The Man Repeller: Not About Men

Hyped fashion blog The Man Repeller has almost nothing to do with men—except, possibly, to remind you that women don’t necessarily care what you think about their fashion choices.

I don’t know that a formal survey’s been done, but I think it’s safe to say that in the eyes of most straight men in America, turbans on a women’s head aren’t hot. Neither are ostrich-feather miniskirts, utility pants, or capes. To many guys, tight, form-fitting, and revealing fashions constitute “sexy.” And isn’t that what fashion is supposed to be all about? Getting us to look at one woman rather than another?

According to Leandra Medine, young designer and creator of The Man Repeller, the answer is no. Her site (which has been the subject of worldwide buzz) celebrates fashion that “proudly obstructs the male gaze” (The New York Times) and acts (in her own words) as “sartorial contraceptives.” (Think creative use of bow ties and harem pants, and you’re just getting started.) The fashion press has embraced Medine’s “man-repelling” aesthetic. Judging from the comments on sites that cover the beauty and clothing industries, The Man Repeller is a hit with many women.

Men, meanwhile, are confused, a bewilderment satirized at Jezebel in an April Fool’s post (“The Shocking Stupidity Of Women Who Hate Men.”) from fictional columnist Marjorie St. John-Blyth:

I simply loathe women who hate men. Websites like ManRepeller turn ostracizing men into a game, which is not only disrespectful but an act of self-hatred! Every woman must admit that she is on this planet thanks to a man. Women wish they had the qualities men have. Men are strong! Men are wise! Men built this country, and all of Western Civilization! For a woman, it is impossible to live without a man. Oh, one can survive. But to truly enjoy the lavish party life offers, a woman must have a male chaperone.

St. John-Blyth’s satirical piece sounds painfully close to the commentary that comes in painful seriousness from anti-feminist men and women who plead for a return to traditional gender roles. It spotlights the real power behind the “man-repelling” phenomenon that Leandra Medine has harnessed. Many women do want to wear things that block the ubiquitous, penetrating male gaze. And a lot of the time, women want to wear clothes that are about their own sense of what is fun or stylish—and not about what catches male attention.

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The Man Repeller offers a great challenge to men. First of all, it’s a good reminder that women don’t just dress to impress us. I grew up being told that women care about clothing for two reasons: one, they want to attract men; two, they want to defeat other women in that cutthroat, all-important competition to prove their allure. Women, the story goes, had to care about beauty in the past because it was a tool for survival, a weapon in the fight for scarce “good men.” That might have once been true, but it certainly isn’t true today, which is one of the reasons Medine’s site is getting so much attention.

The Man Repeller asks us guys to think differently about how we look at women. Growing up in American adolescent male culture, I was given a narrow definition of what was “hot.” Boobs were hot; legs were hot; butts were hot. I remember that in seventh grade, I had a serious discussion with my friends Bill and Troy about whether we were “ass men” or “boob men.” I don’t remember which one of them brought up those terms, but it did shape how I talked about—and how I thought about the female body for years.

Though I didn’t need to be taught to be sexually attracted to women, my desire was shaped and directed by porn, by peers, and by how everyone around me seemed to interpret fashion. It took a long time to let go of that poisonous lesson that women were, in Troy’s words, “all prudes or sluts or teases.” It took even longer to realize that women weren’t necessarily dressing for me or for anyone else but rather for pleasure of fashion for fashion’s sake. For those who haven’t yet learned that lesson, The Man Repeller is a good reminder.

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There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see a woman’s skin. There’s nothing wrong with being turned on by butts, or boobs, or legs. But there is something wrong with the single-minded focus that so many men have on those body parts alone. Almost every woman has had the experience of having a man talk to her chest, unwilling to tear his eyes from her breasts. It’s not that women don’t ever want men to notice cleavage, it’s that when a conversation is happening, they’d like our gaze eventually to move to their faces—and our attention to move to the person behind the body. It’s the difference between “looking at” someone and “seeing someone.” Unless we’re blind, we all start by doing the first. But we need to move on to the second, making the effort to see what lies beneath the immediate visual appeal.

Despite the name, The Man Repeller isn’t really about men. From a fashion standpoint, it seems aimed at encouraging women to follow their own aesthetic, absent the constant calculating about what’s hot or not. There’s something undeniably liberating about realizing that it’s OK to take a break, however brief or extended, from focusing on being desirable.

Still, guys do well to think about some of the other reasons why women are drawn to the fashions Medine promotes. Street harassment is still a worldwide problem, and while it can happen to women of any age no matter what they’re wearing, many men feel that they have permission to ogle or whistle at a woman in revealing clothing. To the degree that the “man-repelling” phenomenon is about protecting women from predatory male behavior, it ‘s a reminder to guys that we have a long way to go in terms of making public spaces safe for women. (And yeah, calling out male harassers is part of a good man’s job.)

