Masculinity - Woven In The Fabric (or is it?).
Boys don’t cry. Real men are in touch with their emotional side.
Men don’t wear pink. Real men wear pink.
Skirts are for women. They’re kilts! I jest...
Definitions of what makes a man a “man” have changed through the ages just like the fads and trends that come and go. Is a man a “man” if he cooks and cleans or wear women pants? Why, yes…clearly they haven’t gotten rid of their “family jewels.” At the core of the ongoing (and perhaps unnecessary debate as to “what is a man” or “what is a woman,” for that matter) is not the hardware that we’re endowed with but how we act, “the software” as it were.
There is a list of “unspoken” rules as to what constitutes a “man.” For instance, a man ought not to act “soft” or “effeminate,” wear make-up, or speak girlishly - as though the concept of “machismo” is integrated in the very DNA of every man. To behave, in any way, less than “male” is to not be a man. Yet, more men are starting to take care of their self-image (working out but also wearing beauty products and, yes, make-up) and let’s not forget the number of male chefs, manny and nurses that are out there. There is a movement towards accepting that “macho” does not define a “man” but has that solved the question? Somewhat.
The problem, or rather, the underlying problem of the problem is not so much the definition of a “man” but Man as they relate to the concept of masculine and feminine. While it is possible to determine an individual’s gender by means of their hardware like ticking a box on a government form (even that is simplifying the concept of gender to its most grotesquely basic essence, “do you have a penis?” Yes/No?). Masculinity and/or the lack thereof? Not so easy.
No man or woman, adult or otherwise, is ever at the extreme end of either. They are somewhere on this spectrum of character. I won’t go into the biology and genetics of it all but even boiling down to the genetic data that comprises us highlights how much of a mixture we are of “man” and “woman” parts. Imagine then how messier and complicated the question becomes when we deal with the question of gender, masculinity, and sexual orientation from a societal perspective.
How then can we determine one’s level of masculinity (if the question even needs to be asked or answered)? Putting aside the question as to “why” an individual may want to walk in someone else’s shoes (to see if they fit, lol) but having this perspective will allow for greater understanding and acceptance in society. That said, identity can never be fully gleamed or understood by anyone other than the very person whose identity is being crafted (not even the lover that shares the same bed). It is, however, possible to get close to the “truth” but it cannot be done without a level of “Trust.”
A level of trust between oneself and society is required in order for the crafted identity to be seen as it was crafted to be. I trust that you will not misconstrue my creative (and stylish) use of Uniqlo’s wide jeans as a demand for boobs (I’m already struggling with a pair of moobs to be rid of). In order for this Identity of creative expression to be accurately perceived by “others” (society) there is also a need, and dependence, on their reaction (just as how your bff gives you their honest opinion on how those pants make one’s booty looks unflatteringly big). Therein lies the complication! A kind of lost-in-translation, if you will.
The current society that I am currently situated in has a higher probability of viewing my style as representative of my sexuality as “gay,” in which case, it may not be. Issues and conflicts arise because of this groundless judgement call that is not based on mutual reciprocity and communication. Instead of a trust-based situation between myself and society it runs the risk of becoming a one-way street where society has labelled my individuality as “feminine” or “homosexual.” That is not to say that it is all society’s fault. Identity does not exist out there like a rock in the middle of a park but is crafted at the time and place as it is established by the concerned individuals. Hence, knowing that Malaysia is as it is (a confused society in midst of tradition and modernity) I cannot blame the country for viewing me as “feminine” or “gay.” That is simply how they’ve come to define a person’s sexuality (by their clothing). Just as we require trust from each other a society has also established a level of trust of its inhabitants to act in a certain manner. Wear woman pants then you must be effeminate (a rudimentary and extreme view of this country’s perception…I hope).
The problem of identity, or perhaps, stereotyping, is clear but how can we even hope of changing it? For one thing, we must accept that it should never be imposed from the top but accepted from the bottom. The situation in which I am currently “acting” in will dictate what is, and is not, part of my identity. If I wear what I wear and was in a drag race then perhaps society’s perception and identification is well justified. What is incorrect, and inappropriate, is when neither the individual, “stage” (setting), and/or props (fashion) has suggested its meaning but someone else has already crafted one for them. At this point, the question of relevance has not even been considered, but relevance also plays an important role in identity and meaning (for another longform post, perhaps).
Clothes are not merely things that we cover ourselves with due to the lack of our ancestral fur. Clothes, style and fashion has a role to play in expressing who we are and crafting our identities. I don't believe that they should be confined or restricted by man-made rules. Pants are pants (if they are worn as pants) and they are for men or women depending on who wears them. At the end of the day, are pants for women because of their measurements and cut? Is an individual a man or woman based on what their momma gave them (their biological assets) or their level of masculinity? You are what you’re seen to be wearing but what you wear does not have “meaning” woven into its fabric. People create meaning so wear what you want and craft your own identity.
Express your creative self no matter how much other people may judge you. Don't be stifled by society's "norms" and if it gets too tight to breathe then grab a pair of Uniqlo Denim Wide Leg Pants. For an added touch of "do you think I'm not masculine" don a flowery print shirt by Club Monaco. When people do start to make their opinions known, don't fight them! Instead, accessorise with SEE 5346 by SEE Eyewear and reflect back to them their own perceptions of self. After all, you are who you think people think you are.