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Why Don’t Men Wear Dresses?

by mattie on April 13, 2008

No man dare touch these comfy dresses!

There are few things in a man’s life that draw more ridicule and scorn than when he reveals a trait that is branded “feminine”. After all – men are supposed to have no interest whatsoever in the feminine, and aspiring to anything feminine is so repulsive and foreign that any man who publicly displays such a pursuit is assumed to be gay or downright mental.

Why is it this way? Is it simply for practical reasons that men don’t express their feminine side, or is there some other reason? An exploration of the question brings up some very interesting reasons why men don’t wear dresses. Among the most popular explanations are:

  1. Dresses are uncomfortable and restrictive of movement: This reason forgets that there are many different styles of dresses that can be worn. Many dresses that you see women wear these days are actually less restrictive in movement, and would be more free below the waist than most pants that men already wear. Consider that dresses and skirts can be both cooler and place no pressure on the private ares like pants do (a plus for sexual health). The argument that dresses are uncomfortable makes no sense whatsoever unless it’s super-tight dresses we’re talking about – which the majority of women do not wear on a daily basis.
  2. Because only gay men would want to wear a dress: This is another completely silly argument. How many gay men have you ever met that wear dresses? When a woman wears pants to the office, or when she borrows her boyfriend’s sweater do we wonder if she’s a lesbian? Of course not. Multiple scientific studies have shown that less than 5% of crossdressers are homosexual. That means the overwhelming majority of men who would want to wear a dress are not gay at all.
  3. Cross dressing is a sin: This is a more complex argument, and is based on a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 22:5 which states that neither women or men should wear each other’s clothing. There are numerous arguments against a literal interpretation of this text, and explanations that this Old Testament verse is more about using deception to lead another to sin than a wholesale condemnation of wearing an article of clothing from the opposite sex. Even if it was a wholesale condemnation what should we do with all the women who wear “boy shorts” and pants, and all the other verses in Deuteronomy that we ignore on a daily basis? What about all the men in the Middle East and Scotland who wear clothing that strikingly resemble their female counterparts?

Of course there are more reasons than just these three that people use to justify the negative stigma of a man wearing a dress. Most of the reasons though are pretty simplistic like, “it’s just wrong,” or “because it’s stupid”. But I’ve long believed there are deeper reasons behind why it’s seen as inappropriate for men to wear women’s clothing.

Recently I’ve come across some excellent discussions of the topic, and two in particular I think hit the nail on the head as to the underlying issue behind men who cross dress. A comment by Lauren O in one of those articles sums up the entire argument into a couple concise sentences:

“I think it’s perhaps more likely that it’s easier for society to accept women taking on men’s roles than it is for men to take on women’s roles, because women are seen as inferior. A woman wanting to take on men’s roles seems less offensive, because, the reasoning goes, who wouldn’t want to be a member of the superior sex? A man wanting to take on women’s roles seems more offensive, because what man would ever want to degrade himself like that?”

I couldn’t agree more. The majority of the negative responses to a man wearing a dress have to do with the way that some men (and women) comprehend the genders. Many individuals still see the woman’s role to serve the man and be subservient to him. Likewise, many people feel that they very reason a woman dresses the way she does is to simply impress men and garner their attention. If we’re to assume that the function of women, and the behavior of women is centered around pleasing and attracting men, it becomes perfectly reasonable for people to think that someone who wants to cross-dress is “gay”. But this argument also reveals that sexism and the viewing of women as “objects” is still alive and well in modern society. This has not only a continued negative effect on women, but on men who are stereotyped into their own roles as well.

Assessing attitudes towards cross-dressing men serves as an excellent litmus test for how an individual views the broader role of femininity in society.

I believe the negative response that both men and women have against men wearing dresses is more about the power of masculinity, and about how both men and women see the role of both genders in society. Even many women are threatened by their husband or boyfriend wearing a dress, much in the same way that men were once threatened by women burning bras, talking politics, and wearing trousers – but the reasons for such fear are based in sexism, inequality, and intolerance.

The reason that men don’t wear dresses (or let other men do it)? Because doing so dilutes the power that is imbued in masculinity; because a man in a dress isn’t just simply making a fashion statement, but is threatening a gender icon itself. Once men and women are truly equals, a man in a dress will be no big deal.

Further Reading:

Vernon Coleman: Why Do Men Wear Dresses? (And Why Do Some Women Get So Upset About It?)

Img credit: eyesontheroad.

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