GRE Issue Essay 37

“The way people look, dress, and act reveals their attitudes and interests. You can tell much about a society’s ideas and values by observing the appearance and behavior of its people.”

The character and disposition of an individual can be determined by the way he dresses and behaves. However, can the same be said about an entire society based on the behavior and appearance of the people of that society? Although it may seem far-fetched, but studying the behavior of the people of a society does give an insight into the ideas and values of that society. However, one has to accept the fact that there will always be a section of the society that will not support the values and ideas reflected by the present generation of people of that society. This section may either support an ideology of their own or they may support values that were instilled in them by their parents who belonged to an earlier generation. Therefore, the mannerisms of the people of a society are not an exact indication of the values and ideas of the entire society as a whole, but they do tell you a lot about the ideas that are supported by a majority of the people who constitute that society.

The society in the centuries gone past was by and large conservative. This is apparent from the way the people of the early 19th century dressed up. Take a look at the behavior and appearance of the Englishmen of the Victorian era. Their attitude towards women reflects the values of the society in those times when women were respected and the women carried themselves accordingly. The behavior and appearance of men and women in the mid-20th century reflects the ideas of the society at a time when the ‘Hippie’ culture was at its peak. The appearance and behavior of that generation of people reflects the bohemian ideology of the society of those times. However, it needs to be reiterated that it is not necessary that the entire society followed the same principles. There may have been a section of the society that still stuck to the old conservative ideology.

A study of the appearance and behavior of the women of the Islamic countries is a direct reflection of their societies. These societies have a conservative attitude towards their women as is evident by the fact that women veil their faces when they step out of their homes. At the same time, there are countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where there are Muslim women who are models and actresses. Does this mean that the Muslim society is liberal in these countries? The answer is that these Muslim societies are not as liberal as is reflected by a couple of its women who no longer prefer to veil themselves in public. Therefore, it would be wrong to assume the values of the entire society by studying the behavior of some of its women.

A society is characterized by much more than the behavior and appearance of its people. In some cases, the outward appearance and behavior of its people may conceal the actual values of a society. People may be dressing up scantily because of the weather conditions in their country. Does it mean that the society is liberal when it comes to the lives that its people lead? It is quite possible that the society has conservative values but its people dress up differently. On the other hand, it is also possible that the society actually has the same values as is reflected by the appearance and behavior of its people. Therefore, it can be concluded that although the ideas and values of a society can generally be determined by the appearance and behavior of its people, there may be certain cases where this rule may not hold true.