FEMALE PRIVILEGE – Gendering Class, Part I

Commenter Schala has remarked several times that the way the gender system in our societies works is that women are a functional aristocracy and men are a functional proletariat. (Of course there is a kyriarchal class above all of this, composed of both men and women in about equal numbers, the elites we are constantly told are all men. The men are merely more visible, but the women benefit equally with the men.)

Schala’s thesis pulls a lot of disparate cultural norms into a framework with a lot of explanatory and predictive power. I haven’t worked this out into any kind of final form, the list of norms and features of the culture is likely incomplete, there will be connections I do not yet see, but I want to pull together what I do have for comment.

Let’s look at some of these cultural norms:

Dress – Women are allowed, expected in fact, to dress stylishly and even flamboyantly. Men are generally not allowed this, and in fact even showing an interest in dress is policed.

Work – Outdoor work tends to be a male preserve; indoor work tends to be a female preserve. (Certainly there is plenty of low-status indoor work, but even low-status indoor work is higher-status than equivalent outdoor work and when men get indoor work it is often as a reward or considered a raise in status.) This indoor/outdoor dichotomy means that men have the job of dealing with strangers, and that ironically means that men deal with warfare, politics above the clan level, commerce and all the other things that are the source of economic and political power. The price of course is all the risk and injury that entails.

Physical violence – A woman who inflicts physical violence on a man is often supported and justified by various gender stereotypes around violence, while a man who inflicts violence on a woman is considered at the least unmanly and at the worst some kind of beast. This is encoded in the “You never hit a girl” rule.

Coarseness and refinement – Gender norms for males allow or even require coarseness of manner while women are generally policed for coarseness, even now. These days women can engage in a whole spectrum of previously forbidden rude behaviors, but if you look carefully, they have to compensate with some kind of hyper-refinement in some other area. It may be daintiness of diet, to the point of rejecting certain foods as coarse or “gross” or it may be exaggerated disgust at the crudity of men.

How does this relate to class? When we look at modes of dress, types of work and norms around physical violence , we see that the female end of the spectrum aligns with the prerogatives of aristocrats – expensive and conspicuous modes of dress, staying in out of the sun and cold, and protection form physical violence from below, and that the male end of the spectrum aligns with the lot of peasants and laborers – drab and functional dress, outdoor work being considered more manly, and vulnerability to physical violence inflicted with impunity.

How did this system arise? Obviously it was not some female conspiracy to grab power. Women wouldn’t have had the power to pull that off anyway. I think it evolved as a confluence of various lines of historical development.

The Indoor/Outdoor Dichotomy – This seems to be one constant across cultures around the world. Men deal with everything outside the home or the clan. They defend the land and resources the community needs, they deal with strangers, either in war or in politics – even with divine strangers, which is how men figure so prominently in the Old Testament over women – and outdoor work is for men – working fields, tending livestock, resource extraction in mines and forests and on the sea. Women on the other hand have the job of maintaining the base camp for all of this. Women do the initial norming of children, they process crops and the catch into actual food and they often set the norms of behavior for everyone in the this base camp. But as soon as an activity normally associated with women starts being done for outsiders it becomes men’s work, and this is why baking, pottery, cooking, even weaving become men’s work as soon as someone is paying for it – because it’s only strangers who have to pay for any of this.

Conversely transgression of this division are policed. Within living memory little girls were punished for trying to climb trees, barred from athletics celebrated like oddities for being able to shoot well, drive a car of fly an airplane. Even now farting is considered somehow unfeminine, as if women’s bowels work differently from men’s.

Modes of dress – Here I think the split is due to the rise of capitalism and industrialization. We often think of capitalism as the triumph of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat, but in fact it was the triumph of the bourgeoisie over the aristocracy, with the bourgeoisie wresting power over the proletariat form the aristocracy. This process took centuries and the two contesting classes kept distinct in a number of ways – snobbery on the aristocratic side and prudish moral superiority on the bourgeois side. So where male aristocrats decked themselves out like drag queens – just watch the opening scenes of Dangerous Liaisons for a taste of this – the rising bourgeoisie kept to sedate and drab colors and sturdy materials for their business suits. These naturally have evolved into luxury items of clothing, with luxurious materials, but the drab colors remain. And in any case, jeans and Carhartt are still more macho.

