Women Get All The Good Emotions, Says Cross-Dresser

HAY FESTIVAL 2004.I think it’s quite hard for men today, because there’s an increasingly narrow bandwidth of behaviors which are seen as exclusively masculine. As women have quite rightly encroached on what used to be seen as male territory, all that’s left is the negative things. There’s less scope for a sensitive man to feel at home. What kind of men do we actually want boys to become?

That’s British artist and cross-dresser, Grayson Perry. We met him earlier in a discussion on “Men Who Wear Frocks.” He wears dresses, he says, because they help him get in touch with the feminine side of his humanity, which is blocked by a culture that suppresses male emotion.

imagesHere’s how Perry explains that process of female “encroachment” into (so-called) male territory:

Until the later part of the 19th century, cross-dressing in ordinary life was an overwhelmingly female to male activity. Typically it tended to be a woman just trying to get on in a man’s world. But in the Victorian age, the traffic started to switch direction. Since then transvestism has become an overwhelmingly male to female behavior.

As the Victorians increasingly corralled all the softer emotions, vulnerability, innocence, gentleness, beauty into an exclusively feminine realm, men were cast as stoical, butch, practical providers, and dressed accordingly. Is it any wonder that some men started to want to cross over? For me, what the Victorians wore is the most striking example of how clothes can come to symbolize complex emotions.

So women started out more apt to mimic men in order to grasp greater opportunity and self-expression. Not to mention, gaining the status and privilege of the masculine world.

These days, women commonly express a whole range of so-called masculine traits and activities without being seen as crossing gender boundaries. They’re just doing “people-stuff.”

But men have not taken on feminine traits and activities to the same degree. Not because they can’t, but because they mostly won’t.

Why not?

Because of gender ranking. Men and masculinity still hold greater privilege and status. When women take on a male role or trait they are not seen as demeaning themselves. But when men take on a feminine role or trait they often are.

Simply said, we haven’t achieved enough equality for men to comfortably take up their feminine side without feeling put down by doing so.

Meanwhile, plenty of men think it’s important to be very different from women. (How can you be superior if you are not different?) So they latch onto traits that women didn’t bother attaching to themselves: unfeeling, tough, invulnerable, violent…

Though it’s unclear that these traits are actually superior.

The healthiest people are those who have access to their full, authentic selves and all of their emotional resources. Ironically, it may take some courage for men to gain access to their more feminine side. 

The Good Men Project cross-posted my piece on their site.

For more on this go to BluestockingBlue, and particularly her series on the documentary,  “Why men wear frocks.”

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
It’s Ok To Be A Tomboy But Not A Sissy. Why?
Men, Women not from Mars, Venus
Guys, Girls Swap Roles at a Bar

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on January 29, 2014, in feminism, gender, LGBTQ, men, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. The gender role straight-jacket for males begins at an early age. While it’s ok for girls to be tomboys and imitate a boy’s rough and tumble play style, it’s not ok for little boys to be soft and sweet. Girls can play with trucks, but boys cannot play with dolls. Boys are taught from an early age that it’s not ok to be nurturing.

    This gender role expectations continues throughout life. Gender roles for women are expansive, they are able to be feminine or masculine (to a degree). Even in professional lifes it’s ok for women to adapt male role type in the office or boardroom. Even a lot of women’s professional apparel imitates men’s suits and outer wear. Men on the other hand are looked down on if they are anything but hyper-masculine.

  2. Love a bit of Grayson Perry – and loving the new look too!

  3. I can’t help but think of a friend from High school who liked to dress in women’s clothing. The first I saw him step out of the closet was in Gay Straight Alliance club, he said he was bisexual and it came as a short lived surprise for me. He may not have been quite bi so much as a transvestite (I hope I typed the right term). It was at the end of our JR. year that I will never forget the first time I saw him dress as a woman, and my first thought was: “Those legs are without a doubt one of the nicest pair I’ve ever seen on a woman or guy.” Does it make me question my heterosexuality? Not really, I just think he has nice legs.

  4. Wow I can see how some guys have to go to what our society would see as an “extreme” to get in touch with their feminine side. When I look at some of the males in my own life I can see how a few of them take on a more macho personality when they are around others (and especially around women) but show a more softer more expressive side to themselves around me or others they are close to. I know for fact that they would probably die before putting a girly outfit and makeup on but it makes me wonder about the pressures males feel to act unnaturally and what kind of things they do to release those pressures.
    When I was high school I noticed that there were quite a lot of guys who were in touch with their feminine side but still held a male identity.

    I think that now parents and even our society, is allowing people to become less centered about being really feminine or really masculine but is instead becoming more centered on being a person. There is still a lot of weight put on “acting like a girl” and “acting like a boy” but at the same time I am observing that people have more actions, or shall I say freedom to say or do things. So I hope that one day people could just be themselves without having to dress up to feel vulnerable. Everyone should have the freedom to feel like they can cry if they want to.

