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The History of Hosiery and Women’s Anger

Women know how to stretch and bend and suck it in to fit into whatever mold is being asked of us. We pull on the control top pantyhose in order to smooth out offending wrinkles, wouldn’t want anyone to know that we have a body under this elegant fabric. Smile as you feel the sweat drip down your back, the top slowly rolling down the soft skin of your belly, the sagging crotch hovering ever closer to your knees.

When I walk through the world, whether I’m outfitted in the latest silk hosiery, bloomers, jeans, north face jacket, I am inundated with unwanted attention. No clothing choice feels like a safe choice of armor.

I’ve been told I should be flattered.

By the men hissing from their trucks, the man pulling his car over to slowly follow me down Milwaukee Avenue, the gentleman who called from his vehicle, “You...yes, you!” hisss “I want to fuck you.”

I told him to get lost.

I’m going to fucking kill you, he shouted.

I smiled. Showed him my middle finger.

He revved the engine.

For the past couple of years, I’ve felt incredible fatigue. I use any excuse to go home and crawl into bed. It’s easier than dealing with being in the world.

Hold your breath just a little bit longer, smile a little larger, lie to yourself one more time. The messages coming from your heart and your gut, the balls of your feet in high heels, the spanx creating angry red lines crisscrossing your body, it’s all worth it, right?

You look so beautiful.

When you wear hosiery, they often tear as you pull them on. They are ridiculously delicate, wrapping us from toe to belly, smoothing out offending veins, and hiding the true color of our skin. When they inevitably rip, the skin bursts through. I push the soft skin of my leg down as if I could somehow slide it back into the nylon and hide the offending skin.

Over the years, I’ve been diligently hiding myself away, pushing myself into smaller and smaller places. But, the same as when skin peeks out of ripped hosiery, I’ve begun to leak out in unexpected ways. I’ve been snapping at people more and more. Red-faced and unseemly, I have been standing up for myself at every real and perceived slight. Mostly to men, I have to admit that I am less and less accommodating. The stretch has gone out of me.

But, I should be understanding.

He’s just trying to be nice. He has to sit that way, he has *testicles* he just doesn’t know how to make his own dinner, he’s just stressed out, he didn’t mean that, you can’t expect him to remember when you make plans, he shouldn’t be expected to be prepared for that meeting, you shouldn’t expect him to remember what you say, he’s so stressed out, you’re irrational, you’re upset!

Of course I’m upset. Look around. If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention. I wasn’t paying attention for a long time - or, I was, but I was under the impression that good always triumphs and serious, important people were keeping us safe. I’m an American girl. Raised on promises. I thought that things always get better, we’re all working towards a greater good together!

I thought that. Until I watched people killed in the streets by people who were supposed to protect them. Until I watched children being denied the right to a better life, pulled away from their parents. Until I saw people get away with destroying the environment, ignoring laws and social norms, denying people health insurance. Until I saw my friends and family demonize each other on both sides of the argument. Until I tried to walk in between two worlds and could not balance. Until I watched, up close and personal, as the judicial system broke my best friend.

When my beloved became a police officer, I was so proud of him, I beamed at him pulling on his crisp new shirt with the bright Chicago Police patch on his shoulder. He was so excited to be one of the helpers. He wanted to make a difference, boots on the ground, brotherhood supporting the community.

At his graduation, as he walked across the room in his bright blue uniform, being sworn in to protect the city, his father leaned over and said, “There will never be another night that you aren’t worried about him.”

The new officers were ushered from the room and the families, life partners, wives, parents and children were given a quick PowerPoint presentation. They told us that we were the support for these new officers. We were the line of defense tasked with holding together the mental health of these men and women, about to go forth and save the world.

I remember thinking I should have brought a pen and paper as they flipped through slides telling us the signs of depression, alcoholism, warned us of infidelity and how patient we would have to be, gave us the number of the chaplain who could help if we noticed the warning signs of suicide.

The Chicago Police Department has the highest rate of officer suicide of any department in the nation. They have 13 dedicated therapists for the entire department and their families. There are over 13,000 people relying on four men and women and that’s if they are brave enough to ask for help. Or, you can call on God through the Chaplain or Rabbi.

I took what they said in that PowerPoint presentation to heart. I held it together for six years. I was The Support Team. I slipped on my garters and thigh-high stockings, used the soft silk to smooth over any problems in our home, was submissive and supportive.

It didn’t matter.

I watched the person I knew dissolve into depression, push me away. I tried talking, therapy for myself and us, I tried listening, tried yelling, demanding change, begging to leave the city, change professions, wouldn’t you prefer to be an accountant? I tried leaving and I tried staying. Over time, I slipped the stockings up over my ankles, knees, thighs, I’ve held my breath, I pulled the trappings and the rules and the control top hosiery that was supposed to make everything sexier and more fun up over my hips and torso until I was convinced that by pulling it up over my head and suffocating myself, I could be quiet, smooth and enough.

But the truth is, the system destroys everyone. They teach them to use guns, but they don’t teach them how to come to terms with what they see. Multiple gunshot victims a day, some he carried downstairs and into bloody streets to get them to an ambulance. Is that a gun in his pocket? Quick, make the decision to shoot or be shot. Grieving families blame him for their loved one’s death. He tried to serve a community that believed that he was the enemy. He knocked down doors looking for drug dealers and illegal guns and found young children burned to death in trash cans. He held dogs as they wept after being set on fire and named them Athena. He delivered children back to parents who beat them and he listened to men die in car accidents when he could not pull them to safety.

I never had the skills to support my loved one. And he never was given the support he needed from the department. And his depression finally destroyed our tattered relationship once and for all.

Women can move mountains. We survive mind-numbing pain for weeks at a time, we endure walking through a minefield on a daily basis. We carry our partners on our backs when they’d rather be left behind. We organize and support our families. Many of us realize our shortcomings and try and listen and learn. We have the ability to stretch and expand and care for others.

Women are a lot like the hosiery they pour themselves into. When you think about it, it is an amazing fabric. It covers the complicated contours of our complex feet and ankles and protects our soft skin from chafing and leather shoes.

When I began writing this. I had this idea that I was going to poke fun at an old book from 1930’s written by a company called B.V. May Hosiery in North Carolina. The book spends 80 pages exploring the history and amazing invention of textiles. According to this book, the invention of knitted hosiery saved us from being barefoot heathens and ushered the whole world into a more cultured and elegant way of living.

As I look forward into next year, pull on another pair of stockings and prepare to confront the world alone again, I can’t make fun of the old book’s goofy optimism and love for socks, stockings and hosiery. For now, I need to believe that this thin, knitted fabric can impart a little of its power to help me walk into 2019. I need to find a way to keep working towards a greater good, even when it seems like it continues to slip further from the tips of my fingers.

I’d like to close with a reading from the Book of Hosiery: The human race as labored for a long time in making a suitable dress to cover, protect and adorn the lower limbs. Both men and women have tried heavy hose without shoes, sandals and hose without hose, and boots that were all in one. They have tried everything. The stockings and socks of today are not the work of any one person, or one race or one age. They may yet be improved, as progress is made in all things but they stand now as the result of thousands of efforts of gifted and industrious inventors and of ages and experience, reflection and trying out of materials and methods - The Story of Hosiery, from the Manufacturers of B.V May Hose.


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