Diversity - What's different is not necessarily bad!
You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew
Colors of the Wind, Pocahontas (1995)
"Would it kill Ellen Degeneres to wear a dress?", or so asks many a man who watches The Ellen Degeneres Show. Just in case you don't know who Ellen Degeneres is, Ellen degeneres is a highly renowned lesbian comedianne who is distinguished by her flamboyantly hetero-masculine fashion style. It's no surprise if I were to say that society seems to have very clear-cut ideas as to how "proper" men and women should act, think and dress. Thanks to the hetero-normative mantra of GQ and Esquire, it's assumed that men are naturally inclined to prefer 3-piece shirts and collared tees, while women (thanks to Vogue) have a natural preference to wear clingy, frilly dresses and close-fitting trousers. It's assumed that people who divert from the hetero-normative mores as espoused by contemporary Western society, while not necessarily being homosexual, are doing something "abnormal"; something unnatural, so to speak, and that these people are trying to "be what they are not". Nothing could be further from the truth! You see, it takes a lot more guts for a man to walk around in a skirt/blouse than it does for someone to laugh at a man walking around in one. It's easy to talk the talk, but it takes guts of iron to walk the walk. It also takes a hell lot more guts for a man to defy the patriarchal norms of modern Western society, and dress in something a little more revealing than is generally accepted for men (e.g. short shorts, speedos, tank tops) within the culture of homophobia and squeamishness about the male body. Let's take a few snippets from the patriarchs themselves, and how they react towards men who are comfortable enough with their bodies to defy the norms of society by showing their bodies off:
" Guys that wear short-shorts are typically homosexuals (think The Village People-YMCA) or yuppie up-tights with zero fashion sense.I don’t know how you figure that longer/knee long+ shorts being “gansta” or “rapper” influenced, that is a typical upper middle class suburban assumption.I am now over 30, was never “gansta” influenced and still feel more comfortable with at least knee length shorts! I don’t have chicken legs,so check that off your list as well.Never had a problem getting women wearing them as I have dated 2 models and numerous other very attractive women.
... Enjoy feeling secure in your little world of tight snug fitting clothing, maybe someday everyone can be, look, think and dress just like you. Guys should really all be parting their hair to the side and wearing 3 button high collar shirts, even when at home with their Stepford Wives."
"They wear tank tops all the time (the ones they call ''wife beaters'')... or those sleeveless T shirts. These are the same guys that wear Under Armour shirt to the gym (hint... all of us look much more muscular in those shirts, but they are really corny). Make sure and wear fashionable clothes that ''happen'' to show off your nice physique. Maybe a fitted short sleeve vintage T shirt instead of a tank top. Wearing clothes that are blatantly meant to show off muscle mass make you look totally cheesy. Show off your body in the context of ''good fashion''.
Ah, but that's not all! Look at what the very same man (Roger) had to say about women's fashion:
"I think women are too conservative (?!) at times. There are times when it is appropriate to wear skimpy clothing, especially if you are in great shape. You won't look good forever, so enjoy it while you can!''
(Names changed to protect privacy)
The fact that the above paragraphs were written by men for men should come as no surprise. After all, was I actually expecting the patriarch in his hetero-normative myopia to be able to understand the female gaze? To be able to understand that the male body is in no way any less aesthetically pleasing than the female body, and just as worthy of display? It takes a lot more courage for men like me to be different from the majority, and not bother with what people have to say about us, all the while putting our sexuality on question. It's assumed that "normal" men have and should have no desire to be physically desired, and that "normal" women do not desire the male body in a physical sense.
So to answer the question of whether it would kill Ellen Degeneres to wear a dress, I would like to pose a question to these very same men, who would not be seen dead in a dress. Would it kill you to abandon your usual conservative style of suits, ties and baggy trousers, and put on a dress and heels for a day? Oh it wouldn't literally kill you, but I imagine it would be an extremely psychologically uncomfortable experience.
But; I digress. We were initially talking about Ellen, were we not? So to (finally) answer the question of these men whether it would kill Ellen Degeneres to wear a dress, the answer is as follows:
"It wouldn't literally "kill" her, but it would no doubt be a very psychologically uncomfortable experience, in the same way it would be for a conservative, hetero-normative man to be forced into a dress. You see, "fashion" should never be gender-specific, and if we truly want men and women to be equal, we need to break down the silly little notion of "men's clothes" or "women's clothes". "But ah", you say. "Your idealism is admirable, but can you honestly tell me that you are attracted to women like Ellen Degeneres"? Ah, the plot thickens. You want an honest answer? I'll give you a perfectly honest answer. No. But does that mean that she has a "bad" style? Absolutely not. It's important to remember that taste is a subjective thing, and that my taste only represents the taste of one man out of millions and millions of men throughout the world. I wouldn't dream of suggesting that Ellen change her fashion style to suit my personal taste, because if she did that, then I would also have to lower my level of respect for her. You see, while I may not be physically attracted to Mrs Degeneres, I strongly respect her for not "femming" up her appearance, as suggested by Vogue Magazine.
