Signifiers

General discussion of skirt and kilt-based fashion for men, and stuff that goes with skirts and kilts.

Signifiers

Postby Stu » Sat Apr 13, 2019 7:26 am

This week, I was teaching a class of linguistics undergrads some basic semiotics - the science of signs and signification. I asked if a wedding ring was a "signifier" as defined by a particular theorist and, of course, it is as it has symbolic and possibly indexical qualities when worn. A student suggested a (man's) tie was also a signifier - it says, he believed, the wearer is signifying that he is male and the tie is part of a statement as to the occasion (usually formal). While I could see her point, I was not totally convinced by this argument as the theorist in question was insistent that a sign is only a sign if it is interpreted as a sign. So the issue rests on what it is telling the person who sees the wearer with the tie. Mostly, the presence or absence of a tie is not used to distinguish between the sexes; we can tell someone is male whether or not they are wearing a tie. There may be some strength in the suggestion that the viewer detects from the other party choosing to wear a tie that his presence is intended to be formal or at least smart, but even that is not nailed on. After all, men mostly wear ties out of convention - they are among other men wearing ties and nobody has any doubt as to the purposes of their presence.

The discussion reminded me of a Danish movie I saw some time ago in which a father took his adolescent daughter to a neighbouring farm to collect a saddle for a horse. As they were about to depart, he looked at her with an irritated expression and asked her why she was wearing a dress (she was wearing a strikingly pretty white and yellow dress). She replied "Jeg er pige!" - which meant "(because) I am a girl". As with the ties, she didn't need to wear a dress to indicate her sex as she had very long hair with a bow and feminine features and it would have been evident she was female regardless of her attire and she would have known that. So her answer amounted to a proposition:

I AM A GIRL SO I WEAR A DRESS

This seemed to her as a natural connection - dress = girl. However, it wasn't worn to signify her sex so much as to express it and indeed to emphasise it. It also explains why male-to-female trans people are so eager to ditch the pants. Here, gentlemen, is where we have the problem for men wearing skirts. These garments are not simply pieces of cloth. Nor are they signifiers in the strict semiotic sense to indicate the binary differential between male and female. These are expressions of femininity and, as such, they are inextricably tied to the wearer's self-perception as being a girl or woman. While it may be a subconscious response, it is the very existence of the taboo of males wearing skirts and dresses that binds them to the feminine identity. When a male dons one, he is taking something away from the female, or so she perceives it. If the men-in-skirts movement is to be successful, it will have to overcome this somehow and that can only happen if we distance ourselves from the trans movement and make skirts a masculine option.

That doesn't mean we are hostile to trans people, far from it; but their struggle is not ours and our cause is not theirs.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby SkirtsDad » Sat Apr 13, 2019 10:29 am

Stu wrote: A student suggested a (man's) tie was also a signifier - it says, he believed, the wearer is signifying that he is male and the tie is part of a statement as to the occasion (usually formal). While I could see her point, I was not totally convinced by this argument as the theorist in question was insistent that a sign is only a sign if it is interpreted as a sign. So the issue rests on what it is telling the person who sees the wearer with the tie.


Really? I wonder what their frame of reference is.
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Thesedays, in the UK at least, I could perhaps see it as an indicator of authority.... for instance, security guards, both male and female, usually wear ties. If I look around me when I go out, almost no-one I know wears a ties socially any more, and haven't done so for years. From my time travelling and working abroad, when you go outside of the UK, to warmer climes then neither men nor woman typically wear ties to work even, not unless they are maybe upper management. IMO, society, for the better, has moved on.


Stu wrote:I AM A GIRL SO I WEAR A DRESS

This seemed to her as a natural connection - dress = girl. However, it wasn't worn to signify her sex so much as to express it and indeed to emphasise it. It also explains why male-to-female trans people are so eager to ditch the pants. Here, gentlemen, is where we have the problem for men wearing skirts. These garments are not simply pieces of cloth. Nor are they signifiers in the strict semiotic sense to indicate the binary differential between male and female. These are expressions of femininity and, as such, they are inextricably tied to the wearer's self-perception as being a girl or woman. While it may be a subconscious response, it is the very existence of the taboo of males wearing skirts and dresses that binds them to the feminine identity. When a male dons one, he is taking something away from the female, or so she perceives it.


