Why the fuck can’t men wear pink nail polish?

I have never actually been able to get a good answer to this. The conversation along those lines goes something like “because they’ll get laughed at,” and when I ask why they get laughed at they’ll say “because it looks ridiculous,” and when I ask why it looks ridiculous they say “because men don’t wear nail polish,” and then we’re back to where we began except that my conversational partner thinks I’m a weirdo feminist who probably hates men.

At this point, someone is probably going angrily to the comments section to say that I think all men should wear nail polish and, by God, he has never wanted to wear nail polish and I’m not going to shame his masculinity. That is not what I’m intending to say at all. Men should feel free to wear nail polish, or not, the same way that most women feel free to wear nail polish, or not.

And even if it turns out that most men don’t want to wear nail polish, so what? Nail polish is a simple pleasure. It harms no one to spend a meditative fifteen minutes coloring your nails and toes a light blue, or to feel a burst of joy when you catch a glimpse of your nails in the light. What possible gain is there from keeping the men, however small a group they are, who like having their nails colored from doing so?

Adornment is a human universal. Even societies that don’t wear clothing tattoo their skin, pierce their ears, style their hair or wear jewelry. Small snail shell beads are among the earliest items in the archaeological record. There are even reports of some wild apes, especially orangutans, draping themselves with various objects such as vegetation or even whole dead animals.

Human beings, it seems, like pretty things.

And yet, in our culture, men are not supposed to adorn themselves. Men do not wear jewelry, makeup, brightly patterned clothing or about half the color wheel. Hell, men aren’t even supposed to be spending a lot of effort on picking out clothing. Blue jeans and boring T-shirts, that’s the manly thing to do. Rich men can wear nice watches and expensive suits, because even if that’s paying attention to clothing it also shows off how successful you are. A few alternative subcultures coughhipsterscough practice male adornment, but they’re always viewed kind of suspiciously. They’re “gay.” They’re “not real men.” Whatever.

Social pressures have a lot of power: just ask your friendly neighborhood cigarette smoker. In particular, the fear of being laughed at, excluded from the group, is one of the most potent fears a human being can experience. Strong enough to teach men that they can’t like pretty things, because if they do it’s silly and ridiculous and girly?

Almost certainly.

I’m no fashionista myself: blue jeans and a boring T-shirt are basically what I wear every day too. But sometimes it’s fun to get dressed up. And there is not so much fun in the world, so much joy, that we can deny half of humanity it willy-nilly, for no reason that (to me) anyone has been capable of naming.