Coarseness and refinement – this is a huge area and I don’t have this mapped out much at all.

 

So that’s the first cut. Please comment and contribute and I will thank you. And if that process of contribution and refinement leads to junking this thesis, thanks for that too.

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  • Stars Die

    I’ve often thought a lot of this as well.

    One point was interesting to me:

    “Obviously it was not some female conspiracy to grab power. Women wouldn’t have had the power to pull that off anyway.”

    Can you expand on why you think that is? Strictly a physical prowess kind of thing?

    While a “conspiracy” wouldn’t be necessary, women grabbing power doesn’t seem like a far-fetched idea.

  • Jared

    My thought is that yes, women did have the power, but no, none of this was deliberate.

  • Schala

    Thanks for citing me.

    I came to this idea due to the vehemence with which women (and some men) police the borders of womanhood, in a way they don’t police manhood.

    Following feminist logic that “it’s better to be a man” and that feminity is devalued, we wouldn’t see this. No one defends the slave class from having people pretend to be slaves.

    Besides the inherence of value in women versus having to earn that value in men, I recently came to think that the defaultness of manhood makes it a non-identity. Basically, maleness only exists in opposition to femaleness, because maleness itself is never named. So people in the named group feel more of a claim “protecting entry” to their group than people in the nameless group who have no positive identity to lay claim to.

    Coarseness and refinement – this is a huge area and I don’t have this mapped out much at all.

    The arts fit there.

    Artistic endeavors, similar to fashion and hairdressing pursuits, are discouraged in boys (and that’s an understatement). So men are discouraged from going into dancing, into artistic skating, into painting, into drawing, into music stuff (even the more acceptably “manly” guitar), writing novels.

    That stuff is “for sissies” and gay people (and aristocrats). So says the script.

    Maybe it was originally a defense mechanism to see the aristocrats as particularly unmanly, in a “Heh, he might be rich, but at least I can change tires on my car!”, sort of way to prove even the proletariat has value.

    While the highly creative men are encouraged, they are so by a minority, who is mostly intellectually inclined to start with (and brainiacs aren’t considered manly either). They are discouraged heavily by popular culture, except for fads and fashions about “what is in” at any given moment coinciding with your artform (ie videogames nowadays).

    So coarseness is encouraged in men because it proves he’s not one of those snub rich guy who’s word is the law about firing people, nor one of those high-bureaucrats that hasn’t lived it but sends millions to war, not that lab coat guy who’s “not lived a practical/conservative life like us”.

    And it’s not in women, but I never got why. Besides the link to aristocracy. I can ‘get’ the link to arts, but not to coarseness.

    Refinement is proving how aristocratic you are by following stupid ever-changing rules made for people who have way too much time on their hands anyways. A passtime of the very rich to be sure. It can “look neater”, possibly more graceful, but it also looks anal retentive. It looks like it’s from France or Britain circa 19th century. The stereotype, which remained of both those countries, is gay men who are too snob and too feminine (but mostly: unmasculine) to be a real threat or be able to fight/win in anything. At least from the POV of US and Canada.

    Female domination is a thing in Britain. Petticoating. Victorian origin, probably really happened in some screwed up families. Basically, you take a boy, break his spirit until he obeys your every word, and then treat him like a girl, make him dress as one, and try to humiliate him as much as possible so as to emasculate him, to make him “a better husband” (ie henpecked) later in life. It’s even a fetish for some nowadays. In short, you make a doormat out of a boy, who you then tell is a perfect husband. Nice guys of the 19th century, but at least they got married I guess.

  • JE

    I have many times noticed the fact that modern female dress is often based on the dress of aristocratic men of earlier times.

    @Stars Die: For power to be the result of a power grab there would still need to be an outside reason the people making the power grab had the power to make the power grab in the first place.

  • IogSotot

    This is an interesting reply to feminists’ “everything ever is oppressive to women, men are princes” rhetoric, although I wouldn’t go so far as to mirror feminists, if that’s where we’re heading.

