Tuesday, August 10, 2010


A week ago Wendy, Elli and I went on a walk through some local parks.  We took the bus to get there, wandered about for awhile and then hopped on the bus to come home.  The bus driver took one look at my bare feet and told me I had to put on shoes to get on the bus.  I found this a bit bizarre since the posted rules for the TTC (Toronto public transit) make no mention of shoes being required and I have been on all kinds of different public transit vehicles with no shoes on including subway, streetcars, buses, even ferries.  Thankfully the bus driver eventually concluded that ordering me off the bus when I was pushing my daughter's stroller probably wouldn't go over well and he elected to drop the subject.  I went online later and discovered that bare feet actually are against the TTC regulations but that the only way to find this out is to look online for that specifically, and there is of course no reason given for that regulation.

This past weekend Elli and Wendy went to Ikea with the idea that Elli would play in their babysitting area with all kinds of fun equipment, but Elli was prevented from doing so because she didn't have socks.  Her Crocs weren't acceptable and neither were bare feet, only sock feet would do.  This incident is really ridiculous because the usual reasons given for banning bare feet are health and safety related and I cannot imagine how anyone could suggest that socks are somehow safer than bare feet.  In this case it simply must be a propriety thing; apparently it is important that the Ikea children's play area maintain a high class image.

It used to be normal for many people to go without shoes because shoes were expensive and as such they were a marker of wealth and success.  The standards have shifted from just wearing shoes to wearing very expensive shoes but the essential value of spending on clothing to impress has not changed.  The trouble comes in when people start to assume that everyone must want to wear shoes and thus anyone who does not is either desperately poor to the point of being homeless or crazy.  It is understandable that people might want to keep certain types of people out of their stores but unfortunately their benchmarks for undesirables exclude people who are in all ways desirable customers.

I think I am a bit unusual in that I really have no issue with showing off the human body.  I would be entirely comfortable with full nudity in public, particularly since the only reason for the government to regulate nudity is outdated religious sexual repression.  It is my belief (entirely unsupported by research, but it does seem reasonable) that most of our current rules and norms about clothing and uncovered bodies stem from Christianity's historic demonization of sex and sexual organs or changes in standards of wealth as I outlined above.  We as a society are far beyond the point where having enough money to be covered up is trivial and hopefully are leaving the days of 'Sex is evil, don't talk about it' behind.  Unfortunately those changes have not yet caught up with our social norms and laws and we still have all these terrible ideas suggesting that someone's morality can be determined by how much of their skin is visible.


  1. Personally I'm quite happy that most of the people I see are wearing clothes.

  2. > Elli was prevented from doing so because she didn't have socks

    This makes a lot more sense to me though. In a closed environment with very densely packed kids who usually wear shoes (and don't have natural defenses as you do), you'd spread athlete's foot like wildfire.

    It's just like a locker room, only without the constant antiseptic washes and fungus-unfriendly tiles.

  3. @Snidely I thought of that, but are you really convinced that socks somehow prevent the spread of foot disease? Socks are full of sweat that originates on the body, are extremely porous and are very thin. I find it incredible to believe that somehow they are a sterile barrier to disease transmission. Shoes I can see being useful that way, but Elli *had* shoes. They insisted on socks, specifically. If you want to avoid spreading foot fungus you should take off the socks because the sweat they cause creates an environment where foot fungus can thrive.

  4. I do think that socks would prevent the spread of foot diseases. In order for a culture of fungus to affect you, its got to penetrate through the sock and reach your foot. Now if your sock is completely covered in fungi, sure the sock won't be much of a barrier... but I think its more likely that you get a small contamination. Such a contamination needs time to spread to the skin, and since kids usually go for short play times, they are unlikely to be wearing their shoes for a long time.

  5. I don't think that there is trouble in assuming that everyone wants to wear shoes. While there are people who want to walk barefoot, I think the vast majority of people actually do prefer to walk in shoes. I would find it hard to believe that more then 1% of people prefer barefoot to shoes. Sure there's a status symbol that people attach to having expensive shoes, but that is a completely separate issue. I think the same is true with clothes.

    I don't agree that wearing clothes is a demonization that has been done by a Christian or even a religious basis. I do think that what people believe is appropriate has a very heavy historical basis, but it really has changed a great deal in the past century. That being said, I don't think its unreasonable to place morality based on what someone is wearing (note that I did not simply say how much skin they are showing). Every action you take is dependent on your values, and that includes wearing clothes. If you know that wearing such clothing is associated with particular morals, then by chosing to wear such clothes, you are projecting these values onto yourself.

  6. I think you have much less basis than me for saying you know how often people would like to wear shoes. Almost no one tries going barefoot on city streets and they have basically no idea what the experience is like, which I can attest to after getting a huge number of reactions from other people that had virtually no correlation with the actual barefoot experience. Most people wear shoes all the time while outside for reasons of style or comfort and live with the assumption that not doing so simply isn't feasible, which is blatantly false.

    I would agree that there are real moral implications of some types of clothing, like wearing a shirt that said "Gay people should die" would have some very powerful negative moral implications. That said, we have laws against being naked in public. Until very recently we had laws against women being topless in public, and neither of these things is grounded in any sort of logic. Someone can misbehave in a sexual fashion while fully clothed or behave perfectly while stark naked; neither of these things is harmful in and of itself. The only reason these things are prohibited by law is because of the residual demonization of genitals stemming from Christian tradition. Individual businesses and people can certainly make their own standards on their own property but the government has no reason to be enforcing these things in public places.

