Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Schoolkids



Boy and girl in school uniform.

Dumb blond

For millennia, men had tried to make women conform to stereotypes. One of the fascinating traits of the female-dominated society of the 21st century was the way in which women turned these tropes around and imposed them on men.

A good example can be found in Taste of Sugar, a highly successful US TV sitcom from the 2040s which lasted 11 seasons. The low-brow show centred upon Amanda Sugar, a world-weary saleswoman whose surname was an ironic comment upon her acerbic and distinctly un-sugary character. Sugar had to endure a series of irritating situations created by her faddish househusband Tony and her two feckless children.

But the real star of the show turned out to be her son, Bobby Sugar, played by teen sex symbol Jason Bentley.

With his fussy hairdos, short skirts and minimal intellect, Bobby epitomised a new male archetype — the dumb blond. (An equivalent from the old culture might be Kelly Bundy from Married With Children.) He was flirty and promiscuous enough to titillate the audience he was aimed to appeal to, i.e. teenage girls, but at the same time too innocent to be frowned upon. In Bobby, prettiness and ignorance were celebrated as male virtues. His ditzy character began as a fairly normal teenage boy of the time, though his skirts were always short, but as the series ran into several seasons he became progressively more stupid. His comedic role was to be stunningly naive and ignorant, while his family enjoyed stringing him along. His sister Becka, the brightest member of the family, earns most of her laughs by making a fool of her gullible and perhaps too obedient brother, for whom she is the centre of the universe.

Bobby Sugar was a hit. Girls salivated over him, put up posters of him in their bedrooms, and held him up as an ideal boyfriend. Much to the annoyance of men’s rights campaigners, he even became a kind of role model for boys, who dyed their hair blond and copied his short skirts, hair-ribbons, pigtails and cutesy, pouting manner. For a boy to be smart and independent just wasn’t ‘in’. As Becka’s much-quoted catchphrase put it, “what does a boy need brains for?”

There was of course a great deal of sexploitation going on with the character, who was included in the series somewhat cynically as an object for female lust. As one comedienne later put it: “Bobby Sugar made me hit puberty.”

Bobby was hardly a positive role model for boys, or for how girls should see boys. But in a way, he was not far removed from contemporary boyhood. A complete loss educationally, intent upon seducing an alpha female, subordinate to his sister, tottering in short skirts and heels and constantly worrying about how appealing he was to the opposite sex, he was an exaggerated form of what most teenage boys were actually becoming. Perhaps this was the ultimate reason for his surprising cultural impact, and why this flirty halfwit defined a behavioural template for boys in the second half of the century.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Transforming the trad boys into the modern

The spirit of the 21st century is very well illustrated by the show Boyflowers, which first aired in Japan in 2039 and was gradually franchised around the world, becoming very popular in the UK around 2042.

The premise of Boyflowers was that girls would contact the show to complain about boyfriends who were still traditional — they wore trousers all the time, wouldn’t wear makeup, talked back to their girlfriend, etc. The show’s producers took these recalcitrant males and taught them how to be masculine in the modern sense: they were coached in applying makeup, how to shave off body hair and put on tights and dresses, and also how to behave in a coquettish way that would please girls. The last stage was to drum into them that their girlfriend was in charge and always knew best.

The climax of the show was when the boy was revealed in his new clothes, embarrassed but desperate to please, first to a studio audience and then to his girlfriend, who has to give her approval. Once her pretty boy has curtsied nicely, said how much he likes his new look, and acknowledged to the world and to himself that she is the boss, no girl has yet expressed disappointment.

Here are some typical transformations from the show:

Takeuchi

Yashima

Takaku

Asakawa

Akimoto

Kasama

Nakajima

Odaki

The deal, of course, was not that the boy should endure one television programme and return to his old ways. A special slot of the show was dedicated to revisiting boys who had appeared in the past to see if they were growing their hair long, still wearing dresses, still smiling sweetly, and still doing as they were told. The success rate was very high, and not because it was set up for the cameras. There is no doubt that most of the boys were very happy in their new persona.

The public was charmed by this programme, which seemed to offer a solution to the social problem of rather grumpy and resentful ‘trad boys’ by pushing them into a new and enchanting identity. It proved to a still occasionally sceptical public that boys could look attractive in (what used to be) girls’ clothes, and pressure for boys to wear dresses and follow this stereotype became even more vigorous. Every mother wanted her son, and every girl her boyfriend, to resemble one of the adorable ‘boyflowers’.

Along with a wave of other such shows, books, magazines and so on, Boyflowers helped to redefine how boys were expected to dress and behave in a world run by women.

Images originally from the Japanese show ‘Crossdress Paradise’, which is almost as good as ‘Boyflowers’ would be...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

What’s in a lipstick?

In truth, there is nothing innately female about traditional ‘femininity’. As we’ve discussed before, femininity and masculinity are just sets of behavioural conventions that arose for historical reasons and can actually be adopted by either sex.

What is innately female about, say, a stick of lipstick? It is a cosmetic product containing pigments, oils, waxes, and emollients that applies colour and texture to the lips. Anyone, boy or girl, can wear it. Lipstick is famously sexual because it reddens (usually) the lips to make them appear swollen with blood, thus reproducing a signal of arousal. But both sexes’ lips become engorged when aroused.

