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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