Gender bending trend

Androgyny may be making it way into fashion, but societal attitudes towards gender aren’t necessarily changing, prof says

Androgyny trend doesn’t have politics of real inclusion behind it, prof says
Androgyny trend doesn’t have politics of real inclusion behind it, prof says

Androgyny is increasingly finding its way into mainstream culture, especially the fashion industry. But is this trend a sign of more acceptance towards different gender expressions, or simply an exploitative form of fetishization?

The “femiman” has been described in fashion as strongly androgynous: a strong, broad face and eyebrows, high cheekbones and full lips.

Serbian-Australian Model Andrej Pejic caught the interest of many designers with his androgynous look. He’s walked for Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring/Summer 2011 show and was even in Vogue Paris’ September 2010 issue.

Lady Gaga has also had an influence on popular culture in terms of gender fluidity. Gaga has been quoted before discussing her physical relationships with men and women. This, combined with her often androgynous appearance and her commitment to gay rights has inspired questions about sexuality and sexual orientation.

Margaret Little, a professor in the departments of political studies and gender studies, said she has noticed some of these influences in the fashion industry locally.

“On campus I see there is more room than there has been in the past for some gender fluidity and for some sexual fluidity too in terms of who your sexual partner is,” Little said.

Changes in the fashion industry don’t necessarily always lead to changes in society, she said, citing the popularity of RuPaul, who became the first drag queen supermodel in the 90s.

Little said models like RuPaul were used to make fashion seem edgy.

“It meant the fashion industry got a new cutting edge, got a new group of people buying clothes,” she said.

But this type of cross-dressing manifests more discretely in most people’s wardrobes.

“Women in my classes are wearing their boyfriend jeans,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they’ve given up their gender identity by doing that. Often you wear something else that makes it clear what gender you’re trying to perform.”

Androgyny in fashion is a novelty, she said.

“It doesn’t have a politics behind it of real inclusiveness,” Little said, adding that she still sees gender polarization in school-age children now more than ever, such as when she takes her six year old daughter to Toys R Us, where the sections are still very much divided by toys appropriate for girls and boys.

“I don’t see gender fluidity for little girls and little boys growing up anymore than I did 10 years ago.”

Despite the fashion industry having little effect on how society treats gender fluidity, Little said she’s still hopeful for the future.

“I like to be hopeful, but I’m amazed by all the anxiety we have ... [with] people holding onto a very polarized notion of gender.”

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