 years ago (but I still have the legs! Heh.) That’s me reacting to the social pressure. But I cheat.
(By the way, shorter shorts really are more comfortable and are similar to going barefoot in that they provide a lot more freedom of movement. On a recent long drive, barefoot of course, the bare feet helped keep my legs awake. I could wiggle my toes and keep the blood flowing. But the shorts also made a difference: I was able to bend my legs, even driving cross-legged on and off—the convenience of cruise-control. Both of those techniques meant I had a lot less blood pooling down my legs.)
And you can also see that I did go barefoot back then. This is before I would consider myself a barefooter, in that I didn’t go into stores and the like back then, but as you can see, I sure did prefer the bare feet.
So, I guess I’ve always been resistant, in one way or another, to the social pressure. I’ve tended to do what I prefer to do. I still feel the social pressure, and I still react to it. But I do manage to, in some ways, cast some of it aside when it doesn’t make sense.
But to look at things on the bright side: if short shorts on men can return, maybe public barefooting can too.