Well...yes and no, I think. Are you not over generalising? For instance, I have female friends that don't even own dresses.... and there are some that have a dress or two, just in case, but would never wear them out. Women's acceptance and also appreciation of how I dress, is notable greater than with men. I would say that women will comment positively on the clothes, where as men often question why I am wearing a dress or skirt. It seems to me that the 1950's indicators of feminity really do not exist in a good many woman's garmentry vocabulary.... however, on the whole, men appear to look backwards somewhat more. Which would seem to back up your observation as to why, as you say, female trans are dropping their trousers in favour of dresses. If anything, this is my one bugbear with some of the tg and tv society, that their clothing choices are so overtly clichéd. Little Britain were so brilliant with their parody of the typical tv: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y__-TP9lxQ8

Stu wrote:If the men-in-skirts movement is to be successful, it will have to overcome this somehow and that can only happen if we distance ourselves from the trans movement and make skirts a masculine option.

That doesn't mean we are hostile to trans people, far from it; but their struggle is not ours and our cause is not theirs.

Whilst their struggle may not be ours, I am less concerned with the need to conciously distance ourselves. Surely, we should give credit to the average person that we come across to be able to distinguish us from trans people. By virtue of numbers, the trans world has, with little doubt in my mind, done far more than we possible can to change perspective on clothing choices. Ten years ago, confidence aside, I don't believe I would have been able to attend an interview wearing a dress, let alone be taken seriously enough to get the job, as i did last year.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby Jim » Sat Apr 13, 2019 12:05 pm

Stu wrote:That doesn't mean we are hostile to trans people, far from it; but their struggle is not ours and our cause is not theirs.

I agree.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby dillon » Sat Apr 13, 2019 4:08 pm

Perhaps the skirt or dress signifies not what we feel we ARE as much as signifying what we feel we ARE NOT. Personally I think it’s a sign of intelligence that a man would be revulsed and feel hamstrung by the “signifiers” imposed without his consent. Resistance is a sign of humanity.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby Stu » Sat Apr 13, 2019 5:20 pm

dillon wrote:Personally I think it’s a sign of intelligence that a man would be revulsed and feel hamstrung by the “signifiers” imposed without his consent. Resistance is a sign of humanity.


Signifiers aren't imposed: they are simply things which tell us something. So paw prints in fresh snow signify that a carnivorous animal of a particular size has recently walked in particular direction across a piece of ground. We can attempt to control the signifiers we emit, e.g, by manipulating our appearance in a certain way, but those who see us will form perceptions about us unconsciously and these may be what we intend or otherwise. At one time, tattoos were associated with criminality in many western cultures, but this now no longer applies in most societies as respectable people sport them (Japan being an exception). Their signification has changed.

In our culture, skirts signify the female and/or the feminine in large part because the option to wear them is either not open to males, or because males do not take up that option. If men started wearing skirts routinely, then the extent to which they signify female/feminine would diminish or disappear. Progress is, however, proving to be agonisingly slow and my original post was intended to suggest why.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby Happy-N-Skirts » Sat Apr 13, 2019 8:30 pm

Ties: When I was in high school I had not figured what career choice would fit me. I went to college so I could get a job where you wear a tie. That usually meant in an office. When I got my first entry level position I wore a tie every day because I felt that I earned it and that other people would notice my position in the hierarchy. Now of course I might wear a tie two or three times a year.

Skirts: When shopping for a skirt I usually begin by asking a sales associate to show me some "masculine" skirts. They usually know exactly what to show me. At least it is a good place to start. I usually wear a skirt around the house, but my primary purpose is for outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, photography, etc. I also wear them in stores, restaurants, and gas stations along the way and back. I enjoy the comfort and freedom.

I have more skirts than I need, but I like shopping for them and might try a few on. I occasionally like one so well that I buy it. Above the knee, light weight, stretch fabric, not much flare, plain colors, camouflage, denim, khaki.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby dillon » Wed Apr 17, 2019 4:03 am

Stu wrote:
dillon wrote:Personally I think it’s a sign of intelligence that a man would be revulsed and feel hamstrung by the “signifiers” imposed without his consent. Resistance is a sign of humanity.


