Oh boys

Go to a department store–any department store, whether it’s brick and mortar or online–and measure the difference between the clothes that get sold to girls, and the the clothes that get sold to boys. The girls’ section is invariably richer. You’ll see rows and rows of different fabrics and styles, a wide range of price points, interesting possibilities in prints and colors.

It won’t take you so long to sift through the boys’ section. Even during Easter and Christmas, the two dressiest times of the year in the South, it would be hard to find a store that offers more than an extra rack of suits–perhaps just navy blazers, with a seersucker or two sprinkled in–for these special, seasonal occasions. And don’t even talk to me about finding dress shoes for boys older than eight and younger than fifteen. If you can find them, they’re likely to be as ugly as they are uncomfortable.

The differences between these shopping experiences speak volumes about the way we gender boys and girls, and in an anecdotal way, speak to the frustrations that boys feel today. They can see toxic masculinity at work from Washington, D.C., all the way to the most recent school shooting in Florida. They can see the emasculation of boys who aren’t aggressive any time they want to turn on a screen. I’m not sure that they can find a workable middle path in between.

I am proud of the work that has been done to uplift women in education and the workplace for the last quarter of a century. That work is not complete; I would never want to take away advances that women have been able to enjoy since Title IX came into being. However, as a recent columnist for the New York Times noted, it is time for us to have careful conversations about ways to inspire boys to thrive alongside girls, not just against them.

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18 Responses to Oh boys

  1. Kaelon McNeece says:

    In a way, I’d like to say there has been a significant advancement in how society perceives “masculinity,” but there exist facets of society that are still plagued by toxic expectations from men and anyone who doesn’t follow them is judged harshly because of it. In our modern age, he have moved far away from expecting a stereotypical, masculine presence from men which society’s choice to embrace nerd culture, intelligence, and generally a wider spectrum of guys. However, while it may be okay for guys to enjoy a good book and maybe not have to go to the gym three times a day, it is still considered embarrassing for men in today’s society to, as the New York Times article puts it, “be vulnerable without being emasculated” since today’s males still feel like they have to adhere to notions that manliness is measured in emotional and physical strength. I agree with both Dr. E and the article, men should’ve been encouraged by every part of society to be comfortable with themselves decades ago. It is time for men and women to thrive alongside one another and be comfortable with displaying characteristics that may be attributed to ancient stereotypes of the other gender.

  2. Society exerts a stronger force on girls than boys because girls have to be more prudent and mindful of what they wear, say, and do. For example, a woman walking around town with a bra and stocking pants on, she would most likely be seen as a whore, but if that woman is seen wearing a formal attire, then society would presume she means business.

    Men have a smoother transition to society because of the expectations. Men are EXPECTED to be strong, dominant, smart, and decisive. Little do they know, women can be the same if not better than some men in society.

  3. Samantha Anderson says:

    I don’t really agree with the fact that there is necessarily not a large variety of clothes for guys; I just think it depends on where you look. Although I will admit that in terms of formal wear for men choices are limited, with everyday options, guys (at least guys around my age) have a limited amount to choose. For example, H&M give guys at least a floor worth of clothes with cool and unique options. Not to call you old Dr.Easterling, but I do believe that there hits a certain age range where there is a standard, everyday thing that people are expected to wear. For women, the dresses are more modest and plain, and for men, there become a lot more button downs and khakis (preferably tucked in for professionalism). I will admit that possibly in comparison there are more options for different styles, but that is because of the gender issue you spoke of. Men’s fashion is also considered women’s fashion because androgyny is honestly a fashion statement. I understand that some men feel confined to only masculinity, but personally, I know very few guys who would wear dresses, skirts, crop tops, and tube tops for everyday, casual outfits. Also, going back to the masculinity point, guys, if you are truly confident in your skin enough to wear what is considered “feminine” clothing, then why be scared to just go to the women’s section. If you feel like your options aren’t enough and we have too many, just take ours; it is no big deal. Referring back to men’s fashion becoming women’s fashion, I personally own multiple guy shirts and even have worn bow ties. Does that make me really confident in my femininity or that I honestly just don’t care enough and do what I want? Most likely it’s the latter, so there’s no reason for guys to confine themselves to their (many) “masculine” options; just do whatever the **** you want.

