"If gender is made, it can also be made unmade. The structures [of gender]are indeed strong and fragile."
In the 2010s, during a Swedish course at the Swedish Institute in Paris, we were given cards depicting people performing an everyday action. The instruction was to find the verbs in Swedish and conjugate them by appropriating these actions in the group.
Unlike the French pedagogies to which adult learners were accustomed, the activities here were not assigned to a gender.
The card of a man washing dishes had been handed to Yoann, for example. He had been troubled by it. Why make him identify with an activity culturally given as feminine? Perhaps because there is no reason why an everyday activity should or should not be performed on the grounds of gender.
We had all then repeated: "Yoann diskar", "Yoann does the dishes".
Today certainly Yoann diskar i Sverige (Yoann does the dishes in Sweden). He lives there, got married there, and each member of the couple carries the name of the wife, as the law allows in Sweden.
A consumer practice constructed as feminine
A decade later and for another everyday practice, that of dressing, we find very few representations of men in skirts in the free image banks to illustrate this column.
Finding little for "skirt + man," we try "dress + man," and the results are even more surprising: men in suits alongside their wives in wedding dresses.
Yet, in our mainstream media spaces, we've seen a few men wearing skirts for some time. But this remains a practice given as deviant because it deviates from the norm of the male group.
This is precisely the subject of Coralie Lallemand's dissertation, which explores the question of gender through the prism of masculine skirt-wearing in twenty-first century Western culture:
"In what way(s) do consumer practices constructed as feminine participate in the deconstruction or even reconstruction of masculinity? "
Sex, Role, Gender
His research clarifies the relationship of gender in its social expression to biological sex. Essentialist theories "attribute immutable characteristics to women and men based on their biological characteristics".
But "ethnological observation shows us that the positive is always on the side of the male, and the negative on the side of the female. This does not depend on the category itself: the same qualities are not valued in the same way in all latitudes." Françoise Héritier.
Essentialist theories were discussed by role theory - the female role, the male role - which is always attached (by a more or less tenuous thread) to its biological foundation. Then Michel Foucault and Judith Butler proposed deconstructivist conceptions of gender, whose performativity is not necessarily tied to biological sex.
In theory, one can express a human quality, perform an activity regardless of whether one is male or female. Washing dishes, or wearing a skirt.
On the exercise of dress, the thesis examines the leeway
that the men who wear a skirt have to cross the symbolic borders of the
symbolic boundaries of gender and dare to approach and experience "deviance."
"The Great Renunciation"
Clothes protect us and allow us to communicate: they say our social, generational, cultural group. They carry a symbolic and political dimension that varies according to time and culture.
We speak of open clothing (skirts) and closed clothing (pants). In Europe, open clothing has long been unisex. They dressed both the powerful and the modest. The distinction was made on the quality of the fabric, workmanship and ornaments.
The skirt was even a symbol of virility: "Among the Romans, the shorter the skirt, the more it revealed the musculature of the legs, a symbol of a powerful and bloodthirsty soldier. "
In eighteenth-century France, the distinction was made more on social rank than on gender: nobles similarly wore colorful clothes, wigs, stockings, jewelry, heels, makeup.
The Revolution brings a standardization of male appearance: pants become the emblem of masculinity and open clothing is the prerogative of the feminine.
Psychologist and psychoanalyst John Carl Flügel speaks (in 1933) for this era of "great male renunciation":
"The man was giving up his pretensions to beauty.
He was taking the utilitarian as his one and only end."
"The episode of the great male renunciation rearticulated hegemonic masculinity in opposition to adornment, extravagance, and fashion."
Since they were abandoned, these practices became suspect.
A Threat to Hegemonic Masculinities
Sociologist Raewyn Connell helped develop the concept of hegemonic masculinity. She distinguishes between expressions of masculinity:
- Hegemonic masculinities: "the most honorable way to be a man". In the United States, for example, the breadwinner model and the rebellious, heroic man model coexist.
- Complicit masculinities:men who reproduce the dominant model while not meeting the standards of hegemonic masculinity.Subordinate masculinities: effeminate men, homosexuals, considered in the hierarchy of the hegemonic masculine to be comparable with the feminine.
Marginalized masculinities: racialized men, men with disabilities.
The "deviant practice" is questioned by men who wear skirts in this social prism of hegemonic masculinities: for them, there are safe zones and dangerous zones.
Many of the men surveyed have, at some point in their journey, asked themselves why they were symbolically invested in the feminine, when this social issue was not their intimate and/or identity issue.
Thus, through this current assignment of the skirt to the "feminine," heterosexual men have wondered if they are not homosexual, and cisgender men if they are not transgender.
Well-constructing one's "deviant career"
Like any singular human experience, the journey of the skirt wearers (which the researcher outlines within the conceptual framework of "deviant careers") has phases of trial and error.
Questions arise depending on the relationship men have to biological sex, gender, their social attributes, and their hierarchies.
Some men, for example, initially thought it was easier to go out in a wig and makeup to assume the skirt in public space. And then they abandoned the practice because the reason they wanted to wear a skirt had nothing to do with it.
For example, they may find the garment more comfortable or practical, or they are interested in its socio-cultural aspect (the open clothing of other cultures), its aesthetics (the skirt seen as elegant), or its political aspect (equality in clothing choices).
The Skirting out (from skirt: "the skirt"), or the revelation of the "deviant practice," is a key step in the process. Men confront other men, but also women who may show hostility, distrust or real solidarity, they confront people on the street, intimate situations and work situations.
For this, digital spaces are resource spaces that accompany the visibility. The digital community provides a space for normalization, information resources, support, peer-to-peer exchanges, and legal resources to secure access to professional spaces for skirt wearers.
"We emphasize [...]the difficulty for consumers to escape male hegemony, despite differentiated power relations. "
However, the ease of wearing skirts for men does exist and it can be expressed in several ways:
- By viewing the practice as possibly masculine and expressing a masculine identity.
- By considering the femininity of the practice but disassociating the practice from the self.
- By considering the femininity of the practice and valuing a feminized masculinity.
- By stepping out of gender categories and/or engaging in a performance of gender fluidity.
What about you?
Illustration: james5050smith from Pixabay.
Coralie Lallemand, Gender of Practice and Practice of Gender. The wearing of skirts by men: a deviant consumption practice to be (re)constructed. Management Sciences. University of Rouen Normandie, 2021.
Thesis available on: https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-03483432
In Belgium, the example of a calendar of alternative masculinities as a counterpoint to the Pirelli calendar or the Gods of the Stadium / photo exhibition: https://maisondesemployes.com/mars-2022-expo-photos-masculinites-alternatives/
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