Monday, May 07, 2007

Fashion, makeup, clothes, yadda: a "What About The Men?" post:

so coming off the comments in this fine post by Cassandra wrt the double bind faced by women--Kim has a number of thoughtful posts on the subject as well--I was reminded of another recent conversation I had elsewhere, among a group of mostly gay men, wherein several opined that the male dress code is oppressive and stifling--one in fact was convinced that women have it better in that regard, these days.

I argued with him a bit about that last point--if only he could see the reams of posts about this that have flooded the feminist 'sphere, I was thinking--but on the whole, I agree that it's a real point, and an underdiscussed one. In -this- instance: what -about- the men? No one's ripping makeup out of anyone's trembling hands, no; but if you're a dude and you decide to paint the face outside of very particular and narrow contexts...or wear a skirt, whether micro latex "sexbot" or crunchy granola flowing floor length earth mama, or any number of other gender trangressions...well, there are Consequences, aren't there?

I'm not talking about transgendered folks or even cross-dressers here, understand; just dudes who might want to wear a skirt or lipstick, and still be dudes.

so, yeah. There are many Rules, for all of us. Some formally codified into law or company policy, but most more unspoken...until you break them.

and it does beg the question, you know, formal policies like at a fancy jacket-and-tie requiring restaurant, or y'know more applicable for more people at the office, aside (and obviously State regulations wrt nudity or toplessness here, or the Islamic regulations in various countries): who really are the enforcers for these rules, really?

I mean, call it the "patriarchy" if you like. But (as we're so often reminded), "patriarchy" doesn't mean "men," here; so what exactly does it mean? More to the point: if it's mostly a question of, I don't dare to go down the street wearing ____, who's doing the enforcing? Men catcall to and harass women (and worse), true, and may well use what she's wearing as an excuse; but women can be plenty rude about other women (omg look what SHE'S wearing) as well, as we've seen; and can make their opinions -very- clear even if they don't holler down the street. Is that meaningless? Is there not a power transaction going on there? As Cassandra was getting at, does it only "count" if it's men? And, well, says who?

and men wearing makeup? well, the threat of getting beaten up is a pretty fucking big enforcer, and v. likely it'll be men doing it;

but say it's i don't know a less "dangerous" situation, you know, a cafe where fisticuffs are frowned on, or a not-too-dysfunctional family gathering...

if the waitress sneers, if the little girl yells about "why is that man dressed like that?!" and her mom answers something less than helpful, if the teenage girls shout "faggot!" from the car, if Mom and little sister pointedly avoid speaking to you the whole afternoon...

well? who's upholding what, here, and why?


Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

(Me up there, too many typos, deleted, reposted here:)

Exactly, Belle -- I wrote about this on the old blog -- will try to dig it up.
How, in a sense, the choice to wear makeup; or create the illustion of height with a pair of high heels; or to wear a skirt and spaghetti straps at a summer wedding while all those guys sweat buckets in suits -- in some ways, I belive we do have it better than men, regarding our choice of dress and self-expression.

On my old post, I asked how many men would wear makeup if they could get away with it? Gay, het, whatever -- our culture is beauty obsessed, both genders.
If a man thought he could be a little more DiCaprio with some foundation and eyeliner -- and that no one would bat an eye -- wouldn't he do it?

I think some would.

Kim said...


Oh fuck it.


I should have my Commenting privileges revoked for a day due to my refusal to proof read.

Renegade Evolution said...

My plastic surgeon, the guy who did my chest...has had several procedures himself.

Men in make up? Big time harassed.

Mr. E wears a kilt quite often, and usually gets asked by a few folk why he is in a skirt (and I thought with all the appropriation of Scottish Culture and Braveheart EVERYONE knew about kilts at this point?)

Ah, the dress code, it seems, does transcend gender!

Anonymous said...

One interesting point, as a fan of that hugely effeminate sport, American football* I was reading the European weekly newspaper devoted to the sport, and was surprised (pleasantly) to see on the front page, a picture of a huge lineman wearing a skirt.

Obviously, he's not got much to fear from being beaten up!

The article called it a "kilt fashion-show", but to my mind, a kilt conforms to certain characteristics, and his "kilt" didn't have those characteristics. Chiefly, it wasn't tartan but had a flowery pattern on it. It was a skirt!

And, heck, he looked pretty good in it, too!

It would surely be the work of moments for designers to create great-looking skirts and dresses built for the male physique, and that could emphasise "manly" characteristics. We already have "man-bags" (male handbags) and suchlike.

As to the point about "not TG/cross-dressers" etc, I suspect the man-skirt would be different in style (I would certainly want to wear different things when I cross-dress from when I just wanted to be a man in a skirt).

There are plenty of historical precedents for men in skirts - already mentioned the famous Scots' kilt and the ancient Greeks also wore skirts.

To get back to "who has it best, men or women?" I have the following comment on that:

I think in one crucial area, women do have it a lot better off than men in terms of dresscode, and that is the formal occasion. When the invitations say "black tie" or "black suit and tie" then (with the exception of the Scot with his tartan kilt) there is no flexibility for the man. No room at all for self-expression, unless he has some military past. When a woman attends a "black-tie" event, she can choose all manner of styles of gowns, and a huge range of colours - in some instances, she is expected to be individual, and different from the other women, while the men are expected to be rigidly conforming, almost to the point of being in uniform.

