Links To You


It is difficult to realize the extent to which society has been obsessed with setting up useless taboos and then expending an enormous quantity of moral energy in preserving them, unless we can stand outside of our civilization and observe our moral antics in an impartial way, pretty much as a man from Mars might. But this is not easy to do. It is about as easy as jumping out of one's own skin. The ethnologists, however, may be of some help to us in furnishing examples from other people's moral attitudes, or mores, as they are called. These may seem absurd to us, but are sometimes matters of life and death to them, and by analogy we may see that some parts of our own morality which we regard as tremendously important are equally absurd.
These students of customs and cultures can tell us, for example, of a savage tribe, the Hottentots, in which the women go practically naked but wear a head-dress without which they are very careful never to be seen. One of these women would be mortified to have a strange man see her without this customary covering. Tuareg men wear a cloth over the mouth which they think it indecent to remove except in dire necessity, as in a medical examination. Indian women who lived along the northwest coast of North America wore a labret, or lip ornament, and were as much embarrassed to be seen without this as one of our women would be if someone came upon her unexpectedly when she was partially dressed.
There are some tribes, too, among whom the navel is concealed, although the rest of the body may be exposed without shame. Now some of our readers may not know what the navel is, nor would they be much the wiser if we told them that it is the umbilicus. But we dare not say plainly what it is, for that would involve using a vulgar expression, not tolerated in the best of society. And yet, what is it? Nothing but a slight depression in the abdomen where the umbilical cord, through which we received nourishment before we were born, was attached. To return to our story, a case is recorded in which a woman in the Philippine Islands, on the approach of a stranger, quickly put a shirt on a naked little boy so that his navel would be concealed, not feeling that is was necessary to cover any other part of his body.
Again, some tribes have been found in which the women-expose their breasts and thighs freely but become embarrassed if anyone stares at their feet. Chinese women once regarded it as obscene to show their feet. We used to think a woman shameless if she exposed any part of her leg except the ankle, or if she went bathing without wearing stockings* and enough other paraphernalia to sink a Channel swimmer.