1 July 2008

A Man's World (?)

Apologies in advance for the monster post!

So I've just read a very interesting post over at The Clothes Horse (read it here), and was asked a rather thought provoking question by its lovely author (or do I call her the blogger?). Anyhoo, rather than answer the question in a half arsed manner, I thought it would be easier to answer the questions in the wider context of looking at gender identity and why it is perceived that there are so few stylish men.

"According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome, the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man. A man's presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies. If the promise is large and credible, his presence is striking. If it is small or incredible, he is found to have little presence. The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, sexual - but its object is always exterior to the man. A man's presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. His presence may be fabricated, in the sense that he pretends to be capable of what he is not. But the pretence is always towards a power which he exercises on others.

By contrast, a woman's presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste - indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura.

To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman's self being split into two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across her room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.

And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.

She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.

Men survey women before treating them. Consequently how a woman appears to a man can determine how she will be treated. To acquire some control over this process, women must contain it and interiorize it. That part of a woman's self which is the surveyor treats the part which is the surveyed so as to demonstrate to others how her whole self would like to be treated. And this exemplary treatment of herself by herself constitutes her presence.
One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision: a sight"

I decided to rather slowly type that segment out from John Berger's Ways Of Seeing. The essay I quoted from actually deals with the role of the female nude in art and the difference between a naked woman, and a nude. However, I decided to put that in as it critiques the rather old sexist notions of both men and women...and to an extent a view that is still very much prevalent in today's society.

I would first like to talk about Berger's expose of how women have been regarded in history. The fact that women are portrayed as objects of beauty and desire to be pursued by men has been a negative one, despite ostensibly empowering women. You may disagree, as it may seem that this view regards women as more powerful then men, in that they are the ones that are in control. However I would like to point out that this role of women is still defined in terms of what women are to men: in today's society the image and identity of women is unfortunately for the most part still defined by the media from the viewpoint of men. By this I mean that in this view, women are not seen as simply being beautiful, they are seen as being beautiful for the purpose of men to chase, and from the view of men. I'd like to say women are beautiful for simply being women, regardless of men. You are beautiful for being you and people would like you to forget that sometimes and put you down.

This social identity of men, in the same respects, seems to be defined as having to be masculine and impressive in order to win over women and put down other men in competition. I would argue that this is not really a positive identity either, in that it is arguably barely above our natural animalistic instincts. In the wild the male will battle other males in order to win the female and the chance to carry on his line through offspring, whilst the loser will either submit to that male or leave the group. The notion that men need to be these masculine and strong types is still prevalent in our society, men are told that in order to attract women they need to be 'real men', rugged masculine types.

Although this may be the case in terms of looks, for it has been common that men with 'rugged' looks are considered more attractive in the mainstream, I would say that this has a negative impact when it comes to how men perceive themselves and especially fashion. Men are taught that women are attracted to 'real men', meaning a powerful masculinity, therefore any threat to this identity is seen as tantamount to weakness in the eyes of women and the eyes of other men. By this I would argue that being 'fashionable' for men is often seen as being overly feminine, in that worrying about looks was classically regarded as the troubles of women, for they were to be seen by the men. As such when it comes today to being a fashion conscious male, it is often seen to be emasculating, or the realm of homosexual men, where the standard male identity is no longer applicable.

For me personally, being a straight man, I find it strange to think that men are targetted by other men for being 'too feminine' or 'gay' simply for desiring to dress smartly and thoughtfully on a regular basis. I find it rather dichotomous in that most men feel good (even impressive maybe?) wearing a suit, regardless of the security of their male identity, yet for a man that wishes to make that same sort of effort on a daily basis and feel that personal satisfaction is often ostracised.

It seems that this is often overlooked in the media, we normally hear about the pressures on women, quite rightly may I add, yet a similar pressure is put on men. Most men want to look good for women, yet feel such attempts would make them appear less masculine in the eyes of other men and inevitably women. Also there is the fact that men are conditioned to be rugged, for example playing sports and getting dirty, yet women are brought up to believe they can't even sweat and need to look perfect all the time.

Personally, I dress for my own statisfication, I enjoy dressing up. Yet it doesn't really matter what it is I'm wearing. I think it is down to confidence, provided you are confident and comfortable in what you wear, who you are, and why you are doing what you are doing, you will look amazing regardless. After all the old addage 'confidence is sexy' came about for a reason! In terms of my friends, out of the guys, I am one of the minority in that I pay attention to my clothing, yet among the girls I find an accepting place. And yes I have received hostility and even gotten in some rather precarious situations, but that won't stop me being me. I find the typical promoted male identity as strange, in that I am not a burly, strong man, but that is not to say that that for whatever reason makes me less of a man than someone who is. Similarly a woman that dresses up wonderfully and is preceived as having beauty is no more a woman than someone who may not be considered so attractive and stylish.

