Lately I’ve been wondering about the meeting place of femininity and power. Specifically I’ve noticed that men who have a lot of power, whether that be financial, political, or religious, are allowed much greater latitude in their expression of traditionally feminine traits. I’ve been wondering if this is a real phenomenon or just something that I’ve made up in my constant search for greater heights of outrage.
It is certainly a fact that men are held to a very strict standard of masculinity by our culture. The first rule of manhood seems to be, “Don’t be a woman.” In fact, calling a man a woman is a common insult. Men are expected to look good but to not be overly concerned with their looks, or at least not in the same women are supposed to. Men don’t often color their hair, wear concealer, remove body hair, or wear compressing undergarments. But what kind of men do these things for self-expression (I’m excluding people who say, wear compression hose for vascular reasons or who shave body hair for swimming) and don’t receive pushback from our culture? Rock stars. Politicians. Men with fame and large, devoted followings. I believe that their power, manifested in their success, insulates them from the derision that your average joe on the street would be subject to.
(This does raise two important questions for me. The first: for musicians in particular their off-beat looks and clothes tend to pre-date their success. Either they succeed in spite of their traditionally feminine looks, or because of them, or it has no bearing on their success. I think it is probably not the latter, but I don’t know enough about the first two possibilities. Both are interesting ideas. Is our culture secretly hankering after more inclusive and less inhibiting mores and finding an outlet for these desires in musicians? Or do we continue to judge musicians who display traditionally feminine traits more harshly than men who are the Standard American Male and only musicians with really outsized talent and resolve succeed?
The second question is how do we judge the followers of particular musicians? Often they adopt the same style of dress and grooming but lack the position of success and privilege of the musicians. I think that these people bear more judgement of culture than the musicians themselves, but their clear association with a culture that has adopted these styles also insulates them from the worst judgement. They can point to a subculture, rather than women, as a source of these traits. But that’s only a guess.)
Men are also supposed to dress like men. Nothing pink. No skirts or dresses. Very little jewelry. No high-heels. Unless you are the pope. The pope can wear miles of brocade and pounds of gold and jewels without anyone questioning his masculinity (though his vow of poverty might be questionable).
This isn’t a fully thought out idea, but I’ve been really struck by the images of powerful men with strikingly traditionally feminine traits: politicians with faked-baked orange tans, televangelists with flashy gold jewelry and bleached teeth, musicians with eyeliner and skinny jeans. None of these things are necessarily feminine and I don’t think there’s any reason to keep them in the feminine realm, that’s hardly my argument here. What I want to know is, why do powerful men get a pass on this when non-powerful men don’t? Obviously, powerful people, men and women, get away with more things than average folk, but this seems different.
Anyone have any ideas about this? Any anecdotal evidence? Any counter-evidence?