Ashley Earl Blog Post 5: Gender Identity and Societal Expectations

In America we have many ways to determine whether a person is male or female just by a quick glance. In general we perceive women to be much more feminine than men so when we come into contact with someone who has feminine traits, we come to the conclusion that this individual identifies as female. We generally assume that women are much more petite than their male counterparts; women are weaker, more timid, and fragile. And no one is born with this idea that males are stronger and larger than females, our culture shapes us to think this way, and at a very young age. Girls grow up watching movies and reading books about the strong, brave prince saving the damsel in distress from her horror, thereby instilling into their minds the idea that women are helpless and cannot save themselves, they have to be rescued and taken care of by men. We also tend to identify individuals as female if they have long hair, wear makeup, and dress in feminine clothes such as dresses and skirts. Everyday our society implicitly tells us how a woman should dress and look in order to be socially acceptable, and we do not even realize this because it is so covert and conventional. When walking into a store what kind of clothing we buy is already predetermined for us. Clothing stores are separated into male and female sections, the male section containing more masculine attire and the womens being much more feminine, and purchasing clothing from outside of your gender specific section would be considered blasphemous. Also in any magazine we open, we are shown mass amounts of pictures of males and females. The women tend to have long beautiful hair and faces covered in makeup and are dressed in standard meeting feminine attire, while the men are dressed in masculine clothes and have short hair with no makeup on their faces. And rarely do we see any deviation from these ideals in the media; having a woman dressed in males clothing on the front cover of a magazine is un heard of and would be challenging societal norms.

Bruce Jenner demonstrated and almost supported these outrageous, purely superficial, female ideals in his interview with Diane Sawyer before his transition into female. He stated that after his transition he was most excited about being able to wear nail polish and dresses. But obviously being a female is much more than just wearing makeup and “dressing to impress” and Jenner does not seem to address this in his interview. He also conformed to our society’s standards of feminine beauty in his photoshoot with Vanity Fair as Caitlyn Jenner. Caitlyn’s cleavage bearing dresses, expensive high heels, and airbrushed imperfections exemplified the unattainable beauty expectations and norms our society places on women. In the article “What Makes a Women” written by Elinor Burkett, Caitlyn Jenner is criticized for being anti-feminist during and after her gender transition. Burkett states that Jenner’s “prospect of regular “girls’ nights” of banter about hair and makeup” places females into the oppressed stereotypes women have worked so tirelessly to overcome (Burkett 2015). Being an advocate for transgender people myself and a supporter of Caitlyn Jenner and her journey, this article truly opened my eyes to some of the negative stereotypes Jenner has portrayed.

In her short film “Break Free”, Ruby Rose challenges these norms by showing us that gender identity is fluid and that women do not have to live up to gender expectations; women can act and dress however they feel comfortable, whether it be considered more masculine or more feminine. And although she herself was born female, Rose considers herself to be “gender fluid”; she does not identify as one gender or the other. “I have a lot of characteristics that would normally be present in a guy and then less that would be present in a woman. But then sometimes I’ll put on a skirt — like today.”(Gray 2015).

After reading about Ruby Rose and gender fluidity, it is clear that we cannot simply rely on visual cues to determine whether someone is male or female. Gender is much more complicated and diverse than simply being determined by superficial traits, and there is not one concrete way to always correctly assume gender.

Sources:

Burkett, Elinor. “What Makes a Woman?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 June 2015. Web. 07 Aug. 2015.

Gray, Emma. “Ruby Rose Breaks Down What It Means To Be Gender Fluid.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 2015. Web. 07 Aug. 2015.

One thought on “Ashley Earl Blog Post 5: Gender Identity and Societal Expectations

  1. Hi Ashley –

    I couldn’t agree more with you about the traits we portray for both women and men alike. From a very early age we are indeed taught these social norms on how to be treated among the people around us and by different genders. Looks are also a key factor in identifying male and female apart, something our society has cultivated over time. As you similarly said, just because a female has long hair, that doesn’t make them female. Sex and gender are two very different things, one is biological, and the other is sociological. More so than this though, I agree with your points about Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair photo shoot, and how it exemplified things that are often times unattainable expectations. It is quite interesting to see both the positive stereotypes as well as the negative ones. The article on Ruby Rose was interesting because prior to this week I was not familiar with something like gender fluidity. It goes to show that as you said, gender is a much more complicated and a diverse thing than just superficial traits or social norms put on our society.

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