This morning I put on a tee shirt and shorts. My tee wasn’t too tight or too cleavage-y, my shorts weren’t too short. I didn’t just choose these threads today, I chose them some months ago when I purchased them. But really, I “chose” them when I was born with a penis. Our sex indicates the codes and conventions we are to follow when deciding which pieces of fabric to put on our bodies. These codes, decided by everyone and yet no one, are subconsciously followed each day. But when a minority of women and men decide to override these codes, the public at large makes a [very] conscious decision to freak the fuck out about it.
I’m interested in the reactions people have to sights like this. ‘Tommy’ conducted a social experiment for three days, increasingly feminizing his outfits. The skirt drew the most ire, harassment, and even physical harm.
I was ridiculed in whispers. I was mocked in glances. I was obnoxiously and filthily cat-called by a construction crew […] Stopping by a bathroom before a lecture, a frat-bro went out of his way to shove me into the adjacent wall after eyeing me up and down on his way out […] By day’s end, I feared a full-on breakdown, unable to stand up for myself or what I believed in to maintain the integrity of the observer’s perspective.
Then there is Nils Pickert, who joined his dress-wearing son in public to ward off bullies. Nils’ story, which he originally wrote for German feminist magazine EMMA, quickly became world-famous.
I teach him the rules and what to do with them. Not every rule makes sense. Some rules tell us to behave with violence and cruelty to other human beings, even if we have a distinct feeling that our actions toward them are wrong. It is not OK for anybody to mess with my son about his outfit. Hence I wear dresses and skirts so that any person who has a problem with that and feels the necessity to express his or her resentments can mess with me.
The comment threads on these photos were mostly supportive, being on activist pages. But of course, scores of aforementioned freakouts punctuate the positive comments. Many commenters challenge Nils’ and Tommy’s notion that a skirt is just a piece of fabric, often citing religious or ‘moral’ reasoning. One member of the apparent moral fashion committee says that it is immoral and goes against God’s design for a man to wear a skirt. I have just two responses to this:
- Is a woman wearing a skirt, then, a sign of morality? Was it immoral for men in biblical times to wear draped robes, which by design fit similar to a skirt? What would Scotsmen and Pacific Islanders have to say about it? The ‘moral’ or correct coding of what men wear is a function of culture, in both time and space.
- I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about anatomy, but if anything I’d say a skirt would be more liberating to the male design.
Another point brought up is how clothing choices code more than just gender performance. For example, burning a flag, which is also ‘just a piece of fabric’, would deeply offend most nationals. Or how wearing a white hat and sheets would offend, as it resembles the KKK. But here again, how can someone really equate domestic terrorism or unpatriotic behaviour with clothing that has been socially coded as feminine? The freer mind, this argument boggles.
It’s an interesting thread to pull, when you question the basis of something as regular as clothing. As mundane as people may consider fashion, these examples signal just how willing people are to swiftly and passionately condemn anything outside culture-specific, narrow-minded codes of ‘normality’. And even more unfortunate, how many will try to justify this condemnation in the name of religion.
Tomorrow I’ll pull out another tee and pair of shorts, not a dress. But if I wanted, who is to command me otherwise?
What do you think, am I off base? Are these guys just looking for attention? Or are they brave agents of progress?