So much about our culture can be understood in the word “mantyhose”
Vanessa has an interesting post up about the politics of “mantyhose”, which are pantyhose, but repackaged for men for no purpose other than to convince male consumers that they won’t grow a vagina just because they’re wearing a type of clothing that’s practically designed to suffocate vaginas and make bacterial infections grow unimpeded. (I suspect this spoils the great reveal of my opinion of pantyhose later in the piece.) It’s actually kind of sad how bent out of shape some men get when they find themselves in a situation where wearing stockings makes sense. Because nothing is worse than being a woman, and therefore something coded as feminine creates this deep horror.
For more than a decade, Mack wore women’s pantyhose under his clothes to keep him warm while he worked as a landscaper. But four years ago, Mack, 35, discovered “mantyhose” —pantyhose for men.
“It’s nice because they are specifically made for men, so I felt less weird about it,” said Mack, who declined to give his last name (because his wife does still feel weird about it)…..
“Men were being told by their doctors that they needed compression legwear for knee problems,” Katz said. “So they were sent to buy women’s hosiery, and that was embarrassing for them.”
The inequality in cross-dressing in this country is a fairly clear-cut indicator of how much misogyny is internalized by people. Obviously, there’s a tendency to gender non-gendered products of all sorts, which is why the satirical video I posted is so funny. But when they “feminize” a non-gendered product, it’s usually to emphasize how delicate and feminine the user is, as if the un-gendered product is too masculine and harsh for her. But it’s not humiliating to use “masculine” things, and in fact, the major issue with women wearing men’s clothes has been, for decades at least, that it’s considered a bit uppity for women to do so. Pants were considered off-limits to women because it was understood that women might want to wear pants, due to the comfortable movement factor, and keeping them from infringing on this privilege was the point of the taboo. Of course, pants are acceptable for women now. Actually, there’s few items of male clothing that women haven’t adopted for ourselves, even though a few items like ties are only worn as fashion statements. But items marked as women’s clothing remain steadfastly off-limits to men.
I’m fascinated by the way that some women get bent out of shape when their husbands do something “feminine”. Why does it bother this wife? It’s not because pantyhose are one of the stupidest and least sexy items of clothing ever invented, because mantyhose look just like pantyhose, and so the aesthetic horror is maintained. It’s clearly an embarrassment issue, which is why he won’t give his last name. I suspect that it’s because, in a sexist society, the most that most women can hope for is to derive their social status through their men, and so it’s important for their men to be very masculine. I’m not blaming her or beating up on her. I can see that it wouldn’t be fun at all to admit that your man does something that is considered feminine and therefore low status.
Now that women have claimed most male clothing for its comfort and for its ability to signal status (and have modified it so that it’s more flattering to female bodies no less), I think we as a society define those things that are feminine and off-limits to men by their frivolity, or at least relationship to it. Pantyhose are feminine because they’re meant to be worn with skirts. To be more specific, they were invented to go with the mini-skirt, because garter belts and stocking don’t work under mini-skirts or under the more form-fitting skirts and dresses that are popular today. And it’s skirts and dresses that are inexcusably feminine clothing items, because they’re sexy and decorative and limit your movement, especially when you wear them with high heeled shoes that make it hard to walk very fast.
What’s interesting, and the mantyhose article only touches on this a little, is that men are feeling more pressure to be sexy and decorative for the benefit of women, probably because women’s increasing independence means that they can choose men based on sexual desire and not just stability. Thus, you have, as the article says, more men’s underwear that is designed to shape and tuck and smooth, like women’s underwear has done forever. You could argue that this is just about status between men, but I’d argue with you, because if it’s just about men, you can turn things such as the beer belly into status symbols in and of themselves. God knows that in the land I hail from—Redneckia—many men seem downright proud of their beer bellies, which they decorate with ever-growing belt buckles for the benefit of other men. No, I’d say that the pressure is growing to look sexy or dashing or some other adjective that describes a man capable of catching the eye of anyone, male or female, who likes men. Every week I listen to the Savage Love podcast, and sometimes Dan praises the straight guys who call if they have sexy voices, and instead of getting bent out of shape at being treated like, well, a woman, they respond positively. This is a trend I can get behind.
But it does present a problem for men who want to enjoy the pleasure of being treated like you’re sexy without getting that gnawing feeling that you’re getting turned into a woman. And so marketers strain to put out the message that it’s manly to do womanish things like dressing up to be attractive. Objectively, a word like “mantyhose” is so ridiculous it should be what’s embarrassing, not the act of wearing stockings. But that’s just how strong the fear is, that a man might prefer a ridiculous word like “mantyhose” over being feminized in any way.
And since I promised, I’ll deliver—I hate pantyhose. I realize for some women, they provide support, warmth, or some other benefits, but my experience with them has solely been in situations where I had to wear them because walking around with bare legs is too scandalous. The history of stockings is one of trying to police women’s virtue in a world where there’s also significant pressure on women to be sexually appealing. Really, all of women’s clothing choices are haunted by the contradictory requirements to be sexy so men like to look at you, but don’t be sexy because you’ll be called slutty. For instance, anyone with big breasts knows that you’re supposed to show some cleavage, but not too much, and trying to figure out the sweet spot of how much to show is impossible, because the definition is so subjective. It’s always changing, too. I remember when it was considered beyond the pale to forgo padded bras, because hiding your real breasts behind padding was not just about shape but also about modesty—god forbid anyone see the natural shape of a breast. Now thin bras and thin T-shirts are the norm.
Anyway, I hated pantyhose because they are the most egregious attempt to accommodate this unfair catch-22. You’re supposed to show off some leg, at least your calves, but god forbid you actually show your legs when showing your legs. So let’s plaster on a faux natural looking skin on your legs that’s just unnatural-looking enough that anyone looking at you realizes you are concealing your real legs. That is some fucked up shit, and especially when you have to suffer the blistering Texas heat while pretending to show off and cover up your legs all at once. I hate pantyhose and all they represent so much that if I do have to wear stockings on the rare occasion that I’m in a skirt in cold weather, I’ll wear something that’s aggressively not pantyhose.
Other women’s fashions that are in the same vein of trying to be sexy without trying to be sexy don’t bother me: knee-length skirts, low-waisted jeans, the aforementioned thin T-shirts, halter dresses, or V-neck sweaters. But pantyhose are just so ridiculous and over the top that they anger me. It’s satisfying using them to make compost tea instead of what they were made for.