Yesterday I was wearing bright pink pants to work because it was Fun Pant Friday. I started Fun Pant Friday last year, I don’t quite remember how. It did not catch on with the other teachers, so I celebrate it alone each week. Fun Pant Friday is nothing more than that, it is just fun. My students like routine, they like something to mark the days, something to look forward to. They walk in, see my loud, thrift store pants and declare it Friday. One of my side motivations is having a small forum to promote thrift store shopping in my affluent, consumeristic setting. Plaid, bright, patterned pants are easy to find and cheap at places that re-use.
This year, the faculty at our school has been working with a brilliant consultant about gender issues. We have recently been talking a lot about the rigid gender boxes that we put women and men in. There is an ideal of female beauty and male toughness that is unfair and unattainable. And those boxes are highly limiting, yet there is serious ridicule coming if we venture far from the lines. Men should not knit or cry, women should not drive trucks or be assertive. You get it.
The scene is laid. So I am walking down the hallway yesterday at my school when a male faculty member stops, looks at my pants, and shakes his head in disgust. I ask this man, who, by the way, thinks he is enlightened about gender issues but is a strong perpetuator of the problems, what his scorn is for. He answers, “I thought we were trying to break down gender lines.”
I looked at him in his ill-fitting khakis and drab short sleeve pale yellow dress shirt and tried not to mimic his disdain. “We are. I am working for a world where all people can wear bright pink pants.” In erasing gender lines, the goal is not for women to become men. But this is a mistake so often made. When I first started teaching at this school, men and women alike gave me advice about how to dress and how to act to avoid oversexual, inappropriate attention from our young men. But I did not take the advice. My very professional wardrobe is not the problem. That is not what needs to change. The young female students need to see that they can be smart, love theology, wear pink pants and get treated with respect. My hope is that someday, young men can see that they can have all those things, too.
The work to loosen gender boxes in society is extremely important. Gender is a spectrum, not binary. And studies have shown that in cultures that have looser gender boxes and less rules, homophobia is also less prevalent. This should be our daily work. But we must be careful that we are truly loosening gender rules on both sides, not encouraging women to become more characteristically male to succeed. It is not about me trading my bright pink pants for baggy khakis. It is about creating an environment where everyone can celebrate who he or she truly is created to be, putting all of our socialized gender rules aside.