Gender Communication Summer 2009

A space to critically engage gender and communication topics

Nonverbal Wrap-up June 2, 2009

Filed under: course info — daniellemstern @ 10:04 am
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After reading through your individual journal entries regarding nonverbal artifacts, I thought I’d share some patterns and nuances.

Your first task was to discuss five items of clothing you would not wear because it would send the wrong gendered message. As expected, (and accepted as this is fine), most of you responded with items that would have inscribed your gender as the opposite of how you typically perform gender (and in many cases sexuality). For example, male students listed items such as high heels and miniskirts, while women typically included items such as baggy pants and wallet chains. Interestingly, one female student listed items that would have OVER performed (i.e. hypersexualized) femininity. One male student also mentioned how in some cultures men were skirts (kilts), which points out how gender and gender artifacts are culturally specific.

Now, the second, shorter part of the assignment was to assess which gender has more freedom in choosing gender artifacts such as clothing. Also not surprising were your choices here, as most responded that women have more freedom. Whereas men are “confined” to pants, shorts and limited shirt styles, women can choose from a variety of cuts of dresses, skirts, shorts, pants, the list goes on and on. However, one female student did name men as freer when it comes to the MESSAGES sent by their clothing choices. For example, she discussed how guys “get away with” vulgar imagery and wording on t-shirts while women are more likely to be labeled negatively if they wear the same types of clothing, or worse, if they wear revealing, skimpy clothes–which results in a branding of “slut.”

What I think is most telling of these assessments is that only two students, one male and one female, articulated that more choices do not necessarily point to more freedom (which is actually an ongoing feminist debate). Women may have more styles to choose from to dress and accesorize their bodies, but does this actually equate to freedom? Many feminists (women AND men) would argue that this fact merely represents our culture’s privileging of the male ways of knowing over the feminine, meaning that it’s okay for women to embrace their masculine sides but RARELY okay for men to embrace what our culture regards as feminine. When men do so they are marked either as gay or “sissies,” unless it’s Halloween or Mardi Gras or something similar, of course. The worst way our culture can insult men is to feminize them, but it’s okay to masculinize women? Hmm…any thoughts here? So on one hand, women do have MORE freedom to express their individualities through clothing. On the other hand, this freedom indicates CONSTRAINTS on the types of identities that our culture accepts and, moreover, priviliges. This is a non-graded post, but I’m certainly interested in your feedback.

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2 Responses to “Nonverbal Wrap-up”

  1. melissam4 Says:

    Women def. have more options for clothing to wear than men. I didnt think of all of these other aspects that you mentioned but it did get me thinking. Once again, because of tradition and society norms, people think feminizing men is insulting because traditionally it was totally wrong to be gay or lesbian. Now tho its been getting more and more accpetable. Now that I think about it, in public gay men dont dress the stereotypical gay way. You can’t always tell by the way a guy is dressed if he’s gay or not. If he’s going to class, to work, or somewhere considered respectable then he dresses societally appropriate, however, if he’s going to a gay bar or gay event then he’ll probably wear the typical ‘gay outfits’ if he so chosoes and possibly look like what some people call a ‘flammer.’ Same with lesbians, but again, because its more acceptable for females to dress masculin, then lesbians that like to do so can dress their lesbian ways in and out of the lesbian seen. Again, I think theses choices of dress go back to they themselves having grown up with gender roles and norms and trying to be different while fitting into society as well.

    As of right now, i think these lines are totally blurred. Everything seems to be in transition. Now that i think about it a bit harder, it seems men and women can probably have the same amount of connotations towards themselves depending on what they wear. If a man wears pink (depending on whos eyes), he’s either gay or just secure with his masculinity, if he wears spikes and has lots of tattoo’s hes a death metal rocker, if he’s in a business suit, depending on hair and accessories, he could either be a suave rich guy or a simple man making a living for his family. If he’s in a collared shirt and kaky pants, he’s a prep or about to play some gulf. The same goes for women. There are the stereotypes, but i think these past few generations have put a dent in what is acceptable, which right now, seems to be a lot. Japan for example, known for its extreme patriachal system is probably one of the most diverse countries when it comes to individual styles. When you compare the young people to their strict, highly discipled grandparents that strongly embrace tradition, these young generations have paved quite a road for change. All this seems to be making people be more open minded which is what we need more of in order to find solutions for change.

  2. mattymac Says:

    I never even thought of choosing articles of clothing that would send a wrong gendered message for my own gender (such as the example of articles of clothing that oversexualize women). There are clothes that men wear that tells a lot about their personal style, and thus sends a gendered message. For example, guys who tend to be very groomed and wear more fashionable clothes are considered by our society to stereotypically be a “metrosexual” (which, in my opinion is just a trendy new name for what was originally called a “pretty boy”) or gay. Apparently a man cannot be fashionable without being thought of as being feminine.

    I never even thought about how the messages sent by one’s clothing can allow for more freedom based on gender. It makes me think of when Britney Spears wore that T-shirt that said “Future MILF” on it. It received so much attention, not only because of the vulgarity of the message, but for the self-acknowledgment of her sexuality. If a man had worn a shirt such as that, it would not have nearly received or drawn as much criticism.

    Has anyone been to a Steve & Berry’s clothing store (well, before the company went out of business)? They had TONS of shirts directed to men that had crude jokes involving nothing but sexual innuendoes (e.g., “Dick’s Hard Wood Lumber Company: Largest Wood around” or “Blow Me! It’s my birthday” with a picture of a birthday candle). I hardly saw any shirts such as that for women. Not only that, but most of the sayings on the shirts would be considered tasteless by many. Thus, men can be tasteless and get away with it because they are men, yet women cannot.


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