I love to challenge my students in regards to beliefs, societal norms, and cultural expectations. As a strong proponent of new experiences and change, I frequently find myself encouraging others to try something different in order to gain new perspectives. I believe this to be of particular importance the older we get—as opening ourselves up to new information and experiences truly helps to keep our minds fresh and challenged.
So, this past week when I challenged a particularly effeminate male student, who basically despises everything masculine, to open himself up to new “macho” experiences in which he may feel uncomfortable, going to an NFL game for example, he cringed. It occurred to me that perhaps that could be too much, too soon. So I reconsidered.
“Ok, Jack,” I stated, “if you wear an NFL football jersey to class on Thursday, I will wear a dress…all day.”
As a man who has no interest in wearing women’s clothing, I somewhat instantly regretted my offer as he quickly took me up on it. However, I also have no interest in being a hypocrite. If I challenge my students to take on new experiences that go against their natural inclinations, why shouldn’t I?
It turned out to be one of the better ideas I have had in my life
So, the next day, I went with my daughter Tessa dress shopping (at The Good Will…. I knew I would likely never wear it again) who helped me pick out a nice red and black paisley with matching sleeves and a delicious plunging neckline.
And what did I learn from my day dressed as a woman? 5 things. 5 things I already knew at some superficial level, though experiencing it firsthand solidified and greatly deepened my understanding. I realize these lessons are very specifically from the United States perspective of cultural norms.
- Wearing a dress all day gave me an unusually high level of awareness concerning my, ah, “junk.” A dress provides extremely easy access to the genital area while having to work fairly hard all day ensuring you are not the victim of public upskirt porn or the Marilyn Monroe style blown up dress. Could it be that we made dresses for women the, essentially, cultural norm in a society that hyper-sexualizes them? I do not claim to be a student of fashion history, yet dresses certainly make women more easily sexually available from a practical, “let’s make this as accessible as possible” perspective. In the little bit of research I performed for this blog, it does appear that the voracious male sexual appetite has always played a central role in determining clothing norms. Call me crazy, yet when you have to work all day ensuring your genitals do not fall out, a much greater cognizance of their presence is the natural result. As a man with pants we just tuck that bad boy away, zip up, and move on.
- Wearing a dress all day made me feel somewhat scared and vulnerable. As I walked through campus and endured the laughs, the dirty looks and even taunts (one young man said, “you wearing that dress makes me want to kiss you,” in jest, to be sure, though it still crossed his mind) I was not sure if I was even safe. Now I am quite certain if I did wear a dress everyday my level of sensitivity would decrease, yet this experience offered me a very small, yet profound insight into the vulnerability some disenfranchised others—such as the handicapped, effeminate males, “bull dike” lesbians or certain out-of-place ethnicities, may feel on a daily basis. Wow. I just wore a dress one day at a college campus as a stunt…while certain people have to live this as a way of life. This experience was surprisingly insightful and has given me a new perspective of cultural outliers.
- Wearing a dress all day caused me to reach a higher level of critical understanding concerning cultural norms and practices. Why shouldn’t men wear dresses? It is just fabric that covers the body—which is really the entire purpose of clothing. Why have we attached such strong gender specific identification to clothing? It is just…CLOTHING. Who gives a flying f? Who was the council that got together and declared what is for men and what is for women… and what was the logic behind it? It makes absolutely no sense from a strictly “do things rationally for a valid reason” perspective. I realize that some men wear dresses as official garb, such as priests and supreme court justices, yet that is designed to place dress over existing clothing as to not let the outfit you are wearing underneath play any form of distraction in official proceedings. What other bullshit cultural norms do we we buy into everyday? This experience really has me thinking at a higher level of consciousness concerning what we do and why we do it.
- Wearing a dress all day made me realize society has a double standard: Women can dress like men and it is socially acceptable though men cannot dress like women. Ok, my daughter, Tessa (the one who likes to go dress shopping for her dad) disagrees with me on this one and I understand her point and do not necessarily disagree with it. Her understanding is that this double-standard really is not a double-standard at all. Men are the powerful in society and to emulate one through dress is acceptable; to emulate the less powerful is unacceptable—and perhaps this is true, yet, it still creates the same result —there is a stigma against males dressing as females, whatever the reason. Ruth Greyraven, a card toting member of the “female who dresses as male” club and biology professor at Crafton Hills College, had this to say about gender and clothing on Facebook:
Since 1968, I’ve been participating in a social experiment where I wear “men’s” clothes. I got sent home from school and threatened with expulsion the first few times, even when the outfit was a girlie-colored and femme-cut pantsuit. Times changed for women, but not as much for men…women don’t get arrested for cross-dressing in this country. And a butch woman is far less likely to be beat to shit by queer bashers than a cross-dressing guy.
Agreed Ruth. In my courses, most female students do not wear dresses, rather, mostly, jeans and a t-shirt…traditional guy clothing. However, to my point above, why does this double-standard even exist? Clothing should not be an issue in the first place. Wearing a dress all day reaffirmed my commitment to continually challenge myself and others to test all cultural norms. Why? Not to be different, arrogant, unwilling or defiant—rather for the purpose of assisting the evolution of culture to be more loving and accepting of others, and, secondly, for the purpose of personal growth. As mentioned above, what else are we doing in 2016 that is traditional though not logical; unacceptable but with no basis; insensitive and for no good reason? Clothing is likely just one cultural contradiction of many.
So there you have it, my day dressed as a woman, in a dress. I had absolutely no idea the profound impact this would have on my psyche.
I dare you. Step out and explore new realms. You will have no idea of the effects it may have on you, the individual, and culture, the collective. Jack did it…so can the rest of us.