At the slightly less formal "do", it is still suit-and-tie for the man, his one chance of expression in the tie he chooses to wear. These days, the woman not only has the option of a vast range of colours and styles, at this type of event she also has the trouser suit to wear if she chooses.

I'm not exactly a representative sample, but personally, I definitely envy women their freedom of expression at formal occasions.

*The comment meant in jest, of course, I don't intend to make the classic Brit jibe here!

Holly said...

The male skirt actually has a pretty long history in the fashion world. I forget where I was, but there was actually a fashion-museum piece on it somewhere, of male skirts throughout the ages. Or "unbifurcated lower garments" for the technical term.

As for who enforces dress codes... it's kind of constant and comes from all sorts of places, just like lots of social pressures, right? Except from those conscious enough to wake up and realize that hey, wait a second, that's fucked up. So basically, assholes enforce dress codes, and assholes are everywhere. Is that a simple enough answer?

Roy said...

I think that it's sort of important to note that, while women have, in some ways, greater elements of choice than men do, their choices are limited in other ways. When men are sanctioned for their clothes, it's for "dressing like a woman." I think it's interesting, and I think that it'd be great if men could get away with wearing skirts again- I've worked a number of jobs where the temperature regularly got into the hundreds, and I can only imagine that a loose skirt is a lot more comfortable in the heat than jeans are.

Clothing is a tough issues, sometimes. Women's clothing tends to be more expensive than men's clothing, but women have more clothing choices, but women's clothing tends to accentuate them as sexual beings, but men's clothing tends to be heavier, but women's clothing often restricts movement more, but...

belledame222 said...

yeah. i actually tend to dislike skirts, even the loose flowy kind, in hot weather, on account of: sweat, legs stick together. loose, very lightweight pants or culottes or long shorts are usually my preference.

holly: exactly, I Blame The Assholes.

belledame222 said...

and yes, womens' clothes tend to not only be more expensive but more crappily made than mens' clothes.

there is also the Pocket issue.

buying a mens' coat for the winter was one of the smarter moves i made. cheaper and more comfortable. well there is also for me a size issue; these days i'm on the border between the very high end of "regular" womens' sizes and "plus" sizes. mens' clothes usually aren't an option though, especially shirts, on account of i am way too Zaftig.

WordK said...

When my little brother whines about having to wear a blazer in my presence, I usually offer to swap formal wear with him. It's less effective now that I've swapped to dress pants, but the kid recoils in horror.

It seems so self-evident to say that men are limited by the patriarchy. I still haven't figured out why its such a revolutionary statement in certain circles. Keeping women in their place only seems to me to be one side of the coin. And I think you could argue that the root interest is in keeping men and women in separate, easily definable categories.

But, good question, who's holding up the standards of the patriarchy, anyway?

belledame222 said... know, tangentially, some time ago I saw a number of men and women coming out of the local Jehovah meeting hall? and they were dressed -very- formally;

but a lot of the men were wearing traditional Phillipines formalwear.

they were -beautiful.- these long cream-colored tunic-like shirts with this amazing embroidery. THAT, i would wear in a heartbeat.

the Indian shops in Jackson Heights sell some rather lovely menswear as well.

belledame222 said...

--welcome, wordk!

queen emily said...

I think it's a good point. Make-up and skirts provide a pretty clear boundary for what constitutes maleness, and what lies beyond. Whereas, for femaleness, it's a lot more subtle as to what constitutes straight (all those straightgirls with butchy punk haircuts or whatever), queer/lesbian/and or butch and *then* transmaleness.

And, yeah, maybe it's just my experience of being MTF, but I do think the policing of femme masculinity is a lot more brutal, which is why imo there's not *really* a transfeminine spectrum equivalent to the transmasculine one. A lot of my trannyboy friends, even the genderqueer ones, seem to get less shit than I do. Which is not to say that there isn't a lot of shit directed at butches and FTMs, but that the lines seem slightly more blurry.

Iamcuriousblue said...

Well, when you get past the negative pressures (getting beaten up, etc), I think a big motivator about dressing one way vs another is to be sexually attractive to the kind of people you're attracted to.

And, speaking just in terms of straight men, in mainstream culture AND most subcultures, a heterosexual man going femme isn't going to be perceived as attractively dressed. On the other hand, when you have subcultures like goth where being femmey can actually get you laid, guess what, a lot of guys wear makeup, a few even wear skirts.

Deoridhe said...

Actually, I think a lot of it is self-enforced.

I mean, yeah, there are the rude comments and such, and my guilty pleasure of fashion and make-over shows doesn't help in this regard, but I think proper dress is enforced less with the stick and more with the thousand tiny toothpicks.

You see it in subgenres, too, like Gothic Lolita or the goth iamcuriousblue mentions; there are people who buck the conventions, but they tend to be the people who self-identify as people who buck conventions or are highly individual - so again, self reinforced.

There's a strong conformity impulse, and from what I've seen the storngest censure usually comes from people one has a personal relationship with. My friends chewed me out for not shaving my legs and thus being "unemployable," or "undatable", not any sort of clothing gestapo.

Obviously, this doesn't apply in places where there ARE clothing gestapos and in situations like that poor woman who wore a body-concealing bathing suit and was objectified for it. In those cases it was a community backlash, and I think the teeth in personal backlashes can be found in those examples of vivid public censure.

But ultimately, I think a lot of the censure is self-imposed to avoid negative responses from other people, however direct or indirect. It makes it a lot harder to fight when it's internalized, though.

Cassandra Says said...

You inspired me to write a follow-up post on femmey men, BTW.