Drowning Demurely

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An Oxfam report, noting that the December 26 tsunami killed three times as many women as men, has prompted a discussion about reasons for the disparity. Women stayed behind to look for children and were less likely to be able to swim (although men were also unlikely to be able to swim). Part of the explanation may be the cultural modesty described in this child's account of losing her mother:

"My mother helped my younger brother to tear of his shorts to swim away, but she didn't follow. She was just too modest to remove her clothes to escape," says Supini.

This kind of modesty can be hard to fathom, but it's deeply ingrained and leads to all sorts of strange situations. Women brazen enough to go for a swim in Myanmar won't wear their traditional ankle-length skirts, which run the risk of billowing up and exposing them. But a swimsuit is out of the question. The solution is Western dress, which is frowned upon in polite company but A-OK for the beach. Girls will throw on a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt and jump in.

NEXT: Ali Al-Timimi's Fighting Words

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  1. How anything can be so unsurprising and yet so mind-boggling at the same time is what I’d like to know.

  2. Wow. And I was concerned that I might look too fat in a bikini.

  3. Before we liberated westerners get too smug, check out this article: We’d rather die than take our clothes off, disaster planners say.

  4. I’m not sure if anyone else happened to see this, but CNN.com had a headline up a couple of weeks ago to this story, which read, “Report: Tsunami hit women harder than men.” I had to grab my boss at that and have him read the headline himself, to which I remarked, now Rich, I guarantee that the tsunami struck both men and women with equal force. He could only agree. A short time later when I checked, the headline was gone.

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