  5. I really do think men do much more enforcing of men performing masculinity than women do. The mere fact that men who do not perform masculinity correctly are much more likely to be physically assaulted by men than women says a great deal. Fear of such will not build confidence in the dating scene, either.

    I will admit though that I have never had any interest in mesomorph guys, and have tended much more to be interested in men of slighter stature and geeky and even androgynous qualities, with the occasional endomorph thrown in. There is clearly some social programming that didn’t take with me.

  6. I long for the day when we can stop labeling qualities as masculine of feminine. Can’t we all just be people with common emotions?

    My boyfriends certainly feels no threat to his masculinity showing compassion and sharing relationship advice with our friends. I actually see a lot of men who have for girls who are friends than guys because they can’t stand the way typical men socialize. I’ve come to know a lot of men like that.

  7. I admit a certain bias upfront, but the idea that one must have either male emotions or female emotions (not even touching on the needlessness of such a dichotomy) is absurd. Women can be and are tough, strong, stubborn, unfeeling, and aggressive just as men can be and are loving, nurturing, empathetic, sensitive, and diplomatic. The range of human emotion is a buffet, not a single dish, and I find it ridiculous to the extreme that we *still* are unable to get enough people to realize this!

  8. I think that is harder for men to express their feelings because of all the examples that they are given of being tough and what society expects from them.

    I think that as individuals we should express our feelings and thoughts no matter what sex we are. I will certainly raise my kids to be open with their feelings and to not keep everything inside, I don’t think that would make them girly or too soft it would make them wiser and help them with their people skills.

    My best friend is really tough with all our friends and other people but when we hang out alone he is sensitive and caring, we open up to each other. Is amazing how he is when we are alone. I really appreciate having a guy like him around me it gives me hope that there are guys like that but they simply don’t show it.

  9. I agree that it is a social phenomenon that male cross-dressers are judged as not men. Commonly, people hold bias toward those male cross-dressers. Some people believe that it makes no sense for men to lower their social status to dress like a woman since masculinity is a priority men possess. However, those male cross dressers are more acceptable when considering their actions as a mean of self-expression. Personality is no sex-linked. Everyone can choose whatever clothes they like to wear. Autonomy is part of the human right.
    By the way, I think it looks beautiful, peaceful, and harmonious when I enlarged the photo Perry cross-dressed.

  10. I believe a lot of men feel they are less of a man if they show any feminine type behavior or emotion. My husband has always let our daughter do his hair with all the barrettes and headbands; let her put make-up on him; let her paint his toenails; even played with Barbie dolls. None of these things made him less of a man, just a great dad. My brother-in-laws would disagree. They don’t let their daughters do any of this because in their own words, “That’s just gay and I not gay”.

    As far as our son, we have taught him that it’s OK to cry and show emotion. In fact, it’s healthy to express how you’re feeling. I think that by him learning to do this has helped his relationship with his girlfriend. These days I’ve noticed more women want a sensitive man over the brute and aggressive man.

    It’s so wrong that society has put down men who show any female characteristics. They are people too and should show emotions and not bottle it all up. My husband and son are strong but very sensitive and caring men and I wouldn’t change it for anything else!!!

  11. I have a gay friend who always wishes to be able to wear dresses as normal as women. Whenever he sees our girl-friends wearing dress, he acts like:”Oh, those dresses don’t quite look good on you guys” or “How come you all are women but don’t know how to dress up beautifully?”. He’s jealous, however, he hides that expression to not make people think he is mentally ill.No one really knows why they have this desire. Some people who cross-dressers think that is an outlet stress, and it may make them want to be dress up more. However, men were taught to be strong and not to express their emotion out, so it’s maybe the reason why they could not dress like women do.
    Nowadays, men’s clothes are designed more and more style that can make them have more choice as shopping. Also, there’s a lot of styles for gay people which are a bit same as women clothes. I think we all can choose whatever clothes we like and think that it suit us.

  12. An interesting article from BBC today seems to be right on point for this discussion:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25943326

    • Thanks, maybe I’ll write on this sometime. Good to see some movement toward men having greater access to all of their emotional resources. But still a long way to go, eh?

  13. Nice blog. In indian society,in few castes you will find that when a new born baby is born and if he is male and when he turns 3, the child has to wear girl’s clothes . But if its a girl than this tradition doesn’t apply. Its the ritual which is followed by few group of society. I count it as weird but everything has a reason and beliefs . Also a girl dresses herself in guy clothes , it wont look weird. Either they will look cute or would be termed as tomboy. But a guy cant wear a girl’s clothes . He will be either considered gay or an idiot.!

