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Burt S., Contributions from CSMMD Writers

Males in Dresses

I found an article on MSN.com that showed a man’s willingness to wear a dress in public in support of his young son’s preference for wearing dresses. I was amazed at the father’s sensitivity and willingness to confront conformity for the sake of his child’s identity and integrity.

I sent the URL to everyone at CSMMD in the following email:

 “OMG, people, have you seen this article?

 http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/dad-protects-son-bullies-wearing-skirt-guess-works-153600107.html

 “I wonder what my life would have been like if my father had had this kind of courage.”

As soon as I sent this email, I thought, “It’s not just that my father wouldn’t wear a dress, he COULD NOT wear a dress.” There are smaller acts of bravery he might have been able to finesse, but we are all creatures of our times; and the time (1950’s) was just not right for this act.

But “the moving hand writes, and having writ moves on…” The email had been sent. And to my amazement, 2 men responded as follows:

“Great article. Thanks for sharing. The question you ponder prompts me to reflect on my own parenting.”

“Ditto…this article is definitely something that causes me to consider my own thoughts on masculinity. I hope I have that kind of courage for my son/daughter one day.”

My first reaction was “oh no, what have I done?” Was it my intention to influence “straight” men to wear dresses? Did I really consider an outcome when I forwarded the article? No, not really. I realized some of my activism is bluff. Dare I ask the world to change? Am I prepared for that change? (Not that I think I was in any way responsible for these men’s choices; they are obviously thinking men who consider their options with profound deliberation.)

Both of the men who made these statements are men who (most would agree) are “masculine” in appearance and mannerisms. And yet they are both gentle men who are sensitive and kind (in my opinion). And they are apparently unafraid to consider very unconventional behaviors to model their love for their children. The times they are a-changin’.

By the way, perhaps for another blog, in my experience, “sensitive” has been a code word for “gay.” Men used to be considered unemotional, hard, immoveable objects. Sensitive meant “feminine” and soft, both considered characteristics of gay men. I got described as “too sensitive” well into adulthood and even now hear it occasionally.

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Males in dresses. There were 2  articles that accompanied the main one with the URL above. I read through the comment sections of all the articles. Some people suggested that if a man wore a dress, he should wear a “man’s dress,” a kilt. Some suggested that the Bible tells us that men should wear men’s clothes and women should wear women’s clothes, which is odd, because during Biblical times manly Roman warriors wore leather and metal skirts to fight, and togas and tunics to be citizens. Didn’t Jesus wear a tunic similar to a dress?

Isn’t it all just fashion, that changes radically with the times? When I lived in New York City, I used to love walking through the Metropolitan Museum. The portraits of men from the 14th to 16th centuries showed increasingly larger and larger cod pieces as the fashion of the day—jock straps worn on the outside of the outfit originally to conceal, but later to emphasize the male genitals. How disappointed their partners must have been when they undressed. It might look ridiculous to us now, but who knows when the fashion will come back into style?

Why do we get so churned up over fashion? I know I am righteous about men wearing pony tails. How absurd can you get? They should wear their hair bald, like me.

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I remember when my mother nearly succeeded at suicide. I was standing in the kitchen with my father. He told me he did not love my mother, and began to cry. I had never seen him cry, and had come to accept that he was a rock, a stone, a pillar. Seeing him dissolve into tears was the scariest moment of my life. Who could I count on now in a crisis?

If my father had worn a dress, back when I wore a towel like a skirt and danced the hula at the Bath Club, would I have felt validated, or felt my world turned upside down?

But that was then, and this is now. Now a man would not be thrown into jail for wearing a dress, and many people would just say, “It’s a fashion statement.” And men, real men, honest men, true men, might recognize the need to support their children by validating their behaviors rather than trying to force them to change into something which they are not.

- Burt Sorkey

About CSMMD Admin

The Center for the Studies of Masculinities and Men's Development at Western Illinois University. Research is clear that men are in crisis, particularly men from underrepresented populations. However, considerable disagreement exists about how to most effectively support men's engagement and development, while maintaining focus on social justice. The Center for the Study of Masculinities and Men’s Development aims to provide quality scholarship, advocacy, and programming that positively influences college men’s development in a manner congruent with gender equity and social justice.

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