Monday, November 25, 2013

Femininity For Everyone Redux, Or, Men In Lipgloss Plz

Vorbereitungen für den Maskenball, by Otto Erdmann (1834–1905) (Düsseldorfer Auktionshaus) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As I see it, the next big step forward for civilization is going to happen when men and boys can wear dresses, high heels, and lip gloss as part of normal everyday life.

Gender norms for men, they're like stuck in the dark ages. I mean, if anyone proposed returning to social norms in which women and girls could not wear pants, people would go nuts. So how is it that femininity for guys is still in the Oh-My-God-Get-Me-My-Inhaler category?

It seems the only frameworks we have these days for thinking about men with girlish styles is gayness, trans identities, or cross-dressing. But that's just weird. Being gay and being feminine are different things, and trans identities are about identifying in a certain way; the whole idea of being a feminine guy is being a guy and being feminine.

Cross-dressing comes closer, but it's not the same either. Being a feminine guy should include the possibility of throwing on a dress, or wearing girlish jewelry -- not as part of an elaborate project for a special occasion, but just because that's what you feel like wearing that day.

My guess --and here I really am conjecturing -- but my guess is that one reason femininity for guys has so little social acceptability has to do with the fact that two powerful but opposing forces hold femininity somehow in low esteem.

Most obviously, many anti-feminists have an interest in maintaining traditional gender roles. Their understanding of being a guy includes norms like "if you have a problem with that guy you should punch him." Many anti-feminists are also homophobes. For a man to wear pink nail polish is an obvious problem for these people. But it also seems part of anti-feminism to be down on femininity itself, to think that it's less good, or less important, and thus appropriately relegated to a sphere of relative unimportance -- women. 

But interestingly feminism has some problems with femininity as well. Femininity for women has been associated with those same traditional gender roles, so there are some obvious reasons for opposition. But femininity also gets a more general undeserved bad rap. It's somehow become associated with weakness, dependency, and a kind of degrading self-objectification, when it shouldn't be.

It's unfair to burden femininity in these ways. As I tried to gesture toward in this previous post, "vulnerability" is a better word -- and to be temporarily vulnerable to others can be a positive state for anyone: it's a state of openness and gentleness and sensitivity. It's only negative when people take advantage of and abuse the vulnerable. But that's not a problem with femininity. It's a problem with the rest of the world.

And indeed - it's a problem that would be mitigated by men embracing femininity. If men experienced the world sometimes from the point of view of wearing beautiful and fragile clothes, enjoying the creative play of make-up, needing an arm to hold as you make your way across a puddle in your nicest shoes -- not only could this be a source of pleasure for them, but don't you think it might make them better people?

This very interesting review of a book of photographs by a man interested in femininity raises some of these same issues. Author William Vollman is sometimes a tough adventure-oriented guy's guy. But he starts dressing up as a woman and finds in it something pleasurable in a complex way.

Among other things, he says that being "Dolores" gave him a chance to "love and take care of" himself: that instead of throwing on any old thing, he'd take pains to care for himself and care for his body.

And he also notices immediately that people can't deal with it.

"But his hobby has cost him friends, and he said he has 'a certain amount of fear and dread' about the book’s publication. 'A lot of friends who could always handle the prostitutes and the drugs felt that I had somehow degraded myself,' he said. 'The idea of stepping down from the dominant male class really disgusts a lot of people, including women.'"

It would seem that the problem with femininity is not that it's bad, but that it's so disrespected that to associate yourself with it is degrading.

I don't know how to start fighting for femininity for everyone. I'd suggest more open-ended norms for boys as children, but given that even the most moderate activities like painting your kids' nails seem to give people a heart-attack, it's not clear how that could even get started.

1 comment:

thefringthing said...

If femininity for men will help me figure out what to do about my often horribly disfigured cuticles, I'm totally on board.