  14. I find it surprising that I too would fit into the category of people who would find it strange or unappealing for a man to act out certain feminine behaviors, while I would not find it strange for a woman to act more like a man. As I realize that I think this way, I wonder why crossed-behavior as well as cross-dressing is not equally acceptable or “normal” in my perception of things.
    For instance, I find it absolutely acceptable and actually endearing when I know a man is taking a stay-at-home dad position, and taking over much of the nurturing parenting duties for a family. But if a heterosexual man were to act even more feminine in a certain way, say he were to cry more than most men, or take up knitting or sewing, I would find it off-putting and odd. Whereas if a woman were to become a CEO of a company, and/or take up watching sports or some other generally male-oriented activity, I would probably not think twice about it. I would also be much more startled by seeing a cross-dressed man than I would a cross-dressed woman.
    So why are most of our ideas about men not being able to access and express their feminine sides so strict? This is an interesting question. Men have such bravado and male-esteem to uphold, while women have more freedom to express a wider range of emotions and inclinations. I think just realizing what our own perceptions are in regards to male/female roles is the first step in becoming more open-minded and accepting of those who choose to express themselves ourside societal norms.

    • Well, it’s because we rank men above women so that when men do something feminine they occur to us as demeaning themselves. But when women do masculine things, they aren’t seen as demeaning themselves. So women are more likely to do these things, everyone gets used to seeing women do these things, And it just seems normal. We are less likely to see men doing feminine things so it never seems normal in the same way.

  15. I wouldn’t really say that women get all the “good” emotions simply because you can’t label masculinity as a good or a bad thing. But you bring up a very good point. Men are very limited to showing their emotions since society teaches young males to be “masculine” by not showing their emotions and by “manning up”. Being masculine or feminine is never a bad thing, but we demean men as a society when they show feminine emotions. What you say is true, men are not comfortable showing their emotions without the fear of being made fun of. Men are seen as people who are problem solvers so they must be able to “man up” by showing the world that they have no emotional problems when in fact, they do. A documentary titled “The Mask You Live In” seems to discuss social issues such as this although the full documentary is not out yet.

    Here is the link:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc45-ptHMxo

  16. I think less men have feminine traits and do less womanly activities is because they are too afraid of being called emotional. My guy friends sometimes won’t partake in activities because they are worried about the image it will give them. I think women are more intact with masculine qualities because they can appreciate the good in both sexes. Most women don’t see either qualities as good or bad. I think transgender people are able too dress both ways, or like to posses feminine traits is because they can also see the good in both situations. In my opinion more men should be intact with their feminine side because it just gives them the opportunity to open as a person.

    • And they are afraid of being called emotional because that is feminine.

      Related to fears of being seen as feminine, guys are also afraid of being called gay, fag, (effeminate men) or more directly, sissy or girl.

  17. A lot came up for me while reading your article; a sign of a good article—one that gets you to think. First off, when you talked about “Men and masculinity still hold greater privilege and status,” it really made me think about how society views and defines gender identity, and further how I define and understand it. A while back I was reading a book called Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. The author Julia Serano makes a similar point saying that it is “okay for women to wear ‘men’s’ clothing, but when men who wear ‘women’s’ clothing can be diagnosed with the psychological disorder… it is trans-misogyny” (Serano 15). The male or masculine has been deemed better in society, whether through fear or misconceptions, it is clear that throughout history there is a general belief that male energy is powerful. Women who want to feel powerful must then adapt to perceived masculine qualities. Men who reject their masculinity/their power must not be quite right, after all who in their right mind would reject power, strength, and superiority above all else. I would love to say that I wasn’t ever affected by such thoughts, but I would be lying. When I wanted to feel more powerful in my life, I looked to the strong male role model in my life, my father. There was a time period where if I saw a man cry or express his emotions, I cringed a little inside. Was it because I was an insensitive jerk or was it because I believed in what I saw: men/father was strong, capable, fixed things, worked hard, trained hard, while women/mother was weak, bouts of depression and crying, stayed at home, took care of home and children and was constantly angry. But what then of men who have feelings to express, who want to show compassion, who desire to care for their children and their partners without being called “feminine” or called out for being weak? You mentioned “Ironically, it may take some courage for men to gain access to their more feminine side,” it may also take courage on the part of women to defy what they have seen or have been taught about gender roles in order to have a comfortability with men showing a wider repertoire of capabilities, especially in the vein of emotions and sensitivities. Once again, thanks again for opening up an important conversation topic.

  18. I was just thinking about this the other day. I was noticing that women were expected to show certain emotions and then there’s men that are expected to show other emotions. In my case I don’t usually follow my genders expectations and I don’t think that there should be certain expectations of how each gender should react or show emotion. It can be bad on both sides because men are expected to be angry, violent, and never show any positive emotion. That can affect them because like women they can’t express how they feel in a more personal way with another person and yet they build up the anger and finally explode. For women we can do all these things but we’re expected to be happy all the time and sometimes we don’t feel like it. I personally don’t like the fact that each gender is expected to follow certain emotions.

  1. Pingback: Why Are Guys Stuck With the Bad Emotions? (A Cross-Dresser's Lament) - The Good Men Project

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