“Gender Neutral”: Does it Bring Us to A New View of Gender or Perpetuate Old Views?

I am excited to start a series of posts on the topic of gender. It is a huge topic but quite central to our psyches, and daily activity in the world. People are constantly making assumptions about gender all day long. I have been interested in the meanings and ideas around gender since I was in high school and got obsessed with David Bowie’s character “Ziggy Stardust”. I loved everything Bowie but this character intrigued me the most and I loved watching the old concert footage of Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. Bowie at that time really played around with gender and the body. In this article you can scroll down and see photos of him, especially the one on stage with the big orange bracelets, the makeup and the tight body suit that was the Ziggy costume. The red hair and the cool makeup were central to the image of Ziggy Stardust. Back in the early to mid 80s while I was in high school, this image was the epitome of taking gender to a place where there is no real definition of gender. Ziggy is svelte and beautiful but neither male nor female. The costume looks painted on him and the idea is that he is a larger than life creature, not even human. The appeal of this character is that it transcends gender altogether. This is no drag queen. Even though there might be a place of no gender here, sex appeal and sexiness are still part of this persona…

Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars

From Ziggy I went to thinking about concepts of gender in terms of wondering if we all have pieces of ourselves that are different genders and mixtures of genders. I enjoyed the concept of considering that everyone has a lot of selves that include other genders, and I liked the idea of there being more than two genders, including nongendered parts of ourselves and double gendered parts as well as transgendered parts and androgeny or hermaphroditic (an·drog·y·nous ( n-dr j -n s). adj. 1. Biology Having both female and male characteristics; hermaphroditic. 2. Being neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine …, from the free online dictionary) In psychology a “systems” based view of the individual involves acknowledging that we have different parts within us that come out at different times, somewhat related to the Jungian concept of the self which seems a bit limited now, but a good starting point. Jung recognized that females have an “animus” and males have an “anima”, the masculine or feminine energy within all of us, as well as the persona and the shadow. However, his idea of gender is limited and dualistic rather than multiplistic, if that could be a word. Why couldn’t a female identified person have within her an animus and an anima, a female shadow and a male shadow self, and perhaps other selves that are not gendered. In the movie, “A Beautiful Mind” the main character is “hallucinating” these companion selves that are all part of who he is. Interestingly the child self is in the form of a girl.

So the question for another post might be, “Who are all your parts? are they gendered? do you have parts that transcend gender, such as a non gendered animal inside of you or some other kind of being? In the all girls high school I went to, in our senior yearbook we had a list of aspects of ourselves and one was “male counterpart” in which as I remember it, others thought of what male person each of us reminded them of. Unfortunately I did not get to be David Bowie but got Woody Allen instead. I think I’ve lost the Woody Allen part of me, but I do have a very old man in there, and actually in high school plays I often played boys and old men!

So this is the personal framework which I come from in terms of my views of gender. In my early 20’s I started a highly ambitious series of paintings which I will describe in another post, but the whole exploration centered on gender and our perceptions of gender.

The term gender neutral, my original topic, usually reminds me of children and children’s activities, parties, clothing, etc. Starting before birth, when a parent or parents decide they don’t want to know their baby’s gender, people react with baby gifts that are accepted by society as gender neutral, which means a lot of yellow clothing, some white, and some other colors that don’t involve blue, pink, ruffles, lace and no images associated with gender. Boats are ok but cars not, most animals are ok, but flowers and butterflies are not. Here is a link to a website with typical “gender neutral” otherwise referred to as “unisex” baby clothes:
When you start with the infant, it seems that gender neutral involves stripping clothes of any kinds of markers or communications of anything, so you get things like you see on the above website, bland yellow and white clothing with very little extra touches and few images of any kind. This seems to imply as I said above that even an image of a boat versus a butterfly becomes gendered. The butterfly will be seen on girl’s clothing and the boat on boy’s clothing. If you think about it, it is odd because there is nothing very gendered about either boats or butterflies, flowers, even vehicles.