    Sweaty socks transmit diseases and fungus quite easily, and wearing socks creates the environment where fungus can occur. If you want to avoid fungus on the kids' feet then the best way is to go barefoot all the time.

  7. I don't think reasons of style or comfort is a reason not to wear shoes. In particular, if your belief is that people wear shoes because of those reasons, then I don't see how you are also claiming that they're not wearing shoes because it simply isn't feasible.

    I've tried going barefoot before. I didn't like it. Aside from the fact that my feet got very dirty, to the point where my skin was constaintly stained, I walked in constant fear of getting my feet cut up by glass or loose nails. That kind of worry made me realize that for most people, it actually isn't very feasible. There are many people who are concerned about germs, and have an irrational sense of what things matter.

  8. "government has no reason to be enforcing these things in public places." This is a strong statement, and one that simply shows your own opinions. Government does in fact have reasons for enforcing and enacting laws. Its what governments do. And nor is it particularly surprising that governments will enact laws that earn them the support of the people.

    Many of our laws, in particular nudity has come from the past, but not from any "residual demonization of genitals stemming from Christian tradition". It has stemmed from long before that, from the inequalities in society. Why is it that slaves were naked while others were clothed? Does this really have anything to do with Christianity? In any case, laws that were unfair in the past are still going to be enforced regardless. No-one is going to go through the list of laws and figure out which ones are outdated and which ones are not. So if you disagree with a law, its up to you to go change it.

    Government's job is to create laws and to enforce them. We in particular have a mechanism that allows us to contest laws that are "unreasonable". If I recall correctly, while public nudity will still get you arrested, protesting this (while nude) is covered under free speech. So you can't walk around naked, but if you carry a sign, you're okay.

    You can't do things that would deliberately cause disrupt society... and you better believe that governments will mandate against such activities. You don't have to agree with all the laws, you do have to obey them. And if you really are against them, you can go contest them.

  9. I can't imagine why you would be constantly worried about your feet being cut by sharp things; I went barefoot for a damn long time in many circumstances and that wasn't an issue at all. Note that I don't think people should be forced to be barefoot either, all those who live in fear of sharp objects and think that wearing shoes makes them healthier (false) are welcome to wear shoes, just as they are welcome to throw themselves on sharp spikes if they want to. I just want to be able to do things my way since it affects others not at all.

    While free speech allows me to campaign for nudity being legal it doesn't let me go naked without getting arrested. If I wandered the streets nude with a 'nudity should be legal' sign the cops would bust me just the same. I am all for laws and all for enforcing them. I just happen to think these laws are an unnecessary product of our religious past but I don't want to spend my life fighting them. That doesn't make them right.

  10. And yet you did cut your toe open pretty badly after not all that long going barefoot. I'm clumsier than you are and stub my toes/scrape my feet when I walk from time to time. I'm quite certain that if I didn't wear shoes I'd hurt myself over and over again. It probably wouldn't kill me but it would lower my quality of life.

    Prudishness is not solely a Christian thing. Other religions and atheists are also opposed to public nudity.

  11. It is true, though honestly I chalk that up to relative inexperience. That situation would not occur now simply because I am more familiar with how to walk barefoot - there obviously are dangers, it is however pretty easy to avoid them once you do it a bit.

    There are plenty of prudes in the world and they are not limited to Christianity, that is true. However, our laws are not based on a history of atheism, nor Jainism, nor Daoism. They are based on and come from a culture where nearly everyone was ostensibly Christian and the vast majority were actually believers; it is clear that our laws and customs are hugely shaped by the heritage. It is also clear that sexual repression by the Church has led to all kinds of crazy issues in the past, like female orgasm being induced by doctors to combat 'female hysteria'. There are others reasons why prudishness exists and it would be unreasonable to throw the entire blame at religion's doorstep. It would however be reasonable to throw the majority of the blame there, and that I certainly do.

  12. I don't particularly like organized religions, but I don't think it'd be fair to blame religion at all for this. Do you honestly believe that before religions came into place that women and men were treated equally? The disparity between sexes has been a constant theme throughout history, and expecting any religion to not have such a fundamental societal bais is naive.

  13. I think you completely misunderstood what I was talking about. The female orgasm/female hysteria thing was not about women being oppressed, but rather about the issues with sex being so taboo that medical professionals thought inducing orgasm was something they should be doing! Sex was not something that could be discussed so most people had absolutely no idea what it entailed and that situation was due to religious influence. Men and women have always been treated differently and religion is certainly culpable for codifying and regulating that inequality but it certainly isn't responsible for that inequality existing.

  14. But you are tying clothing choice and sexuality, which are somewhat related... but I don't think that sexual repression is the underlying cause. I'm also not convinced that religion is the cause of sexual repression... why is it that your examples all are on female repression and not male? I think it was simply the path that social growth took place and the time in which religion solidified the "rules". Religion certainly hasn't been helpful either, but its hard to imagine what the world would be like without religion. It has had such a profound influence, that it simply doesn't make any sense to consider what would have happened without it.