Signifiers aren't imposed: they are simply things which tell us something. So paw prints in fresh snow signify that a carnivorous animal of a particular size has recently walked in particular direction across a piece of ground. We can attempt to control the signifiers we emit, e.g, by manipulating our appearance in a certain way, but those who see us will form perceptions about us unconsciously and these may be what we intend or otherwise. At one time, tattoos were associated with criminality in many western cultures, but this now no longer applies in most societies as respectable people sport them (Japan being an exception). Their signification has changed.

In our culture, skirts signify the female and/or the feminine in large part because the option to wear them is either not open to males, or because males do not take up that option. If men started wearing skirts routinely, then the extent to which they signify female/feminine would diminish or disappear. Progress is, however, proving to be agonisingly slow and my original post was intended to suggest why.

Forgive me if I misunderstood but I believe you said something to the effect of “skirts are bound to the identity that one is a girl.” But clearly that’s not factually so, but only a social association. Therefore I would argue that if a skirt is seen as an apparent signifier, then it’s significance must have been imposed above the objections of those who resist that association because of their own self-knowledge. Unless of course no one deigned object. Then it was imposition preceding acquiescence.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby Stu » Wed Apr 17, 2019 4:22 pm

dillon wrote:Forgive me if I misunderstood but I believe you said something to the effect of “skirts are bound to the identity that one is a girl.” But clearly that’s not factually so, but only a social association. Therefore I would argue that if a skirt is seen as an apparent signifier, then it’s significance must have been imposed above the objections of those who resist that association because of their own self-knowledge. Unless of course no one deigned object. Then it was imposition preceding acquiescence.


I agree there is imposition in the form of convention placed upon males who might want to wear a skirt and can only do so in defiance of a taboo, but I am not claiming that is signification. Rather, the decision to adhere to, or rebel against, this convention, is not a communicative act: its purpose is not to communicate something to others. Remember that a sign is only a sign if it is interpreted as a sign; the crucial entity in determining an act of signification is thereby the viewer and not the transmitter. I would contend that a female does not wear a skirt to signify that she is female, but rather because (a) she has the option and can do so for the sake of comfort or smartness, and (b) in our culture, it is regarded as a signifier of femininity and this is something females seek to express. The second reason explains why trans girls/women are keen to wear skirts even when most natural females around them are wearing trousers.

So where does that leave us? In terms of the intention of the wearer, our intention is (a) and not (b) - this is not an act intended to signify. However, our problem is that our desire to wear skirts may be misinterpreted as predicated wholly or partly on (b) and, by virtue of that, we are associated with the only other group of biological males who wear skirts and that is trans women. A trans woman does indeed wear skirts to express her feminine persona and, in so doing, she reinforces the association of SKIRT and FEMALE/FEMININE. We, on the other hand, need to eliminate this association so that we can wear skirts as men and unambiguously masculine.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby SkirtsDad » Thu Apr 18, 2019 10:19 am

Stu, I am curious... how many transgendered people do you come across and how do they dress?
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Re: Signifiers

Postby crfriend » Thu Apr 18, 2019 10:34 am

SkirtsDad wrote:I am curious... how many transgendered people do you come across and how do they dress?

This got me thinking (dangerous, I know), and given that at least around here the normative female attire is trousers of some ilk, I cannot see skirts as a "signifier" of femininity -- even culturally. Skirts, and moreso even dresses, are functionally obsolete around here so there's really no significance to it. Sure, the cultural connection still remains, but it, too, is largely obsolete.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby SkirtsDad » Thu Apr 18, 2019 12:17 pm

crfriend wrote:
SkirtsDad wrote:I am curious... how many transgendered people do you come across and how do they dress?

This got me thinking (dangerous, I know), and given that at least around here the normative female attire is trousers of some ilk, I cannot see skirts as a "signifier" of femininity -- even culturally. Skirts, and moreso even dresses, are functionally obsolete around here so there's really no significance to it. Sure, the cultural connection still remains, but it, too, is largely obsolete.