This same baby website has girls clothing, mostly pink and white and uses mostly images of flowers, bows, hearts, pink leopard print, and butterflies and also cupcakes. Why is a cupcake inherently associated with the female gender? Boys eat cupcakes too! When you look at it at that level, it becomes ridiculous. How is it in 2013 we are putting cupcakes on girls’ clothing and not boys?:

Again on this website you can check out the boys clothing. This is a great website about gender as it is very simple and divides their clothing by gender:
So the boys clothing involves darker colors, navy blue stripes, bicycles, trains, cars, dogs, foxes, bears. Even animals are gendered with baby clothes. Girly animals seem to be kitties, butterflies, and birds, though ducks being yellow, seem to be considered gender neutral as are giraffes, owls and elephants.

Interestingly while looking at the clothes on this website, I actually found a great “gender bender” baby girl outfit among all the stereotypical ones:
A girl in a navy blazer and striped pants but wearing a red bow in her hair. Not bad. I wish there were a boy counterpart of a boy toddler in a pink dress…

Speaking of the very stereotyped pink and blue, it is odd that early in the twentieth century the colors were reversed, so boys were dressed in pink and girls in blue! Check this out, and notice that it does not help gender stereotypes to be saying pink is “stronger” and more suitable for boys. Humans are very screwed up about gender!
“For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.””
From a great article: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html

In fact, earlier on, babies were dressed in white dresses and boys often had longer hair and looked like what we would think of as girls in today’s climate. So we’ve come a long way to nowhere, seems like we are still confused as well as still having some deep need for clarity and difference and fear of being in the gender neutral zone, as the term really wants to be understood, that zone of not knowing what gender the baby, child, teenager or adult is. The same can be said of bisexuality, especially for men: society still has a hard trouble with dialectics and wants to separate things to understand people. The area of the “unknown” is hard for us humans. I’m not sure why it is so difficult to hold the idea of someone being attracted to both men and women and also attracted to people that are genderconfusing. why would the idea of “I find that person sexy,” then “is it a man or woman?”
well I don’t actually know, then how can you be attracted to this person. the answer of course often is, what do you mean? how can I not be attracted to someone whom I find attractive but mysterious, why would I need or want to know this person’s gender before getting to know the person or asking them out on a date?
Thus even people’s “types” and attractions, which we don’t have much control over, are seen as suspect if the person does not even care about identifying the gender of the other person first. What a novel idea, Oh well, I could get to know this person and maybe eventually find out what gender they identify as. Framed this way, I could see that approaching attraction could involve a very different framework from what we are used to. Why not get to know someone a while before even figuring out their gender? Maybe this framework is closer to the real idea of the term “gender neutral”, ie. having a neutral approach to gender, and not taking looks at face value, such that any particular human could be any gender and might just be wearing a “gendered” uniform at the moment. That person with a moustache and suit and tie on the subway might not be male.

Is it possible to strip our gendered ideas of people to the point where we could start at such a neutral level, assuming nothing about gender until informed by the person as to what they identify as? This is probably a long way off, but it would make the world a lot more fascinating. Any baby wearing ruffles and dresses and ribbons might be any gender. Your coworker who wears ties and suits one day and fitted skirts another day could be any gender.

To go even further out on a limb, just seeing a person without clothes on does not absolutely determine their gender as “hermaphrodites”and other mixed indivuals can look like either gender.

The interesting problem of gender assignments of characteristics is gender itself. If you look at it logically, why does someone who happens to have a penis seem to be ambivalent about his male gender if he wears a dress to work or why is he percieved as having ambivalence about having a penis just because he wears a dress that day?

I will end on a fun note. I read about some study a while ago where they were tryign to figure out stuff about gender and toys and one thing they did was put toddlers in rooms with choices of things including dolls, trucks etc as well as pots and pans. I thought that was idiotic as any kid could pick up a pot or pan and think of it as a weapon, not something for cooking…


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