On "mantyhose" and misogyny

Why is the image of a man in tights funny? Because women suck, duh.

Published January 9, 2009 8:00PM (EST)

Today, MSNBC helpfully alerts us to a new trend: "Mantyhose." It seems a growing number of American men are discovering the joy of wearing pantyhose for warmth, comfort and support -- as long as they come with testosteroney names like Comfilon's "Activeskin legwear for men." Thus, women all over America are asking, "Wait, since when are pantyhose warm, comfortable or supportive?"

The answer comes from Mack, a consumer of hosiery marketed to men. "They are tougher, less delicate than women's pantyhose, but not as bulky as long underwear," he says. Oh, so they're tights! (At least in American parlance.) That just isn't as funny a word to slap "man" on the front of. Got it. (Also, according to the illustration featuring the aforementioned Activeskin legwear, they feature such perks as a "male comfort panel," which is so my new band name.)

The point of the article, as far as I can tell, is not actually to document an emerging trend -- Steven Katz, co-owner of Comfilon, admits the market remains "tiny" -- but to chuckle at the very notion of "mantyhose." "It is important to note that the trend has no connection to men who wear hose to cross-dress, since they prefer to wear pairs that are more feminine," writes Vidya Rao. Yes, it's terribly important to draw that distinction, because the other image isn't nearly as funny as that of a visibly macho dude in control-top stockings. As Vanessa at Feministing says, "Even the companies use humor in their marketing techniques; the tagline for Comfilon is, 'This is NOT your mother's pantyhose.' This seems indicative of the general male hetero response to anything they do or wear that's 'feminine' -- if you mock it while you're doing it, you can get away with it."

And that's the problem: It's the feminine being mocked. While I admit to finding phrases like "male comfort panel" intrinsically funny, the real joke here is ultimately nothing more than, "Ha! Men are doing something that mostly only chicks do!" Your average tights (though not so much pantyhose) are, in fact, warm, comfortable and supportive -- that's why so many athletes, male and female, wear a thicker version of them for their sports -- so if you remove the context of gender norms, it's absolutely no surprise that they'd appeal to men (at least once somebody thought to put a fly in 'em). There is exactly one reason why the market for men's tights is "tiny": because in recent American history, tights have been associated fairly strictly with women. And no man in his right mind wants to be womanly! Who would choose such a terrible fate?

This is such a perfect example of why vocal feminists get cranky about seemingly trivial things like jokes and/or hosiery: because the underlying premise here, the thing that makes it "funny," is that being like a woman is humiliating. Which makes it that much sadder that, according to the article, women are even more weirded out by seeing their husbands and boyfriends in tights than the men themselves are. I'll leave you readers to pick apart what that means.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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