19.9.11

Illusions of Gender

'I would rather be handsome for an hour than beautiful for a week' - Tilda Swinton
I gather that androgyny is back in for the new season, this I gather from the catwalk shots of gorgeous, leggy models looking feminine and beautiful in mens' suits, trying to introduce the mass-market to the trend. Even the most feminine, girly woman, these models say, can look beautiful while dressed like a man. I applaud their effort. 
I've been becoming more adventurous with my hair and makeup of late (beauty post to follow) and have opted to create more masculine styles - slicked down, high-buttoned shirt, black skinnies and brogues. A character in Sex and the City, a photographer exhibiting a series of drag photographs of women dressed as men, maintains that gender is just a beautiful illusion.
I do not agree that gender is entirely an illusion when it comes to behaviour, traits and treatment. Whether they like it or not, regardless of how good they are at what they do, an individual is judged first and foremost on their gender, just as (as I said in a previous post) they are defined by their relationship with others, by their interractions with people of the same or opposing gender. Because we are animals, and this is what drives us.
As a result, the option to break out of the norm of how our gender is expected to appear is an incredible amount of fun. Ever since I became interested in the clothes I put on my back I'd play characters. Even on days when I'm slumming around at home I always have a character in mind when I dress, a role I want to express or play through my costume, a part of my mood or personality I want to enhance. But you can generally divide my wardrobe into two looks - masculine, or feminine.
Why do women dress like men? Is it to capture some power? To hide inside a different skin, to be taken seriously? A woman who dresses like a man has one of two options - the 'sexy' look as displayed by, say, the Estee Lauder 'Sensuous' campaign featuring a variety of (long-haired) sex kitten models in unbuttoned mens' shirts (another good example is the current Jigsaw print ad), designed to convey the sense of ownership that comes with a woman wearing her man's clothes, or the 'masculine' look as displayed by Annie. Throw Annie, Tilda Swinton and David Bowie into a pot, give it a shake and they will all come out a muddled mix of what traditional gender appearance is, messing with your perception.
Are women attracted to men who dress like women, and are men attracted to women who dress like men? 
Just once, I'd love to go on a blind date all 'androgynied' up, just to test this. It's just as much fun to dress up in a very feminine dress as it is to wear a suit, and make people look once or twice at what you are. I used to be bullied for looking like 'a man' (as one tactful young gent described it). Getting around it was easy enough - dress like everyone else. But I like that now I can harness the idea, can change how I appear, chameleon-like, that I can take a lifetime of insecurity (a lifetime that will never end as long as identikit Sloaney girls exist to sneer at me) and turn it into an illusion. Part of a costume. And I'm hoping that soon more women will open their minds and embrace this costume. It's a far better fit than a corset.

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