We are not asking Ellen to abandon her signature 'I don't care that I dress like a 17-year-old boy" style- just to mix it up, feminize her appearance and maybe even one day wear a necklace and show some skin besides her neck. Sexy never goes out of style.
(Peter Davis, Vogue)
Now, she wouldn't necessarily have to wear a dress, just wear something a little more fitting and show a little more skin, which I am sure she would not have felt too uncomfortable with. But the thing is, it just wouldn't be "her", in the same way the suit, tie and slacks image just isn't "me". It's so much easier to respect someone who dresses to express him/herself, than it is to respect someone who dresses for the approval of society.
"Too many people spend money on things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."
Remember the story of the donkey and the father and son? You just cannot please everyone, so why bother trying? Somewhere out there, there is someone who finds you attractive, so why bother trying to pander to those who don't, and compromise your own personal identity?
They are'nt women's clothes, they're my clothes. I bought them.
So now, let's look at how male self-expression is limited within our society. It seems that while cross-dressing is more socially acceptable if you're a woman (this is so obvious that it doesn't even need mention). Note for instance that, women in the work force are given the option of either long hair or short hair; while it would generally be politically incorrect to discriminate against a woman who wears her hair short, it doesn't seem to be the case with regard to our long-haired brothers. Assuming that we were to tell women something to the extent of, "Don't cut your hair short; it's disgusting, you look like a man!" (not my personal feelings, just giving a hypothetical example), I guarantee you that the feminist backlash would be tremendous, to say the least. Yet, it would seem that when a man chooses to grow his hair long, and he is pressured to cut it (either by parents or his employer), not many people are willing to stand up for the poor bloke. After all, a man looks SO much more professional with short hair, doesn't he? A woman who keeps long hair is considered "normal", while in many cases, a man who wears the exact same hairstyle is considered "scruffy", purely by virtue of the thing between his legs. And God forbid a husband stop his wife from wearing her suit and office trousers, for if he did, society would brand him a controlling chauvinist pig. However, it seems that if a man were to put on a skirt/dress/tutu/etc, it is considered valid and legitimate for his wife to leave him/send him for psychiatric treatment, even though he may be perfectly healthy both physically and emotionally. For many men, cross dressing is a form of self-expression. Men cross dress not because they are gay, but for numerous other reasons. Among the reasons a bloke may decide to cross dress would be:
-Because he simply enjoys the look he creates
-Because he wants to understand his wife/girlfriend better; it's a way of getting closer to his partner, so to speak
-Because he admires women and femininity, and wants to (a certain extent) embody what he admires
In fact, gay men account for a VERY small percentile of the cross dressing community. You must understand that, gay men are primarily attracted to and inspired by men and masculinity, so it would not make much sense for them to embody women and femininity, now would it? Heck, even I can assure you that none of my gay mates cross dress!
Men who detract from the idea of "normality" are punished simply for being themselves. We are constantly reminded courtesy of the patriarch that the only valid form of male fashion is fashion that covers the body from head to toe (well not literally but you get my drift).
Without suits, men would have nothing. In the hierarchy of style, a good suit remains a man’s only trump card. (These people obviously have never explored the concept of androgyny and the female gaze on men's bodies. It's almost as if the guys who wrote this aren't aware of the existence of androgynous men, and the fact that women too have libidos and enjoy the exposure of the male body) Even in this sad age of casual-wear, the suit still carries an air of success, taste, and sophistication. It is designed to make you look better, to break boundaries between social classes, to make a small man tall with pinstripes or a fat man rich with soft wools.
(The Morning News.org)
Too many men still believe in the age-old myth that "women's bodies look better than men's, therefore a woman's body on display is a sight to behold yet a man's body on display is simply, well... "cheesy", and better "left to the imagination". Too many men subscribe to the age-old myth that men cannot look good in anything besides the usual "safe and modest" trend of suits, long trousers and T-shirts. Be aware though, that the media is largely controlled by straight, hetero-myopic men, and that men's magazines, e.g. GQ and Esquire and men's sites e.g. Askmen.com are designed by straight men for straight men. The over-representation of women's bodies and under-representation of men's bodies serves as testament to the fact that these media are designed to cater to the male gaze (figure 3). After all, no straight man wants to see another straight man's junk... right? And surely, "normal" women shouldn't desire to ogle the "cheesy" male body... right? To counter that myth, I have a nice little snippet from a heterosexual female blogger:
The male body is an exquisite miracle that should be honored. I, for one, am so tired of the female body and it's glamorous position in our society. Give it a rest girls and let they guys turn it on.
...I can't describe how sick I am of having to see the female body sexualized all over the place. I can't go anywhere without being exposed to the images of scantily clad women posing in provocative ways. It's everywhere, t.v., magazines, movies, games, anywhere and everywhere. It just doesn't reflect what I want to see when I go out into our over-the-top commercial society.
