Friday, March 27, 2009

The Politics of Mantyhose

ActivSkin Legwear for MenThis article appeared back in January on www.feministing.com. Since that predates the launch of The Nylon Gene, I'm posting a link to it for any readers who may not have seen it. The author referred to ActivSkin (misspelled as 'ActiveSkin') and used an image from our website. Obviously from the title and webpage header image, the site takes a fairly strident view towards men, and that's unfortunate. But at the same time, the article raises some interesting points for discussion.


At the time I posted a comment, which I'm also including below:

Vanessa,
Good article here. I’ve been wearing hose or tights for about 10 years or so—primarily for improved leg circulation, but along the way have found them to have other benefits as well. There've been dozens and dozens of articles on the rise of men's pantyhose over the past 8 or 9 years, but not too many of them scratch below the surface of the issue like you've done here. Haven’t yet read all the posts, so I hope I’m not duplicating with this one.

I've posted quite a few blog entries or comments asking the question of why there's such a disparity between the way 'cross-dressing' is treated when it's a man versus a woman who's doing the crossing over. For instance, everyone thinks its ‘cute’ or sexy when a woman wears a man’s shirt or boxer briefs—or if she’s wearing a necktie or power suit, she’s not typically ridiculed for it. But, let a man wear something that’s in the least bit associated with ‘feminine’ and he’s laughed at, ridiculed, and treated with so much disdain and scorn as to make most any guy afraid to so much as pick up a piece of women’s underwear for any reason at all. (Ever watch one of us guys sorting laundry when we get to our lady's underthings?)

So, you’ve got to ask yourself, why the difference? It seems that maybe the idea of a woman wearing men’s wear is seen as ‘reaching up’ to take on the air of the ‘superior gender’—while a guy wearing something associated with women’s wear (in this case, pantyhose) the negative reaction makes it seem as though he is ‘lowering himself’ to the level of the inferior sex. Mind you, I don’t subscribe to that notion—just making the observation. And, like you asked at the end of the article, why is it that the wives and girlfriends of those men who aren’t afraid to wear hose more disturbed by it than the men? Is there a certain inferiority complex ingrained in the women that makes them do that? Or, is it just recognition that society makes that judgment on the relative merit of male vs female, and they don’t want to risk their guy getting degraded?

While many guys will take a ‘live and let live’ attitude towards men’s pantyhose, it’s interesting to note that the guys who DO get really stoked about it (‘he oughta have is a** kicked…’) in the various blog comments sound like the ones who are most likely to consider women to be an inferior species. I do value the differences between the sexes, and believe that men should be men and women should be women—just as God intended us to be. However, I don’t agree that pantyhose (other than maybe the name) should be considered to be an inherently female garment. I also don’t believe that anyone should consider male or female to be superior to the other. Different does not equate to better/worse. Men and women each have their own gifts and burdens and those should be embraced. But, wearing pantyhose does not make a difference if you like wearing them.

What do you think about this? Is the disparity between how men and women wearing clothing items traditionally associated with the opposite sex a little window on the relative 'value' society places on the other?

4 comments:

  1. In my opinion women can wear whatever they like. If they are fashion savvy enough they could put almost anything on and make it look good. I am not really concerned with fairness in this case, because if she looks good she looks good. I do want to comment though that many times when you see women wear men's clothing it is most likely really "men's-like" clothing. The suits they wear are women's suits, and even boxers are even shaped for women, and typically the fly opening is sewn closed. So when a man puts on women's clothing then it does play with the cross dressing lines. My wife is much happier with me wearing activskin and gerbe tights with fly openings, because it really helps show that the hose are made for men. The problem is that the general public doesn't know that the tights are designed and sized for men, and thus have to assume you are wearing women's clothing.
    Now as for why that's considered a bad thing, well I don't know. I'm not a sociologist and can only use the word taboo. Men are expected to not like or do activities that are associated with women, yet there are examples of men doing feminine things all the time. Most chefs are men, yet at home who does all the cooking, the wife. Most photographers are men, yet ask a man about photo composition or graphic design, and good chances are they have no idea what you are talking about. The more we come to expect certain things from certain people the more taboo it becomes for the opposite to happen. Tattoos were considered very taboo and now have come to be accepted, and appreciated by many, yet still there are manly tattoos, and feminine tattoos. We are different, in size, shape, mannerism, etc… and as such we fit more comfortably into certain views.
    Clothing styles just like tattoos say something about you. There are many different styles that people can wear that when you see it you instantly have an idea of what kind of person that is. Is it profiling, maybe, but the profile wouldn’t exist if it weren’t partially true to begin with. So is wearing feminine clothing a “lowering of your station?”; could very well be part of it, but we must also realize that there are perceptions we have as a society that define who we are, and bending or breaking these perceptions will lead others to see you as the odd man out. With enough acceptance, publicity, and support we can overcome some of these perceptions, and hopefully wear whatever makes one feel comfortable.

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  2. A good, thoughtful post, Kuwe. It is interesting that you note that your wife prefers you wear ActivSkin or Gerbe because of the fly opening, despite the fact that no one beside her (let's certainly hope) will see that feature. Similarly, although ActivSkin is sized to match the proportions of the male body, no one can see that by looking at you while you're wearing them--except maybe to note that they fit you well.

    So, the male features are primarily a benefit to you, and your wife, but don't carry over to the perceptions of those who see you wearing them. You do allude to the fact that over time public perceptions about a man wearing nylon hosiery will evolve to dissipate any lingering negative stereotypes associated with it.

    However, it's like a chicken and egg scenario. Which comes first? Greater societal acceptance of men wearing hosiery? Or more men wearing them openly, without concern over possible negative opinions. I would propose that it is the latter, which then advances the former. In keeping with the original thrust of this post, I would also say that there seems to be a lessening of earlier tendencies toward knee-jerk strong reactions against men being even remotely associated with anything feminine.

    I am not saying I would be OK with men getting into wearing all sorts of soft, frilly lace things... I'm not. But we are getting a little less phobic about things, like legwear, which can truly cross over the gender divide without feminizing men into something other than God intended them to be. There are some things we men have missed out on just because we're too panicky about being perceived as anything less than the classic 'uber-male'. All that's required is a balanced approach, as in all things.

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  3. Interesting!

    When it comes to men’s clothing the first thought which sparks in my mind is designer jeans. Anything will be suitable with designer jeans might be tees, shirts, jackets or blazers. Men in designer jeans look cool and handsome!

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  4. So, to clarify, Serena: you're equating men's pantyhose with designer jeans, in that designer jeans originated as primarily women's clothing? and then evolved into as much for men as for women?

    I had never thought of that perspective on it. It's a good insight. The only thing is that designer jeans were probably never considered in the public mind to be that far removed from men's clothing. Pantyhose are probably starting from a point much further removed from men's clothing and have had further to go to close the gap.

    But your point (if I'm reading it right) is well taken: That men wearing designer jeans look good in all sorts of outfits, as you listed them. Likewise, men in hosiery will look equally good in all sorts of otherwise masculine attire, because the legwear itself does not look feminine when looked at in a completely objective way. It only takes on the feminine connotation when our predispositions and bias are there to inform our perceptions.

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