Monday February 18, 2013
A law, really?
BUT THEN AGAIN By MARY SCHNEIDER
Ancient laws can say a lot about what our ancestors got up to. Like driving while blindfolded....
THE first time I committed a crime in Paris, I was wearing a white T-shirt and pink jeans (they were fashionable back in 1978). I remember that day well because the weather was glorious. I took the train from Paris to the Palace of Versailles, where I ate ripe peaches on the immense grounds. The second time I engaged in criminal activities, I wore a pair of tartan pants and a black T-shirt while I took a walk along the Champs-Élysées. Years later, I returned to break the law again in the The Musée du Louvre and also while cruising down the river Seine.
And no, I wasn’t defacing ancient French treasures or writing graffiti on historical monuments or trafficking in mind-altering drugs. I broke the law simply by wearing trousers.
Until last week, it seems that Paris, a fashion capital where anyone can wear anything, had a 200-year-old law that required women to get permission from the police if they wanted to “dress like a man” by wearing trousers.
However, to give the city some credit, it did amend the law in 1892 and 1909 to allow women to wear trousers if they were “holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse”. These amendments, in my mind at least, meant that women could wear trousers anywhere; all they needed to do was carry around in their hands either a sawn-off handle bar or a set of reins – there was no explicit mention of the bicycle or the horse.
Although many women must have broken the law in Paris over many decades, the city didn’t bother to enforce or change the archaic ruling, simply because they had more important things to do.
Don’t you just love the idea that outdated laws can just be ignored?
In many other parts of the world, there are equally silly laws still in existence that are no longer being enforced. For example, in Florida, United States, a law prohibits men from being seen publicly in any kind of strapless gown, which just goes to show that it’s not just women who have been discriminated against when it comes to what they can and cannot wear. Of course, the law doesn’t specifically prevent a man from wearing a dress with straps or sleeves in public, which still leaves a lot of scope for those wishing to make a fashion statement.
Globally, many archaic laws have been quashed in a bid to reflect changing lifestyles and morals. Still, the original rulings do make you wonder what our ancestors got up to. For example, an English law was passed in 1837 that allowed a woman to bite off a man’s nose if he kissed her against her will.
This tells you a lot about 19th century England: a number of women were being kissed against their will.
I can only remember one man kissing me against my will. We were at a party and he was drunk at the time. I simply pushed him in the chest with both my hands and said something like, “You’re drunk. You need to go home!”
It never occurred to me that the best way of getting rid of him would have been to bite off his nose. That just seems so gross. Besides, if I were into biting, it would be more logical and marginally more hygienic to bite off the offender’s lips instead, or even his tongue – if it figured in his kissing technique.
The next time I bumped into that man (he was a friend of my then boyfriend), it was obvious he couldn’t remember a thing about his drunken advances, so I decided not to mention anything about it. But if I’d bitten off his nose, he would most certainly have remembered, and he would have been scarred for life and singled out in the same way that petty thieves sometimes are – after they’ve had a hand cut off under some other country’s laws.
The stigma of having a mutilated nose might have been enough for a man to attempt to end it all, which was also illegal – according to a British law passed in 1845, attempting to commit suicide was a capital offence. Offenders could even be hanged for trying.
Like, how ridiculous is that?
Indeed, suicide only ceased to be a criminal offence with the passing of the Suicide Act in 1961.
Of course, there are some laws that should never be changed. Like the one in Alabama, United States, that states that it is illegal to be blindfolded while driving a vehicle. Makes you wonder why they are compelled to pass such laws in the first place, doesn’t it?
■ Write to Mary Schneider at email@example.com and check her out on Facebook at facebook.com/mary.schneider.writer.