...More men in Speedo's, more tight tank tops, extreme sports in bikini's, come on! I'm looking for the pleasure of watching the beauty of the male body being highlighted for what it is . . . a breathtaking miracle of sexuality and passion.
In that light, I would like to pose a challenge to GQ magazine and its patriarchal hetero-correctness to try something a tad bit more daring and androgynous (no, changing the color of a man's suit from black to pink doesn't count!). I would like to see a wider variety of men and male styles being represented, and I mean men who enjoy the look and feel of short shorts (as opposed to knee-length shorts), blouses, kilts and sleeveless tops (but no, men's arms are supposed to be "left to the imagination", are'nt they?). Hell, if they placed a man in a toga dress, I swear I would even be a lifetime subscriber to GQ! Unfortunately, it doesn't look like I'll be subscribing to GQ anytime soon now will I? In other words, DON'T try to understand men by reading GQ! That would be like men trying to understand women by watching Sex and the City, both of which are simply a media representation of masculine and feminine stereotypes (courtesy of the patriarchy too). Now let me make myself clear. If a man wants to wear a 3-piece shirt and tie, then all power to him. But what frustrates me is the notion that that is the only valid style a man can wear to look attractive to the opposite sex, and this is reflected in the lack of androgynous representation in fashion magazines like GQ and Esquire, as well as the male fashion department.
It's funny how some people have such fixed ideas about how the world works. They think that the media body ideal (six pack abs/flat stomachs) has always been the norm since the beginning of time. They think that halfway across the world in a freezing Alaskan region, it's the norm for a man to wake up every morning, shave, put on his suit, and drive to work. Are they even aware that things like brown rice, lean meats and oatmeal were in the past seen as a symbol of poverty, and that the "lean and toned" Calvin Klein and Abercrombie models would have been viewed as unattractive peasants just two hundred or so years ago? Honestly, if people actually think like that, then I don't know how they go through their day without accidentally biting their own tongues off! Not that there's anything wrong with Marky Mark's body. I can understand why women think it's gorgeous! I won't go so far as to say that these models have an "unhealthy" look; that would be an overly simplistic way to put it. But I'll say that to compare my body to a "fit and toned" Calvin Klein model and say that he has a better body than mine is nothing short of simple-mindedness. It is like saying that Kate Moss has a better body than Mae West/Marilyn Monroe. It's simply not a valid basis for comparison. It would be like saying, "oh, apples taste better than oranges", while in fact, taste, as I have aforementioned, is subjective. My body is no better nor worse, but simply, "different".
So where does that finally leave us? We have observed that it is perfectly natural and healthy for women to wear trousers and men to wear skirts. But how about the "hijab" (Muslim headscarf) of the Middle East and Catholic nunnery? In our highly Islamaphobic climate ever since the attrocities of September 11, the Hijab has been seen by many a liberal as a symbol of patriarchal oppression on women. We see a Muslim woman walking down the street in her Hijab, and voila! What do we assume? Opression! We assume that this woman is being forced do cover up by her husband/father/etc and that she needs to be "liberated" from the shackles of Islamic patriarchy. It seldom occurs to us that some women dress that way, not out of societal pressure, but simply because they are most comfortable with expressing themselves in such a way. A woman who chooses to wear make up and high heels is not, as is commonly maintained by the prescriptive feminists, "an agent of female oppression". Likewise, a woman who wears a Hijab is not necessarily an oppressed woman. On the contrary, she is liberated enough to stand up for her beliefs in the face of Islam-phobia. It seldom occurs to us that these women wear the Hijab, not out of compulsion, but our of choice. It seldom occurs to us that an adult woman adult woman has got enough backbone to decide for herself whether or not to wear a Hijab. During my undergraduate days, we were tutored by a Muslim lady who would wear her hijab to class, and I'll say that she was one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I had met. This is probably obvious to most sane, intelligent human beings, but just because someone is Muslim, or Christian, or Hindu, etc, does NOT mean that they do not believe in the value of liberty and freedom of self-expression. And to deny someone the right to practice their traditions (so long as these do not undermine the rights of others, e.g. cannibalism), how i that any less intolerant and bigoted than the religious fundamentalists we are up against? Now don't get me wrong. I'm neither a terrorist, nor do I support bigamy of any kind. I'm just saying that many of us liberals have gotten so caught up in our own sense of grandiose, that we treat people who are different from us (conservatives mainly) in a sort of patronizing fashion, sort of like naive little children who need to be corrected, and as a liberal, this really is quite embarrassing for me to say.
In conclusion, the fault lies I suppose, in assigning value to differences, which highlights the universal flaw of societies all around the globe. We tend to use our own cultural and socio-political mores as a yardstick by which "good" and "bad" can be measured, not realizing that somewhere across the globe, someone else is making these exact same value judgments about us. The solution to this problem lies, I think, in realizing that what is different is not necessarily "bad". So the next time you see something out of the ordinary, don't assume that it is "bad" simply because it is different.