Style and beauty can never be fully dictated by society. Yes, society tends to promote an ideal body shape or fashion must. However it is down to what you feel as an individual, if you like something, for example a pair of jeans you never thought you could wear, go for it, have the confidence with it and I guarantee more often that not you will feel amazing.

"I love you for who you are, never try to be anything else" - my mother!

Currently playing: Live And Learn - The Cardigans / Hate That I Love You ft. Neyo - Rihanna / With Me - Sum 41



  1. yeap,i agree!!
    confidence is sexy.
    your argument,your stlye,your idea...are unassailable.
    fashion is hundred,thousand,million possible.
    just be yourself.

  2. i will do the same for you! thank you

  3. LOVE your cardigan, so adorable.
    so right confidence is everything.

    antoinette x

  4. LOVE your cardigan, so adorable.
    so right confidence is everything.

    antoinette x

  5. Thank you so much for this whole post! I really enjoyed reading it. I think the person you quoted is so correct too--women can't really escape being the viewed (I was really irked yesterday when two people in my office were going on and on about how visual men are-I-get that there is some hardwiring, but we ALL have two eyes!).
    I think the strict gender roles put both sexes at a disadvantage--when society constrains us from wholly being ourselves we both suffer. I think it's even more admirable when a man dresses well, because he's really giving a middle finger to people's opinions, whereas a woman dressing well is practically expected.
    So, bravo!

  6. i still need to sit down on this! ahh.. u make me think (bec i dont like thinking!) ~haha.

    im already 'feeling' its a great post :) & ill say my comments afterwards!

  7. wow.....thank you for this post...I am really loving your blog sooo....Ive added you to my links!...

  8. Well written and I agree. Society cannot dictate how the gender identites should be anynomre. Dress according to mood and situation. If you feel good, you'll dress in a great manner!

    PS: the red cardigan from the previous entry is just what I've been looking for! Where did you get it?

  9. As a straight guy who makes a thoughtful effort to dress well, I really feel your post.

    I initially began to pay more attention to my personal style as a way to build confidence, after timid, shy and awkward throughout my teenage years, but it's gotten to the point where I don't do it as measure of confidence but because I enjoy taking pride in the manner in which I dress myself. Any confidence from this is simply a bonus at this point.

  10. The whole "if you dress well and you're a guy than obviously you're gay" mentality has always confused me.. Girls love well-dressed men, so dressing well = more female attention = more manly? Apparently not.

    But beyond that, I agree with many of the points you made in this post. There is such a double standard for males/females, and as much as we like to think that we have made huge bounds in the quest for equality of the sexes, the reality is that we are really quite far from it. I'm not sure if these stereotypes or mentalities will ever be eradicated.

    And I also agree that confidence is sexy. Dressing up/dressing well just makes me feel hot, fierce, sexy, like I can take on the world! Even if I happen to look mediocre or bad that day, I can pull it off and feel great if my mind is set. Real beauty is inner beauty, I think is the underlying message.

    Loved this post :)

  11. This is such a fantastic post! I definitely agree with what you (and John Berger) had to say on this subject. You're a great writer, by the way.

  12. Wonderful post, I enjoyed reading it so much that I ordered the entire book by John Berger ... Society will always be prejudiced towards individuality, but we are the ones who dictate the standards and then try to follow them. I still do not understand as to why it is so "wrong" for a man to want to look good just for himself(not for the sake of attracting women). I for one like men who know what is going on in the fashion world, and are not afraid to get their nails manicured(so that they do not look gross),who love being pampered just as must as I do.I cannot stand sloppy looking men and " rugged" look is not manly, it is a sing of carelessness... SORRY FOR A LONG COMMENT, but this entire idea of men not being able to be stylish is simply stupid

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  14. Thank you for this post. I actively try to help men evolve from old ideas and I try to lead from example. Having another insightful man doing the same, by personal declaration, is heart warming and encouraging!

    I wear what I feel. I never wear to empower unless I need to direct the illusion, like first impressions within an interview. I choose office clothes that are appropriate and still manage to express my calm days, my blah days etc.

    If I need to get a woman's attention, I'll talk, share, emote. I let my person and vibe fill the room through energy, not visual stimuli. It works so much better and it's honest.

    Eye contact is more powerful a communication tool than any article of clothing. I do it very deliberately and with intention to share myself, or discover the self before me.

  15. Amazing post! (I'm glad I fianlly got around to reading it...) Though I must say that as a girl living in the Suburban US, I often get ostracized for dressing nicely i.e. not showing up in my pyjamas or an ill-fitting pair of jeans and uggs. Of course, it usually stays as background whispers and snickers. I must admit to feeling that ever-present stare and my choices being colored by ensuring that I'm sending out the right message about how I'm to be treated. And of course, women are all over a man who dresses well, as Cher in Clueless pointed out. Gender roles suck.