    Men’s clothing is boring, and I wouldn’t be the first to note how it takes a real effort for a modern Western woman to crossdress, but in at least some cultures/subcultures, a wife’s jewelry and clothing are a status symbol for both her and her husband. I’m not sure it reflects a general power disparity.

    The power grab which comes to my mind is the greedy refusal to relinquish any traditional female privilege while demanding traditional male privilege: the perks of apexuality without sacrificing female identity, feminist damseling, the recent Adria Richards episode.

  • Copyleft

    Who knew that H.G. Wells had it right all along? Except men are the Morlocks and women are aspiring to be the Eloi.

  • John D

    I’m not sure I care for the designation of class labels to men & women. This is where the vessel of feminism has run into the hate iceberg so to speak.

    Feminism (nearly all sects) have codified a belief system into dogmatic rules that say even today in the west women have it worse i.e. “patriarchy” & “male privilege” theories.

    These theories depend on a lot of confirmation bias. When challenged most feminists disbelieve the contradicting evidence rather than reassessing their beliefs. Patriarchy & male privilege are used as beliefs that give the believe moral authority to ignore the harms of society to men.

    MRA’s doing the same shit isn’t very cool.

    The remainder of the article I like.
    I think the mra needs to remain a movement that fights particular issues & stays away from adopting belief systems that could possibly lead us down the same hateful road that feminism took.

  • Valkina

    This is of topic but I that you might be interested in this. I saw some MRA’s talking about it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI-W-ifrRfM

  • Adiabat

    I once watched a documentary on the history of the high heel (Sounds weird I know: in the UK BBC4 often shows these documentaries on really obscure subjects that make you go wtf! but turn out to be really insightful and well done. They are often the best documentaries on TV).

    Essentially the high heel was originally riding shoes worn by Persian riders; the best riders in the world at the time. At the height of the “all things Persian” craze a few centuries ago the aristocracies in Europe adopted them, first the men then the women. They were mainly adopted for their unsuitability as footwear when not riding, as unsuitable clothing was a sign of nobility as it highlighted the fact that they don’t have to do any work (unlike those peasants). At this time both men and women glorified in unsuitable clothing.

    When the enlightenment came such attitudes to clothing went out of fashion. Practical clothing became a sign of the elite, as more of them were ‘getting into’ the sciences and the arts (most notable scientists of the time were from the nobility, with a couple of famous exceptions). This is where the major split occurred, as women kept the unsuitable fashions while men dressed more practically.

    There are several arguments that could be made of this fact. Did noble men see that becoming more bourgeoisies (ie useful), or at least *appearing* to do so, was the best way to retain wealth and status in a changing world, while female nobles who could easily marry wealth and power wherever it was held had no need to do this? Were noble women kept out of the sciences and arts and so fashions for elite women had no drive to change? (Examples such as Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the 17th Century, who was able to publish several books on natural philosophy and was a regular at the Royal Society, is evidence against this idea).

    Nowadays women can switch between the practical and unsuitable fashions at will, adopting whichever ‘persona’ they want (if ‘persona’ is the right word but I’m struggling for a better one). This could be interpreted as being able to adopt the aristocratic status at will, while also being able to claim the status that comes with the practical/useful/”bourgeoisies” as well. In this respect this is an advantage, or “privilege” if you are inclined to use unhelpful terms, that modern women have over men.

    Good post Ginkgo.

  • http://thedamnedoldeman.com TDOM

    I agree in principle, but would caution you about setting firm boundaries in your dichotomies. There has always been considerable overlap making boundaries quite fuzzy. I liked the Dangerous Liaisons example, but don’t get too caught up in “as seen on tv.” TV is more stereotype than reality. The family farm was just that. So were mom & pop stores. Work was shared and more evenly distributed than you’re giving credit for. I don’t like the “indoor/outdoor” dichotomy. I think it is mislabeled. Not all men’s work has traditionally been outdoors and not all women’s work has been indoors. The dichotomy is more like foreign vs domestic. Women have always tended to work in and around the home while men have ventured out. Women have traditionally chosen work within the family, clan, or tribe while men have more traditionally chosen work within the tribe and between tribes. You are right in the characterization of men’s work as being more physical and higher risk. The family farm would be work at the family level and the mom& pop store at the tribal level (dealing mostly with known townspeople).

