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4. Shopping for Clothes

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

THE OLD CITY OF BANARAS runs along the Ganges, the river of the goddess Ganga. Wide steps of stone lead down to the ghats at the riverside. Pilgrims and local people descend for prayer, for bathing and washing clothes. Ghats in sequence line the riverfront. Two of them are “burning ghats,” used for cremation—Harishchandra to the south and Manikarnika to the north1—where the continual burning of bodies attracts curious tourists and the local hustlers who offer to take them to see the “dead body fire.” Eighty-four ghats string along the river, but most of the activity, social and religious, takes place on the steps of the “main ghat.” Situated in the middle and numbered forty-one, Dashaswamedh Ghat is the place of the ancient Ten Horse Sacrifice. Here, Lord Brahma came disguised as an ascetic and requested the King of Kashi, Divodasa, to sponsor an extravagant version of the horse sacrifice, the aswamedh. The ritual was flawlessly performed, and now all those who bathe here receive the blessings of the horse sacrifice.2

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5. Weaving Saris

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

BANARAS HAS BEEN A CENTER for the production of exquisite brocaded saris for centuries. The colloquial name used throughout India for these saris—the Banarasi sari—implies a continuous association of the beautiful saris with the city where most saris of the type are still made. Saris are woven in the Muslim neighborhoods of Banaras: handwoven in Madanpura and Sonarpura, and manufactured on power looms in Alaipura. Dalmandi, the other main Muslim neighborhood, is the market center for readymade clothes; saris are neither woven nor sold there.

A significant portion of the residents of Banaras are involved in the sari trade in one way or another. Thousands of men (and a smaller number of women) work as weavers, a few of them ranked as masters. Some weaving families have been involved in the trade for generations; others turn to it intermittently to earn extra cash. Kanhaiya Kevat, for example, a charismatic boatwallah we met on the Ganges, explained that besides rowing a boat—and working out at the local wrestler’s club, which is his favorite activity—he also weaves saris part-time. Many weavers are journeyman workers under the supervision of the families that have owned workshops for generations. These families of Muslim masters, who bear the surname Ansari, occasionally hire a few Hindu workers, such as Kanhaiya Kevat, who is not by caste a weaver.

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4 Nature and/or Nurture?

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

Where do masculinity and femininity come from? After all, it is fairly obvious that newborn humans have neither set of qualities. Yet by the time they are two or three years old children not only know the rules, but they also have become its primary enforcers, as any observer of a preschool playgroup can confirm. With the women’s movement challenging traditional female roles and popular culture offering a range of new expressions of modern masculinity and femininity, it seems inevitable that children would get swept up in the excitement and confusion. If nothing else, the link between adult and children’s clothing would mean that kids and grownups would wear similar styles. This clearly happened during the 1960s and ’70s, but there was something else at work too. Emerging scientific evidence pointed to gender roles being learned and malleable in the very young. This affected children regardless of where their parents stood on women’s rights or sexual morality. Given the drive to transform women’s roles and promote gender equality, it’s likely that if you were born between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, you experienced non-gendered child raising to some extent. If you didn’t wear your sibling’s hand-me-down Garanimals outfits, the kindergarten teacher might be reading William’s Doll to you at story time. Or you might be singing along to your Free to Be . . . You and Me record on your Fisher-Price record player, after watching Sesame Street, which featured Susan Robinson as a working woman who liked to fix cars in her spare time.1

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3 The Peacock Revolution

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

Journalist George Frazier is credited with popularizing the phrase “peacock revolution” to describe the styles coming from London’s young Carnaby Street designers, which promised to restore the lost glory of flamboyant menswear.1 Frazier was describing the explosion of choices that were suddenly available to men, ranging from Romantic revival (velvet jackets and flowing shirts) to a pastiche of styles borrowed from Africa and Asia. Expanded color palettes, softer fabrics, and a profusion of decorative details represented a direct challenge to the conformity and drabness of menswear at mid-century. For critics of the new men’s fashions, flowered shirts and velvet capes raised the specter of decadence and homosexuality, a fear that was reinforced by the emergence of the gay liberation movement. Just as women’s unisex styles had to balance being sexy and liberated, men’s styles tended to navigate the territory between expressiveness and effeminacy. But like many revolutions, the peacock revolution ended in repudiation and regression. Although fashion prognosticators in 1970 were predicting the demise of neckties and gray flannel suits, within ten years the pendulum had swung back with a vengeance. John T. Molloy’s Dress for Success, in 1975, had codified a return to conservative dressing for business. Within a few years the more flamboyant styles of the late 1960s and ’70s had been relegated to the back of the closet, if not the thrift shop.

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1 Movers, Shakers, and Boomers

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

In 1970 the Bayonne High School class of 1960 gathered for their reunion. Journalist Steven Roberts told their story as a participant observer, interviewing his old classmates and comparing notes with them, in a feature article in the Sunday New York Times. One common theme emerged: the class of 1960 had “just missed out” on the great changes of the upcoming decade. As one alumnus commented, “The last five years have really been the turning point.” What had changed? Practically everything.

Between 1965 and 1970 the “police action” in Vietnam had escalated to a war, the civil rights movement had blossomed into Black Power and Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” Reefer Madness (1936) became a cult laughing stock on the college film circuit, and Playboy discovered pubic hair. The women at the reunion discussed their marriages and children through the new lens of second-wave feminism. “We had been shaped,” Roberts concluded, “in the dying years of a world that no longer exists.” The basic assumptions instilled in them in the 1950s—“respect authority . . . sex is dirty”—had been swept away.1

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