When thinking about this post I started wondering: Is appearance the only way that gender is expressed? I think most people would agree these days that behaviors, actions, and interests aren’t gendered—while in some circles playing football may still be seen as typically masculine and staying home with the kids as typically feminine, I don’t think most people would say a man is enacting a feminine gender by taking care of his kids, or a woman enacting a masculine gender by playing football. However, if a man wears makeup, or a woman wears a tux, that is viewed as a deviation into a gender that doesn’t match their sex. So is appearance then the only marker of a masculine or feminine identity?
Switching gears a little, the main thing I want to discuss in this post is the overlap of appearance and gender for me. In February of this year, I started thinking about my gender identity, for probably the first time ever. I’d always known I wasn’t typically girly—I stopped liking skirts and dresses before I was 10, I never liked pink, never wore makeup. But I’d never wondered, “Do I actually identify with the feminine gender?”, because I’d been accepting that if I was female-bodied, I was also feminine-gendered. In February, though, after reading an article on Facebook’s new gender options, I finally considered how I see my own gender, and realized that I don’t strongly identify as feminine.
That thought led me to the realization that I dress more like a man than a woman. I always knew I didn’t dress in a particularly feminine way, but hadn’t considered that I actually dressed in a masculine way until then. I dress very simply—no fancy/decorative clothes (hardly even any patterns or pictures), no jewelry, no accessories like scarves or hats (except very occasionally or for warmth)—and I also don’t normally wear any female-specific clothing like dresses, skirts, or heels. So, looking at my style through the lens of the gender binary, as I did at that time, I concluded that my overall style was definitely more of a typical male style than a typical female style. (Thinking about this more since then, I’ve realized that in western society there’s a lot less of a typical masculine look than a typical feminine look, an idea I’ll expand on in a future post. When I was first having these realizations about myself, though, I concluded that if I had to pick the guy box or the girl box, my clothing choices and overall look fit better in the guy box.)
My next gender/appearance realization took a little longer, but in April or May, it hit me that the only reason I had long hair was because long hair is seen as the norm for women. When I was young, my parents had let my hair grow long (or else I had told them I wanted it long; I did have short hair at one point in my childhood) because having long hair was what girls did. And I had passively accepted that, despite encountering many short-haired women and at least a few long-haired men, and despite often being annoyed with my hair. Finally, though, I realized that I could change my hair if I wanted to—there was nothing to stop me.
So I chopped off my hair, and I also started making a conscious choice to exclude certain items from my wardrobe. I got rid of the few decorative scarves I did own and wore pants rather than a dress to the next wedding I attended. This was partly because of a desire to stand up to the patriarchy by not listening to what society says women have to do, appearance-wise (“Because you have a vagina, you should wear a skirt”; “Because you have boobs, you should look different from people who don’t”), but it was also because I’m not a very feminine person, and thus I don’t want to be read as one. I don’t want people to see me in a dress and make assumptions about me that aren’t true (so this is yet another reason why I don’t feel comfortable when presenting as feminine).
I also came to the realization that it wasn’t my goal to look pretty anymore. I did still want to look good, though, and I would catch myself thinking about “pretty” as my desired look, realize that word wasn’t right, but then not know how to actually describe what I wanted. Finally I settled on “pleasantly androgynous” as my aim, and that rang true. I don’t want to look good in a feminine way or a masculine way; I just want to look good as a person.
I was never enacting a feminine gender very strongly, but when I finally stopped to actually consider how I felt about my gender, I found that my gender was very tied to my looks—both in that my looks were already reflecting how I felt about my gender, even though I hadn’t consciously thought about it before, and because realizing how I felt about my gender led me to make some changes to my looks, and to how I conceived of my ideal look. So that brings me back to my original question; even though it’s not really the point of this post, I’m still curious—is gender really only manifested in looks?
I’ve even been wondering if gender actually equals looks, but I don’t think that’s true, because I know people can be perfectly secure in a feminine gender identity but not want or feel the need to look particularly feminine all the time. Maybe looks are just how you show your gender to the world, when you feel like doing that.
Writing this post both reminded me of other thoughts I’ve had about gender in the past and spurred some new ones, so I’ll be writing a follow up (or maybe several) before too long. In the meantime, you can check out my other posts on appearance here.