Jean Shorts and Gender Norms

Monday, April 11, 2011 § 4

Over spring break, I went shopping. Among other things, I bought a pair of jean shorts, which I’ve posted below.


Maybe a week later, I was wearing them around my house, and walked into the family room where my dad was sitting on the couch.

“You bought those?”, he asked me, a little incredulous.

“Yep, why?” I responded.

“It’s not a big deal or anything, they just look a little girly, rolled up like that”, he replied.

I laughed it off. How often do parents get fashion, anyway?

But it didn’t leave my mind. I wasn’t really bothered by the comment, but the sentiment behind it. The thought that I shouldn’t be wearing the shorts, not because they’re ugly, but because they looked like something a girl might wear.

Behind that thought is the heteronormative assertion that men should act like men, and women, women.

Behind that thought is the misogynistic assumption that no man should want to act like a women, because women are somehow lesser than men. It’s just like the common insult spat out at many less-athletic boys throughout childhood, “you throw like a girl!” 

Often, it’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals that receive the brunt of this heteronormative critique, whether it’s gay men acting femme, lesbian women acting butch, or a trans* individual eschewing gender norms, or rejecting their birth sex completely.

This post is not meant as a critique of my dad, but rather, of our culture as whole. This post is to raise some important questions:

Why, in Western culture, do we so often vilify those who don’t express their gender in ways that we find acceptable based on gender norms? Why do we mock them, beat them, rape them, kill them?

Something, or more realistically, a lot of things, hammered into my dad’s, and most other people’s as well, the notion that there’re two distinct genders – male and female, and that the two should not mix. Maybe its picture books read as a kid, countless other forms of media, or a constant refrain of “act like a man” or “act like a woman”, respectively. Maybe it’s something else completely. Which leads to the most important question:

How do we change this?

In my case, next time someone critiques my dress or demeanor as “girly” or “feminine” I’m going to respond with a simple:

So what? 

I welcome your thoughts.

What's this?

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§ 4 Response to “Jean Shorts and Gender Norms”

  • Jonathan says:

    I understand the frustration with heteronormative statements. That being said, I still don't like the look of jean shorts :P. It just looks weird to me. Jeans are jeans, no? Oh well, fashion differences.

  • Anonymous says:

    Great post, Kyle! Your comment about our culture's heteronormativity and expectations thereof resulting from misogynism was very astute, and I too find myself questioning just how we can overcome this. I'm reading a book right now that discusses some of these issues (Cinderella Ate My Daughter) and highly recommend it to you. I think the best way to change our culture so we get to a point where we don't have a gender ideal against which we need to rebel is to start small: parents should be encouraging their children to try out different toys and books and clothing, etc. that cross gender boundaries, and they should be discussing the ramifications of children's choices-- and society's-- with their children from a young age. If we want to see improvement in the next generation's freedom of expression and choices, we need to provide children with the critical thinking skills necessary to change society as a whole.-- Kate H

  • Anonymous says:

    jean shorts girly?they look like the least of all things to be considered feminine.they look like theyre intended for rough work,which doesnt suit the image of a woman,and not all women wearing them do rough work,in fact most dont.pants were supposed to be meant for male,females have skirts.yet duno how it is we have an era demarcating pants which men cant wear?
    those denim shorts uve shown are rather decent,u couldve gotten those half the length,but i guess the retailers told u theyre only meant for girls? theyre totally unaware how wrong it is for girls to wear pants so short like undergarments.
    yeah i dont get why being called girly is an a world of equality,how do u then taunt a girl who underperforms?somehow women can try men's things,but not vice versa,its strange how people expect things to work.brainwashing can be a serious issue stopping people from thinking for themselves.

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