Oh, maybe you were imagining a slightly different picture of modern gender? Consider the earring. Associated exclusively with women for about 200 years, guys have recently started to reclaim them. “In the last two decades,” Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told The Huffington Post, “men have gotten in touch with their inner pirate.”
While there are real biological differences between the sexes, gender is generally considered to be a social construction — it can be pretty much whatever we want it to be, and we’ve wanted it to be a lot of things over the years. Below, find some ways our perception of gender presentation has already changed from the past to present.
Not so long ago, parents dressed their babies in white dresses — due to the fact they could be bleached — until about age six. Yes, even the boys.
Pastels came into style when a 1918 retail trade publication attempted to nail down the rules: pink for boys and blue for girls. “Being a more decided and stronger color, [pink] is more suitable for the boy,” the article stated, “while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Whether or not people listened (and blatantly sexist rationale aside), they at least seemed to accept a much wider variety of color options for their infants until sometime around 1940, University of Maryland historian Jo B. Paoletti notes, when preferences switched to the color divide we’re familiar with today.Persian soldiers wore high-heeled shoes in the name of necessity when riding horseback, since shooting an arrow from a saddle was easier with a heel to secure the foot in its strap. As the European elite became fascinated with the unfamiliar culture, men adopted the horsemen’s masculine footwear for their own (totally impractical) use around 1600. After the (gasp!) lower classes began sporting heeled footwear, the leisure class responded as only they could — by making the heel higher.
But when women began adopting the style as well, men’s shoe heels became stockier and shorter, while women’s became thinner and higher. “Most of the time,” Steele told HuffPost, “when something begins to be associated with the feminine, it gets kind of ‘contaminated’ for men.” By the end of the 18th century, she noted, men were over the whole heeled shoe thing. If only they could’ve looked past the gender divide, they’d have seen a way to longer-looking legs and a perkier butt.
The term “women’s work” is based on the idea that women are intrinsically less qualified for all but certain roles in the workforce; but what those roles are, exactly, has changed a bit over time. At the turn of the last century, an estimated 85 percent of clerical jobs were filled by men earning twice the salary of their female counterparts. These men usually used the job as an entry-level managerial position in their climb up the white-collar ladder.
As more women entered the workforce, the field began to shift. But female secretaries rarely made the jump from office peon to executive, and a “secretary” came to look like the smartly dressed girls we see on “Mad Men.” Around the same time, teaching schoolchildren was also a male-dominated profession, until the work became “feminized” and men backed away, slowly, into the bushes.