    Modes of dress is an interesting topic that can be looked at first on an evolutionary level. In many species brightly colored feathers or fur is used as an advertisement of sexual availability. One sex advertises and the other proves worthiness in order to be chosen. In humans it appears to be the female that advertises and the male who proves worthiness in order to be chosen. Dress fits this pattern. Young available women tend to dress more provocatively in order to attract attention to show availability. This is where the policing of dress comes in. There were (still are in some circles) strict limits placed on just how provocative a woman could dress. Exceed those limits and she risked being labeled a slut. Not provocative enough and she could be seen as a prude. If married, prudish dress was encouraged in order to discourage men other than the husband. However, most women still wanted to dress attractively in order to maintain their husband’s interest. A balance had to be struck. On the other hand, men dress practically. their interactions with the outside world often required more rugged clothing. Also men who dressed more provocatively were viewed more like women (sometimes considered homosexuals) and may be disdained by both men and women. Women have always been able to push the boundaries more than men, but there have always been consequences for both when the boundaries are exceeded.

    I think a similar argument can be made for coarseness and refinement. In order for an available woman to be as attractive as possible to men, she attempted to act as feminine as possible. In order to prove worthiness, men act as masculine as possible. I think this is one way that hypermasculinity enters the picture. women look for men to prove worthiness by proving manhood (which can be equated to crude, rugged behavior) and men then compete to outman each other.

    It’s a very interesting topic and a good article.

  • Schala

    One sex advertises and the other proves worthiness in order to be chosen. In humans it appears to be the female that advertises and the male who proves worthiness in order to be chosen.

    And in the those peacocks, it’s the peacock who advertises AND who has to prove worthiness.

  • Theodmann

    I was under the impression that men’s clothing didn’t get really drab until the French Revolution, when it suddenly became very dangerous to one’s health to be identifiably aristocratic. I would also assume the danger was greater if one were an aristocratic man, since people tend to really dislike putting women to death.

    So the male French aristocrats started wearing the sporting dress of English country gentlemen, and then everyone else followed suit because all of Europe still followed the fashion of Paris.

    Schala,

    So coarseness is encouraged in men because it proves he’s not one of those snub rich guy who’s word is the law about firing people, nor one of those high-bureaucrats that hasn’t lived it but sends millions to war, not that lab coat guy who’s “not lived a practical/conservative life like us”.

    And it’s not in women, but I never got why. Besides the link to aristocracy. I can ‘get’ the link to arts, but not to coarseness.

    Coarseness shows a preoccupation with function over form. The rich guy, the bureaucrat and the pencil-necked egghead all have little practical “real-world” experience, and thus are looked down on, because men are human doings rather than beings, so if they can’t do anything real, they’re nothing. They have no function. That is what a coarse man is distancing himself from.

    Women, on the other hand, are human beings. They don’t need to have any function, so there’s no advantage to advertising their concern for practicality over outward appearance. Indeed, they are encouraged to place impractical amounts of concern on their appearance, and apparently still feel pressure not to speak out of turn or ruffle any feathers. Seen and not heard, as it were. I’m pretty sure that such pressure is coming mostly from other women, although men get blamed for it. The pressure on men to be coarse is also mostly from other men.

  • Ginkgo

    Stars Die! Welcome!
    “I’ve often thought a lot of this as well.

    One point was interesting to me:
    “Obviously it was not some female conspiracy to grab power. Women wouldn’t have had the power to pull that off anyway.”
    Can you expand on why you think that is? Strictly a physical prowess kind of thing?
    While a “conspiracy” wouldn’t be necessary, women grabbing power doesn’t seem like a far-fetched idea.

    Lack of physical strength was a part of the resaon perhaps, but if you look at the challenges people faced, that reason falls apart – why wouldn’t women have developed that strength over time if it gave an advantage?

