When I’m not writing for Mesh, I tutor at a university. Most of my clients are fashion students. Hey guess what! Suits for men haven’t changed, like, at all in 100 years.
Other than that dude at the far left, any of these guys could show up like this to a formal event and the most they’d hear would be some ribbing about those dumb hats. Compare that to female attire of the same era.
Now, I happen to think that all of these outfits are sexy as hell (especially 1921 Day Outfit) but if you wore it to the same formal event you’d probably get a lot of compliments about your 1920’s attire. Things have just changed too much.
In this blog post, I will argue that the expectations for men and women have undergone a similarly divergent evolution over the past century. (In the tutoring center, I would deem this an unimaginative but acceptable thesis statement.)
I remember talking to my bisexual ex about wanting to go to drag queen bingo. “That sounds terrible,” he dismissed. “I don’t understand why men would want to do that. Be gay or don’t. Be a woman or don’t.” Later, with perhaps a bit more self-awareness in his very intelligent but very un-self reflective head, he mused, “I wonder why I hate feminine gay guys so much.”
I had been thinking about it. “I think it’s because you see feminine as weak, and because femininity is something you hate in yourself.” In a rare turn for him, he didn’t shut down my analysis.
It’s not like I’m some enlightened gender fairy myself. I hate the masculinity in me sometimes, too. Boy howdy would I like to be one of those chicks who wears overalls and stompy boots sometimes (HALLO COMFORT?) but my body is the human equivalent of a volvo station wagon (boxy and flat) so I don’t want to be mistaken for a bunch of construction equipment
covered in a tarp.
See? Not so enlightened.
We’ve come to a point in our American, liberal society where we’re basically cool with women being more masculine. Around 70% of married women have paying jobs these days, and while the number of female executives remains paltry, women are making leaps in sports participation, presence in the STEM fields, and military presence. All of these things were seen as being the realm of menfolk just a generation ago, when my mom was one of a very few female lawyers practicing in Cincinnati. As women have entered these fields, we’ve moved the needle on our gauge of acceptable female behavior to include these things, to the point where nobody whispered cruel things about my badass little sister for absolutely slaughtering the obstacle course at her military academy this past year.
How far has the needle moved for men?
How far has the needle moved for women who want all the career stuff above, but also don’t want to wear makeup or feminine clothes or even call themselves women necessarily?
I don’t have the answer to these questions, but I have to feel that the fewer requirements we have for men/women/other to exist in the world, the better it is for us all.
Remember how a year or so ago we were all basically verbally punching women in the face nonstop for the fact that we say “I’m sorry” all the g-d time? Remember how disgusting uptalk is, you know, that mostly female verbal tick that makes everything sound like a question? Ugh, the way women talk is so gross.
Flashback to a crowded bar in Seoul, Korea. I am beet-red with fury at a different ex-boyfriend, who had done something genuinely horrible that isn’t relevant here. Tears are leaking down my face and the contagious energy of my hurt and rage are beginning to alert innocent revelers, who side eye us nervously. “It’s done now,” he says, low, through gritted teeth. “What else do you want?!” I am so upset I can barely get the words out. “I. WANT. YOU. TO. APOLOGIZE.”
He did, finally, after much hemming and bullshit. To be slightly fair, I think it hadn’t occurred to him. The inability or reticence to apologize is something I’ve dealt with in every single relationship I’ve ever had. A tendency to talk over me and not include me in the conversation is another one. Notice how ending a sentence with a little bit of an up pitch invites the other person to join the conversation?
Here’s what I’m hoping. I’m hoping that the leash we have given to female identifying people to be more masculine is continually extended to men. The good things about “traditional masculinity” – self-reliance, assertiveness, some healthy aggression, financial responsibility, etc – have been on the shelf for everyone to grab for decades now. I hope that the good things about “traditional femininity” – tenderness, openness, social grace, forgiveness, decorative finesse, etc can be further extended to male identifying people.
Here’s some stuff that I love. Jaden Smith’s Instagram:
This heavenly angel:
My good friend Zach, who showed up to our 50-mile bike ride wearing a tutu, rainbow socks, and his thick mustache:
You’ll notice that my outfit is completely unfeminine, a privilege I didn’t even notice at the time. I’m not butch, but I’ve reaped the benefits of gender pioneers who have made it okay for me to work, live alone, live with a male roommate, not care about having kids or getting married any time soon, and dress like a boy when I want with no fear that people are going to beat me up in the street.
I don’t know that much is going to change for my millennial cohort, but I hope that little boys growing up today feel comfortable showing up in tutus, and apologizing, and loving drag queens, and being drag queens. I hope little girls growing up feel comfortable wearing overalls that may mask their genders, and choosing their careers and lovers and bagels based on what they want rather than what is expected from them.
All this rambling to basically say: thank you so much to those of you who have questioned gender norms. You have benefitted me, and I have such hopes for the future.
Let’s change up those suits, lads. Maybe a pencil skirt with that jacket would look pretty nice.