  4. Lori Feng says:

    There is certainly a “man-box” that confines young men to act in certain ways that are considered traditionally masculine. With a younger brother, I have personally seen the damage that forcing the man box upon young men can have, most notably when we visit China. Whenever he behaves in a way that is not considered masculine, others ask him “What would a man do?” as if there is only one type of true male figure in the world. Forcing this man box upon young men forces these children to act in a certain way, and if they do not, then they are labeled as “gay” or as a “girl,” which not only insinuates that one should be ashamed of these two labels, but it also insinuates that a gay man is not actually a man.

    Toxic masculinity is just another dimension of the complicated issue of gun violence and regulation, and it is most definitely a problem that should be addressed. The box that is forced upon young men also translates to even more harmful effects when they become grown men. As noted by the Huffington Post, “as gun violence becomes more and more common in the US, there seems to be one constant: the majority of shooters are men, many of whom have a track record of physically abusing the women in their lives.” The Atlantic provides actual numbers, stating that 98% of all mass murderers are men, and “that makes masculinity a more common feature than any of the elements that tend to dominate discourse-religion, race, nationality, political affiliation, or any history of mental illness”

    This is definitely not to say that all men are violent or that society should completely eliminate its ideas of manhood, but a healthy balance must be reached so that male figures do not feel as if they cannot openly express their emotions without being labeled as weak or insecure. Justin Baldoni, a Hollywood actor, recently gave a Ted Talk about how and why society should redefine manhood, and I think that his inspiration will mark the start of an even bigger movement.




  5. Michelle L. says:

    Gender isn’t as cleanly divisible as man and woman which might contribute to people’s frustration with traditional roles and expectations of masculinity and femininity in both defying them and enforcing them. Women are expected to wear bras and be demure, and men are expected to wear pants and be dominating just as often as they are urged to be the exact opposite. Stereotypical images come to mind of willowy housewives versus butch aircraft mechanics and bullheaded military men versus petite scarf-wearing barista boys. All these expressions of gender are valid, but frustration breeds extremism with groups like “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” or “incels,” who often seek to enforce one gender ideal and make it normal. It’s a trend in history. I don’t doubt that any subtle indication of gender, like clothing or toy options, reinforces a type of oppression to frustrated people.
    It’s evident that people have already defied gender norms. Maybe this just indicates a shifting of gender norms, like the woman’s sphere has expanded, though the man’s has only grown marginally. Even then, I think most people stick to their respective spheres, much like how mothers only venture into the men’s aisle when buying something for their husband or son. It is much more acceptable for a woman to wear pants than a man to wear a skirt. It is much more acceptable for a man to go topless in public than a woman to go topless. It is not often a man will wear a skirt, and if they do, they’re “defying gender norms” or brave or the scurge of society. Same goes for topless women. I conjecture that a lot of people take the opinion of “who cares?” in terms of clothing choices, but might still take a second glance at a man wearing a dress.

  6. Morgan Emokpae says:

    I do agree that in terms of men’s fashion in the south there seems to be somewhat of a disparity between men and women’s clothing. I also agree that doing so is a reflection of a gender normative society in which not adhering to the commonly held ideals on masculinity results in the defimation of one’s “manliness” . However, I disagree in that statement there is not a workable middle ground between conforming and not conforming to traditional gender norms. It is up to the individual to decide for himself what he sees a being “typical” of a male. It is a choice; a man should define masculinity through his own culture/socitial/INDIVIAL perspective. Thus, the the middle ground is the place that he choses for him self. In this act of self determined he will be able to reject the futile ideas which dictate gender. In addition evidence of a middle ground can be seen on television in which writers are allowing male character to experience a wider berth of emotion: vunarablity, sadness, joy, and protection. Shows like “This is us”, “The fosters”, “The Legend of Korra” and even the movie “Moonlight” function as evidence of a more extensive discourse on gender and more intermediary views on masculinity.

  7. Kendra Bradley says:

    I think this is a problem many that are striving for gender change are wanting to amend. Now that women are finally beginning to get a foot into the same room, it is becoming apparent that this room isn’t good for the men either. It is often that men cannot adequately express their emotions, and it is deemed too feminine for men to have a lot of nice clothes. Why it is an insult for men to be feminine, I am not sure. That is another thing that needs to catch up to times. Men, especially in the pivotal period of mental growth from 8-15, need to be reminded that they do not have to be strong and emotionless. They can cry, love clothes, and be gentle. It does not invalidate their identity just because they are not damaging themselves.