The Man Repeller isn’t about hating men. It’s about the simple idea that women’s bodies don’t exist only for our pleasure, and that women’s fashion isn’t only about attracting and holding our attention.

Or maybe it’s just about celebrating ostrich feathers and harem pants.

—Image via The Man Repeller

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About Hugo Schwyzer

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. He serves as co-director of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a campaign to transform young people's attitudes around body image and fashion. Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his website

Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    oldfemninist.
    Almost right. The women in The Movement weren’t dressing independently to please themselves. They were hewing to a strict code imposed on them by others. Or, to put it another way, they couldn’t otherwise sit at the Cool Kids’ table.

  2. Can we get a little consistency here? I mean if women “dressing not to please men” or whatever is all empowering, then too the so called “slacker” movement i.e men not getting high-powered jobs to please women must also be empowering… is it not?

    Where is the article about how Judd Apatow is a revolutionary combatting female expectations of male success?

  3. I have two articles of clothing that I always thought were ‘man-repelling;’ a boxy winter coat and a hoodie about 3X the size of any other hoodie I own. The purpose of this clothing is purely because of the cold winter here, nothing to do with men one way or the other. I feel lumpy/shapeless/boxy in this clothing, and I always thought it put me in the irrelevant to unattractive range. The first time my boyfriend told me I looked sexy in the hoodie, I thought he was joking and laughed it off. I thought I could maybe look ‘cute’ at best, but definitely not ‘sexy.’ But he has since said the same thing at different times when I was wearing either or both hoodie and winter coat, and I think he actually means sexy.

    I can’t say I completely understand how he could find me attractive in the figure-hiding clothing, but maybe it’s similar to the fact that I prefer when a man looks real. I don’t like fake tan, too much gel, too much muscle, too preened and perfect (the steroids look). My boyfriend looks sexy; hair done or not, clean-shaven or not, collared shirt or t-shirt and jeans, and he can lift me up and carry me around but doesn’t look it. At times he has expressed concern about not being muscular-looking enough, or having bad hair or boring clothes, but he looks so sexually compelling to me, and I wouldn’t like it if he tried to look like something in a magazine.

    Both sexes dress for a range of reasons, from practical, to fitting in with your gender group, to impressing co-workers, to attracting sexual partners. But both sexes have some wrong ideas about what is/isn’t attractive, and more genuine discussions and reflections of what is really attractive is needed. I think it’s common knowledge that even the people in magazines don’t look perfect in reality, but somehow us real imperfect people still manage to find other imperfect people attractive and get together. If you don’t think the fashion or ‘men’s health’ magazines reflect what is really attractive, don’t buy them. Talk to the person you’re dating or married to, or with friends about what’s really attractive. I don’t feel like I’m buying into the fashion industry’s idea of beauty, but the answer I got still surprised me.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Thaddeus.
    “political correct” means something else entirely.
    For example, a prof at UNLV was almost fired for making the observation that gays typically have shorter planning horizons than straights, probably due to not having families. It may or may not be true, seems it could be empirically investigated, but it is one of those things you Must Not Say.
    Blacks commit disproportionately more violent crime than whites. But you must not say that. You know about James Byrd, but not the Knoxville or Wichita horrors.
    You know about Matthew Sheperd but not about Jesse Dirkhising. For the latter, see Andrew Sullivan scorching the media on that.
    You know about the Duke lax hoax but not about Katie Rouse, also a Dukie, raped at a Duke frat house. Some things are true but it is not politically correct to mention them.
    The Duke/Frank Lombard incident would be headlines except there are at least half a dozen competing master narratives and so nobody knows what to say about that, except that anything you can think of is likely not politically correct, and even if you wish the poor kid well, that means something happened to him which leads to the other competing narratives which means you ought to just shut up.
    Pedophiles are straight and gay so there should be no particular accusation toward gays in the Catholic church scandal. Except that wasn’t pedophilia. It was ephebephilia, exclusively gay. But you must not say that.
    No, it’s the accusation of “racist” that means you’re out of your league.

  5. Rayan Khayat says:

    will this just lead to burkas?

    • Pallus Pallafox says:

      As long as men don’t start beating and murdering women for not wearing burqas or niqabs, things should be fine.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] the hot new fashion blog created by 21 year-old Leandra Medine: The Man Repeller. My post is The Man Repeller: Not About Men. [...]

  2. [...] Leandra Medine doesn't care what you think, dude — The Good Men … [...]

  3. [...] Hugo Schwyzer points out, women’s fashion isn’t meant to be about what guys want to see; it’s about what [...]

  4. [...] Hugo Schwyzer points out, women’s fashion isn’t meant to be about what guys want to see; it’s about what [...]

  5. [...] decision is linked to a sexual agenda, a point made cleverly and creatively at popular sites like The Man Repeller. Many women’s passion for fashion has little at all to do with wanting to attract or keep a man. [...]

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