Most of the Capital City stays open late–9 pm is a typical closing time. So when I started thinking about broaches this morning, I wasn’t concerned. I went, looked around, left again, thinking I’d come back in the evening.
Except the weekend market closes at five. It was five minutes to when Peter looked at his watch and said, “It’s too late.” Only he kept looking out the window. “There are people still there. Let’s go.” So we went.
The old woman had packed up her broaches, but then took them out again for us after she understood what we wanted. Which was surprisingly not very easy, although I kept pointing to where I would wear it and saying the word for the part of national dress you put it on. A young man–perhaps a grandson–had to translate. Here, the children speak English. Hardly anyone else outside the elite and privileged do.
Although you can’t really see it in the photo, the broach is red and green. It doesn’t exactly match an of my clothes, but I had to have it.
This is not a post about broaches. It is about being a person, and how we signify that. When I put my national dress on for the first time, I felt like a person. With a broach on, I felt even more so. There was a sense of having put on my clothes–as if I had been going out in my underwear until then–because although not all Country X-ers wear broaches, all middle class women of my age do.
It’s the same with national dress. Women in Country X do not wear Western clothes. Maybe they wear them to clean the house in–I have no idea–but they don’t wear them out in the street. And so wearing what they wear made me feel better. Clothes are a part of how most of us signify that we are human. Animals don’t wear them. And maybe that’s why being forced to expose yourself is so humiliating–what is lost is the signifier.
Our displays of gender are also signifiers. Animals have a sex–and being animals so do we. But humans have a gender: we have an identity and social role organized around our sex. In fact, gender is such an important part of being human that it trumps biological sex.
I have mixed feelings about my gender–so mixed that the parts have different genders. There are even a few parts that feel without gender.
And I think my mixed feelings about gender come down to mixed feelings about being human. My experience with other human beings is so horrific I am not always sure I want to be human. Humans are cruel. They torture one another. They kill other living creatures. They are terrible.
There are times when I feel I want no part of any of that. So the broach is not just a broach. It’s about being a woman and it’s also about being human–because women are humans. It’s a way of saying, “Maybe this is okay.”