Socially Acceptable Gender Expression

gender symbols

This an old argument among male to female crossdressers. Why can women dress in clothes that are considered feminine or masculine, whereas men can only dress in clothes deemed masculine? There are no laws about this kind of thing, but the socially acceptable factor has a lot of weight on how we can live our lives in the public arena.

Extending well beyond just clothes, it encompasses total physical appearance, behavior and mannerisms. I’ve put together a very basic chart to illustrate the socially accepted gender expression norms:

Socially Acceptable Gender ChartThis chart is very general and some points may be argued, but you get the idea. We all know the clothing side of things. Women used to be restricted to wearing clothing purchased in the women’s department. Of course, over the years and it became increasingly socially acceptable for women to wear pretty much any clothing items they chose, regardless which department it was sold in or which gender it was intended for. Men however, have been stuck in the men’s department in wardrobe choices, with no signs of society letting up any time soon.

Some men might ask the question, “Why would a man want to dress like a woman?” Well, how about because some of us have a strong feminine side and have the courage to live our lives wholly rather than being restricted to all that is masculine.

The chart reflects today’s general reality. It’s socially acceptable for women to fully explore all criteria listed. Men are restricted to half of them. There was a time when there would have been a pretty clear split in choices between men and women, without much crossover.

Times have changed. Society has let up on women’s freedom of choice, but strictly enforces the man-code of masculinity, only for all humans with male genitalia. I don’t understand why choices always gravitate toward the masculine and not the feminine, but that is how things have worked out. Is there something wrong with the feminine side of things? Will feminine choices fade away completely in time, leaving only that which one might consider (today) to be masculine? That is quite an unpleasant thought to someone like me.

What’s wrong with our society in terms of accepted gender roles and appearances? How come in this day and age it is still frowned upon and even potentially dangerous for a man to express his feminine side in public?

Sadly, as some of us choose to express our feminine side, some of the more masculine men are saying, “Men dressing like women? What’s wrong with our society?” We really do have an up-hill battle ahead.

I think women are generally more open to seeing men express their feminine side in public than other men are. I’ve never heard of a crossdresser being attacked by an angry group of women. Macho men seem to have trouble with it though. Somehow the sight of a crossdressing, feminine, girly-man makes some men feel threatened. Perhaps, they may find a crossdresser/t-girl attractive and that offends their macho, homophobic ego.

Not all crossdressers will be considered attractive in their feminine form. Many simply look like a man in a dress, sometimes an ugly man in a dress. That sight may be disturbing to some people and add to the struggle of crossdressing becoming socially acceptable. I would argue that there are plenty of men and women that dress “gender-appropriate” and are just as disturbing to look at. Aside from occasional rude comments, no one seems to have a problem with “ugly people” so long as they’re “properly” dressed according to gender. I find that very interesting.

I’m not sure what it’s going to take for crossdressers and transgender people to gain social acceptance, but I believe it is achievable. In the future, ridicule and poor treatment of crossdressers will be seen as absurd as racial segregation was years ago. I just hope that future isn’t too far off. I’m not getting any younger.

17 thoughts on “Socially Acceptable Gender Expression”

  1. I find it fascinating that women can wear men’s pants any women any size any age. Yet I was at a Highland Games (Scottish festival)where men wear kilts just walking behind a mother and her son and the boy said to his mother. Mom why is the man wearing a skirt? The kilt is traditionally worn by a man It actually was used by the military for identifying different clans. So that a member of one clan could easily identify a member of another clan. If a woman wants she can wear a kilted skirt. The kilted skirt is just cut differently for a woman’s hips. I was with my son once and women actually took over the dressing rooms in the men’s section. No man would want to tell the women that anything was wrong with that idea. It’s sort of humorous that we have all of these rules. I was in a Chevrolet dealership Saturday and the salesman was wearing a pink shirt with the company logo. I think we are heading to unisex clothing. How about this one… Disney world had a pink Tinkerbell top with an engraved small size tinkerbell in the Men’s department with a Men’s tag on it. I think the line is getting blurred… What do you think ?

