I had a surreal experience recently. Imagine if you will a stereotypical Irish pub in the centre of Dublin dominated by men; one that is normally full of crusty old regulars propped at the bar watching football and giving out about the weather, politicians and the price of water. Now imagine the same pub swarmed by men in skirts … big hurley burley beer drinking macho men all wearing skirts … well that is exactly the scene I witnessed! And it got me thinking, thinking about masculinities (yeah, yeah I know I am always thinking about masculinities!).
Football fans might guess the context for this story. I was out for a social pint with colleagues and as it happened the Irish football team was playing in a European qualifier with Scotland, in Dublin. Scottish football fans had come over to the Irish capital in their droves for the match, and in traditional Scottish style many of our Celtic brothers donned kilts. After the match, Scottish fans flooded the pub my colleagues and I were socialising in. The atmosphere was rowdy but jovial. The Guinness was flowing like the Liffey, and the Irish and Scottish football fans exchanged witty jibes and taunts followed by loud bursts of laughter. I was too preoccupied talking sociology with my colleagues to have noticed the extent of this flood of men in skirts, until I turned around and went to the little boys room.
Toilets are one of the most gendered spaces in society; they are perhaps one of the few places that entrance to, is gender dependent. So it was unusual for me to walk into the men’s toilet and to witness four men in skirts relieving themselves at the urinal.
I squeezed in between these men, and have to admit I found it difficult not laughing at the scene that surrounded me. Here were four big Scottish men, all quite intoxicated holding their kilts up, one almost tucked under his chin, the others quite clumsily under their elbows as they relieved their bladders. So here I was, the odd one out, a trouser wearing Irish man with bobbing shoulders silently giggling, listening to thickly slurred Scottish voices – “this is the best piss of my life” said one man, to which his comrade replied “I don’t think I can stop [pissing]”. In typically Irish style, I did a good job at minding my own business and re-joined my colleagues.
It wasn’t until my train ride home, again surrounded by men in skirts, that I began to unpack my surreal evening. Most of us are well aware that skirts are gendered as feminine, we are socialised into this notion from a very early age; yet in this circumstance the skirt wearing men had transgressed gender norms and were successfully accomplishing masculinity. This for me highlighted how deeply complex notions of gender are, and how gender performances are negotiated through symbolic interaction. Moreover, for these men to successfully transgress normative gender practices and retain masculine status, they must in fact display a form of hyper-masculinity to mitigate the effects of wearing feminine attire.
And so, the skirt wearing Scottish men I witnessed in the pub, seemed to display an exaggerated masculinity. There was a noticeable difference to me in the behaviours of the Irish and Scottish men. Although on their own native soil, the Irish men seemed much quieter and timid in comparison to the skirt wearing Scottish men (and to any one familiar with a pub full of drunken Irish men this is saying something!). The skirt wearing Scottish men seemed to spread horizontally and take up more space, much in the same way that courting birds puff out their plumage, these men puffed about the pub laughing and shouting and spilling good Guinness. The men’s pissing comments whilst at the urinals also highlights this hyper-masculine performance; it was in effect a pissing competition, quite literally. Masculinity is accomplished through competition and comparison; men must compare themselves to other men and out do the competitor. Hence for these men, emptying their bladder was more than functional; it had become a symbol of masculine accomplishment. The more you’ve drunk, the more you piss and thus the greater masculinity demonstrated.
But other factors assist these Scottish men in retaining their masculine status whilst wearing feminine attire – primarily national identity and tradition. It is well known that on occasion many Scottish men wear kilts. Kilts are unique in style, colour and pattern, making them immediately recognisable. Kilts are usually dark in colour, sharp in line and adorned with parts of dead animals in the form of a Sporran (a pouch or purse like man-bag worn in front of the groin). The Sporran is usually held in place by a manly chain and acts as a visual reminder of the manhood it covers. It tells us that although this is a skirt, manly bits hide underneath! There is also the tradition of men in kilts going commando (and I don’t mean joining the army). This ensures that should their masculinity be called into question; it can be quickly reasserted and re-established by a quick flash of what lies beneath. These combined design elements; customs, practices and interactions help transform what is normally a feminine garment into a masculine one.
Clay Darcy, June 2015.