Beyond Masculine and Feminine: Gender Non-Conformity and the Evolution of Gender-Appropriate Clothing

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Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


From the moment we are born, we are put into categories of gender: either boy or girl, man or woman. Throughout our lives we are expected to perform these genders appropriately, according to what society has established as “normal”. Because of this, inappropriate displays of gender are often seen as abnormal and deviant, especially when done by males (Nielsen et al. 2000; Kane 2006; Edwards 2010). This paper explores the notions of gender fluidity and gender non-conformity, and how they are perceived by our society. Through informal interviews and surveys conducted at a small liberal arts college in southern California, and drawing on my own experience as a person who often disobeys traditional gender norms, I gathered information as to what students’ ideas are concerning traditional masculine and feminine gender roles and gender non-conformity, and whether factors such as religion and ethnicity influence these beliefs. My research indicates that, while some students still hold traditional views on gender roles, many are more open-minded in regards to what they consider appropriate for men and women. More than half of the students, for example, responded that wearing makeup and nail polish was ok for men, and that being a mechanic or a construction worker was appropriate for women. On the other hand, there are others who still hold that playing with Barbie dolls is only appropriate for girls, and that football is only for boys and men. Nevertheless, most of the responses appear to be very positive in terms of tolerance and acceptance of different gender expressions, with a majority of them upholding that men and women should be able to behave and dress however they feel most comfortable, regardless of their gender.


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