The Menswear Liberation Movement

I’ve written before about the progress of, and the resistance to, blurring gender lines – I’ve also written about how men’s fashion should be allowed to cross the same lines women’s fashion has in the past 50 years.

This has been an area I’ve been researching and learning more about – I’ve also been rather keen to embrace, albeit rather apprehensively. It’s quite encouraging to see free-thinking and creative men discarding the traditional notions of gendered clothing and developing their own individual styles, but for it to actually become less of a ‘taboo’, I believe there needs to be more inspiration coming from those whose business it is to inspire.

This would work…

I’m a member of a group on Facebook called “Men’s Fashion Freedom”. I don’t really need to tell you what it’s about – the clue’s in the name. The men in this group wear whatever they feel comfortable in, regardless of where in the clothes shop it’s come from. I’ve scanned through a lot of the historic posts, and the pictures its members have posted of themselves, and there there are a lot of practical and creative ideas flowing through the group, ranging from the simple to the extravagant, but everything works for the individual. They’re not chiselled catwalk models either – they cover all ages, all builds and all walks of life.

… considerably better than this

Switch to similarly-minded posts on Tumblr and Pinterest, and it’s a different picture. On here, I saw a lot of gender-blurring ideas that were coming off the catwalks – ideas that are, supposedly, where men’s fashion is heading. Not wanting to criticize their ideas, but Nuno Gama and Marc Jacobs aside, there were a fair few ideas that looked like costumes out of a Sci-Fi movie; think The Fifth Element meets The Hunger Games rather than the skirted tunics seen on Star Trek; all very well and good on the streets of Soho, but rather out-of-place in Sutton Coldfield unless you’re performing some Gilliam-esque street theatre.

For those who agree that menswear should be less restricted, I feel the fashion world is doing the cause more harm than good by presenting ideas that are too radical to be accepted by the general public; there needs to be many smaller challenges and short-term goals rather than looking too far ahead. Encouraging men to break into their pre-defined “masculine” programming and re-code it for themselves may take away those “traditional values” many still treasure, but it also allows us to bug-fix, reconfigure and optimise for our own architecture. (Sorry for the software engineering analogy)

Opening up a new market for men’s skirts and dresses needs a movement in order to be successful. A movement moves – it does not leap. Designers need to inspire, support and, most importantly, be patient; rules are best broken down one-at-a-time as opposed to broken all-at-once. To many people, seeing a man in a skirt is radical enough without being so bold in the design.

 

The Richmond Park By-Election: Why the “political binary” is losing at its own game

I’ve gone on about the pointlessness of the gender binary in several posts, but reading newspaper articles, and the online comments beneath them, I get the impression that some see political opinion as binary. What is it about the number 2?

On American articles, the most vocal are those in the so-called “alt-right” facing-off against “the left”, or to be more specific, ultra-conservatives against ultra-liberals. I reckon the majority of people, who foster far less extreme political opinions, take one look at the battle taking place and want no part in it. I certainly don’t.

But while the hard-right and the hard-left fight it out amongst themselves under the watch of the world’s media (who just love a sensational story), those in the middle end up going one of two ways: they flock to a third party, or they become disenfranchised.

Yesterday, the UK saw the former in action. After former London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith resigned from the Conservative Party to run as an independent, he was defeated in the resulting by-election by Sarah Olney of the Liberal Democrats. In the 2015 General Election, the Lib Dems took quite an electoral beating after five years of cosying up to the Tories in a coalition government, but under new leader Tim Farron, they’re experiencing something of an electoral revival – right under the noses of a media too pre-occupied with Brexit and smearing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

On the political spectrum, I am what’s defined as a “left-libertarian”. On the economic left-right spectrum, I’m a little left of centre. I believe the state should provide essential needs like health, education, defence, law and order, energy and transport (at a push, retail banking), but outside of those core areas, the private sector is free to operate.

On the other authoritarian/libertarian political spectrum, I’m very much on the libertarian side. An efficient police force should not waste resources on “perceived immorality”: if nobody is getting hurt (and, by ‘hurt’ I don’t mean ‘offended’), the police should not be involved. Let them focus on the real criminals.

Homosexuality is a classic example of “perceived immorality” – it offends many with rigidly-conservative religious views, but hurts nobody. What two consenting adults get up to in the bedroom is nobody’s business. And yes, I do believe gay couples should be free to marry and have children: love that strong should be celebrated not denied, and when it comes to raising children, parenting style eclipses parental sexuality. A child is far better off with a loving gay couple than an abusive straight couple.

Such views are too relaxed to generate the strong reactions needed to make them newsworthy in the eyes of our mainstream media. What I’m hoping is that the public are now waking up to the “divide-and-conquer” tactics employed by the government and the media, and realising that there is a third ‘moderate’ option.

I’ve never voted Lib Dem before – I’ve always sided with the Green candidate – but I do agree with a majority of Tim Farron’s policies. While I think Jeremy Corbyn is more likely to become Prime Minister, many Labour MPs are still antagonistic towards him, and the media are quite keen to publish their opinions. If the Lib Dems catch the media and the pollsters off-guard, capitalise on the disarray between the two main parties, and steal the next election: I would not be unhappy.