    1. I think we have a long way to go. I remember pink shirts (and even ties) being somewhat fashionable on men in the 80’s. It wasn’t really a feminine thing, just a color that became acceptable and even a little trendy for men for a while. I understand your take on it, but don’t personally see this is a line blurring so much simple masculine fashions that change from time to time.

      The kilt, although similar to a skirt, is not women’t clothing, but rather something intended for men, as you pointed out. If a man wears a kilt, it is not generally considered a feminine fashion statement.

      Intentionally dressing feminine and wearing makeup, etc. to appear feminine rather than masculine, is still pretty far from social acceptance. That is what needs to open up so we can move about in society as we choose (to appear) without being ridiculed or in danger for doing so.

  2. While I agree that the social constraints are implicitly still there things are changing very rapidly. My experience of late as I spend more time out in public en femme shows that society is way more tolerant now than it was. To that end the only way that we move from social aberration to no big deal is by more and more of us openly getting out into public and not trying to pretend that we are women but rather being proud that we are men who can express their femininity.

    I do okay in terms of passing however I do not pretend to be a female, anyone who pays attention and looks at me or listens will know I am male and I will never try to deny it. In that way I educate more and more people. If we all do this it will become the norm and a posting like this will be a thing of the past.

    1. I applaud your bravery, Melissa. You are absolutely correct in that more of us need to get out en femme and allow society to get used to seeing and interacting with us. Your devotion to being yourself out in public and taking the opportunity to educate people is very admirable.

      I know in time, the dangers associated with going out en femme will be but a memory. I just pray that time comes sooner than later. Perhaps if we all do our part and put forth a positive example, we can speed things along. :)

  3. OH my God Gabrielle!!

    You put in chart form what I have been harping on for years.


    Now if only there was a way of distributing it and letting people see how unfair things actually are for men.

    I love it when I hear a woman crying about the unfairness in pay, yet she is most likely a woman that would reject a guy that shuns the social norm, and instead marry the “typical” man.

    When will we get it out that ANY kind of discrimination outside of biological function and romantic partners based on what sex one is, is entirely wrong.

    1. Thanks, Pythos. :) Glad my illustrated chart hit home on the point. How to distribute it? Well, I already tried here. I mean – it’s out there. If you’d like to get it out further, you can always link to it here, or print out a large copy and hang it in a well-visible location. Best place to show it is where people you know will see it. They might find it interesting and ask about it, and that is when you get to jump in and (calmly) express your frustrations about this kind of social garbage.

      In regard to discrimination being wrong – the word is already out there. Pretty much everyone knows. The problem is that people are also VERY selective in how they regard “discrimination” and what is and is not truly discrimination in their book. It’s all up to people’s personal values of “right” and “wrong”, and that which is acceptable or not acceptable, and that is where things fall apart. That, and the fact that many people just don’t care. I think it is safe to say that most people grow up learning manners and how to treat others with respect… yet we do not live in a society that seems to (widely) value these virtues much anymore. In “talk”, perhaps, but certainly not in practice. ;)

  4. I am female but I prefer more masculine styles of clothing. Even though we are complete opposites, I understand your position and wholeheartedly agree that society needs to accept people as individuals and not base assumptions on what gender you are. Most people get the impression that I am either a lesbian or I am trying (and failing) to be a man. This is not the case. I just feel more comfortable dressing in “men’s” clothes. My dream is to start a line of clothing that has no different sections for genders. Everything will be put together in one store, one ambiguous section, with styles that cater to everyone. I admire you and everyone else who has enough pride to tell society that they are wrong.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Athena. Everyone has their own style and preference. It would be so nice if everyone was “allowed” to express themselves through their own style and self presentation without being given a hard time for it when personal appearances fall outside the socially accepted “norm”.

