Why Androgyny Is Healthy
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Politics and Activism

Why Androgyny Is Healthy

Shifting the conversation from aestheticism to mentality

Why Androgyny Is Healthy
FYSOP Gender Focus

I’m sitting in my class on Gender Negotiations in Chinese Women’s Theatre discussing cross-dressing, gender-bent theatre, and women’s liberation as a consequence of all-female theatre troupes. If you know me at all, this is pretty much as close to heaven as it gets.

At some point in her lecture, my professor makes a distinction between the historically negative views of androgyny in contrast to the more positive notions of androgyny in contemporary academic discourse, which she defines as “a healthy balance of feminine and masculine traits.”

I’ve never heard androgyny described like that before, and it stuck with me for a couple reasons. One, because it opposed all previous dialogue I’ve had with androgyny, by moving the emphasis away from gender expression and the physical manifestations of it and focusing on internal characteristics. And two, because I’ve never thought of androgyny as a solution to oppressive gender roles and gender expectations as opposed to simply a provocation of it.

If a web-search definition of androgyny gives us “partly male and partly female in appearance,” I don’t believe I was alone in my shallow observance of androgyny as just an aesthetic quality, or a surface-level performance. And this is why my professor’s statement was so striking; her definition seemed so simple and yet it disregarded the visible and performative element of gender and instead focused the conversation on a balance between traditionally masculine and feminine thought/behavior. Of course, gendered distinctions of behavior is problematic and dangerous in itself, but I want to focus instead on why it would be beneficial to shift our perception of androgyny from one of aesthetic quality to one of psychological state.

This isn’t a new concept. In the 1970’s, Sandra Bem did a study on “psychological androgyny.” She found that people who took on feminine and masculine personality traits were psychologically healthier than those inhibited by cultural stereotypes and expectations of their gender. They were also more comfortable showing minority opinions and had greater flexibility in approaching situations.

In general, popular discourse still revolves around the external presentations of gender ambiguity instead of appreciating the fluidity of gender and gender roles. But androgyny, in the sense of the latter, is so much more liberating. Too often we let other people’s expectations of our gender dictate how we act and think, and the role we play in society. Personally, I'd like to be able walk into a carpentry workshop and not feel intimidated by the skepticism of men around me, and I’m sure single dads would appreciate having baby changing stations in the men’s bathrooms as well. It’s ridiculous to associate behavior to gender. Women can be logical, men can be gentle. In a male-dominated world, it is healthy for women to take on confidence and assertiveness. And in a world so obsessed with masculine intimidation, making it safer for men to show affection and empathy is a productive step forward.

And I might even go as far as to say that, perhaps if we thought of androgyny not just as a fashion statement but more importantly, a psychological balance, we might be able to lift taboos of sexuality, or untangle internalized gender repression in healthy ways. Perhaps misogynistic stereotyping would be less prevalent, and violence against the trans community as well.

Of course, there is no quick fix. The gender narrative is one that has been internalizing our entire lives. I can’t don't remember a time where I wasn’t aware of my gender. From being the only girl in the "co-ed" elementary school soccer team, to my mother’s obsession with the “unladylike” scars on my body, to every birthday gift I’ve ever gotten from friends and relatives who didn’t really know me and decided barbie dolls and make-up would be their safest bet. These days, I present myself in fairly androgynous ways. I like the fact that I can navigate gender expression and present more masculine some days and more feminine other days. For some, it makes my personality easier to understand, the reasoning being, "if she presents in both masculine and feminine ways, then she must also have masculine and feminine traits." I dress this way because it's what I find comfortable and allows me to feel most confident in my female identity. But we shouldn't need our gender expression to justify our psychological landscape. Not everyone feels the need to push gender binaries with their appearance, but it should come as no contradiction for them to do so in their thinking and behavior instead.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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