I have recently seen this question pop up in the online men-wearing-skirts community and so I thought it would be a great topic to address. It understandably upsets a lot of men who casually wear skirts, dresses, and other gender-non-conforming clothes since not everyone does it just for a sexual thrill.
So why is there the perception amongst the uninformed that men are just doing it for their own sexual pleasure?
Why do people think men are only doing it for a sexual thrill?
This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. The reasons why people have prejudices against other groups of people are extremely diverse and elusive. There are as many reasons for people to think this way as there are reasons for men to wear skirts.
However, if you look closely, you can identify trends which is what I am going to write about here.
Gender = Sex
What I mean by sex in this case is not biological sex, but rather the act. I have heard from a lot of people who have not engaged with the topic of gender that they tend to associate it with the act of sex. I can only assume this is because they automatically think of the gender(s) they are attracted to.
Since men wearing skirts is a topic that is very closely associated with gender, people, therefore, tend to sexualize it as soon as they are confronted with it. This especially seems to be the case with anyone who is attracted to a traditionally feminine appearance.
When, for example, a heterosexual man sees a person in a skirt, he may feel a certain sexual attraction towards the wearer since that person is wearing traditionally feminine clothing. However, when he sees a man wearing a skirt, he may try to deflect that attraction by projecting the sexualization of it onto the other man wearing the skirt. In this example, homophobia plays a role, but more on that later.
A similar example of this sort of deflection can be found when you look at cases of men who have molested women and then blamed them because they wore provocative clothing.
Generalization, Ignorance and Dismissiveness
I’ve lumped these three words into a single section because they are related in this context. Those who dismiss the topic are ignorant of it and will generalize it so that they can feel like they understand it without ever having to engage with it.
Most people prefer to live their lives comfortably and as soon as something brings them out of their comfort zone, they will automatically dismiss it. For the most part, their comfort zone will have been heavily influenced by the society around them. Since it is not yet normal at a societal level for men to wear skirts, they are pushed into uncharted territory that makes them uncomfortable when they are confronted with it.
However, instead of engaging with this oddity, they would rather stick their heads in the sand (or elsewhere) and dismiss it outright so that it goes away as soon as possible. In order to do that though, they need to be able to somehow fit what they’ve encountered into their preexisting worldviews.
So, they generalize. They automatically associate men wearing skirts with gender and thus with the act of sex. That means to them, the man wearing a skirt must be doing it for a sexual thrill. With this logic, they can neatly and dismissively stuff the whole encounter into the bucket of “weird sexual things”, which does exist in most people’s worldviews, and move on.
In this case, the old saying “ignorance is bliss” fits rather well.
The Trend of Sexualizing Anything That Isn’t “Normal”
The trend of sexualizing anything that deviates from the norm is not just a phenomenon that occurs with men wearing gender-non-conforming clothing. It seems to be something that is frequently done to explain away any behavior considered odd by society.
“Think of the kids!” is the rallying call of a lot of politicians when they want to ban something. In the past couple of years, this “something” has usually been related to gender or sexual orientation, especially in conservative areas.
These politicians claim to want to protect kids from these “overtly sexual” issues. But how did gender and sexual orientation become so sexualized to begin with?
It isn’t the majority of people who are affected by these bans who are doing the sexualizing. It is the politicians and their supporters who are using it as a weapon against what they consider to be deviant behavior.
By sexualizing it, they can convince large numbers of people that it belongs in the “weird sexual things” bucket. Since these people seem to (publicly) be against any devious sexual behavior, they will support this view as well as a ban.
Bans are just one example of how sexualizing “deviant” behavior can be used to trivialize a topic that you are afraid of.
When people are pushed outside of their comfort zone, they will react in different ways. Some will certainly be intrigued, but others will react aggressively out of fear. People are generally afraid of change and of being confronted with the unknown. Men wearing skirts is a big change for them.
By sexualizing it, they can contextualize it within their preconceived notion of the world which helps alleviate the fear. It also trivializes it and makes it easy to dismiss.
Of course, as mentioned above, homophobia also plays a role. Boys are taught from a young age that being gay or feminine in any way is the worst thing that you can be. There is a certain fear of it that is sometimes literally beaten into them in the schoolyard.
While that might slowly be changing in the younger generations, it is still very much so prevalent in the majority of the adult population who is incapable of thinking outside of the box they were forced into.
Men wearing traditionally feminine attire has long been associated with homosexuality. Just look at the example of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans (1640-1701) who was King Louis XIV’s younger brother. It was well-known that he had male lovers and he frequently attended official court events dressed in feminine attire.
By associating men in skirts with homosexuality, people frequently assume that the men wearing them are gay. They are incapable of realizing that some are and some aren’t — exactly like men wearing jeans or any other traditionally masculine clothes — and that a person’s fashion choices don’t necessarily reflect their sexual orientation.
Skirt-Wearing Men Who Do Sexualize It
Combing through social media sites like Instagram, you can see a number of men who do, indeed, sexualize dressing in gender-non-conforming clothes. They post pictures and videos of themselves wearing provocative feminine attire and lingerie that are immediately associated with the act of sex. Sometimes they even perform sexual acts while wearing these clothes.
I am of the opinion that they should be able to do it, write about it, post about it on social media, or whatever it is that they want to do. That is their right just as it’s other men’s right to wear gender-non-conforming clothes for non-sexual reasons.
The problem isn’t with the men who are doing it for a sexual thrill. They are just doing what they enjoy, and they should be allowed to do so freely.
The problem is with the people who, as I mentioned above, generalize and just toss people who live differently together into the same barrel without accepting that there is a lot of diversity within that group. Or, indeed, that this “group” might actually consist of multiple groups. They don’t want to engage with the topic and only want to dismiss it without a thought because they are not comfortable with it.
What can we do to change their attitudes?
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a whole lot we can do. People are going to judge and categorize us based on our preferences and the more they deviate from the “norm”, the harsher the judgments will be.
That said, our best weapon against this stigma is exposure. The more people see men in skirts and other gender-non-conforming clothing, the more normal it will become. People may still not fully accept it or even engage with the topic, but the more widespread it becomes, the less likely they will be to sexualize it.
Instead, the goal is really to make it seen for what it is: a personal fashion choice. It might stay a more niche fashion choice and that is fine. There are niche styles that have become more accepted over the years such as gothic fashion and that should be what we strive for.
If we manage that, the sexualization of it will automatically dissipate.
The more I worked on this article, the stronger my emotional reaction to the subject matter became. I was surprised to find how frustrated it made me. Again, it isn’t about the men who do dress up for a sexual thrill. I have absolutely no problem with that whatsoever.
What gets me is the ignorant reaction of a lot of people who just simply want to dismiss the topic outright without ever actually engaging with it. You could call it a “head in the sand” reaction. If they close their eyes and ears and wait long enough, then maybe it will just go away.
The problem is that this reaction doesn’t work. It just exposes their ignorance and closed-mindedness. We won’t go away, and the number of men wearing gender-non-conforming clothes just continues to grow around the world — no matter the reason.
So, let’s continue to get louder and more visible and make it even more difficult for them to stay in their comfortable ignorance! Let’s get rid of this stigma imposed upon us by making our choice of fashion more prevalent and less unusual.
The only way to do that is to get out there and wear the clothes you like, regardless of what gender society associates them with.
I am looking forward to the discussion on this topic! Did I miss any points you think are relevant? Let me know your thoughts about it in the comments below!