    No, what I meant was that men and women needed each other to surivive and they worked this through personal relationships. Nowadays women need men more than men need women, but in a diffuse and socialized way we call civil society, so there is no personal experience of need-based cooperation. In former times the issue wasn’t strength but skills – boys and girls both needed most of their short childhoods to learn the skills that pertained to thier genders. Subsistence farming is highly skilled work, and so is foragaing for that matter. There for a few years every spring there would be a tragedy around here of some Russian family going mushrooming in the woods and getting a hold of something that only looked like the edible species back home.

    Spinning was especially difficult to learn and weaving was no larke either – setting up a loom to weave a bolt of cloth is very demanding work – but so was the word-wooking that men needed for thier families. And so on.

  • Ginkgo

    TDOM, John D, all –

    Thanks for yoyur comments. I am going to read them in more detail with the care they deserve but in the meantime I want tos say I agree with all your coautions about codifying this kind of thing inot docrine. While I do think soeem kind of theoretical framework or general principles are necessary to do anything productive when it comes to specific issues, prematuere rigidity is not the way to go.

    I think this is where feminism made its foundational mistake. It didn’t do the hard work of analyzing gender roles but so wise after all, so feminism failed to see the hyperagency/hypoagency dichotomy at the root of the traditional gender system and instead incorproated and buuilt on it with victimhood narratives and all the dysfunstion that resulted frorm that.

    In aoprticualr I am not looking to draw some absolute parallel between gender and class. They are not parallel; they bleed into each other. We will se this in an upcoming post about “white women’s tears” discussing how in the US the less white you are or the less middle or upper class you are, the less feminine you register as feminine in the culture, with real observable differneces in the way these no-conforming women are treated (- more like men).

    Good point about the clothes thing and Dangerous Liaisons. i realized at the time how that would like “as seen on TV” but I let iti stand because I didn’t not have time to do a bunch of footnotes. dangerous Liaisons was shorthand for all the aristocratic display in dress. Look at the peacocky regimentals cavalry units wore. Pimpin’.

    Whic is an exmaple of how complex this is – actuial low-stasue mena re free to pimp and prance and dress like lords exactly because they are low -status and their masculinity is beyond any question.

  • Schala

    In aoprticualr I am not looking to draw some absolute parallel between gender and class. They are not parallel; they bleed into each other. We will se this in an upcoming post about “white women’s tears” discussing how in the US the less white you are or the less middle or upper class you are, the less feminine you register as feminine in the culture, with real observable differneces in the way these no-conforming women are treated (- more like men).

    On a continuum of masculinity to feminity we view:

    Asian men, white men, black men, in this order.

    On a continuum of masculinity to feminity we view:

    Black women, white women, asian women, in this order.

    Basically asian people are considered more overall feminine by Western people, while black people are considered overall more masculine by Western people. And white people are in the middle, being the default, since we’re talking about the West.

    Female privilege diminishes the more black and less asian you become (if that’s possible to describe this way).

    And male privilege diminshes the more asian and less black you become.

    Regardless of actual potential for violence, height, skill training or penis length, asian men are seen as lacking in masculinity, less threatening, more submissive.

    While asian women are seen as super submissives, to the point where even feminists view “men going abroad” as wanting to get a more submissive wife, and doubly so when Asia is mentioned. As if they were jealous, like eyeing the bigger breasted girl instead of them.

    For black women, they provoke less sympathy, are seen as more loud, more fat, more violent and less feminine, regardless of their interests or degree of dominance.

    For black men, they provoke the least sympathy, are seen as the highest threat, the most criminal, the most violent, the most strong too, and the best at sex (both in size and technique).

  • Schala

    “On a continuum of masculinity to feminity we view:

    Asian men, white men, black men, in this order.”

    Reverse that, it sounded good in my head, but I said it in reverse anyways.

  • YetAnotherCommenter

    Interesting thesis and I basically agree with it. Our culture, at least in the present day, seems to view aristocraticness/refinement as feminine and proletarian-ness/coarseness as masculine.

    After all, who is more manly – Iron Man or Wolverine? Who is more manly – the Officer And Gentleman or the gruff growly soldier? Even if the soldier is the subordinate, he’s still manlier by cultural norms.

