Iconic British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood once famously said: It is not possible for a man to be elegant without a touch of femininity. Whether or not actor Ranveer Singh thought about it, he in the distant past, participated in a photoshoot where he wore heels. Well boots actually, but with discernible heels. Not something one would give too much thought to, because hey, actors pretty much wear all sorts of things for shoots. However, our man was not spared. Trolls went at him, hammer and tongs with statements ranging from homophobic to transphobic. Always under radar for his gender fluid fashion choices, Singh’s masculinity is frequently questioned. Why? Just because he doesn’t confirm to the norms of so-called machismo. Are Indian men so insecure that the sight of a man wearing heels, or a pink shirt or anything remotely considered feminine, immediately raises their hackles?
Conditioning or intolerance?
The mindless trolling is proof of our inherent trouble in accepting men’s feminine side. Dr Jyoti Kapoor, Senior Psychiatrist and Founder, Manasthali, feels most social norms are rooted in our established socio-cultural beliefs, gender roles and behaviours. “If you ask someone why a man shouldn’t wear a skirt, there is no real reason. It’s just something we have learned from childhood and never questioned because we believed what was told to us by our parents/society was the rule. The conflict starts only when we see different things happening in another society and wonder why that is, because either they are not following the ‘rules’ or there are ‘no rules’. Now, if someone wants to break the norm, it becomes uncomfortable for others because it defies a longstanding belief system for a culture or a community.”
Ranveer Singh is known for his quirky style that always makes a statement, states actor Sharib Hashmi of The Family Man fame. “And I really applaud him for that. I just feel everybody has the freedom of wearing what they want. Nowadays, fashion has changed as per generational choices and we should also move with the times. I don’t feel it’s something that should be trolled.”
Ayush Kejriwal, the founder designer of brand Ayush Kejriwal, is not surprised at the trolling, though. “I think people feel threatened when others are confident about their sexuality and are able to express themselves freely. It is very sad to see such intolerance.”
Fashion designer Maheka Mirpuri too calls Singh a bold dresser. “What I see of him is that he lives his life on his own terms. It’s sort of his personality, and he’s not afraid of experimenting. I guess that’s his creative vision. He goes with his gut and not with the world’s perception.”
‘Skirting’ the issue
According to Mirpuri, conventional Indian society always has a lot to talk about – and does – anything that is out of the ordinary, or just not the norm. Kejriwal too feels that right from childhood, an unreal image has been created about who or what is a man and the way he should be. “It leaves hardly any room for experimentation or personality development. Men like Ranveer who explore their sense of style are normally made fun of or looked down upon.”
Actor Hashmi also points out that there are many Indian comedy shows where men are dressed as women and their acts never fail to elicit thunderous laughter! “If we have no problems when actors and comedians dress in drag, then we shouldn’t have any problems accepting gender-neutral fashion. As an actor, I would love to essay a character which would require me to explore my feminine side, and not just in a comic manner.”
Dr Kapoor adds that femininity is usually associated with softness and boys are taught from an early age to be ‘tough’. She explains, “India became an orthodox society in the middle ages when external forces invaded the land. We are still recovering from our insecurity as a nation; foreign rule and the West taking over our culture is something we still hear about as nationalistic defence.” She correctly indicates that with gender roles being associated with clothes, choosing an attire from the opposite gender is akin to acquiring the latter’s attributes! That confuses society and its pre-conceived gender-biases.
The winds of change
According to Hashmi, it’s not just about men finding it difficult to accept and embrace feminine styles. “We, as a society – be it men or women – should learn to accept and give people the freedom to embrace their likes and choices.”
Kejriwal sees more men experimenting with their sartorial choices and embracing comfort. “Over time I hope people will come to terms with it and not be surprised by the gender-fluid element when it comes to fashion and style. We have a long way to go but I think we are in headed in the right direction,” he states.
“As we become more secure as a society, the need to uphold rigid belief systems falls. People are willing to explore other options if not comfortable with the current one,” reveals Dr Kapoor. “Finally, Indian law has accepted sexual preferences and society is catching up. The gender identity issues are coming out of the closet and cross-dressing and gender change are being talked about. Similarly, fashion and clothing are personal choices and rigid social norms are being questioned.”
The mark of an evolved man is getting in touch with one’s feminine side. Dr Kapoor feels through this evolution, one is phasing out gender discrimination. “Each individual carries the traits of love, care and sensitivity in their genetic makeup. Over years of social evolution, we have categorised these traits as masculine and feminine and the subtle messages about what’s expected of a girl or a boy start from the time of birth. This has also altered our biological preferences,” she says.
According to her, change must begin at an individual level for it to make a difference in the society at large. “As parents, we have to become more aware of the messages we give to our children. Women also need to allow men in their lives to show their so-called feminine traits of softness and fragility. Don’t get nervous because the man cries! These are small things but when we accept them, society changes,” she believes.
Kejriwal wants men to disregard what others think about them and move on with exploring what suits them. In agreement with him, Mirpuri adds that it’s all about being comfortable in one’s skin, being allowed to do that and not being judged. “I feel you design yourself and if that’s the look you see yourself as, then so be it! People will stare. Make it worth their while,” she maintains.
Barriers, after all, are meant to be broken. So go ahead and break yours. We won’t judge!