This was really my point earlier when I talked about the Little Britain comedy sketch where the TV is wearing what he sees as signifiers, but is never seen as female, despite protesting that he is indeed "a lady" and does "lady's things". This really endorses what Stu says when he writes "Remember that a sign is only a sign if it is interpreted as a sign; the crucial entity in determining an act of signification is thereby the viewer and not the transmitter." but in my mind this conflicts with his later sentence which reads "A trans woman does indeed wear skirts to express her feminine persona".

When I go out, I do not dress because I am saying something about me, but I dress in full knowledge of how my clothing will be interpretted by many. My appearance is normally very stage managed. I am pretty sure that this has always been the case. Of course there are also logical conclusions that one can draw that will be true.... I am not conforming therefore, given that i haven't done it for a bet, I am probably a non-conformist.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby Stu » Thu Apr 18, 2019 2:33 pm

SkirtsDad wrote:Stu, I am curious... how many transgendered people do you come across and how do they dress?


Not a huge number even though I work at a university. I am presently working with F to M one right now and he dresses like a young man. Of course, they don't tell you that they are transgendered as a rule as it's not relevant and I don't ask. I just respond to them as they appear to be.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby Stu » Thu Apr 18, 2019 2:55 pm

skirtsdad

" when he writes "Remember that a sign is only a sign if it is interpreted as a sign; the crucial entity in determining an act of signification is thereby the viewer and not the transmitter." but in my mind this conflicts with his later sentence which reads "A trans woman does indeed wear skirts to express her feminine persona".


I see the confusion so will try to be a bit clearer. I was purposely using the verb "express" rather than "communicate" because there is a subtle, but crucial, difference. By "express" in this context I meant to act upon internal feelings - wearing something can make you feel good about yourself and that can be reason enough. There are, for example, closet crossdressers who only do this in the privacy of their own home and never venture out; they are not doing that its an act of signification as there are no receivers.

So here is the crucial distinction, so far as I can see it:

1. A typical man who posts on this forum wants the opportunity to wear skirts as well as trousers for reason of comfort, smartness and free choice. The problem he has is that skirts are a signifier of femininity in our society and so there are likely to be people who see him (receivers) who will misinterpret his purpose. Therefore, our struggle is to de-gender skirts and thereby diminish that problem.

2. For a trans person - male-to-female - skirts are one of a number of signifiers of femininity, and they seek to emphasise their femininity. De-gendering skirts is the converse of what they want because they can no longer use them as signifiers of femininity to the same degree. Skirts are a tool they seek to use in their struggle to be recognised as girls or women.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby moonshadow » Thu Apr 18, 2019 4:38 pm

This topic is a little outside of my normal thought processes, so forgive me if I jumble my answer up but,

I have no problem with femininity, including expressing it. I don't believe that makes me a female or woman. It seems that in human culture what constitutes masculinity and femininity are arbitrary anyway... they are just different characteristics of people.

Now people can say or think whatever they want about me and my lifestyle.. that doesn't make it true or fact, it's just what they think. People think wrongly all if the time. If I define myself based on what others think of me then.... woah... talk about trying to hit an elusive and moving target! It can't be done man!

I think that's why so many trans and crossdressers struggle with depression, they are trying to gauge their life and identity based on whatever society thinks to be true. People generally don't know their ass from a hole in the ground. This is not to say anything ill of people, perhaps they mean well, but the fact remains, we are mostly just a bunch of lost creatures bumping into things in a dark room.

Signifiers? I wonder what I signify to others when they see me..? Not like it matters. Nobody can read my mind.
When we seek to see who we are individually, we would do well not to look into society for the answer, rather to took in the mirror. The analogy is sound... You wouldn't fix your hair based on what another person says... no, first you'd look in the mirror.

So yeah, I have a few characteristics about me that would fall under the "feminine" category, so does everyone else.

Big deal.... I'm just not afraid or ashamed of it.

Sure some people may say that I'm this or that, so? They didn't write the blueprint of my soul and they don't get to determine the person that I am.
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Re: Signifiers

Postby oldsalt1 » Thu Apr 18, 2019 6:01 pm

Part of the problem with men wearing skirts is that many people complicate the issue. And I am sorry STU but this entire blog is an overcomplication of the issue.

I wear skirts because they are comfortable and I enjoy wearing them. I don't need a 6 page dissertation of what I am trying to signify.

Things will work better if we try to keep it simple
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