Why is it considered degrading for a man to wear women's clothing?
#1
These are part of the lyrics of a song by Madonna and when I heard it, a light bulb went off in my head.

"Girls can wear jeans/And cut their hair short/Wear shirts and boots/'Cause it's OK to be a boy/But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading/'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading."

I just couldn't thing of anything that could counter that kind of argument because from my experience, men dress as women only for comedic purposes. And what we wear has more do with fashion than with a gender bias.

So, do you think this is too harsh a generalization? Help me figure this out yo!
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#2
I don't think it is because men feel that looking like a woman is degrading, but they don't dress like women because, well, women's clothing is designed to express female sexuality in some way. I think that is why it looks comical if a man dresses like a woman. I meant degrading here in a character/moral sense, but on thinking about it, perhaps it does degrade a man's sexuality if he dresses like a woman. But I don't think that has anything to do with male chauvinism. It's probably how we are wired - any bio people got any light to throw on this?
Aditya Manthramurthy
Web Administrator & Associate Editor
Nirmukta.com
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#3
(16-Aug-2010, 08:57 PM)palaeo Wrote: These are part of the lyrics of a song by Madonna and when I heard it, a light bulb went off in my head.

"Girls can wear jeans/And cut their hair short/Wear shirts and boots/'Cause it's OK to be a boy/But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading/'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading."

I just couldn't thing of anything that could counter that kind of argument because from my experience, men dress as women only for comedic purposes. And what we wear has more do with fashion than with a gender bias.

So, do you think this is too harsh a generalization? Help me figure this out yo!

Before I answer, a disclaimer. Much of the stuff I'm talking about happens with both sexes, and frequently it is the women who face the brunt of sexism in our society. But we're talking about men's issues in this post.

I disagree with Madonna. In fact, I believe that such things are the result of certain types of cultural stereotypes that are imposed on men by society at large, and exacerbated by ignorant statements by people like Madonna. For example, one of the most destructive social stereotypes that is perpetuated on men is that boys don't cry (of course this is perpetuated in reverse on women as well, but we're talking about men here). The psychological damage that results from such indoctrination lasts a lifetime. Our entire society is keen on telling men what to do and how to behave. The social requirement for a man to wear identifiable 'male clothing' is part of this conditioning. The reason a man ends up following such conditioning is because if he strays from the path of his conditioning he will be socially ostracized, resulting in slimmer chances of meeting a 'mate' (which can truthfully still be an honest, exciting and respectful process).

Of course, women undergo such conditioning too, but its in other areas usually (depending on the culture, gender-based rules for clothing may also apply). For example, think of the social stereotype against women burping. One could make the argument that women don't burp in public because they think its degrading to act like a man. Of course that would be silly, but its a perfect analogy for Madonna's 'argument'.

The reason women don't burp in public (along with other more disgracefully male-associated behaviors) is because such behavior would screw up their chances of procuring a mate in the society that we live in. They have been conditioned all their lives to accept this reality and to adapt to it.

You can do the same thing to multiple gender-specific social behavioral cues and see the same phenomenon at work. What determines why certain things are important for men and certain things for women has to do with our evolutionary development. In other words, there may be evolutionary reasons as to why certain forms of cultural stereotyping is applied to each gender, and these reasons are different for each gender due to the differences in their biological roles in increasing reproductive fitness (in practical terms, reproduction and child-rearing).
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#4
Thank you for replying!! I really needed to figured this one out and I just couldn't reason in out by myself. What you both said made a lot of sense. I don't thing you can so easily package what misogyny is all about. Fashion and culture defines us more than we know.
I still have thoughts about this because I remember having a female friend who dressed as a boy (cropped hair, pants, shirts) and no one really said anything about it. But once when my male friends (who were also friends with the "butch" girl) came across a man dressed in a bright kurta, wearing makeup and bracelets jokes and disgusted looks were thrown around. I was obviously offended. But I think that belongs in a different discussion. :P
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#5
To elaborate a bit on the ending of my previous post, there are biological reasons for why males and females are pressured to conform to different standards. When it comes to mate selection, the most important female preference for male traits (for picking mates) is social status (social dominance). Women are really good at gauging the social status of males. Therefore social status is the attribute that men have evolved to consider paramount to their mating success (in evolutionary terms, mating is what determines evolutionary trajectories).

When it comes to male preference for female traits, fertility is the main indicator. That is, men are naturally tuned into gauging the fertility of potential mates.

