Yes, it was exactly fifty years ago today -- September 9, 1964, that George Leonard walked into Attleboro (MA) High School and made history. His was the first long-hair case to be litigated in court. In his honor, enjoy my original post on the topic.
If you are embarking on research on clothing and gender, I've recently written a bibliographic essay on the topic for the Berg Fashion Library. It is now available online -- for FREE! I tried to provide a solid foundation for anyone new to the topic, and would love to get feedback.
Forgive the lazy post, but it was the first week of classes, I am in the middle of reviewing the page proof for Sex and Unisex, and I am being dogged by three other projects all with deadlines on or around September 15. In the meantime, the news items about dress and gender just won't take a break! Here are a few that distracted me long enough to read, even though there was not time to add commentary.
Rastafarian High School Student Sent Home From School For Ten Days For Having Dreadlocks (ThinkProgress, 9/4/2014)
School Dress Codes: The Funny-Not-Funny Video You Have to See (Soraya Chemaly for the Huffington Post, 9/5/2014)
Hear Us Roar: Finding Feminism in Fashion (Maya Singer for Style.com, 9/5/2014)
Tell Me About It: Boy who likes ‘girl’ things needs guidance, not shame (Carolyn Hax, syndicated, 9/5/2014)
OK, a little bit of commentary. Carolyn Hax's response to the concerned auntie contained brightened my dreary, ink-spattered life.
Unless someone over their shoulders is shaming them back to their side of the gender line (sadly, not a hypothetical one), children will like what they like, and that means that superheroes, bright pink and dinosaurs often live together in harmony in a child’s imagination.
Classes start in two days, I just got home from a blissfully restful week at Star Island (just off the coast of New Hampshire) and look what is waiting for me. The page proof for Sex and Unisex! This is as close to perfect timing as it gets. If you want to pre-order your own copy, just use the link on this page.
Work on Age Appropriate (the working title for book three, on dress, gender and age) is going slowly, as I have an unrelated large project this summer. With school starting around the country, I have also been keeping my antennae out for news about dress codes. I will be giving a paper on the topic at the Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association in November. Stay tuned!
Terrific interview with feminist author Judith Butler, in which she answers the question:
“If “gender” includes the way in which we subjectively experience, contextualize, and communicate our biology, do you think that living in a world without “gender” is possible?”
I couldn't resist, and maybe you couldn't, either. Quizdoo posted a "What is Your True Gender" quiz, and of course I had to take it. Here are my results.
For anyone who knows me, this is hardly surprising. I am not now and never have been a girly girl, but I do like my rom coms and chocolate. My fashion preferences are solid color basics (and lots of them) with a few carefully-selected prints added to relieve the boredom.
So what's the problem with the quiz? (Besides the sad confusion of sex and gender in the title.) If you guessed the hidden binary, you're right! After all, the possibilities are essentially female, male, or a combination of the two. So whoever made up the quiz was visualizing gender as a line with masculinity and femininity as opposites. They do get extra points for recognizing that between the male and female extremes there might be a continuum, but it still perpetuates a binary, oppositional model of masculine and feminine. Fo years ago, psychologist Sandra Bem introduced a new model that, while still based on the gender binary, made much more sense to me.
Instead of a line with femininity and masculinity at either end, she proposed a model with a feminine axis and a masculine axis, creating four quadrants. The upper left quadrant she labelled "feminine" and the lower right, "masculine". The opposite diagonal represents all the people who would end up in the middle of the binary model, but she considered another possibility: some people are neither very masculine nor very feminine ("undifferentiated"), and others might score highly on BOTH measures ("androgynous"). She also developed the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), an instrument designed to measure individuals gender identities and sort them into one of the four axes in her model. (You can take a version of it here.)
My results from the quiz would place me in the middle of the binary model, slightly toward the masculine end. My BSRI results:
"You scored 72.5 out of 100 masculine points, 65.833 out of 100 feminine points, and 58.333 out of 100 androgynous (neutral) points."
locate me in the upper right, "androgynous" quadrant, since I identify fairly strongly with both masculine and feminine traits. The BSR I is hardly the last word. After all, it was created over 40 years ago, and it still retained a skeletal binary framework. But before you take your Quizdoo results too seriously, consider just what a multidimensional wonder each of us is.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: it isn't the signifiers, it's what they signify. OK, I haven't said that before in so many words, but it is the underlying theme in all of my work. The problem is the binary. Humans seem to love catagorical thinking and the gender binary is one of the most powerful set of sorting boxes we have.
The problem is that the boy-girl binary has no basis in science. Even if you only sort babies by their outsides, some will end up as "other". If you add in chromosomal or hormonal analysis, the binary falls apart.
So why reinforce it? Why ENFORCE it? Because doing so is cute/fun/harmless/traditional?
As this article clearly shows, enforcing the binary is far from harmless. For the thousands of intersex individuals surgically reassigned as infants, insinuating on either-or was devastating. It's time to bury the binary.
Although I have been buried in copy edits, the latest media explosion about a transgender child has been a hard story to ignore. Here is the video about 7-year-old Ryland Whittington, which has gone viral:
Here is a very short article about them posted to the "Good Morning, America" website. And here is one of the many (many) negative, judgemental reactions to the video and their story.
One of my (very astute) former students nudged me on Twitter, wondering about my stake on the story. As I am fond of pointing out, I am a historian, not a psychologist. I am going to take the lazy way out and post a long quote from the last chapter of my book.
So what's all this about a second book? Yes, I am about halfway through the copy edits on my second book on gender and clothing, which means you can expect to be able to pre-order it from Indiana University Press sometime this fall.
Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism and the Sexual Revolution grew out of the last two chapters of Pink and Blue, particularly the one on unisex clothing of the late sixties through the mid-1980s. I was puzzled by how that period seemed to be headed in one direction, but then suddenly reversed course. In 1970, designer Rudi Gernreich was predicting miniskirts and caftans for everyone, and a futurist author was declaring the death of the gray flannel suit. But by 1980, preppy was all the rage and not only were men still wearing suits, but women were wearing them as well.
My research began there, and led me in what seemed like a hundred different directions. Eventually, I ended up considering the present, because so much of our current cultural landscape is unfinished business from the 1970s. Along the way, there are chapters on
It was great fun to research, and more than a little confusing to write, and I am looking forward to the reaction when it comes out later this year!