Unlikely, I know, but anything is possible in this time of political upheaval.

A New Hope

As I awoke this morning, millions of people across America were celebrating as Donald Trump was confirmed as the next President of the US. At the same time, billions of people around the world were pinching themselves, believing they were still in the middle of a rather absurd dream; but beneath the layers of celebration and disbelief, away from the spotlight of the media, many innocent people were frightened.

  • The refugees who yearned for safety feared deportation back to the danger zones.
  • The migrants that left their homes in search of a better life for their families feared ostracism and uncertainty.
  • The LGBTQ communities feared reprisals from conservative Christian groups and the revocation of rights they had fought so hard for.
  • Parents feared for their daughters’ safety, worried that Trump’s sexual attitudes would somehow become legitimized by his election.

I understand people need time to adjust and to come to terms with today’s news: a lot of questions are being asked, but it’s just too soon to get any answers. I don’t want to sound overly-optimistic or offer false hope, but I just want to offer one thing from across the pond.

To put it into Star Wars terms, after last May’s General Election, we reached the end of Episode 3 where Senator Palpatine (Cameron) had been granted executive power over the Senate and formed the Galactic Empire. There is, however, a pocket of resistance that, while small in number, is both highly organised and in possession of a power their opponents dismiss worthless and ineffective.

One of their leaders even looks like a Jedi.

jeremy_corbyn_tolpuddle_2016_1_tightcrop

The Parliamentary Labour Party tried to strike him down, but he came back stronger than they could ever have imagined.

For all the polls and simulations that put Donald Trump as the underdog, he still came out the victor. For all the polls that predicted the UK remaining in the European Union, the leave vote still won.

Right now, Jeremy Corbyn is polling several points behind the Conservatives. All is not lost.

While Trump may be able to change laws, he cannot change people. There are those among us who will stand up for those Trump seeks to oppress.

The election will not silence them – it will only make them louder.

Gamergate and Genderfluid

Returning briefly to the topic of gender norms, I’ve been reading up on, and watching videos related to, non-binary gender identities. To put it in greatly simplified terms, while we’re all aware of masculine and feminine gender identities, there are a minority of people whose identity doesn’t fit neatly into those categories, so they sit either outside or across the gender binary. There are a vast array of different identities which, as far as I understand, depends on where you identify on the masculine-feminine spectrum, and how that identity moves within that spectrum.

I couldn’t help but notice that the people I watched or read about were predominantly young Americans. Why were there so few Europeans? Why did I find just one gender-fluid person in their forties? The answer, if you believe the critics of such identities, is because of Tumblr. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Before I continue, I must say that while I don’t claim to be an expert on American culture, it is beamed into our homes on a daily basis so it does hold some influence over here; this is not just some random Brit sticking his oar in. Whatever happens within American culture has a habit of happening over here too. I believe that America is having a bit of an identity crisis – especially when there are some pockets of American culture that are so strongly ring-fenced along gender lines. Take the “Gamergate” controversy for example:

“Observers have generally described Gamergate as part of a long-running culture war against efforts to diversify the traditionally male video gaming community, particularly targeting outspoken women. They cite Gamergate supporters’ frequent harassment of female figures in the gaming industry and its overt hostility toward people involved in social criticism and analysis of video games.” — from Wikipedia

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that where a particular culture (gaming culture in this instance) is so rigorously defined and defended as a “masculine” pursuit that any women who wish to be a part of that culture might begin to exhibit more masculine traits, and may end up believing that their love for gaming comes from some kind of gender dissonance. It’s not as simple as just turning up and saying “Hi – I like playing video games”, even though it really should be. I kind of get the impression that the whole Gamergate controversy was fuelled by some irrational, alpha-male fear of being “beaten by a girl”. Emasculation and losing face rear their ugly heads once more.

From a British/European perspective, something like Gamergate is just baffling – they’re only video games, so why go to war over something whose sole purpose is to entertain? There are millions of Americans who no doubt feel the same way. Likewise, the many different gender identities are seldom understood and rarely uttered over here – not out of ignorance or intolerance, but because it’s not really an issue given that our cultural gender norms are neither as strict nor as aggressively policed. We still have our share of conservatives, but they’re mostly harmless and they’re not given quite so much media attention.

I can see the point made by some critics of these non-binary gender identities in that they merely stick a label onto an expression of one’s own personality, and their definition can be as ambiguous as the binary itself; I can also understand the confusion and the need to define a new identity when society hands you one that just doesn’t work for you. I do believe that such labels are unnecessary – but that is just my opinion. To me, it matters not what you are but who you are, and therefore the only label you really need is your name. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about how people define their gender, it just means that they don’t have to explain or justify it to me – you had me at “hello”!

But, when all is said and done, all these young people are doing is trying to make sense of their complex identities in an equally-complex world – if having an lexicon of names and definitions helps that process, then far be it from me to complain. The easiest thing to do is just let them carry on working it all out amongst themselves.

