Clothing, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Attraction: Danny talks about the relationships between them.
So I’ve been rethinking a post I submitted a few weeks ago at The Good Men Project. We see that Mr. Spookshow is being rebellious in the way he dresses, but we should be asking this: what effect does his rebellion have on our current perceptions of gender?
For the most part we have been raised to instantly label and categorize a person as quickly as possible, with gender being one of the first determinations. If you look at how gender is used to instantly assume everything about a person, from relatively probable things from romantic/sexual attraction, to esoterica like automotive knowledge and cooking skills, you see how much weight we place on gender markers.
One of the quickest ways to determine someone’s gender is by outward appearance. Clothing covers most of our bodies, thus making it one of the first things one sees when looking at someone’s outward appearance. As a result, people have come to identify the clothes we wear as men’s clothes or women’s clothes. From there one leaps to identifying if said person is man or woman, and from there to all the stereotypes we want. Mr. Spookshow’s efforts are the worst nightmare of people who depend on this form of recognition.
You see, when we quickly label someone as woman or man, it’s often done for the purpose of narrowing them down into neat little bundles and treating them accordingly. Upon seeing someone with a short buzz cut, flannel shirt, and a stocky build a lot of people will often presume they’re a man, and then go to thinking about how attractive they are, how good they are in a fight, and so on. (Also notice that if said person is a woman the insults and jokes often come out. “How dare that person dress like a _____ but not be a ‘real’ ______!”) It saves the trouble of taking the time to learn about that person. So how do you think such people will react to a guy wearing dresses?
On top of the insults there will be people that will be just plain shocked over the fact that there is a man that doesn’t abide by traditional norms and dress in “men’s clothing.”
Clothing is tied very closely to the gender dynamic that we operate under these days. It’s a safety net, it’s a cushion, it’s an assurance that there is some semblance of order in this wild world. Men wear these things and women wear those things. Well, when these lines start to blur, the folks who depend on being able to judge if someone is a man or a woman by the clothes they wear are going to start getting uncomfortable. And that discomfort is going to show itself in the form of teasing, insults, and harassment. But what is the source of that discomfort?
I think one source of discomfort is from confusion over attraction.
Consider the many scenes in TV shows and movies where someone expresses attraction for a person, but then it turns out the person they were attracted to is not the gender they assumed them to be. Big laugh. They saw a person and judged them to be a man or a woman, but they were wrong. These situations are often played up as being funny. Never mind that in real life that hilarious gag too often ends in murder.
For a lot of people attraction is linked to sexual orientation and sexual orientation is linked to gender. I bet that because of this link, a lot of people don’t like the idea of people wearing clothes that are associated with “the other” gender. How will they know if the person they are checking out is a man or woman? If a straight woman sees someone in a dress and is not sure if they’re a man or woman, what will she do? Being straight she may not give much notice to a person in a dress because of the understood idea that dresses are for women. If a straight guy sees someone in a dress they may decide to try to make a move under the presumption that the person is a woman, only to see that it’s a guy.
In short its something like this. Clothing determines Gender. Gender determines Sexual Orientation. Sexual Orientation determines Attraction. If “Clothing”, the first step, is brought into question then in the minds of some folks the entire process is broken. And it’s not too often you see people who actually want to see an established process be broken. But those people are going to have to let that go.
So what other effects do you see coming from people like Mr. Spookshow, who are no longer dressing according to their gender?
Photo by wsilver/Flickr