Remember when man buns first started to make appearances in the earlier years of the twenty-first century? Chris Hemsworth, Jared Leto, and Kit Harrington were PIONEERS of this illustriously sexy hairstyle, trend setting for millions of young, manly hipsters who dared to grow their hair past their shoulders…
Just kidding. This is false. Men have been wearing their hair in buns since before Jesus started tying back his hair to let people look into his eyes as he cured them of leprosy and cataracts. In fact, the some of earliest depictions of this controversial hairstyle are the Buddha, Shiva (a Hindu deity), and the terracotta warriors of China. Here is a screenshot from the Wikipedia article on man-buns (a subsection of the broader “Bun (hairstyle)” article). I’ve included a direct list of equally terrific men, all whom were brave enough to tie up their hair, rendering their worldview unobstructed by their luscious locks. I really can’t believe they put a Hindu god in the same list as Harry Styles, describing both as apparently equal, “historical and iconic examples of men”, but they both somehow made the cut.
The media craze for man-buns confuses me. I really don’t get it. It’s literally just tying back hair so it doesn’t get in the face. I do this every day – where’s my medal? I am ALL FOR men metaphorically (and unintentionally or otherwise) flipping off the gender norm stating that they can’t grow out their hair. I loved having long hair, and anyone who wants that privilege should totally exercise that privilege. But what really grinds my gears is the term “man-bun”. Honestly, it’s just a bun. Get over it. Calling it a man-bun is basically a way to say, “Hey, screw gender norms, but also, I’m still super masculine, and totally not a woman.”
And it’s not just the hairstyle that is an issue. You can buy a “murse” from a website whose slogan reads “Modern man bags… bags just for men“. The original RompHim company wants you to “Be you. Be confident. Own your style. Romp on…”, but by refusing to call their clothing “rompers”, they are still inherently asserting the masculinity of their clothing instead of rejecting the need to gender clothing altogether. This morning, I saw an article on snapchat (technology, right?) about the latest gendered product: the DudeRobe. Now men can go straight from the wet n’ wild and into a towel-lined hoodie/shorts combo. No need to dry yourself off, dude. Just go straight from the pool into a towel that you’ll wear for the next few hours, so even though you’ll probably have an uncomfortably damp lower back and armpits, you’ll be lookin’ super swag and super manly! It’s described as appropriate “for all your dude activities”. This is a real product. It is a fully funded kickstarter. Be sure to check out their page (I linked it), so you can read all about where you can wear the DudeRobe (unless you’re a woman, or nonbinary, or you don’t want to conform to weird, societal norms that allow for unnecessarily gendered and tacky clothing, especially in the form of a groutfit).
What pisses me off about all this isn’t that it’s making traditionally feminine clothing more accessible to men. (Although, I was never under the impression that there was anything particularly effeminate about a bathrobe… but correct me if I’m wrong!) What pisses me off about this is that instead of making a product more accessible to everyone, regardless of gender identity or expression, they are enforcing EVEN MORE NORMS into our already regulated culture. I wish dudes could experience the joy of wearing a dress (aka a literal bag of air that requires no effort to look flawless), but I would never support a company that brands their products as “man-dresses”. The whole idea of gendered clothing is just unnecessary. Who cares if someone identifies as a man and wears a romper? Why should men feel restricted to shoving every item they own into their pant pockets instead of carrying it around in a fashionable bag? So many products could be genderless, but insist they are strictly for men or women. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Take pants as an example. Did you know that pants were traditionally female? And that pants started to be a thing when people realized that horse-back riding and tunics really did not mix well? Pants weren’t an exclusively masculine thing in Western society until the Middle Ages. And guess what, when Western women started wearing them again in the early twentieth century, they were still just called pants. Nobody called them “woman-pants”, or “womants”. They were just pants. And now pants are this cool thing that lets us all do the splits and squat and move around comfortably without giving the world a great view of our genitals.
Clothing doesn’t need to be gendered. And like I said before, the idea of branding traditionally feminine clothes for men (instead of as genderless) is shouting the message that the wearer is a pioneer of breaking gender roles, but also, they are still a man and totally masculine and not at all female, because that might make them lesser. I see so many articles on Buzzfeed (and others) titled, “This hunky dude sported a feminine trend that we’ve relabeled to assert his own masculinity, removing any inclination that men can be feminine, and we’re totally swooning!” There is no reason why men need to shy away from femininity, especially since women are so often encouraged to include traditionally masculine traits and ideas into their daily life. Like pants, and voting. And being in charge.
The popularity of the man-bun, of the RompHim, and of other related trends is not as progressive as it seems, and it certainly isn’t helping anyone.