Beside the good laugh the exchange gave me, I applaud Rob. He rocked that dress and red looked good on him. Picture: Rob Forbes/Twitter
Beside the good laugh the exchange gave me, I applaud Rob. He rocked that dress and red looked good on him. Picture: Rob Forbes/Twitter

OPINION: Dresses, nail polish and beauty items aren't gendered

By Theolin Tembo Time of article published Apr 20, 2021

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By no means is this piece going to reinvent the wheel or offer a groundbreaking point, yet this is a conversation we need to be having.

Skincare and beauty items that are labelled with “For Men” or “made for women“ are not actually gendered, no matter how boldly the words are printed.

They are marketed towards a specific gender because it's a foolproof way to get money. Additionally, men's masculinity is so fragile that they need to be told what clothing or skincare items they can use.

Before I dig into what caused this venting, let's remember that gender is socially constructed. To simplify, society plays a huge role in outlining what is feminine and masculine, and what is acceptable for men and women to do and wear.

"Boys don't use nail polish", "girls shouldn't wear pants", "boys can't wear dresses" and "that's not very lady-like" are examples of how society tries to force people into gendered roles. All of it is bull***.

The notion of gendered clothing or items doesn't make sense when you realise it is a piece of clothing or item that was made with materials that both men and women wear/use.

Certainly, one has to recognise that some items have been tailored to accommodate men and women's body shapes, but also that body shapes aren’t limited to a particular gender. Not all men and women have the same body shapes. Sometimes things in the men’s section fit women better, and vice versa.

Body shape isn't gender specific and clothing styles, therefore, shouldn't rely on an idea of a generalised shape either.

People can wear whatever they want and buy whatever clothes they want with the money they have. The only difference is men are usually scared of the implications of them shopping for something in the women section.

One of my favourite exchanges recently was when radio DJ Rob Forbes posted a picture of himself wearing a red dress in honour of Dr Sindi Van Zyl.

"#ADressForSindi. With pockets. RIP Doc. 💔"

Someone felt attacked by the image to reply: "How come, you a man, are wearing a dress? This is bad bad bad."

Forbes delivered a delicious reply: "It was for Doc Sindi's memorial. And how are you touched by an item of clothing? 😂😂 It' a piece of cloth. It literally can't hurt you.

"Is your whole world so fragile that a piece of cloth can threaten it? Bad bad bad? Get a grip. It's clothes."

Beside the good laugh the exchange gave me, I applaud Forbes because he rocked that dress.

What also makes it special is that Forbes wasn't wearing a dress as some type of costume or joke, which men often do, but rather in this specific instance because he wanted to honour Dr Sindi.

I don't want to heap too much praise on him, because what he did was something queer people have been doing for generations.

Queer people have been wearing dresses for ages and get attacked for it. This happened historically and continues to happen.

Queer folk often pioneer something, then get harassed for it, only for it to become socially acceptable once straight men do it.

While that topic is a separate thesis for another day, the point is that wearing dresses has nothing to do with gender.

Even having to purchase nail clippers, I was surprised when I saw that such a small item was also labelled "For Men".

Who knew that men had different nails to women?

Recently, it was announced that rapper Machine Gun Kelly would be launching a unisex nail polish line. While it is great that he is diversifying his portfolio, the need to market nail polish as unisex left many people confused.

Nail polish has always been unisex. Men and women have been using nail polish (grunge says hello).

This is just one of a litany of examples that show gendered clothing or products make no sense.

Will men combust while using or wearing deodorant, lotion, dresses, earrings, nail-polish or make-up marketed towards and used by women?

No. It doesn't make a difference.

If everything labelled "For Men" had its contents replaced with products that are predominately used by women, men would be none the wiser.

If clothing stores suddenly stopped having men and women’s sections and people could shop for whatever the liked, wouldn't that make the process less stressful?

Imagine just picking an item you like and leaving, instead of reading the fine print and expectation of what's "meant for you".

The only difference is the label – and that is often the point.

The only thing gendered about all items we use in our lives is the labels we put on them, and people.

* Theolin Tembo is a content producer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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