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Public Privacy

by on February 20, 2016

                                                          Public Privacy

                                                      by Marco M. Pardi 

                                                  All comments welcome

“The pretensions of man to explore the conscience of others, the forcible rape of secrecy, are a diabolical parody of the all-seeingness of God.” Jean Bolin (1900-?), Police Drugs, 7.2, Bendia 1956.

“You are NOT going out of the house dressed like that!”  Sound familiar?  Actually, I never got that while growing up.  Married, well that’s a different story.  But I was always curious about that injunction. Why was it applied?

Pertinent terms have long been in our lexicon, including “Sunday best”.  Looking into this I found it used among people who went to church on Sunday.  Did that mean someone not in their best on a Sunday was not a churchgoer?  I also learned that the god of choice was pleased by people dressing up in their finery.  But this same god, all-seeing that it was, must surely have seen those same people perched atop their commode, grunting out a trophy so large they had to stand up to get away from it.  That’s got to be a Best by any standard. It did not take long to figure out that, god or no god, Sunday best was for the other people in the congregation, as was the car driven to the church.  

I’m old enough to remember the transition from one piece women’s swimsuits to the two piece bikini.  As those pieces became actually harder to spot I wondered why those same women got upset at being seen in their underwear, which covered far more.  But then I started teaching college full time and saw even this inhibition seemed to have worn off; several women coeds in most classes appeared to come to class in the flimsiest nighties, with no underwear in sight.  I really did wonder how they got out of the house dressed like that.  Determined to uncover all the facts, I studied each case very closely. I concluded that these young women presumed I was using an inverse grading system: A pair of D’s equals an A; DD’s stack up, as it were, extra credit.  However, I never once saw a woman with Rape Me emblazoned on her top or bottom despite the disgusting claims made in courtrooms and media.

During the 1970’s and ’80’s I knew several women who got silicone breast implants, usually of phenomenal size – where you stand back in case they explode. One woman complained to me that men talk to her chest.  I said, “You put a year’s worth of college tuition into your chest, not your head”.  This raises the question of just what you can talk to.  When men talk with each other eyes wander freely.  Only once did a person stare at my crotch, and that only had me wondering if my fly was down.  I’ve known several Muslim women, some of whom wear the niqab, the face veil accompanying the hijab.  The styles vary, but the women I spoke with valued it for its privacy.  Though I saw many women in burqas, the full body covering, in various places I understood that as an absolute wall preventing any communication so I cannot relay any expressed feelings on their part.  But in any case, the wearing – or not wearing, of such garments is sure to draw attention if such a display is uncommon.  In those cases one wonders if the sense of personal privacy is enhanced or negated, especially if the woman feels stared at.

Feels stared at? How valid is that?  At Camp Peary, the 9,000 acre reservation near Colonial Williamsburg one will not see an explanation in writing, but will be told by instructors to “trust your instincts.” Foregoing a quibble over the term, the meaning is to gain a sense of your body and what it is telling you, in this case, someone is looking at you.  Yes, that feeling in your back. You turn around and there they are.

Clandestine Service Officers, especially those stationed in embassies around the world and therefore known or suspected as soon as they are posted, receive intensive training in Surveillance Detection.  Often taken into the metro D.C. area and turned loose to practice successfully servicing a dead drop, making a brush pass, or meeting with a Joe (agent) without detection, the SDR – Surveillance Detection Route takes hours before the Officer is sure he is clean, but it must be done.  Point B, the site of the projected action, may be only a half hour walk from Point A, the departure point of the officer. Yet, in Moscow for instance, no one would dream of spending less than six hours walking the streets, window shopping, and meandering the city by various means of transportation before approaching Point B.  Then a whole new set of SD methods is employed on the possibility the site was already compromised and surveillance has been waiting in place.  Throughout the entire process one is looking for the obvious, a slip by the surveillance team, and the less obvious, “your instincts”.

