So what about teh menz?
I’ve been asked a few times now, by a few different readers, to write about menswear. I wish I had more to say about it: it’s certainly an interesting and fertile topic. But I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this. I’m a woman; my partner of many years is a woman; we both tend to dress on the more feminine side (although I do venture into butch and genderfuck on occasion). Menswear really isn’t in my wheelhouse.
But I do have some general observations on the topic. And the main one is this:
With some exceptions, menswear is so soporifically boring, you shouldn’t wear it while operating heavy machinery.
Or, to put it more analytically: The range of socially acceptable clothing for men is far, far narrower than the range that’s available for women. As I said when I wrote my Fashion is a Feminist Issue piece: Fashion is one of the very few art forms/ languages/ forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.
Now, as I also said in Fashion is a Feminist Issue: There are some very sexist reasons for this. Women are valued largely as ornaments, sex objects, and baby-makers. So we’re expected to make ourselves into nice-looking ornaments, and desirable sex objects. Women routinely have to spend more money, and more time, to make ourselves visually presentable and fit society’s basic expectations of grooming… and that’s more true the higher up you get in status and income. Shoes for women that are considered dressy and attractive are mostly shoes that are uncomfortable and can injure your feet in the long run. And of course, women get caught in a very nasty double bind with all this. If we aren’t successful at fitting society’s beauty standards, we’re dismissed as ugly and boring; if we do manage to meet society’s beauty standards, we get dismissed as dumb, shallow bimbos. We’re valued for our looks, encouraged and indeed pressured to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so.
But there’s a flip side to this form of sexism — and it’s one that screws men over. Men have a much, much narrower range of socially acceptable options in which to express themselves through fashion and style. Again, as I said in Fashion is a Feminist Issue: Women are permitted a wider range of colors. Fabrics. Surfaces. Jewelry. Hairstyles. Makeup. Entire categories of clothing are available to women that are socially off-limits to men. We can even take on masculine clothing styles with little or no controversy… while men who take on feminine clothing styles can expect mockery and scorn at best, hostility and violence at worst. Again, there are sexist reasons for that fact — masculinity is seen as generally admirable and worth emulating, in a way that femininity isn’t — but the upshot is still that women have more freedom. If fashion is a language, then women have a much wider vocabulary. And we have a wider range of things we can say in that vocabulary.
And it’s not just that men have a narrower range of self-expression through style. The very idea of men expressing themselves through style is seen as suspect. There are some particular subcultures where this is less true: historical costume nerds and the kink community are the ones I’m most familiar with. But in general, men who are seen as caring too much about fashion and style and how they look are generally derided as being feminine, or gay, or both. (This is changing somewhat, with the whole “metrosexual” thing — but it’s still there.) Men are expected to achieve a perfect, razor’s edge balance between good grooming and carelessness. You’re supposed to look good — but those good looks have to seem effortless.
I see this pattern a lot with rigid gender roles. They hurt both women and men, in mirror images of each other. Women are screwed over by the expectation that they be sexually passive (the piece of common ground in the virgin/whore dichotomy); men are screwed over by the expectation that they be aggressive sexual studs, and always make the first move. Women are screwed over by the assumption that they’re over-emotional; men are screwed over by the expectation that they repress their emotions. Women are screwed over by the glass ceiling and earning 78 cents on the dollar and nineteen thousand other forms of economic discrimination; men are screwed over by the expectation that they be the primary breadwinner. I’m certainly not going to argue that these roles and expectations hurt men and women equally — I think that’s bullshit — but I do think rigid gender roles hurt everybody, of all genders, and I care about it.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. But I think it’s somewhere close to this: What I want from fashion and gender is a world where everyone has more choices. What I want is a world where men have more leeway in their fashion choices, and can express themselves through fashion/ style if they want without being dismissed as girly or queer — and where women aren’t pressured into making it a priority if they don’t want to, and are valued for our accomplishments instead of our looks. I want everyone of all genders to have lots of options in fashion and style… including the option to not care that much about it.
So men — and people of all genders with men in your life — what do you think? How can men express themselves through style, using the limited fashion vocabulary they’re permitted? And what are some interesting ways for men to stretch that vocabulary?
(Oh, quick note: If any MRA assholes show up in this thread to scream about how the issues I’m writing about here aren’t the same ones they most care about, and therefore all feminists are evil ballbusters who hate men and want to destroy them… please ignore them. Whenever I write about how rigid gender roles hurt men as well as women, they almost always show up. I’ll deal with them as quickly as I can. Don’t let them derail the thread. Thanks.)