The opposition to men wearing skirts in Australian society



There are probably as many different reasons why it is difficult for men to wear skirts in Australian society as there are people who are opposed to the idea, but this paper aims to discuss what appear to be the main ones.

Ask people who don't like the idea of men wearing skirts why they are opposed and you are likely to get responses that fit into three groupings: "it's wrong/not right"; "the Bible condemns it"; "I don't like it."

Few people offering the first of those can actually explain why they think it's wrong without referring to scripture (the second response). The secondary response tends to be along the lines of "I just feel it is wrong." What is decidedly the case is that most people in Australia are not used to seeing men wearing what they are used to calling skirts. Part of the problem is that people often feel uncomfortable about something different, and frequently this discomfort, whatever the issue, translates into "it's wrong." There are also men who feel they are being, or will be, pushed to wear skirts, and do not want to be in that position. Making it difficult for other men to wear skirts reduces the chance of being invited to do the same. Another part of the problem is the lack of suitable alternatives and the lack of experience most men have in wearing skirts in our society. This often leads to poor coordination of items, resulting in a standard of dress which most people could acknowledge as being inadequate. It is quite easy to extend problems with selection of skirts into the idea that wearing a skirt is wrong in all circumstances. Advice on what looks good and what doesn't, allowing for the fact that most people aren't used to the concept, would be a large positive step towards general acceptance. The same issue occurred in the 1940s and 1950s with women beginning to wear trousers. The reference, above, to what we are used to calling skirts raising another interesting point. If a woman wraps a towel around her waist we are happy to describe it as a wrap skirt, but if a man wears the same towel in the same way we are not. Why?

The same passage of scripture (Deut 22:5) was used against those women who pushed for freedom to wear trousers. Like men who want to wear skirts today, and frequently have to resort to accepting or modifying items designed and made for women, women in the post-war era had to buy men's trousers and adjust them, or make trousers themselves. There are several references which explain why this passage should not be applied to either women wearing trousers in the 1940s or men wearing skirts in the early 2000s. Essentially, the Jewish understanding of the passage (which is, after all, first and foremost Jewish scripture) is that it was directed against people trying to make themselves out to be of the opposite gender either to go to war (the women) or avoid going to war (the men), and to distinguish the Hebrew people from the Canaanites among whom they lived. It had nothing to do with issues of fashion, and to read that into the passage can be seen as an insult to the Jewish community.

Men, in Australia in particular, are reluctant to stand out from the crowd by wearing something unusual, preferring to stick to the white shirt, black or dark blue suit with complementary shoes and socks, and a tie, and rarely moving significantly from that even in a casual environment. With one notable exception the only item allowed to be colourful is the tie, which is not suitable for a hot climate, especially a humid one. Gone are the days from the 1970s where men commonly wore colourful shirts. The exception is the impact of the Jane McGrath Foundation, which has resulted in large groups of men showing their willingness to wear pink shirts, or shirts with significant amounts of pink on them, in support of breast cancer research. It is a clear example of a prominent public figure leading the masses who were unwilling to venture into the realm of colour on their own and needed the security of numbers to be "normal." If only we could get someone like Glenn McGrath to encourage men to wear skirts! When the local cricket season is over it will be months before those pink shirts show themselves again. Without some effort in other circles it will take a number of years before they are worn for anything else. Two issues arise: anyone who wears something different tends to be ridiculed (the 'tall poppy syndrome'), irrespective of what the outfit may entail; and a recognition on the part of most men that they don't have the self-confidence to step out. Men are so fearful of ridicule for being themselves in a public arena that they refuse to even try, and so miss any benefits. At least one business manager has said to a male worker wearing a skirt "you have more guts than I do." Australia was built on a pioneering spirit, but it seems to have disappeared. Unfortunately, when someone in a position of authority is uncomfortable with another person being different, even if the difference has no impact on that person's potential 'output' value, there is a tendency to refuse to take that person on for a task, or to keep the person on that task. Where legislation prevents the very thing which the supervisor finds difficult being used as a reason to not involve someone then a legitimate reason, however tenuous, will be found if possible. Skirted men have missed out on contracts simply because of the skirt, some have lost licences to provide valuable services even though they've been providing the service for some time and skirted women are quite acceptable, and there's plenty of evidence of people who are different being overlooked for promotions when better qualified for the task than the successful applicant.

There is also a fear among men that their manliness might somehow be threatened by being different, and that isn't restricted to skirts, it even applies to the use of colour, the choice of hairstyles and shoes, and to what we find acceptable in terms of language and behaviour. Some women recognise that a man has to have a particularly strong character to buck the mainstream ideas, and actually encourage men who are pushing the boundaries. We need more of them.

Also of great importance in the restricting of men wearing skirts is an underlying phenomenon which is often ignored or even denied an existence. Essentially it runs like this: for centuries women have been treated as inferior to men (often as sex objects for men's pleasure); women wear skirts; therefore anyone who wears skirts is inferior. This is shown up quite clearly with women who are striving to achieve management positions dressing in trousers whilst those who wear skirts, especially the ones who do it consistently, are frequently given the more menial tasks. 'Who wears the pants in your family?' has enormous power in stopping men looking after their own physical and mental health. Not only does a man wearing a skirt challenge acceptance of someone who is expected to have power and authority, yet dresses in similar fashion to the inferior class, but he also raises issues of how men relate to him, given the underlying thought that a person in a skirt is for the man's sexual pleasure, in one form or another. This is not something that the man concerned can overcome in an instant: it is so much a part of the psyche that it can take hard work or a stunning revelation to break the hold. It is not unusual to find a man in standard outfit telling a man in a skirt that he doesn't know how to relate to him because of the skirt. Though we have, in a number of 'western' countries, made significant progress towards addressing this underlying, debilitating moral problem it is still quite evident at times in current Australian society, and it is the openly predominant, and even legislated, attitude in some cultures.

What can be done? Those who have difficulties with their innate reaction to someone in a skirt will hardly be convinced to don one without some serious help, and frequently these people are in positions of authority, restricting men's options as they go about their normal activities. The views of these people who cannot accept the idea need to be respected, because without that respect there will be no opportunity for a change of heart. Two things which will help the cause are: more offerings of skirts which are designed for men and which are as close as possible to the designs of items traditionally worn by men; and more men wearing skirts in public. The more often skirted men are seen walking around and doing things normally expected of men the easier it will be for those who are currently uncomfortable with the idea to warm to it.

The situation with Andrej Pejic shows just how illogical it is to require men to wear traditional garments to be accepted. Andrej is a 19 year old Australian male model who is in huge demand, and who insists that he is male yet is, almost daily, taken for being a woman. If he can wear skirts and other items normally worn only by women in western societies, yet remain very much a man, then why shouldn't other men be able to do the same? Is it OK for men who are past a mysterious critical mass of so-called feminine appearance, but not OK for the rest? To continue this line, some people have made garments which can be converted from shorts to skirt and back again without being removed by the wearer. Is it logical that such a garment be acceptable on a man if it is in the shorts form, but not acceptable if in the skirt form?

This discussion paper is a work in progress. If you have any comments to make please send them to our Australian media person

© 2011 Steven Secker