‘Let small boys wear dresses!’ I recently read in an online West European newspaper. What a strange thing to say or maybe not when thinking about it. Dressing girls in dresses and small boys in pants are traditional dressing codes – that is, in parts of the world. It is not easy to turn this trend around. However, in many countries skirts and robe like outfits (named different in various countries) are standard dressing code. Robe like outfit can be applied for various causes this being due to tradition, climate and/or for religious purposes. In many Asian and African countries men wearing robes or robe like outfits are common. Look at Scottish men for instance who has been wearing traditional skirts for centuries. It is far more common than we think for men to wear a dress like outfit. So then what’s the big deal?
The answer is stereotypes prevailing in countries where children are brought up with learning boys wear pants, girls wear dresses. Stereotypes are difficult to break because it is linked to societal perceptions of what is perceived normal and acceptable. For many countries it is about femininity and masculinity. The gender researcher interviewed claimed that boys do not become more feminine wearing dresses. We believe him. However, if your little boy starts wearing a dress at school, will he receive positive reactions? Hardly. He will be perceived a weirdo, not to mention you for allowing him to dress like that.
There was a time when makeup on men was totally unacceptable. Today many men wear makeup – perhaps not fully acceptable yet I believe – but it is coming. Handbags for men – another sphere now slowly introduced to men. Feminine? Yes by many perceived as such. Again, stereotypes. Men carry many of the same items as women. Why must they always have it in their pockets when handbags would come in far more handy. That reminds me –in many countries men have used handbags for decades already. No one finds that strange – there.
Stereotypes are thoughts adopted about specific types of individuals or specific ways of doing things. Clearly stereotypes can change from culture to culture. In other words, wearing dresses might not fit with the stereotypes in one culture as it would in another culture. The same goes for jewelleries, handbags and makeup. Challenging stereotypes are often perceived a provocation – this being about clothes or commonly accepted opinions. The last mentioned refers to the mind of free thought that even in what we label as democratic societies are not as free as we like to think it is. Also mindsets can be ruled by stereotypes or should we label it accepted opinions. Stereotype opinions is perhaps more important to challenge than clothes and handbags.