I once read a quote about the shared history of women. The quote stated that women had no common history because we have always been split into men’s families, men’s countries, men’s religions, and so on.
Whether you agree or not, women as a unit are frequently defined not by our inherent commonalities but by our differences from men. Usually, feminists are focused on the things men can do that women can’t. (I of course mean things women are barred from doing for cultural reasons, not things women aren’t able to accomplish.) We want to free the nipple and have equal pay for equal work and not live in constant fear of rape.
One thing women can now do is wear pants. (I’d like to pause and thank past feminists for allowing me to sit around in the jeans I’m wearing now, go for a run later in my workout pants, and curl up in my sweatpants after that.) In fact, we can wear pretty much any men’s fashion we want. They sell menswear in women’s clothing sections. I’m required to wear a tie and man’s dress shirt at my job as a server.
This is a victory in many ways. But people have not failed to notice that a double standard has risen where we thought barriers were being broken down: It still isn’t socially acceptable for a man to show up to work in a sleek black pencil skirt. Why? Because it’s ok for women to do “male” things, but definitely NOT ok for men to want to do female-associated/feminine things. Because we associate those things with weakness. Because it is unacceptable for a man to be weak. Take for example, how revolutionary (and refreshing) it was to see the viral Facebook post of a dad letting his son dress up as Elsa for Halloween. However, one look at the comments section reveals that not everyone found the image so charming.
I remember reading books where the young, independent girl main character yearns to wear pants and run around like her brothers. We all cheer when she achieves that symbol of freedom. I’ve also seen comedies where men dressed in women’s clothes and we all laugh at how ridiculous it is.
Like the color pink, dresses where not always so closely linked with women. There is plenty of historical and cultural precedence for men in skirts, robes, or dresses. The most common example is probably kilts. But there’s no denying that in the modern Western world, dresses are a symbol of femininity, and therefore of women.
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In response, some men have pushed sartorial boundaries by wearing skirts or dresses. Kanye West, Jaden Smith and Iggy Pop spring to mind. All three have also made statements that they aren’t ashamed of wearing “women’s” clothing, that they should be able to wear whatever they want, that they aren’t wearing women’s clothing–they’re just wearing clothing. Other people in the fashion world have agreed, with one article I read calling truly androgynous fashion feminism’s next frontier.
Which brings me back to my original question: should these men be allowed to wear dresses? What I mean is, should we women allow men to use a unique part of our history and culture? If this symbol of womanhood (even if many modern women choose not to wear dresses at all) is worn by men, is that appropriation of a common female culture?
I have a confession–even though I posed this question, I’m not against men wearing dresses. I’m more wondering if I should be. Of course women have been participating in art and writing and government and military affairs and religion and social justice movements since the dawn of time. We have a legacy. It’s just that it’s often pushed aside or unrecognized. Even feminism is a relatively new concept, especially as a coherent, directed movement. Shouldn’t we claim and celebrate every aspect of our history? I don’t know if it has to be dresses, but shouldn’t there be something just for us?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!