I recently had an experience that shattered all preconceptions I had about the differences between men and women. Two of my girl friends and I accompanied our two guy friends in Salvador to go shopping for sungas, a.k.a. the mankini that men use in Brazil. A sunga isn’t quite a Speedo, but it’s definitely in the same family. Our male friends were a little nervous, yet excited to be purchasing their first sungas. At the first store, they stood rooted to the ground, perplexed, while the store assistant showed them the models. “Are they supposed to be that small? Pooja, can you ask him if they have any bigger models?” James said to me, clearly frightened by the prospect of putting on the tiny bathing suits. We girls helped out the best we could, picking out suits that would complement the boys skin colors and figures, but the boys didn’t seem happy. “Let’s go to another store,” my friend suggested.
Several stores later, the guys were starting to get into the whole shopping experience. Jason ran over to James’s dressing room so that they could look at each other in their sungas. “Oh boys,” we girls sighed. We were getting tired of being dragged around from store to store. When Jason asked for help at this store, my friend begrudgingly grabbed a suit and threw it into the changing room. “Are you ready yet?” we asked impatiently. “We’re still not sure. Let’s go back to the first store and double check the sungas there.” What, men comparing clothes at different stores?
We returned to the first store where Jason picked the sunga of his dreams. “Do you like it?” he asked, stepping out of the dressing room to the model it for us. “Whatever. Get whatever you like,” we replied. Meanwhile, James decided that he liked the swimsuit at the last store better. While he ran back upstairs, we girls left the store to get some a snack. When he returned, Jia complained, “Are you happy? Can we get some food now?” She was cranky from hunger and from having to wait for the boys to finish their shopping.
As we walked out of the mall, the boys walked with an extra spring in their steps. They had every reason to be proud of themselves, they had just bought sungas. I couldn’t help commenting, “All the differences that I thought existed between men and women were imaginary. This is definitely a case of gender reversal.” The boys acted like female stereotypes that day. They tried on different outfits, assessed each other in them, discussed how tight some models were and how uncomfortable others made them feel, browsed items at different stores, and probed us for our honest opinions. All the while, we acted like the “typical man,” impatient and bored of the opposite sex’s prolonged shopping expedition.
The next day the boys had a sunga model shoot. While one walked around the beach, the other took photos of him from every angle. A guy model shoot? Is that ok? I mean, Jia and I take photos of each other in bikinis all the time, but that’s expected of women. The guys even took pictures of themselves posing and skipping along the rocks near the beach. We girls couldn’t help snickering that they looked like the shots that husbands usually take of their wives during their honeymoons. My favorite was a picture of Jason posed sideways like Superman with the wind running through his hair. While they did this, we women sat on the couch and stared at the TV. So how different are men and women really?
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