Radical Masculinity #3: When Men Wear Skirts

December 31, 2009  |  essays

… is up at Carnal Nation!

A little taste of what I discuss:

One of my basic tenets of gender is the deep belief that gender should not dictate one’s personality. Personality traits are made up of hobbies, interests, and activities; one of the classic ways we police gender in this culture is to require that men only do “manly things” and women do “womanly things,” and when a man does a womanly thing, we get all up in arms about it. Ask my sister’s boyfriend: he’s a cop, the man carries a gun for goodness’ sake, but when he started growing sunflowers, he got teased incessantly by his best friends and coworkers alike. Someone—anyone—is extra quick to criticize when one of the activities we like to do is outside of our gender assignment.

Yet it is more socially acceptable for a woman to cross over into seemingly masculine hobbies than for a man to cross into feminine ones (at least at the amateur level—men still dominate fields traditionally seen as “female” such as cooking, baking, and sewing at the professional level, but that is a slightly different topic). The advances that the various feminist movements have made in the last 100-plus years have made it more acceptable for a woman to get really obsessed with NASCAR racing, or World of Warcraft and video games, or pro-wrestling, or environmental engineering, or the stock market, or any of those other supposedly “masculine” interests and hobbies. She may be insulted for these interests, she may be called a dyke (equating her gender identity with sexuality), but she has support. She has other women who have gone through this, she has documents, she has a feminist history to call upon to tell herself—and others—that she can like these things and still be a “real” woman.

However, if a man wants to grow sunflowers or bake cupcakes or learn how to needlepoint or host fancy dinner parties or make greeting cards, there are consequences: the people around him, friends and strangers, will police his hobbies, words, and actions around things seen as “unmanly.”

Head on over to Carnal Nation for the whole thing.

 

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7 Comments


  1. I drunkenly rant about this very topic too. Thank you for putting it into a much more eloquent form.

  2. Really great post — in my opinion the column's best yet.

  3. Right on!

    Gotta say, that picture is fabuloso. :)

  4. i wore a skirt in 2007 – my friends reacted as if i was in drag :) i guess i was.

  5. You are good, friend, so good at what you do. Brilliant. My favorite so far. These essays should be published in some academic form. You looking into that?

  6. I wanted to comment at CN, but couldn't figure out how.

    I think all that is very, very true. Feminism has opened up the gates for women to do (almost) all the things that men do, without (too much) social derision. (Of course there are still the times of mandatory femininity, even for girls/women –you have to wear a dress at a wedding; you have to be visibly/clearly maternal if you have children or you're a "bad mother"; maybe you're even required by laws of femininity to want children?; et cetera.) You've hit the nail on the head with that. Whereas for men, any foray into femininity, no matter how insignificant (like your pink polo shirt) is a target for policing and derision and homophobia.

    But what you don't touch on at all is that the real source of this, beyond the surface, is not a policing of masculinity. It's really still a policing of femininity. Its point is keeping femininity in its place — the woman. Because femininity *isn't good enough* for men. Masculinity is fine for women, but femininity isn't good enough for men. This is STILL all about misogyny. I kind of assume the reason you didn't discuss this at all is that (a) it's pretty obvious, and (b) your column isn't about femininity or misogyny, it's about masculinity. But, I do think that any discussion of policing of masculinity is incomplete without at least a mention of this, otherwise it lurks dangerously close to sounding like a battle cry of MRAs, like "but men are oppressed too!"

    Of course, men/masculine folks DO experience these negative effects of misogyny. It was a huge, huge oversight of the second wave of feminism. (I don't know enough about the so-called Third Wave of feminism to say anything intelligent about it.) So it's super important to talk about now. I guess I just wonder whether talking about it in isolation from misogyny is really complete.

    (Also, as an afterthought, I should just add that of course I think any activism or advocacy against this policing of masculinity does also combat misogyny and sexism, whether explicitly or implicitly. So, thanks for that.)

  7. Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith you have not realized that the cut in women’s pants is totally different from that of men’s. This difference maintains society’s sexist norms. Women’s pants are more ample around the butt and tighter in the upper leg. Also the zip is reversed. The fabrics and colors are also very different. I cannot imagine a man wearing big ass soft fabric yellow pants to his attorney office.

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