    There’s a big historical irony in this, since the majority of our culture’s cultural artefacts (artworks, pieces of music, philosophy treatises etc) were created by males. And now, this kind of Elite/Apollonian masculinity is considered insufficiently masculine, nerdy, effete, effeminate etc.

    I think the obvious explanation for this paradox is that the ability to create such cultural artefacts used to be confined to aristocrats/scholars/etc, but modernity has democratized this ability to a significant degree (and not only that, but has also subjected cultural artefacts to market forces, thus incentivizing the creation of material which flatters rather than transgresses popular sensibilities). As such, more populist ideas of manhood would get more cultural screen-time. Of course, I’m presupposing that aristocratic men would be inclined to take aristocratic norms as indicative of “proper” manhood, and lower class men would be inclined to take coarser norms… both classes would create an ideal of masculinity which was a very flattering self-portrait (is it any surprise that Aristotle thought the most noble profession was that of the philosopher?).

    Other possible explanations include the embrace of Marxism (and its derivatives) by much of the intelligentsia, resulting in a huge focus on the norms of the “common man.” There are plenty of other possible hypotheses which may be partial explanations, however.

    Real Men Are Uncultured is historically a pretty new stereotype, and I think it is weaker in cultures with historically entrenched class systems such as Britain (fictional cultural example; James Bond, at least pre-Daniel-Craig, is consistently suave and urbane, and if you read the original books by Ian Fleming he plays (gasp) Chemin de Fer, rather than stereotypically ‘manlier’ games like poker).

  • Adiabat

    OT, but found this and thought some of you might find it interesting. It might be useful if you see Kimmel’s book used as a source in an argument somewhere.

    http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2013/05/a_classic_text_on_genderand_it.html

  • Ginkgo

    Adiabat, thanks for saying what I meant to say. let em see now how I can streal it and work it in…

  • Ginkgo

    And thanks for thta cathy young article. I used to follow her when she had a blog and it’s a pleasure tot see her stuff again.

  • TMG

    On flamboyant dress: I live in a fairly conservative large city and I dress very flamboyantly at times. I don’t wear women’s clothes or fur coats or anything like that, just very boldly colored and patterned men’s clothes from European and Japanese designers.

    I have never gotten rude comments but I do get a lot of attention from women and men. I can walk around an entire weekend and the only guys who are even close to what I’m wearing are in hawaiian shirts or that tommy bahama stuff. I get compliments from women and from gay men.

    Kind of interesting the things you notice when you stop and think about it.

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    TMG:

    I’ve noticed something similar. The most flamboyant my wardrobe gets is an assortment of brightly colored jeans and a rainbow of socks (I’d do more if I had the money for it, but I can barely afford what I wear now), but I do keep my finger and toe nails painted at all times, and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on them, mostly from women I don’t even know. I’ve never gotten rude comments, although I did get a few funny looks and a fair number of incredulous questions when I was in Japan.

  • Theodmann

    Something occurred to me while watching a Johnny Cash music video: some men can be creative and yet not be thought of as unmanly. It certainly helps if to have a nice baritone and a prison record to sing about, but I think the main thing is to be successful. So the exception to the creativity-is-womanly trope is when it falls under the making-money-is-manly trope.

    Basically, if you’re a manly man anyway and you’re good enough at your art to make money, then people will overlook the fact that it’s a girly way to make a living.

  • Ginkgo

    Theodmann, thank for that mention of Johnny Cash because although it looks like an exception in fact it reinforces my thesis. You see flamboyant dress in general in blue collar men, if they choose to dress that way. If they choose, they can get away with dressing pretty flashy without being thought less masculine; their class makes them masculine in and of itself. The same applies to women. Blue collar women report that they do not enjoy the female privilege we are talking about. Black women report the same thing.

  • Tamen

    Although Johnny Cash definitively was creative I’d think it’s a stretch to imply that the man in black was a flamboyant dresser. But perhaps I am just reading you guys wrong.

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  • Schala

    As an example, the GendErratic site says that men are not supposed to show an interest in clothing while both mainstream culture and men’s magazines encourage men to spend money on clothing. MRAs are not aware of that and it’s why they look like a bunch of weirdos.