      I think its great that you express yourself the way you feel most comfortable. :) I understand the “labels” that you might be subjected to at times.

      I hope you are able to realize your dream clothing business. If/when people start to see more options like the one you’d like to offer, perhaps society might start to grow a little more comfortable with people just being themselves without feeling threatened or offended by personal presentation add styles. I wish you much success in your business plans and hope you can realize your dream! :)

  5. I will be completely honest. It does not help when people of our ilk (crossdresers, trans sexuals) argue that women are wearing women’s clothing. The pants are made to fit their bodies. But in this argument is forgotten it was not always that way.

    I also wonder why it is men are not truly allowed to wear tight or revealing clothing. I push this barrier nearly every day wearing my leggings, or catsuits (the catsuits in a respectful manner, which is a trick to say the least).

    Men are expected to wear and like clothing that is dull, and makes their bodies shapeless. For some reason the male physique is to be hidden. Women are encouraged to wear shape following clothing…unless of course if their bodies fall out side of acceptable fat content.

    Why is it makeup is really only for women in our silly society? It used to be worn by both sexes, now it is very rare for men to wear it. When I wear mine I get compliments on how my eyes stand out due to my dark makeup around my eyes. It is striking, so why are only women able to use such things.

    Men became work horses for the most part. We fell into this after the industrial revolution, and sadly it continues. When we have those that are supposedly wanting the same as ourselves saying stuff like “women don’t wear men’s clothing, they wear pants that are fitted for them” I have to say, all the skirts I own fit me perfectly the day I got them. Only one needed some taking in around the hips. But not really all that much. Skirts lack an inseam, so that area of fitting does not enter into it.

    When it comes to hosiery, I personally find a skirt and hose FAR more comfortable than jeans, any day. If women don’t wanna wear them, then why can’t I take over without my sanity being questioned.

    Right, rambled on a bit much.

    1. Ramble all you want, Pythos. We all need to get it out and I certainly understand your frustrations. :)

      You question why men are expected to be one way and why women are allowed more options – questions we’ve all pondered and been frustrated by that fact… at least those of us who are male by genetic construct and but tend to be more feminine by classification of our natural tendencies and preferences. We all kind of know the answer to these questions, but none of us like it, and understandably so. No one should be limited in who they are and how they can express themselves (in terms style, etc.). Choice is a good thing. It is an essential part of who we ALL are, regardless of gender expression. Everyone takes their (seemingly) endless number of options and choices each day for granted… that is everyone who’s choices fall within generally accepted social “norms”. For the rest of us, there is a price to pay for having the courage to be ourselves and express ourselves as we truly feel.

      I guess the silver lining is that we’re slowly moving closer toward being in a society of “glass houses”, driven heavily by the increased use of social networks and the amount of personal information people share in them. The more people share, the more we all get to learn there ain’t no such thing as “normal”. ;) When “normal” is replaced by simple “reality”, I think these idiotic gender expectation roles will diminish a little faster.

  6. I believe it’s because the way women are socially considered to be lesser than men. So if a man dresses like a woman, he is lowering himself to that level.

    That’s why feminism isn’t about lowering men. It’s about rising women to the same level! It’s a positive movement for equality for everyone. People get the wrong impression.

    It’s tough and really unfair :( Hopefully things will change.

  7. Female cross-dressing does not bother me if her femininity still shows through her masculine costume but some women,real or imagined, look very ” odd / weird ” when there femininity is lacking.Even that this transvestite freedom happens only for females( sexism ); it is the sexy male fashions that now are considered lately as being now feminine wear ; such as : skinny pants, tights, leggings, leather pants, riding ( fashion ) boots; tucking tapered/ stove-pipe legged pants into cowboy or tall riding boots; now this sexism I have a severe problem dealing with its male fashion restrictions.How hypocritical, stupid & non-historically accurate !