Before the genderquake lipstick was almost exclusively worn by women. But who wears what is determined by social conventions, not biology.

We may apply the same logic to dresses. A dress is a garment consisting of a skirt with some sort of bodice, giving the effect of a one-piece garment. The West, at least, considered dresses to be strictly female clothing. But what, in truth, is a dress? It is a bit of cloth. Either sex can wear one. Men are shaped slightly differently, e.g. they don’t require cups for breasts, but a dress cut for men is still a dress. What is actually significant is the social signals that are given out: dresses are traditionally associated with females, so the wearer is low status and for a man to wear one is degrading.

In the 21st century it was now boys and men who were of inferior status. When they accordingly began to wear skirts, stockings, lipstick etc as a result of female pressure, people found that they looked no worse than women did. It was really just a question of what you were used to seeing.

boy putting on lipstick(Right) When girls rule, boys get pretty.

By the 2050s, boys were growing up who had never worn trousers, and who loved the most pretty, frilly, painted and frivolous of fashions: white tights, pink shoes with bows, shiny hair-ribbons, petticoats, little gloves, eyeshadow and rouge and lipstick, and more. The new generation of boys took their prettiness very seriously, spending an immense amount of time practising makeup, trying out hairstyles, borrowing one another’s clothes, varnishing their nails different colours, reading the latest boys’ fashion magazines and so on. By the standards of the old order, they should have looked an absolute fright. In fact, they were considered utterly charming by men and women alike: it was simply what boys were expected to do. It was seeing a girl dressed such a way which would provoke disgust and discomfort. Girls were meant for far greater things than such boyish fiddle-faddle.

Lipstick and dresses were still lipstick and dresses. It was the conventions that had been redefined. The pushing of men into wearing ‘female’ clothing was perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the female-dominated society of the 21st century.

Pretty in drag?

For many people, men’s ability to look attractive in “women’s” clothes came as quite a surprise.

Prior to the genderquake, it was normal to think that men cut a very poor figure in dresses and makeup. The consensus was that they looked ridiculous, and opposing voices were rarely heard. It didn’t suit male-dominated society at all to give credit to the idea that women’s clothing, and indeed inferior status, were not innately suited to women alone.

Panto dameAnd to be fair to pre-genderquake society, most people rarely saw any evidence that the consensus was not correct. There were generally only two stereotypes for crossdressing1 men. The first was the pantomime dame, the traditional British stage character, who though female was always portrayed by a man ‘in drag’. Some of the most common dames were Widow Twankey in Aladdin or the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella. The manner of performance was high camp, with big hair, preposterous makeup, and grotesque costumes. The drag queen entertainer was also of this type.

The second was the furtive crossdresser — a man who got a thrill out of wearing women’s clothing, but lived in fear of discovery, hiding his behaviour from his wife and family. This pathetic figure — half disturbing, half ridiculous — had no idea, of course, how to do his makeup. He wore a wig that didn’t suit him and perhaps wasn’t quite straight. He bought his clothes in charity shops, and wasn’t in fashion. He looked more like a mad old lady than anything else.

What these stereotypes had in common was that the man did not look good when ‘dressed’. Instead he was a grotesque, a sad parody of women, a freak of nature. From boys dressing up for a school ‘crossdress’ day to panto dames, males felt obliged to be exaggeratedly clumsy and jokey when deprived of bifurcated clothing. This was partly just embarrassment. But for them to look well-dressed, elegant, even sexy or beautiful in female clothing was not acceptable. After all, male society did not want a genuine debate about why the sexes wore different clothes, what that difference represented, and whether it was just. And the last thing most men wanted was pressure to start wearing feminine things!

The legion of men who crossdressed in private or as part of a club, and who knew very well how to make themselves presentable, were not generally acknowledged in public. The internet helped redress this balance, but of course it was the genderquake that really forced opinions to change.




1 After the genderquake, of course, men wearing dresses were not crossdressing — it was weird if a boy or man didn’t wear a dress and makeup. A number of women did like to wear men’s clothes in secret — but that is another story.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The fairer sex

In the 21st century, men were increasingly judged according to their appearance, and were put under tremendous pressure to make themselves beautiful by spending time and money on fashion, cosmetics and hair styling. Anxious to entice and please women, it was males who were the prettified, trivialised sex.

So it is unsurprising that the beauty contest became an all-male affair.

 



 

 

 

My context for these images is invented, of course. Source: pink2spring

Man the home-maker

Across the 21st century an ever-increasing proportion of men found their lives radically changing. Their wives earned a lot more than they did, so it was logically the man who must stay at home and look after the children.

Househusband serving breakfastBy the 2050s over two-thirds of British men stayed home to look after the children while their partners went out to work. What was it like being a man in a woman’s world?

The 21st century man found himself bouncing toddlers to sleep, washing up, cleaning up the house, then putting dinner on ready for their wives when they came home from work. They didn’t work from home or hold down part-time jobs: they had abandoned trying to have a career to raise their children. Usually, the only money they received was a housekeeping allowance from their wives. If they had an occupation, it was ‘househusband’: the trendy alternatives fashionable at the turn of the century, such as ‘stay at home dad’, were dropped — what else would a dad do but stay at home?

