A who in a what?! Deconstructing: Gender Norms

Hey guys! Man, we’ve had a crazy semester. I’ll be the first to admit, I grew a lot during this course. I didn’t think I’d learn too much or change any of my habits because of it, but I can completely attest that really thinking about binaries and what society defines them has made me redefine them for myself. I think the best way to celebrate the semester we’ve had is to analyze my own experiences while being “in the maze”.

About a week ago, I saw a really conventionally “manly” guy at the mall. Bearded, big muscles, strong jaw. Basically everything you would assume when you think of a traditional “male” – with one twist. The guy was in a floor length, floral print maxi dress. I won’t lie, I was pretty taken aback initially since it was such a juxtaposition of two societal norms that I had been conditioned to believe in. Growing up being socialized in American culture, you’re basically brainwashed into believing the gender norms. Girls like pink and dolls, boys like blue and cars. It’s the way it is, and anything that blurs the line is seen as “weird”. It’s not socially acceptable to push the boundaries of gender binaries, and we have seen this reflected historically. It’s not okay to be a woman and have body hair, as shown by the cruelty of the treatment “bearded ladies” in “freakshows” received. They were ostracized and made to feel like absolute violations of normality. Another example in history is the treatment that drag queens have received for choosing to wear “women’s clothing”. They were met with judgement, name calling, and bullying just for expressing themselves in a way society didn’t deem acceptable.

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The man in a dress reminded me of these previous cases, and he was treated in the same manner. As I walked behind him at the mall, he was receiving stares from just about everyone. Other mall goers gave him disgusted looks, some older people even shaking their heads. Little kids pointed fingers, and whispered in hushed tones to their mothers. Although I can’t exactly relate to receiving these hateful responses, I can’t help but be reminded of my experiences with a previous Field Notes assignment. In that assignment, I was supposed to switch my look up and go in a public place to gauge responses. I went from an ordinary, classic, feminine female to a “goth”. I changed from cute jeans, a nice sweater and minimal makeup to black destroyed skinny jeans with black lipstick. Public responses to me at the Publix went from eye contact and smiles to harsh whispers and withering stares. It’s hard receiving judgment from strangers that know nothing about you, and I sympathize with having a negative response to your look.

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The idea of breaking gender boundaries, as well as other boundaries has been reflected in many of the discourses and readings we’ve had over the past semester. In one example regarding art, Pollock states that there “is a historical asymmetry- a difference socially, economically, subjectively between being a woman and being a man” (55). Clearly, this distinction and division between the binary of genders was well recorded and established. Asymmetry also implies that one is more highly regarded than the other, which is another theme of feminism that we’ve discussed previously. Regarding this difference in genders and feminism, Pollock states that “Feminist analysis undermines one bias of patriarchal power by refuting the myths of universal or general meaning” (56). With this thought, it is evident to me that Pollock also agrees with the argument I’ve started to make. In order to deconstruct the sexist ideologies that have chained us next to misogyny, we must analyze gender norms with a strict lens of feminism, in order to determine what exactly these norms have done to us.

I, personally, have analyzed where my bias has come from. This indoctrination into a patriarchal society has made me reject the mixing of the two gender norms. Putting a man in a dress threatens the idea of what masculinity is, because we have been taught that masculinity is not emotional, beautiful, tender, domestic, or weak. Femininity cannot be harsh, dominant, strong-willed, or rough. These boxes are meant to restrict individuality and restrict people into two rigid binaries with no room for flexibility. Furthermore, they even place femininity on a lower standard by associating them with weakness, domestic qualities, and being subservient to a stronger man. This toxic approach to gender alienates and ostracizes anyone who refutes the cultural binary indoctrinated in us.

After being in this class, I truly feel more open minded. I feel more willing to redefine culture for myself. I feel prepared to battle the definition of weirdness. I feel encouraged to join the weirdness myself. I recognize that weird is a label, and labels belong on food, not people.

Weirding Nature has given me the ability to see a man in a dress, which I may have previously internally degraded or ridicules, and smile at him. Rather than judge or laugh, I can appreciate someone whose individuality is expressed in a different way, and a semester’s worth of hard work has made a lifetime of impact in how I regard others.

Stay Weird!

Valentina Clinton

 

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