And let them play video games if they want to.

How the skirt-wearing Brighton schoolboys took a leap ahead in the job market (although a few Daily Mail readers disagree)

One widely-reported news story from the past few days really caught my eye. Last week, on the hottest day of the year so far, a group of schoolboys from Longhill High School in Brighton were found wearing their P.E. shorts to keep cool – they were either put into isolation or sent home to change into long trousers. The next day, they exploited a loophole and turned up to school wearing skirts in protest. Because skirts were part of the normal uniform, they were not punished for doing so.

If any of the boys in the news story are reading this – I salute you with the full, extended Rimmer salute reserved only for the extremely important!

Naturally, when such a story is syndicated to a number of news outlets, you get to see the reactions from, as Dave Gorman puts it, the “bottom half of the Internet”. I’ve had a poke at Daily Mail readers before, but this time I was actually quite impressed: the overall majority were equally supportive and applauding! Were they REALLY Daily Mail readers? I was at least expecting an “in my day, they’d have gotten the cane for such insolence” or yet another diatribe about being a “real man”.

It was fun reading the minority of comments that did take issue. In their view, this was not pragmatism but disobedience. The boys disobeyed the rules and then flaunted their disobedience by exploiting a loophole; this behaviour would not be tolerated in the “real world” where they will have to do as they’re told, “man up” (two words that, when used together, always get my hackles up) and get on with it because “life is tough”. I love comments like these… more specifically, I love throwing a bucket of cold water on comments like these.

The modern workplace has moved on significantly in the past fifty years: co-operation and teamwork is valued far above blind obedience. In the private sector, competition is everything and you’ve got to move faster than your competitors if you want to overtake them. To do so, innovation and creativity are essential and companies are often on the lookout for individuals who won’t just “do the job” but “improve the job”. These boys have demonstrated their ability to think laterally – a much-desired skill among employers.

Besides, in the modern world, there is no such thing as automatic or unconditional authority: those who are in a position of authority have to justify said authority, and should be prepared to do so when questioned. The decisions and requests they make should be reasonable, but also flexible and accommodating to the expertise and experience of their subordinates. No manager or supervisor knows everything, and there is no “my way or the highway”. If their rules or expectations are unreasonable or not of sound judgement, their authority should indeed be challenged.

As for “manning up” and “doing as you’re told” because “life is tough”: that’s nothing but a self-defeating philosophy. If you’ve resigned yourself to being a quiet and obedient sheep, life will be tough because you’re not willing to take any responsibility in improving it. This is why conservatism is dying out in favour of progressivism – as a society in general, we are prepared to co-operate, think creatively and challenge tradition for both personal and mutual benefit.

Welcome to the real real world!

Cultural Conservatism

One area I was reading into not long ago was about the difference between cultural liberals and cultural conservatives: the former advocating cultural growth through individual freedoms, the latter through traditions and standards. Because I lean more towards liberalism on the cultural spectrum, I’m already aware of why I lean that way, but what goes on in the mind of a cultural conservative? Why do they feel that culture should be bound by rules and standards, and why do they see liberal attitudes as a threat?

I’m no psychologist, but I do have theories.

Blue_flag_waving.svgPicture this: you’re down the pub with your friends. Everyone in your circle has a number of shared interests, opinions and attitudes so the conversation (and the booze) flows nicely. It’s all very comfortable and familiar. A week later, you’re invited to a barbecue hosted by one of your partner’s colleagues. Now you’re in amongst a circle of people you know nothing about. They will likely have different personalities and behaviours to your usual circle of friends, you begin to feel uncomfortable and vulnerable and so up go your defences. It would be so much easier if your wife’s colleagues were a lot like you and your friends.

In my opinion, those who are culturally conservative depend on culture being stable, secure and predictable in order to feel comfortable, included and valued. Both conservatives and liberals alike seek “the easy life”, but merely have different methods: a liberal achieves this through adopting a relaxed attitude towards culture and is not easily stressed or threatened by anything they don’t understand; a conservative, on the other hand, achieves this by advocating a collective identity free of shocks and surprises.

So, to cross-reference my previous post, those who believed that men were progressively being emasculated show signs of having some dependency on a collective identity, a standard “masculine” identity they feel is slowly being eroded away, and will eventually leave them detached and alienated. You see similar opinions whenever the topic of immigration is raised, where conservatives believe that their national identity is being diluted by an influx of outside influences. This may sound a bit daft, but I do actually feel sorry for those who are so strongly cultural-conservative. It’s like they live each day of their lives in fear or suspicion of anything that’s different – they need that strong and stable communal identity to cover over the insecurities in their own, individual identity. Those who feel immigrants are a threat to British culture probably aren’t all that strong in their own cultural identity if it can be shaken so easily. Likewise, those that feel Mantyhose are a threat to masculinity can’t be all that secure in their own masculinity.

If you feel that somebody from a different culture to your own poses a threat to you, there is one word you can use to neutralise that threat.

“Hello!”