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Why Can't Women Be Comfortable?

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Friday, July 29, 2011

Women run companies and countries. Some even play on co-ed football teams. But there's one glaring gender disparity that never gets better and only seems to grow: comfort.

Yes, many women sacrifice their physical ease on the altar of sex appeal. And true, that's their choice. Still, there ought to be a rebalancing of what these women feel they must suffer to please men and their female critics.

Let's establish a Bill of Comfort Rights.

-- The right to walk. Watch the Oscars, Grammys or any show biz award event. The women have spent weeks preparing their look. That generally means naked on top, squeezed in the middle by body shapers (don't ask) and strapped into perilously high heels.

When a female winner is announced, she hobbles toward the stage. Note the terror in her eyes as she approaches the stairs. We in the audience are worried, too. "Come on, girl, get up there. Don't fall and create some hideous video clip to go viral on YouTube, then replayed from 'Good Morning America' through 'Conan' in the late hours."

How interesting that the more formally dressed the man, the more comfortable the shoes. Guys in tuxedos pad around in virtual slippers. On the award shows, the only males in high heels are doing it for comic effect. Think about that.

Many of the actresses tottering on stage have already been weakened by starvation. Which leads us to the next "right" ...

-- The right to eat. Understood. Hollywood fashion has changed since Jane Russell threw her curves at the camera, but this demand for hollowed-out leading ladies shows contempt for the natural female form.

The last Academy Awards featured actress Anne Hathaway as a host. She showed off her lovely face but had apparently left half her body at home. Anyhow, Hathaway looked like a corn-fed farm girl next to another presenter, the skeletal Keira Knightley. A former British model, Knightley has told magazines that she's "devastated" by rumors of her being anorexic. Whether she is or isn't, I wouldn't know.

But someone should ask movie directors why they cast semi-starved women in romantic roles. At a certain level of emaciation, the sex hormones actually turn off.

There's a scene in the 2007 movie "Atonement" where an amorous James McAvoy is pinning Knightley's umbrella frame of a body against a library bookshelf. Not a few in the audience must have been asking, "Won't someone give this poor creature a square meal?"

-- The right to be covered. At the pool, you see girls walking self-consciously in tiny bikinis while the boys bounce around in knee-length surfer shorts. (The females must constantly check on whether the strategically placed strips of fabric have shifted.) Now who is having the better time? Men may enjoy having women expose so much flesh before them, but so do the sand flies.

-- The right to be warm. This sweltering summer may be the wrong time to discuss this, but six months from now you'll be able to visit nice restaurants in the coldest climates and see females in strap-shouldered tops exposing their arms to frostbite. Their male escorts are toasty warm in bulky sweaters. Boys, if your date wears 11-inch skirts to the club on an arctic night, consider bringing along a Hudson's Bay blanket. She'll never forget you.

The pursuit of human happiness should include, at the very least, the caveman's basic needs: food, shelter and clothing. Women are doing all right in the shelter department, but the food and clothing still need work.

The right to comfort could be the final frontier in the fight for gender parity. Ladies, go for it.

COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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