    • Kamaljyot Bhalla says:

      I agree that the gender change does have in influence as such, but I do think that boys are seeing “being feminine” in a different perspective now. While yes, they do think that’s an derogatory, I believe that change is happening by the way the youth are interacting and liking the same things as their opposite gender.

  8. Tija Johnson says:

    I think the issue is the definition of a man. (Of course I can’t completely speak on this being a young woman) BUT I am aware of what society considers a man to be. Yes, society likes men to be this tough figure than can’t be pierced and that’s not the case. We are all human so we all have feelings, so people shouldn’t downplay a man’s masculinity because of it. Crying is a form of showing that you are human and that’s fine. HOWEVER, just because women have progressed from where they once were, it shouldn’t take away from the progress of men. If a man is intimidated by women, then that says a lot about him and his masculinity. Now, I agree that we should inspire boys as much as girls. The article says, “America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us.” I understand the point they are trying to make but I don’t care for excuses. In the recent shooting, yes he may have some problems in school or at home (or whatever else they say to distract the people from the matter) but he knew that was wrong. (Side note: But as usual I’m sure they are going to xyz to try to get him off.) Everybody may be a little bit of broken so if we’re going to try to fix it, fix it all.

  9. Gene Kloss says:

    To start off with the fashion issue: is there any way male fashion can progress to where you don’t see most, if not all, guys walking around in jeans and a t-shirt? For a majority of my male friends, that’s all we wear. You see girls wearing anything from this baseline to a dress, or maybe substituting the jeans for a skirt. These options aren’t socially acceptable for anyone that either identifies as a male or has yet to embrace/be able to embrace any transition from masculinity and it’s something I have personally been irritated with for a while now.
    As for the emotional and truly meaningful aspect of masculinity, men aren’t able to express their qualities of aggression, strength, and competitiveness in this world of make everyone happy and treat each other fairly. In this new world of ours, people usually look down on displays of these three traits and see them as either obnoxious or rude. There’s no positive outlet for these traits except for sports or martial arts, which isn’t always an option for people, depending on socioeconomic status or the child’s skill level, if they wish to pursue high school sports. These outlets are only beneficial to pure masculinity, as well, so there’s no emotional outlet for guys struggling with their emotions. Most guys are so fragile with their masculinity that any mention of any negative emotion is like shining sunlight at a vampire. Our world has changed to the point to where current masculinity isn’t necessary, yet people are so adamant about keeping our definition of masculinity. I think it’d be important to encourage every succeeding generation to be more open with their emotions and change our definition of masculinity for the better.

  10. Liz Huynh says:

    The lack of male clothes is largely due to the lower sales store generates from male products. There are stores designed just for men, and we also have an increasing trend in unisex clothing. I agree with Morgan and Kaelon in that boys have the full right to define their own masculinity and express vulnerability. Society should raise awareness to male in that vulnerability is in no way deprived males of their masculinity. In addition, there should be a separation between masculinity and manners. More than often, people mixed up manners with masculinity and paralleled rudeness with unmanliness.

  11. Loveish Sarolia says:

    Although it seems the male population has less choice in clothing, and it may be true to some extent, society views men with a desire for style as sort of outcasts because apparently, all men should just wear whatever covers the best. The social norms view women as more shopping and less hammer and nail and men vice-versa. In our current time, this is quickly changing and women are gaining positions in areas of work never before thought of as a “women’s field”. I believe as the world changes, the clothing available for men will diversify and the gap will soon close between men and women’s clothing. And to address the people before me, I believe the selection of men’s clothing is definitely smaller, there may be entire stores pointed towards men but if we’re going to be real here they all usually include three or four styles with over 50 or 60 shades of colors while women’s stores have multiple styles of clothing as well as multiple colors. The department stores based on men are usually built around suits or business wear and to be honest, all men don’t wear business wear everywhere they go. Stores such as H&M do provide an entire floor dedicated to men but usually, the selection is uniform across multiple stores with many colors of the same collared shirt and different shades of the same jeans.