    From the pingback.

    Men are encouraged to spend a lot on suits…which all look the same, got one suit, got them all.

    Open a woman’s wardrobe, tons of colors, fabrics, shapes, sizes, and occasions to wear.

    Open a man’s wardrobe. If he’s rich, all suits. If he’s not, still not many colors, fabrics, shapes, sizes, and all work+casual at the same time.

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    Schala:

    As a lover of men’s suits, I would like to tell you that is, in my experience, not at all the case. There are a huge variety of styles and fabrics available, and it is very important to know about them when picking a suit. The problem is that interesting men’s clothing in the West requires one to spend an inordinate amount of money. I can’t even come close to affording most of the clothes I like to look at in catalogs.

    The real difference is that women’s clothing offers cheaper alternatives. There are more affordable knockoffs of the crazy things high-end designers are doing. Men’s clothing doesn’t really have an equivalent to that. Nothing I can afford to buy looks anything like some the things I’d like to own, and variety and interesting features in suits, in particular, costs more than I spent on food last year.

    I will say that there is a movement toward more color going on. All the ads from the Gap from the last couple of seasons were emphasizing a variety of bright colors in men’s clothing. On the other hand, their selection of more formal or business clothing remains entirely in shades of tans, greys, and blues. I don’t generally shop there, but I know Urban Outfitters tends to sell a lot of very loud prints. Stores that cater to an older or less casual demographic, however, really don’t have much selection beyond what you might expect. Trends are also going toward tighter fits in men’s clothing, as evidenced by the popularity of the skinny jean.

    Despite all of that, anyone claiming that women don’t have enormously greater choice in clothing is deluding themselves. I would really like more options in cuts for day-to-day wear (currently I have three varieties of T-shirt, polos, and two cuts of oxford shirt for casual wear, plus a couple types of sweater for the winter, which isn’t even close to the selection my sister keeps on hand), and a greater variety in non-hideous patterns and fabrics would be a huge step in the right direction.

  • Ginkgo

    HFD,
    “As a lover of men’s suits, I would like to tell you that is, in my experience, not at all the case. There are a huge variety of styles and fabrics available, and it is very important to know about them when picking a suit.”

    And they are all in a narrow range of carefully drab colors. As it happens I just saw the Liberace movie. If you were not around see what kind of cultural phenomenon Liberace was, this movie will give you an idea. Look at the wya he dressed and his whole schtick. Woemn don’t often dress that way either, i am well aware of that – but they don’t break gender norms when they do. That’s the point I am making.

    As for casual clothes in bright colors – those are casual clothes. Those are not serious clothes. A man cannot wear those colors into a busieness meeting and be taken seriously, while women at least expect to. Look at the new crop of Congressmen. They did a group shot of all the congresswomen, and it looks like the macaw house at the zoo. That’s my point.

  • Cicero

    I thought this was fitting given the topic:

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    Ginkgo:

    Mostly, but not quite. A friend of mine has a very nice bright red suit that buttons up the side, and you can get a lot of interesting things like that if you know where to look. The problem, as I said, is that they’re all expensive designer items that aren’t accessible to most people and are generally frowned upon in the workplace.

  • Ginkgo

    Yes, HFD, those items are available. Again, can he wear it in the same kinds of places that a woman can wear a red dress?

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    Ginko:

    What kind of red dress? If you mean like a cocktail dress, then yes, he can. Basically, he can wear it anywhere he could wear a tuxedo. As I already said in every one of my posts, which I am beginning to suspect are not actually being read , the only real color you can have for men’s business wear is the occasional brightly colored shirt or tie, and even that is generally discouraged.

  • Adiabat

    Ginkgo: “As for casual clothes in bright colors – those are casual clothes. Those are not serious clothes.”

    Actually, I’d say casual clothing mattered more if we’re looking at the constraints put on men and women by society. The question isn’t so much whether things like red suits are available at all, but rather whether you can wear such unusual clothes day to day without being considered “alternative”.

  • Ginkgo

    That captures it very well, HFD.

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