Thursday, December 31, 2009

How Did We Get Stuck in Trousers?

What is so special about trousers that men have become shackled to them?

In terms of their design, trousers are considered "bifurcated" garments because they are divided into two sections, which cover each leg separately. The two sections meet at the crotch, where they are joined by a number of seams (usually an inseam from each trouser leg, plus seams from the front and back). All these seams and accompanying fabric converge at what is already the most crowded intersection in male anatomy. There - in the crotch - they confine, crowd, bind, chafe, and otherwise cut into the male genitalia. The trousers also chafe against the inner thighs and, depending on their tightness, restrict leg movement. In some cases, the confinement of trousers may cause a rash or even reduce a man's sperm count.

Trousers are a relatively recent development. In earlier times, men were accustomed to wearing unbifurcated clothing - such as robes, togas, tunics, sarongs, and various kilt-like or skirt-like garments. These unbifurcated garments were not divided between the legs, and therefore they did not confine or cut into the crotch and male genitals. Therefore, they afforded men more freedom and comfort.

Even today, there are many places in the world where men wear unbifurcated clothing. In parts of the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands it is common to see men in caftans, djellabahs, sarongs, lava-lavas, or other skirt-like garments. Scotland, of course, is famous for its men in kilts. The Greeks and Albanians have the fustanella. In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, all the men wear a traditional knee-length robe called the gho.

Trousers do have certain practical advantages - especially when riding horseback, performing various physical activities, and in cold weather. Perhaps this is why trousers became standard male attire throughout Western society. In contrast, women were kept confined in long, cumbersome skirts and dresses until the early 20th century. The male/female distinction in clothing was reduced to a simple bifurcated/non-bifurcated dichotomy: trousers were exclusively male and skirts and dresses were exclusively female (although young boys wore skirts and dresses until the early 20th century). Men learned to define their masculinity based on the wearing of trousers. This became a badge of pride that distinguished them from women. They learned to regard anything skirt-like as being "feminine," and therefore forbidden. Consequently, trousers became compulsory for men - even in situations where they offered no advantage over the unbifurcated menswear of earlier times.

During the 20th century, women's fashion underwent a revolution. Women freed themselves from the confinement of the long, bulky skirts and dresses of yesteryear and switched to styles that gave more freedom and comfort. Next, women demanded - and won - the right to wear trousers. Women now have a wide variety of bifurcated and unbifurcated garments to chose from. Today in the United States, it is much more common to see women and girls wearing slacks or jeans than to see them in skirts and dresses. Nowadays, a man can no longer prove his masculinity by putting on a pair of jeans - because this is now standard female attire!

Now that women in Western society have won the right to wear whatever they want, what justification remains for a rule that arbitrarily restricts men to wearing trousers? Trousers no longer distinguish men from women. We don't routinely ride horseback any more. Because of central heating, homes and offices are no longer as cold and drafty as they once were. Most of today's work does not involve the kind of physical activity that requires trousers. Furthermore, trousers do not offer any intrinsic advantage to the male anatomy. On the contrary! As previously noted, trousers confine, irritate, and impinge on the male genitals. From an anatomical perspective, trousers would be much more appropriate for females!

The desire for less constricting trousers is reflected in the trend among young men and boys, which started in the 1990's, to wear oversized trousers and shorts, with sagging crotches. This style, which is reminiscent of the baggy pants worn by old-fashioned slap-stick comedians, has been criticized for its sloppy appearance. While its low crotch allows more room for a man's genitals, it still leaves an annoying convergence of seams rubbing between one's thighs. A man would be more comfortable - and look less sloppy - if the inseams were eliminated altogether.

Of course, trousers will always have their place. For certain activities and environments they are clearly more practical than unbifurcated garments. Some people - both male and female - may prefer to wear trousers all the time. Others may prefer to wear various unbifurcated clothing, depending on the circumstances and how they feel. Women now have a choice in this matter. The question is: WHY SHOULD MEN BE DENIED THIS CHOICE?

What justification is given by employers, school officials, and others who deny men and boys the right to wear unbifurcated clothing? Usually it is just a dogmatic attempt to enforce prevailing prejudices. They say that wearing alternatives to trousers is "not socially acceptable," that it would be "a distraction" or "disruptive," or that it might "offend" people or "cause a disturbance." The same kinds of rationalizations have been routinely used to defend racial segregation and other forms of discrimination. The same arguments were once used to bar women from wearing trousers - and were ultimately defeated.

Some people have tried to defend the trouser rule on religious grounds, as if trousers had been divinely ordained. They ignore the fact that priests and monks have been wearing unbifurcated robes and cassocks for centuries. They point to a passage in Deuteronomy that is sometimes interpreted as prohibiting cross-dressing. What they seem to forget is that trousers didn't even exist when the Bible was written. All the men in those days wore unbifurcated clothing. When have you ever seen a depiction of Moses or Jesus wearing trousers? If unbifurcated clothing was good enough for them, why not for us?