Surveillance teams, especially in financially capable countries, can field a large number of people of varying description and means of locomotion.  Even where funds are tight, most indicators can be changed; clothing can be reversed, hats can be crumpled and produced or hidden. facial hair comes on or off in an instant, limps appear and disappear, what appears to be a couple may not be – or may be even after they split up. Only one thing almost always remains constant: shoes.  How often do you mentally file someone’s shoes?

On the validity of sensing you are being stared at, Drs. Dean Radin and Rupert Sheldrake individually conducted studies, and cite hundreds of studies by others validating the perception, even when it is being done electronically – that is, by someone watching a monitor while a camera watches you.

Many people seem to feel they have privacy in their cars and current window tinting lends some support.  Years ago, before window tinting and cell phones a young lady friend in London told me how she enjoyed sitting near a motorway overpass and watching drivers passing below on their way to work.  Her list of behaviors included eating, applying make-up, reading, nose picking, and masturbation.  By her count, nose picking was the favorite pastime.

Privacy in public restrooms?  I’ve been in many public restrooms in Copenhagen and Amsterdam that were coed.  True, the stalls were quite private, but the sinks and mirrors were in the common area.  After all, we all do it, right?

A small, family owned hotel where I was staying on a trip to Geneva required passport and occupation information.  My paperwork simply said “Professor”.  Apparently word gets around.  At every in-hotel meal there were people staring, talking behind hands, and perhaps wondering if I would blurt out something intelligent.  The mystery was solved when someone said, “Good morning, Professor.” Unlike the United States where any person with an MA or MS can teach lower level college classes and hold the title Professor, Europeans reserve that title for those few who are highly respected in their fields with long tenure in their careers.  My privacy, if it could be so called, was my knowledge that this was not the case; my privacy was preserved so long as no one acted on their curiosity.

So what does my appearance say about my inner reality, and why should I care?  “What will people think?”  Who gives a rodent’s rectum about what people think?  In my first full time teaching job the college had a “professional dress code.” This included a tie.  Stating my opinion that if a strip of cloth is the only thing which distinguishes faculty from student we are in deep trouble, I asserted I would come to class in pith helmet and bush jacket, as befitting my profession as an anthropologist.  I did not wear a tie.  That same college also placed the faculty restrooms separate from but within the general restrooms.  I interpreted that as an effete attitude toward “unclean” students and used the general restroom. However, as I was perched in a stall one day two students came in talking about faculty.  Their comments about me were, in this case, complimentary. But in my concern to not embarrass them by opening the stall and walking out I found myself trapped until they left.  There was a good and practical reason for restroom separation after all.

Twenty years later, teaching college part time while still employed at Centers for Disease Control, I usually came straight from work in a suit or “business casual” with a tie.  I sensed a distance between myself and the students.  So, after retirement from CDC I came to class dressed as most male students would be.  The distance evaporated, but the respect did not.

Once we gain the idea that outer appearances do not “make the man” we can interact on the basis of who we are, not what we are.  Still, this can be troubling for some when it comes to relationships and “soul baring”. My public persona is me, but I retain the right to withhold those portions of my private persona I deem irrelevant to the relationship.  I think most people do, and am therefore not surprised when a person’s declaration of “transparency” leaves me with spots before my eyes.

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  1. “Determined to uncover all the facts, I studied each case very closely.” This double entendre made me laugh aloud.

    Speaking of surveillance, years ago after the first day of your Anthropology 1102 lecture, I stopped at the QT in Alpharetta and saw you walking into the store. Feeling shy, I waited until you left before I went inside. It felt kind of sketchy watching you exit and enter the store. Today I would certainly welcome a chance encounter.

    On a number of occasions during my childhood, I caught myself staring at someone from afar and performed an odd test I made up. In my mind, I commanded the person to “look over here.” Strangely enough, the “stare-ee” often did. I do not recall ever thinking I had special powers; however, the phenomena did fascinate me.

