Jenn Leyva’s really into “girly men.” Not just because they can appreciate her glitter nail polish, but because they’re not afraid to challenge traditional gender roles.
The current New York Times Room For Debate asks if modern men are manly enough. Lots of people seem to be up in arms about men using moisturizer. I know, the horror!
If you’re worried about being one of these “softer men,” fret not. I’m into you. As in, can I have your number, I’d love to grab coffee (and maybe something more) kind of into you. Well, no guarantees for you, gentle reader in particular, but I like softer, gentler men. As much as the manly-man image of Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy gets me going, I’m more interested in a guy who wants to talk about his feelings over tea. I like men who like to bake and decorate a cake with fondant flowers. I like men who wear pastel colors and delicate little touches like polka dot socks. When I see a man crying I don’t think “mangina” so much as I think about being a shoulder for him to cry on and then, when things have been settled, pushing him up against a wall to make out with him.
My interest with softer men is not to be confused with an interest in “weak” men. Softer men are not weak. And I’m not interested in some dude who can’t get his life together enough to keep up with his commitments, or a dude who’s constantly in need of reassurance. A perfect example of this softer image of a man is found in the blog His Black Dress. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A man, Michael Spookshow, wears dresses. And I have a huge crush on the persona behind the blog. What can I say, I like dresses. I love that it’s not drag, but rather a man wearing a dress because dresses do the job just as well as pants or ties. He’s not afraid to transgress our rigid gender boundaries to wear the clothes he wants to wear.
If this sounds out-there and ridiculous, think of a woman wearing pants or a bow tie. We find it liberating and progressive for women to wear men’s wear, but the sight of a man in a dress is still taboo. Men who are not afraid of femininity are just as progressive, and might I add: hot.
Part of my attraction to softer men comes from my own interest and appreciation of femininity. I like men who appreciate femininity, including my femininity. Men who understand that makeup is not something I feel obligated to use because I find myself ugly without it, but rather as a powerful weapon to transform and transgress. How can a man who thinks femininity is stupid or useless appreciate my glitter nail polish and floral dresses? All the hand wringing about “girly men” is irritating because it’s based on the idea that being feminine and acting in more traditionally feminine ways, especially regarding beauty work, is somehow dangerous, wrong, and stupid. Come to think of it, those debates are insulting. Facials, nail polish, and makeup are not futile things left for the privileged lady who spends all day toiling at home waiting for her husband to come home. Beauty routines and other feminine acts are ways to connect with your body and take care of yourself. They may not work for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important or useful.
The other part comes from the fact that softer men are still taboo. Girls can be tomboys, but when men transgress gender boundaries, they are ridiculed for being weak or gay. Last I checked, getting a facial doesn’t make one gay. But it can be considered queer. And this excites me. I’m interested in the complicated mess of gender that refuses to sit in designated “male” and “female” boxes. I mean, what constitutes a man anyway? I have no clue, so I let everyone in who wants in. I know most male constructs include a penis, but I don’t really care if it comes factory-installed or not. (And bonus points for letting me use it from time to time!) Butches are men if they want to be, and the most effeminate man is still a man so long as he says so. I’m not interested in “eliminating gender”; I’m interested in eliminating the rigid gender binary. I see gender at play in just about everything, and I am drawn to a mixture of femininity and masculinity. I know it takes a lot of time, energy, and care to craft that mixture in just the right way. I like the attention to detail and the thoughtfulness involved in that image and behavior. I like a person who plays with gender rules instead of following them.
Does embodying a gender beyond a binary sound like something you’re into? If so, let’s talk about our feelings over tea.
When Jenn Leyva was 16, her dad told her that he’d buy her a car if she lost weight. She cried, finished her calculus homework, and is now a New York-based fat activist and recent graduate of Columbia, where she studied biochemistry. She authors Fat and the Ivy, a fat blog about social justice, feminism, science, health, and fa(t)shion.