  8. You are correct in the point that now fashion for boys is venturing into girls territory, it’s an heritage of the glam-rockstar look even if in a little toned down way (thank goodness :D), what was the so called emo-scene fashion is leaking down gradually into normal fashion, adding to the “hues” that are considered “appropriate”, bordering crossdressing in the model of these clothes, as they are tighter than usual. Cropped and banged haircuts, makeup, purses, are now more used, and don’t necessarily lie in the metrosexual department (that often involves lots of macho-guido attitude). It’s like more males think that they can cure their image in a similar way as a girl, to look good as a boy, simply now looking good as a boy is not (not always) that different than looking good as a girl, at least face-wise and clothing-wise, but even as personality, many girls really prefer a thoroughly more androginous guy. If somebody feel unconvinced and like some of my claims are not backed up, feel free to ask, I’ll try to clarify where I took these impressions from. And warren, you are probably meaning when a girl crossdresses in a slobby caricature of male, thuggy and with baseball hat.
    “I believe it’s because the way women are socially considered to be lesser than men. So if a man dresses like a woman, he is lowering himself to that level.” by converse if a woman act too much as a man it’s negative, due to the same sexist mechanism of some men, as she’s felt as threatening like a man, that feels like he can’t dominate her. The “not behaving ladylike isn’t attractive” is just an excuse.
    It’s funny though we had to wait until now for the men with boots showing to be seen as “fashionable”, as in past it has been a kind of crossdressing used by the girls, and had rebellious meaning :).

  9. Lately, I have been thinking on why males like to crossdress, but you typically don’t see females crossdressing exactly like men. Actually, women do crossdress, as they continually steal men’s styles and
    incorporate them into their attire. Just the other day I noticed a pair of short shorts in the womens section, and they were styled EXACTLY as mens suit pants, but short. I have noticed women wearing
    large men styled watches. If you go into the intimates section, you will notice that women have a style called boyshorts. Women also wear jeans called “the boyfriend” jean. Nobody ever gives women a hard
    time for dressing with men’s styles. Then of course theres the whole discussion about women wearing pants, but you’ve heard that before.

    Now consider the genetics of male/female. Women have XX chromosomes and men have XY. Notice something there? Men still retain genetic information they received from their mothers, and of course the female
    dna has wholly rejected the X component from their fathers. What this means is that men still have a genetic connection to their female lineage. An obvious example of this is that men still have nipples, but they certainly don’t need them, and women have nothing that is male.

    The default sex of a fetus is female, and it is converted to male by the addition of the X chromosome. Could this explain at a fundamental
    level why men crossdress.

    So maybe, it is women who crossdress, but men are only dressing like
    X component of their dna.

    1. Very interesting observations and points you make, Kelly. The “default”, or natural state is definitely the female/feminine. There is evidence of that, and how the feminine has been slowly changed from the natural dominant role to the more modern, lesser form/roll. Things that have long since been considered feminine are systematically being removed from women (and I’m phrasing this a bit sloppy as better words elude me at the moment). Women themselves are being encouraged to become more “masculine”, such as in style, personal presentation and eve attitude (as in “tough” and “crude) is better, etc., as you point out.

      If a woman identifies more with things that are arguably masculine, then that’s fine. Everyone should be allowed to follow the path that feels right to them. It’s the general sense of society, or portions there of, trying to remove femininity from everything that is rather unsettling. It is a true testament to the fact that fear and insecurity runs higher in the “masculine” frame of mind than the feminine. This quote sums it up pretty well, from someone who is far more eloquent in verbal expression than I:

      “Control over others is weakness disguised as strength.” — Eckhart Tolle

      Interesting how there is actually a growing fear of the feminine in society, at least in portions there of. Why is that? (Rhetorical)

  10. This topic was explored in the Fashion Freestyler blog. It was commented that women are the gate keepers of sex-and, in effect, boycott men who stray from a narrow masculine role. Doesn’t work so much the other way-even a tomboy still has clout as a gate keeper.

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