imagine there’s no gender, it’s easy if you try
Today is International Women’s Day, which is of course a wonderful thing to celebrate but what does it mean to be a woman these days? What does it mean to be a man? Do we all really just fit into one of two categories?
Recently I was at a dinner with a theatre lecturer and when I asked him what classes he teaches, he replied: "performance art and gender performance." "Gender performance?" I questioned. His response, "Of course! Gender is a performance." Later that night we played out an exercise that he does with his students; an imaginary line was set from wall to wall. One end was considered ultra masculine and the other, ultra feminine, and our group had to stand where we saw ourselves on the gender spectrum. It was very fun and very drunken but even after the hangover faded it still really resonated with me. I later discussed it with my boyfriend and explained where I stood. He was surprised, and suggested I had a male personality and should have stood further down the male side, "what do you mean!" I yelled as I jokingly wrestled him into a headlock; evidently he was right. I present characteristics that are perceived as both traditionally male and traditionally female and when I think about it, so do most people I know.
Yet, society suggests that we are to slot into a gender role and play that part for life. Yes we can change it up and play on the opposite side but is that it? Are these our only options? For all its flaws, Facebook is one of the most progressive companies in the world when it comes to gender, offering users 58 options. Society stands to gain a lot from this; we'd like some more tick boxes please.
In reality, gender brings up a world of problems for males, females and transgender individuals. Women face sexism every day. The pay gap still exists; women encounter verbal harassment when they walk down the street; women are perceived as the clichéd "weaker sex". According to womensaid.ork.uk, the vast majority of the victims of domestic violence are women and children, and women are also considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of violence.
So what about life in other box? According to the ONS 2015, the male suicide rate is more than three times higher than the female rate, which paints a bleak picture of the pressure our society places on men. The term "man up" is a perfect example of this - what does it mean to man up? Be the breadwinner? Bottle up your feelings? Be strong and never express yourself?
A Miami republican has filed a bill that bans transgender people from using single sex spaces, which means there is a theoretical possibility that in future Florida, transgender people will not be allowed to use public toilets, a basic human right. The fact that this is even a topic of conversation in 2015 is baffling.
The gender stereotypes that exist are out-dated expectations left over from generations past. So why are they so engrained in us? Why do we still feel the pressure to feel or behave a certain way, "as a man", or "as a woman"? In a perfect world wouldn't we abolish gender and all just be people? Just think, there would be no "same sex marriage", there would only be marriage. We wouldn't have to create campaigns like "He for She", we would all just be. We could become whatever versions of ourselves we wanted to and slide along the proverbial "gender spectrum" as we pleased.
Text Ger Tierney
Photography Piczo, Vivienne Westwood autumn/winter 15
- ger tierney