    Two things I never observed in any of your lectures: Comments from students that were anything but complimentary toward you, or a lack of respect. It goes with your territory. I did, however, overhear one student ask another if you might notice how brief or lacking in content an essay was. Inwardly, I questioned her sanity.

    Someone recently told me that I am (or have been) transparent. I could not determine if this was merely an ignorant remark. Having been too much of an “open book” with certain people, I chose to tuck the comment away as more of a warning (although I don’t think it was intended as such).


  2. Thank you, Dana. I hoped you would get some laughs from this. I think, in your experiences with staring, you had a good indicator of what we can do without realizing it – or, worse yet, dismissing it as “woo-woo.” Thanks for your nice comments about class. I think the person who said you were transparent must really be shallow, as you are anything but transparent – and I mean that in the best way.


    • Dana permalink

      Marco, as you know, I can analyze experiences in my mind (until I should simply let go). Perhaps the person meant well with the statement. I probably share too much with people I should not – those who use what they perceive as weaknesses for future “ammunition” against others.

      Thankfully, you have never been and would never be on the list of those individuals. I can say that about very few people.


  3. Clothing do not make the man, but they are a reflection of the person we wish to show to the world at any given moment. Right or wrong, how we look often determines how we are perceived and treated by others. The clothing I wear now are certainly different from those I wore during my “mid-life crisis”. Even those varied depending on the situation in which I expected to find myself; I didn’t wear mini-skirts and deep cut tops to visit my mother. I hope that I am not remembered as one of those “trading Ds for As” students of which you speak so often.

    I have long flattered myself as knowing and understanding more about you than perhaps did the average student, but the longer I know you, the more I think I know about your truth. Even then, I am unsure how much is true, and how much a product of my vivid imagination. As you so precisely point out, you “withhold those portions… irrelevant to the relationship”.

    On a side note, while I was preparing to answer this (earlier), I felt a pressure in the middle of my back. On a hunch, I went back to my email, and found that you had just commented on my story. As Hyacinth Bucket (of BBC’s “Keeping up Appearances”) would say, “What a close psychic bond we share. LOL Rose


    • No, Rose, I don’t remember you as a D for A student. Rather, as a brilliant student for whom I thought the grading system itself was insufficient.

      See? Pay attention to what your body is telling you. We are vigorously trained to disregard this as “unscientific”, yet evidence abounds that it’s real.


  4. Dana permalink

    Marco, your portion about SDR reminded me of the excellent book you recommended, Red Sparrow. I rarely read fictional more than once, but I would read it again.


    • Dana permalink

      iPhone…. It lets me see just part of what I’m typing into WordPress until I’ve posted it. Please excuse errors.


      • Understood. There are VERY few authors who have the genuine training and experience to know what they are talking about, but when you find them it is a real pleasure.


  5. Tamila permalink

    “I’ve known several Muslim women, some of whom wear the niqab, the face veil accompanying the hijab. The styles vary, but the women I spoke with valued it for its privacy. Though I saw many women in burqas, the full body covering, in various places I understood that as an absolute wall preventing any communication so I cannot relay any expressed feelings on their part. But in any case, the wearing – or not wearing, of such garments is sure to draw attention if such a display is uncommon. In those cases one wonders if the sense of personal privacy is enhanced or negated, especially if the woman feels stared at.”

    This is GOLD. I read an article in my cultural anthropology class that put it so eloquently that some Western countries may rethink their casual attire. In everyone’s defense, my professor was a woman from India, with a sharp wit and gentle manner. She inspired all of us in the class to look beyond the veil, so to speak.

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing, Prof.


    • Thank you so much, Tamila. The Western world is largely ignorant of the actual feelings of women in general, and especially those who wear the niqab and/or the hijab. I’m so glad you have joined in, and am certain all of us are looking forward to more opportunities to gain from your thoughts. Marco


    • So glad you have joined in, Tamila.


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