  12. Anna Grace Dulaney says:

    I’m really glad you shared this article because it brought up points that I have never thought about. Society really does still have such an outdated definition of “manliness.” This definition doesn’t belong in a society that encourages you to be yourself without the boundaries of specific gender-roles. As a girl, I have grown up being told that I can be whatever I want to be and that I shouldn’t let my gender get in my way. I was empowered by my family and friends. It never occurred to me that no one was telling my male friends the same thing. It is a wonderful thing that women are speaking out and empowering each other. It is true that men have historically had an advantage, but the feminist movement, at its core, is working towards equality. Equality includes all people. Everyone should feel empowered and important. Society has redefined what it means to be a woman, now we should redefine what it means to be a man.

  13. Chanclinique Hairston says:

    One problem is definitely some men’s urge to try and rove themselves to be so masculine. Some men hate to feel less dominate or inferior which cause alot of conflict between genders. Examples being when a woman makes more money than a man or has a higher position/ authority. This causes disrespect and alot of unfairness being that the man wants to be the one in control with the power. When men start to look at women as their equal when it comes to domination they would easily work better together.

  14. Ihatepolitics says:

    I get the lack of variety for guys ,but girls have a similar issue to the shoes not fitting. Many dress and basic fashion companies do not make outfit that are considered plus size. That is why so many bigger girls are limited. It isn’t just bigger girls that have issues with finding clothing options ether. If you are petite it is not specified what you are other than you being smaller than the average adult women. My mom has been a under weight petite women ,and she always has pants legs and clothing that are to long. Even though it is suppose to be for petite woman. Also guys have a big and tall stores ,but my aunt (who is taller than most males I know) has always had difficulties finding clothing. Dresses and most pants are to short for her.

  15. Jaylen Hopson says:

    I feel that first I must think about the shopping experience from a business standpoint. The store will stock whatever they can sell the most of, regardless of their societal views. The outdated idea of masculinity is only responsible for making boys not want to dress more adventurously, and choosing to follow the societal norms. As soon as there is a wide enough audience of male shoppers, the supply will increase.

    Moving on, there are two main sources of today’s idea of masculinity. I identify the father figures and the media for forming each young boys’ opinion on the matter. Many fathers of this age grew up in a time where men had to be dominant, so that is the child’s first and most impactful experience with masculinity. Children often want to be just like their parents(but better) at an early age. This causes the child to aim for their father’s idea of masculinity which most likely includes sports and dating women frivolously. This leads me to the media, which glorifies men like that who take what they want when they want it. You nearly always see the “bad boy” or the “tough guy” get the girl in movies and stories of old. But even today both the news and modelling agencies perpetuate that the perfect man is a big and strong man, disregarding intelligence and femininity. It is the same for women, but they are luckily inspired more to fight against it. Adolescents have it rough in a time where they already don’t understand themselves but they can tell that they don’t look like the guy or girl on the TV or magazine. There is no law or any way to forcefully fix this issue. Until people can truly see all genders, not just both, as equal, gender bias will exist.

  16. Jacob Lee says:

    This is a problem I have noticed since I was a wee little lad, being raised by a single mother and having to accompany her on her shopping expeditions. Looking back however, I was only particularly drawn to those standard “guy” clothes, even when other options were available. The problem for progression in men’s fashion isn’t so much in options as it is the social construct of masculinity. If we’re taught from a young age that we have to be like the people we see on TV and in magazine and that what we where plays a large role in that, then what clothes we’re drawn too is a fairly limited selection of options. In reality, masculinity is more a social construct that should fall away as time progresses because what you wear or how you look shouldn’t determine what kind of person you are–it should be how you treat people and how you choose to live your life. That is not to say that clothing has no place in society other than to just cover us up, it is ultimately a form of self expression and should not just be used as a form of social compliance. Lately, there has been a rise in companies that have options that provide originality and an equal, or greater, amount of individuals in search of opportunities like this.

  17. Sophia says:

    I do agree that while the boy’s section has less variety and certainly is indicative of the lack of options available for men in life, from toxic masculinity to constant emasculation if they ever defer from the dorm. However, for all that the girls section appears to have so many options, from clothes to careers and lifestyles – their clothing is truthfully nonfunctional (pockets, anyone???) and still hypersexualizing (non see through tshirts???), and in career and lifestyle choices, while legally open women still face a plethora of hardships when entering some careers (from sexual harassment in silicon valley to lack of upwards mobility in executive offices).

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