World War I. Women in Britain are venturing into unknown territory – they’re building ammunition, they’re populating factories, confronting danger, becoming heroines of the homefront as they reshape gender norms as we know them forever. They smash through it. Now, in a slightly more trivial way, the men of Reddit yesterday had their own moment to smash through the gender stereotypes we still uphold all these years on. Only, instead of votes, these guys want… Yoga pants. And they want to talk about mental health.
The conversation was started on a thread asking commenters “what thing would you do if it wasn’t so ‘feminine’ or socially ‘unacceptable’?” And the hundreds of answers were insightful. Who knew that guys were so into sewing? And how they wish they too could smell “like a bed of roses”? The men confessed that they’d love to wear sundresses (“those things look like heaven”), to order “fruity drinks”, to cover up dark circles with make-up, and wear skirts. One user says, simply: “I’d knit so hard, bro.”
For a while, the thread is quite entertaining. While it’s laying the restrictive stereotypes out plainly for all to see, it’s also light-hearted. There’s an enlightening conversation about quilting and how lovely it is to give a quilt as a gift, swiftly followed by a discussion on laser hair removal to tidy up a hairy bum. Apparently the vast majority of men are taken with the idea of snuggling up in yoga pants and leggings.
Paint your nails. Buy yourself flowers. Wear floral perfume and scrub your skin until it’s soft. And cry. And be emotional, and break down masculinity and femininity for what they are – meaningless, disempowering social constructs
But some things are more difficult to say. “I feel like I haven’t cried in years, but sometimes I feel like I just want to break down,” says one guy. “It’s hard to keep things bottled up all the time,” says another. “Men can be just as emotional as the average woman,” another says, “but at any sign of vulnerability or weakness, we are told to ‘man up’.” A final note on the thread reads, “I want to be a stay-at-home-dad. Everyone expects a man to have goals and career aspirations. That’s not really me.”
It’s not him, it’s not any of the other guys on there trying so desperately to uphold the image society says he must, and it shows all too clearly that gender stereotyping isn’t good for anyone. We might have come a long way in recent years – gender is more fluid, and a shift in attitudes has seen a more liberal outlook when it comes to identity. Feminism has been working to break down the female stereotypes which, in turn, prop up the ideals of what a man should be. But there’s a long way to go. Still femininity is devalued in society and the notion of a feminine man is wrapped in tired homophobic and transphobic attitudes.
It’s well-documented that the pressure for men to reach an “ideal masculinity” is leaving them vulnerable to ill mental health – lonely, disconnected, and unable to communicate. And in that light, there’s little wonder that suicide is the biggest killer among men under 45 in the UK.
And it’s leaving them unable to do what they want for fear of persecution or ridicule. When I text my friends to see what they would do under the circumstance, one said he’d wear more feminine clothes. Another said he’d want to get his nails done, and his friend – an electrician – would have been a florist.
But the thread was hopeful. Their wishes to wear a skirt, or to pamper more, or taking up sewing as a hobby (“It’s just building stuff in a different medium,” one user floated) were met with nothing but encouragement. Other men up-voted and commented, and lent support in each other’s choices. Some were so enamoured by the positive responses that they said they might just go and wear a skirt out, or “buy myself something sparkly”.
And they should. Screw stereotypes and the effort it takes to uphold them, and the sadness that they can bring. Paint your nails. Buy yourself flowers. Wear floral perfume and scrub your skin until it’s soft. And cry. And be emotional, and break down masculinity and femininity for what they are – meaningless, disempowering social constructs, which are holding us all back. And maybe then, we’ll really start getting somewhere.