Romphims: Fragile Masculinity’s Latest Stab at Relevance
By Dina Bdaiwi
The RompHim: the original romper with a “twist”… made for men! In the past, the romper has been viewed as a gender-neutral article of clothing, worn by children and even associated with the working class as a uniform. However, since the 1970s it has become more closely associated with femininity. There has been a lot of commotion over the RompHim, a Kickstarter project by ACED Design with about 3,000 backers raising about $364,000 to achieve the clothing brand’s goal of creating rompers specifically for men — cisgender men that is. Social media sites, such as Facebook, have been platforms for people to share videos, articles and memes that poke fun at male-identified bodies who wear rompers. This commotion is not all bad; it has also produced discussion of gender fluidity in clothing.
The memes have placed men who wear rompers at the butt of jokes. Memes present these men as effeminate and thus deserving of being treated as women are in our society, which history has shown is consistently worse than cisgender men and perpetuated when men exert their dominance. This includes sexual harassment, sexual assault and further mistreatment, which is not acceptable whether it is occurring to anyone of any gender identity. It is important to understand the power dynamics at play even in everyday fashion.
Femininity and masculinity have been accepted in our society as binary oppositions — meaning that they are viewed as mutually exclusive. They are defined in opposition to each other. In binary oppositions, one identity has more power and is thus seen as “superior” to the other.
This fuss over what people put on their bodies is not new; it is a process of our society. Judgement over what is acceptable for certain bodies to wear boils down to hegemonic masculinity, which translates to our society’s need for control over gendered beings— control over bodies, minds and choices… the list goes on. Critical feminist writers such as James Lull and Stuart Hall have explored hegemony as the exertion and maintenance of power by one group.
It is not enough that society ridicules bodies that fall outside of prescribed gender norms; friends must begin to police each other as well, as a form of “protection.” When it comes to the RompHim, friends may believe that they are watching out for one another by shaming men who want to wear rompers. In actuality, it is that the “protectors” often do not want to be associated with someone who is deviating from their prescribed gender norms. This anxiety runs so deep that men constantly feel the need to watch themselves, out of fear of being ostracized for their choices— in this case, their choice of wearing rompers.
The need to masculinize clothing implies inherent gender of clothing. Gendering aspects of our world has been around seemingly since the beginning of time, recently exemplified with the infamous man-bun instead of accepting buns as buns, period. This fixation on bro-ifying items is the everyday evidence of the patriarchy seeping into our day-to-day. Adding modifiers like “man” or “bro” gives male-identified beings the OK to participate in activities, behaviors and interests associated with femininity, further stratifying the genders and perpetuating gender norms.
A quick look at the RompHim kickstarter page will show the many “improved” features that the RompHim provides. The RompHim offers deep front pockets, zippers, adjustable waist tie, front pocket, and back pocket. This new and improved romper is supposed to be strictly male. As though the rompers that are already on the market are subpar or that anything associated with femaleness cannot be applicable to all bodies. The process of masculinizing clothing includes the “improvement” of the already functional romper, furthering the myth that men teach women how to do things better. As if the romper as it exists now is not meant for a variety of bodies, insinuating that there is just one type of body that rompers exists for: curvy, female bodies.
Rompers have existed in the world before the RompHim and will continue to exist after this craze. Just because cisgender men have now taken a fascination with rompers does not make them revolutionary, as if male-identified bodies have not worn rompers in the past. The world of fashion is always evolving and praises novelty and creativity more often than quality or practicality. Clothing is simply fabric; it is people who have assigned meaning to it and thus politicize clothing. It has become a sign of bravery for male bodies to participate in fashion trends. Though fabric does not discriminate, men have taken it upon themselves to construct what it means to be a “real man” and “real men” do not wear rompers.