These two major differences are evolutionarily driven and culturally reinforced. That is why we see such differences in the way we culturally express the distinctions between the sexes. For men, it becomes supremely important to seem socially dominant, which is responsible for much of the world's problems. Wars, dickish male teachers, cult leaders and all sorts of authoritarian pricks are the result of the impetus among males to appear socially dominant. The way this trait is maintained in culture is by ridiculing anyone who strays away from the 'male' construct.

In the case of women who wear men's clothing, most men will have no problem as long as the woman ins attractive and the clothing accentuates her figure. It only helps them gauge her fertility better. Some men may even be turned on by women wearing male clothing. Most women would be turned off by men wearing women's clothing.

Now, I am not saying that there is no misogyny going on here. Its not as explicit as you made it seem, but I there is a certain amount of misogyny inherent in our culture at large, since we seem to, in general, think that men's clothing signifies dominance. Even powerful women (in politics and in the boardrooms) often wear clothing that is based on traditional male attire. This is a result of our evolutionary history, as I've tried to explain.

One last disclaimer: None of this is justification for what exists. The evolutionary reasons, as I have previously stated, only tell us why things are the way they are. It doesn't tell us that this is the right way for things to be. As intelligent and compassionate creatures, we create our own realities. This is what we're always striving for. So I think that we can overcome prejudices that are part of our evolutionary history the way we have overcome so many illnesses and natural conditions on our path to becoming 'civilized'.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#6
(16-Aug-2010, 08:57 PM)palaeo Wrote: These are part of the lyrics of a song by Madonna and when I heard it, a light bulb went off in my head.

"Girls can wear jeans/And cut their hair short/Wear shirts and boots/'Cause it's OK to be a boy/But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading/'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading."

I just couldn't thing of anything that could counter that kind of argument because from my experience, men dress as women only for comedic purposes. And what we wear has more do with fashion than with a gender bias.

So, do you think this is too harsh a generalization? Help me figure this out yo!
Gender roles are defined by social norms. Men and women, biologically speaking, are just animals like any other animals. Because we are social animals, our society defines certain "roles" for both genders and anyone going against those predefined "roles" are looked down upon/oppressed/even killed in many cases. See for example, the treatment of LGBT people in many societies.

Also, to counter these pre-defined gender "roles", some pro-LGBT authors use the terms cis-gender (gender role adopted from birth) and trans-gender (gender role adopted by choice) to describe the phenomenon of transsexualism.
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#7
In a patriarchal culture men and women are allotted certain roles with the role of the male being that of the dominant one. So if a man dons a woman's clothing then he is regarded as abandoning his dominant role and deliberately stooping to the lower level. Hence degrading.
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#8
(27-Sep-2010, 08:41 PM)nastikashiromani Wrote: In a patriarchal culture men and women are allotted certain roles with the role of the male being that of the dominant one. So if a man dons a woman's clothing then he is regarded as abandoning his dominant role and deliberately stooping to the lower level. Hence degrading.

As I mention in my comment above, I disagree with this sociological explanation. As I have pointed out, there are behaviors that are considered standard and normal among men but are not desirable among women. In a patriarchal society we look at the instances when men are disallowed by society from doing certain things that women generally do, and conclude that this due to the fact that women are considered inferior. If this was a matriarchal society we would be concluding the opposite. In other words, when sociologists tell such stories they are victims of confirmation bias.

I'm more convinced by the scientific explanation that gender roles are the result of millions of years of biological evolution and the more recent few thousand years of cultural evolution, acting on humans to create fairly distinct roles for the two sexes. Just as humans adopted religion and god as short cuts to find some relative clam in their primitive brains, they also adopted strict culturally enforced rules to make gender rules work. When people react to violations of culturally-enforced gender rules, they are not necessarily reacting in repulsion because they reason that lowering oneself to the other sex is degrading, but often because they have a biologically and culturally enforced line to walk.

I feel that we must fight gender stereotyping. But the way to do that would be to acknowledge that there are gender stereotypes on both sides that are considered degrading for the other sex to do in a social context. It is considered degrading for a man to wear a skirt today (only in modern culture- however, in many native cultures men commonly wear skirts, including in Africa, Europe, S.E. Asia and India). But it is also considered degrading in many cultures for a woman to ask a man's hand in marriage. In neither case is anyone actually reasoning that they are abandoning their "dominant role and deliberately stooping to the lower level" All that they are doing is leaving behind culturally-enforced gender roles.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#9
Delightful read ajita.
Murthy

"Credulity kills" -- Carl Sagan
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#10
My take on it is that this is just because society is used to thinking in a certain way. In other societies (and slowly ours too), change has started happening. Men have started to have long hair, prick their ears, wear bracelets etc. They've even started carrying "male handbags" etc.

In India I guess it will take some time and when it does come, it will be the hottest/coolest "in" thing. Just a guess.
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