Sherlock Holmes taught us that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
When it comes to sexism—and racism, for that matter—people split into two camps:
For one camp, the mere contingency that sexism (or racism) might lie at the root of a given state of affairs suffices to convince them that sexism (or racism) is to blame. Period. Case closed. If there exists even an outside chance that some observandum may have been shaped via the agency of one or both of these -isms, members of this camp won’t rush to explore alternative ways to explain it.
Inmates of the other camp, by contrast, more in keeping with the principle behind the master detective’s aforementioned postulate, will resort to floating the specters of sexism or racism only when they have eliminated all other plausible explanations.
In short, when searching for a why, some of us seem wired to home in on an -ism as the primary suspect whenever conceivable that it may constitute the driving force behind some occurrence or phenomenon; others won’t go there until all else has failed to yield a colorable causal theory.
Enter the new Manchester United replica t-shirt (see image above), which comes in a male and a female version and has been slammed for the latter’s “plunging” neckline relative to the men’s far less generously cleavaged one.
Naturally, some folks look at these divergent necklines and instantly identify the disparity as yet another glaring example of our sexist male-dominated society attempting to control women’s fashion in a self-serving manner, which in certain patriarchal circles manifests as having the ladies walk around opaquely swathed from heel to vertex so as not to arouse the kind of prurient ideation that often attends female skin exposure, whereas other cultures, like ours, encourage the baring of female skin, stopping just short of freeing the nipple, so as to ensure and further the sexual objectification of women for mantertainment or other odious purposes.
From personal professional experience, I can second the irrefutable presence of a double standard as concerns cleavage etiquette:
When I waited tables in places (plural, as I got fired a lot) where the uniform was a button-down shirt but no tie, the question invariable arose how many of the top buttons to leave unbuttoned. Being more of an open-shirt kind of guy, whenever I have my druthers, I go three or four.
My acting upon these druthers, alas, would frequently impel a passing manager to cast me a stern look while pointing a forefinger to his or her ucipital mapilary (also known as the jugular notch by those that don’t speak Hitchcock) by way of signalling me to button the hell up.
Initially, this struck me as unfair and discriminatory against us dudes, because, shy of their boobs popping out, the waitresses appeared to have automatic license to traipse around the dining room as unbuttoned-on-top as they pleased. So what gave?
Two words: chest hair.
Whatever the reasons, the sight of male chest hair on display is frowned upon by many. Although I consider myself lucky in that I have very little of it, the association between a male chest and chest hair is so firmly ingrained in common perception that even if a guy had waxed his chest clean, in certain settings he’d still be asked to button up on account of chest hair being gross.
The female chest, on the other hand, by default viewed to be as smooth and hairless as an toddler’s tush, does not bear the potential to repel like the male, wherefore even in a dining establishment more of it can be shown without spoiling anyone’s appetite.
That and the fact that women, generally speaking, need—and want—more blank skin space around the neck so as to be able to properly showcase low-hanging neck bling.
So you see, since I gravitate toward the second of the two camps described earlier, I can easily explain, to my own satisfaction, “plunging” necklines in women’s clothing versus in men’s without feeling the need to play the sexism card quite yet.
If anything, I’m chagrined that it’s so hard to find men’s t-shirts with plunging necklines that I could wear underneath my v-neck sweaters without the t-shirts’ conservatively cut out v-necks peeping through.