Being the home-maker was no easier for men than it had been for women. Indeed, it was harder, because they knew how powerful men had been in the old days. The practical aspects of home-making and child-rearing were not that difficult — the baths, the meals, the walks, the bedtimes, the vacuuming, the laundry, the polishing, the cooking — but the hours were long and the ceaseless round of tasks and duties was repetitive and boring, leaving him little time for himself.

A househusband has low status because his work is unpaid and, for men particularly, it was hard on one’s self-esteem. Whatever illusions some couples entertained of entering onto a ‘modern’ relationship with mutual respect, the balance of power in each relationship shifted very fast.

When his wife came home, the chances were she’d drop into a chair and put on the TV or read a magazine and ignore him, while he was still running round after the children and trying to make dinner. The woman expected the man to serve her dinner and to keep her company, so there was no more popping down the pub with his mates. Instead he had to stay at home and nod comfortingly while the breadwinner griped about her workmates or thought aloud about promotion.

Wife scolding husbandWomen tended to take their househusbands for granted, or to indulge in control-freakery. A wife was liable to criticise how her husband hung out the washing, or complain that his cooking wasn’t tasty enough, or he hadn’t ironed her shirts to her exacting standards. “I don’t work hard and earn the money for you to sit in my house and take it easy!” The irony was that women didn’t see men as hard-working, despite everything they did around the home. Men began to feel like Fifties housewives: they had to be perfect, yet were never good enough. When his wife was done offloading workplace stress, there was another nappy to change or cup to tea to make. And when the child woke up in the night it was his job to quiet her down. And in the morning he had to be up first, to cook his wife her breakfast and wave her off to work.

If he was lucky his wife would slip him some extra money to go and buy himself a new dress. But it was her call.

After months of such a life, a man’s self-esteem sank and he began to seriously doubt if he could return to the workplace, even if his wife would let him. All that time-keeping, phone calls, stress and competition, bossed around by kick-ass women with twice his brains and ambition — he begin to doubt his ability to survive at all. So the 21st century man got on with his life, trusting in his wife to provide money and make decisions, hoping she treated him well, and finding his own ways to get through the domestic boredom.

Househusbands tended to fall into two camps. One rather enjoyed their modest role and having their wives in control. The other felt resentful and humiliated. Either way, the generation of boys was growing up assuming that they would be the househusbands of domineering females, so it was time to get used to it.


“You’ve been very good, George, dearest. Take this and buy yourself a new dress. You deserve it!”

Monday, 7 June 2010

Dictation



CEO: Take a dictation, Tony.
Secretary: At once, Ma’am!


Many women didn’t like their boyfriends or husbands to work. When men were part of the workforce, they tended to find themselves in low-paid, part-time jobs, like cleaners and secretaries.

What to do with the clapped out male bosses?

Jim, the former CEO, was bitter when the all-female board politely fired him. The new boss said that she was prepared to give him a role in the company, but on two conditions. Firstly, he was to become her secretary. Secondly, he was to adopt a more... contemporary dress code, one he had resisted throughout his tenure but which was quickly imposed by the new regime. Men in trousers were just so last century.

Broken-hearted, Jim gave in.

Former CEO
Photo: Calleigh Classy.

Jim lasted only a couple of years in his humiliating new role. His wife, on receiving a promotion, insisted that he quit in order to devote his time to his proper place, doing the housework.

The mightier they stand, they farther they have to fall.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Walking home from school



An everyday scene of a boy and a girl walking home together. In the 2020s and 2030s, most schools changed their uniform regulations to allow boys to wear skirts and tights. This was done in the interests of sexual equality.

But a couple of decades later, society had already moved on. Girls refused to wear skirts – “skirts are for BOYS!” was the scornful complaint – whereas for boys, who came under tremendous social pressure, they became usual. Boys who wouldn’t wear skirts were often mercilessly bullied by girls until they gave in. Surprisingly quickly, the demarcation of trousers for girls, skirts for boys was codified into school rules and became as rigid as the opposite arrangement had once been.

Many boys had resisted wearing ‘feminine’ styles for as long as possible, but the change of school regulations made this basically impossible.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The fall of men

Over the space of 200 or so years, the change forced upon men was astonishing.

For thousands of years men had ruled, fought, thieved, invented, murdered and explored. They had believed that they were innately the superior sex, that their star must be ascendant forever. They were powerful and they were magnificent. They made the gods in their image and women their servants.


Ingres, Jupiter and Thesis, 1811.

It must have been inconceivable to the great Victorian male that his seemingly eternal rule was about to be brought down by those whom Tennyson called “The soft and milky rabble of womankind, Poor weakling even as they are”.

And yet by the middle of the 21st century men were submissive to the new dominant sex. Forced to wear makeup and dresses, do housework and raise children, their jobs and money taken away, patronised by female bosses and declared inferior by female scientists, they had been cruelly humiliated.


Photo: Mrs B (aka Chi)

How far the mighty had fallen!