I was at a radio show speaking in support of feminism some months ago. A couple of people called into the show asking, “Is he wearing a skirt?”. This was an obvious jab supported by the false assumption that I have to be a woman to support feminism. Its purpose was to attack my masculinity by attributing me to a clothing perceived as feminine. I was at first amused, then started wondering “what if men actually wear skirts”.
Some notes before I delve in
- from the
- I’ll be making use of the word “Sex” and “Gender”. Keep in mind, they aren’t the same thing. According to Medical News Today,
Sex refers to a natural or biological feature.
Gender refers to cultural or learned significance of sex.
- So while your sex as male or female is a biological fact that is the same in any culture, what that sex means in terms of your gender role as a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ in society can be quite different cross culturally. – Ann Maree Nobelius
So did men ever wear skirts?
Before the 1900, British men regularly wore skirts, so much so, if you were around during the 17th century and the late-19th century in Britain you would recognize “skirt” as a clothing not exclusive to women. This wasn’t surprising, after-all, the Anglo-Saxon and Norman men also wore skirted garments. They weren’t alone, the Ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Roman men also wore some form of tunic, along with the Ancient Egyptians who wore a wrap skirt. The skirt was historically unisex, and before trousers existed, men across a host of cultures wore some variant form of it. If we were to go further back in history, you’d meet the cavemen wearing skirts.
So why did men transition to trousers?
There is no single answer to this question. Different regions have different reasons. Here are a couple of reasons
Warfare: Men began to wear pants when they started riding horses into battle. According to Peter Turchin, an evolutionary biologist, we should give kudos to horses as tousers made riding on them much easier. Japanese samurai soon began to wear baggy trousers that permitted mounted warfare, 1st-century Roman soldiers swapped their robes for trousers in order to beat Rome’s greatest enemy, and the Chinese states that adopted the calvary (hence trousers) in warfare ended up winning. So, basically, due to the high status of trouser-wearing soldiers, trousers steadily became a sign of desirable masculinity and modernity.
Colonization: A region gets colonized, the manner of dressing along with other socio-cultural aspects of the colonizer gets transmitted to the colonized. Nigeria is a pretty straight forward example of this. We religiously wear suit and tie despite the inhospitable climate for it, our lingua franca is english, and our major religions didn’t originate here.
But men don’t wear skirts anymore, right?
Nope, men still wear skirts in variant forms and with different names, from Scotland, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and on many Pacific Islands. In Nigeria for example, men — to a decreasing extent — still wear skirts, only we refer to it as a wrapper. Yes, that wrapper you’ve likely seen your gran-dad tie is technically a skirt. This was a normal manner of dressing before the insidious victorian and imperialist culture made it into a fashion haram — a style to only be seen in the village or only exposed during festive activities. Below are pictures of men across various cultures in skirts below.
Abeg, skirts are impractical
Is it? I can bet I’m not the only guy who’s peed on himself hurriedly fumbling around with a zipper or a button(If menininists truly cared about men, they’d fight against button trousers.) – It’s really not a pretty sight. Wouldn’t you rather just pull up and have enough space to take care of business? If you’re not convinced it’s more anatomically pragmatic to the manstrument, here’s a versus assessment of doing these uncomfortable tasks.
- Ease of scratching an itchy “sphere”: Skirts 1 – Trousers 0
- Ease of hiding a spontaneous boner: Skirts 1 – Trousers 0
- Ease of hurriedly peeing: Skirts 1 – Trousers 0
You see? skirts win. When you think critically about it, the difference between the female and male anatomy should not allow for such extremities in dressing and even if it did, it should be the practical option as the norm.
Seeing this isn’t the case, it all comes down to one conclusion, “genderfication” doesn’t take pragmatism into account.
Okay, enough of the history, present & pragmatism, what’s your opinion on this?
While women clothing has become more gender neutral — and advanced — as it adopts what has historically been regarded as men’s clothing, men’s clothing has stayed relatively stagnant, mostly undergoing periodic changes in width and length. The relative tolerance for women to dress in what is considered male clothing, like trousers, did not always go unopposed. There were social and legal impediments against it, and it is still considered inappropriate (to the extent of jail time) in some societies.
Here’s something ironic though, the gender neutral advancement in women’s clothing has faced less resistance than men’s clothing, not only because women have historically resisted against the gender clothing demarcation, but also because of the preeminence we place on men above women.
In the oppressive patriarchal structure, it is, in most contexts, more acceptable — though not supported — for those regarded as being lower to “move upwards”, than it is for those regarded as higher to “move downwards”. This means it’s more societally acceptable for women to adopt masculine attributes and behaviors than it is for men to adopt feminine attributes.
A working woman isn’t as shunned as a man playing the domestic role, and a woman cross-dressing isn’t as vehemently opposed as a man cross-dressing. As I mentioned earlier, this is because men are viewed as preeminent to women, therefore to a patriarchal system, any man who performs a role designated as feminine is betraying masculinity by showing it’s possible to simultaneously adopt femininity without losing ones masculinity; also showing what we view as feminity isn’t subservient, rather it’s just another range of characteristics and roles also accessible to men.
How clothing is treated is an important indication of gender liberation and equality in a society. Clothing in the context of gender becomes a uniform, because it’s not enough to assign roles, those roles need an unambiguous method — or a “uniform” way — of recognizing where to place a sex, and also remind the sex what roles they are to stick to.
This is why regressive societies are more adamant about enforcing the demarcation in dressing of sexes. This enforcement is rooted in the fear that a breakdown in “genderized” clothing will lead to a breakdown of gender roles, which is a good thing being gender roles are anachronistic, and while some might have been practical in the past, they are nothing but mostly oppressive and unnecessary in our present.
“Ungenderizing” clothing won’t singlehandedly break down gender roles, but it’s a positive step towards it. This step will still be perceived as inappropriate, however what’s inappropriate — and also harmful — isn’t dressing like the other sex, but the gender roles we have attached to both sexes — gender roles that ultimately benefit no one. When I eventually rock a dope skirt, I’ll have to thank Jaden Smith(Will Smith’s son, who occasionally wears skirts) for giving me an appropriate reply to those who will inevitably criticize. Paraphrasing, he responded,
“My dresses aren’t ‘girl clothes,’ they’re just ‘clothes'”
P.S: Maybe, just maybe, I’ll look as cool as these lads 😛