On Fashion, Gender, And Society

Words by: Stephen Pulvirent

Right out of the gate I want to make two things clear: First, this is not an indictment of individuals, but of ideas. Second, everyone is entitled to their ideas and beliefs, and I am just expressing my own.

I have been troubled by a recent discussion taking place here on Mens Flair regarded the supposed differences inherent between men and women. A fellow columnist asserted, casually no-less, that “women tend to be led, men tend to choose,” and when questioned about it defended himself by suggesting in the positive that “being guided by fashion has given women an advantage in a heightened sense of aesthetics.” While I do not think these comments were meant with any malicious or consciously misogynistic intent, it would almost be better if they were. The very fact that they reside as seemingly-benign, condescending assumptions about a gender difference with natural, easily traced causes makes them all the more dangerous. It is only in acknowledging our assumptions, questioning them, and then making distinct and purposeful judgements of them that we can ever hope to express truth.

Another perfect example of this is the assertion that “the markets for womenswear and menswear respond to market demand,” with simply no regard for what might cause or influence those demands. The power of the market is not top down, and certainly not bottom up as it would seem here, but rather dialectical. We want things because of unconscious motivations and desires that stem from much broader concerns than whether we wish to be fashionable or classic. And, while due to additional social forces these concerns may impact men and women to different and varying degrees, no person exists outside of them. To think so is a delusion.

A commenter pointed out the absurdity of some of these assumptions and was quickly met with the philistine maxim “Embrace boldly your masculinity, your sword of discrimination, your natural proclivity towards choosing. Do not prostrate yourself to the fashionable altar of politically correct feminism, or its facsimile. Stand up, my good man.” I’m almost speechless. While we are at it, you know, taking up our violent implements of barbaric masculinity and keeping the progression of ideas about gender politics (and anything else for that matter) suppressed and in the kitchen where they belong, why don’t we just go all the way and take the vote back as well? Such a disgusting, ignorant depiction of subordinate female intelligence and action is the exception to my above clause granting everyone the right to their opinion.

Such an attitude’s companion, the condescending, self-righteous brand of faux-gentlemanly behavior that includes soft-voiced references to “the fairer sex” does nothing more than champion misogyny under the guise of paternalistic protection. I know it sounds like a crazy idea, but imagine actually respecting a member of the opposite sex, not as a woman but as a person. Seditious seeds these suggestions should not be.

Lastly, the powder keg that began all of this, the paragraph regarding classic men’s style as different from blind female consumption, in fact should have had nothing to do with gender at all. As people interested to varying degrees in style, fashion, craft, &c., we should all be aware of the myth of “classic.” Yes, I like classically inspired garments and accessories, but to ignore the fact that this category of design is influenced by trends, past or current, is to miss the mark. All design and aesthetics in general are relative. Absolute beauty is only one thing: absolutely false. Whether male or female, we do not design fashion or style, nor do they design us. We design each other. The debate here should be about things like menswear/womenswear, classic/fashionable, not about men vs. women.