Gender communications, or “the social construction of masculinity or femininity as it aligns with sex at birth in a specific culture and time period” — as defined by Social Justice, Diversity Consultant, and Facilitator Jessica Pettitt — pervasively exists around the world. We’re deluged by multiple verbal and non-verbal examples of gender communications each day, and each instance reinforces long-held, ideal standards of masculinity and femininity across society.
Three noteworthy examples of gender communications include:
Work Attire. Day-to-day (non-uniformed) wardrobe styles worn by males and females in professional settings are a constant reminder of gender communications. Males typically wear shirts, slacks, sometimes suits, and occasionally, baggy clothing on more casual days. Women, on the other hand, wear skirts, blouses, dresses, tailored suits, and to some degree, tighter-fitting clothes. Even though androgynous fashions have been finding their way into our closets, the steadfastness of gender-delineated wardrobes for work settings still prevails.
Gendered-fashion strictness seemingly originates from classical lessons in what both men and women are traditionally taught about clothing as they grow up. Men, for example, are often told that wearing form-fitting clothes or loose fitting outfits, such as skirts or billowy fabrics, are inappropriate for their gender. Women, in turn, have a long history of being sexualized, therefore slightly tighter-fitting clothing and curve-accentuating garments that create more sex appeal are routinely promoted and socially encouraged.
Such wardrobe messaging underscores the unyielding power and unfurled breadth society’s gendered communications have on our individual fashion choices. As a non-binary individual, I find yesteryear’s clothing stereotypes to be unnecessarily confining. What we choose to wear, from buttons and fabrics to hems and stitches, is a form of highly individualized self expression and shouldn’t be subject to socially forced, gender-edited ideals. Yet that is the very world we live in — a world bombarded with media messages reinforcing what men and women ought to wear.
Cosmetics. On social media, we often see women wearing makeup to showcase their beauty or to reflect a ‘best selves’ image. But men who wear makeup are known to be publicly shamed and ridiculed. Between drag queens and Internet personalities, like James Charles, a makeup-wearing segment of the male population has pushed back on makeup’s traditional “for women only” positions.
Thankfully, some cosmetics brands, like Cover Girl, are expanding their non-gendered marketing campaigns and even including makeup-wearing males in some of their advertising. Ultimately, makeup application is much akin to an artform and should be something anyone can enjoy without suffering from public mockery or disdain.
Television Programming. Another area where gender communications exert almost limitless influence occurs during one of America’s favorite pastimes: watching television. Data from the American Time Use Survey compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics measuring the amount of time people spend doing various activities reveals that nearly 80 percent of the population watches TV on a given day. In other words, watching TV is the choice leisure activity for many Americans. This means millions of Americans are therefore endlessly exposed to media messages directly and indirectly reinforcing gender communications.
Despite the deluge of gender-rigid programming, one bold Netflix series, “AJ and the Queen,” is shattering stubborn gender stereotypes by blurring gender lines in its portrayal of a routinely discriminated-against drag queen (played by RuPaul Charles). The series’s blurred gender lines help create more open-mindedness.
Moving Forward. Masculine and feminine ideals have been around for centuries, yet no matter which side of the gender communications fence you’re on, the fact is that communications as a whole are often used to express ideas and reinforce values.
As we continue making progress, however, I believe that gender fluid lifestyles will further blossom, no matter how painstakingly slow. With ongoing education and outreach, non-gendered acceptance can break through the thickness of mainstream gendered-thinking that presently lies in our wake.
Amanda Ayers-Ruiz is an LGBTQ rights activist pursuing an undergraduate degree in Women & Gender Studies at Arizona State University.
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