Topic Four - Gender & Identity : LUSENET : Dress, Role & Status : One Thread

How necessary are signs of gender? Where and when do we learn do we learn them most forcefully? How difficult are they to abandon or modify - indeed can it be done? Do you think our society is relaxing gender norms - or are we just experiencing another swing in the cultural/fashion cycle? Are we becoming less judgemental of our own and others' expressions of gender? What might this mean for the future of our cuclture?

-- Anonymous, March 08, 2000


"Right" Image for the right sex - You Decide...

Hello Everyone, I am Charmaine and I will be writing on the topic of Gender and identity in the context of Dress, Role and Status.

The idea of gender and identity is more of our perception of how a male and a female should dress to reflect on their identity in the society. Gender identity is the expectations of a culture of ones gender whether a male or females as appropriate behavior. We learn of our gender and identity since young when we were born and a girl would be dressed in little pink dresses while a boy will be usually clad in blue dungarees or jeans. The gender role in these context helps to differentiate the gender of each and every person and this culture has been carried on for ages and up till now. It is extremely difficult to drop these boundaries and explore into a total different division of dressing or taking up roles that was originally specified for a certain sex. For example, a nurse is normally a role of a woman due to the nature of women being gentle and caring while soldiers were for males because they were originally known to be brave and the stronger sex. However, we cannot presume that there are no male nurses or female soldiers as time has changed and society is beginning to accept the both sexes as equal and has the same capability of doing the same chore.

We question the society and their culture on how their perception of right gender identity may well be wrong. There is also the need of dressing in traditional costumes to carry down a whole line of cultures and the constant reminder of their identity in the ever-changing phase of the world. I think that society is leaving their culture behind and in chasing the high fashions of many couture houses and also putting behind their rich culture and identity.

Sometimes I feel that the society is fast to judge on ones identity through the way it dresses and their image because things has become so superficial and first impressions were an important aspects when it come to gender identity. A woman in a suit would be perceived as powerful and successful while another woman clad in jeans and T-shirt will be known as the faithful housemaker. So where does gender and identity comes in here? I believe its the societys perception of image and the thinking of the right costume for the right event/occupation n portraying a right image for the right job.

P/S: I might be wrong so kindly correct my ideas..:)

-- Anonymous, March 16, 2000

Can someone please help me out by joining this dicussion?

Can someone please help me out by joining this dicussion? :)

-- Anonymous, March 30, 2000


Hi Charmaine, My name is Sarah and I am pleased to join in on your discussion of gender and identity. I hope I'm not too late!!!

I found it interesting your interpretation of clothing as a tool for identifying gender. I wonder if it is a 'help' or indeed a hinderance. I myself are a rather big fan of 'feminity'-skirts and dresses, reds and pinks but I hate the way society forms generalisations about me as a person based upon what I am wearing.

The whole colour association phenomen- blue with rationality and objectivity(boys, and pink with emotion and irrationality(girls), as oulined in Natalie Angier's book, 'Woman An Intimate Geography', is a particularly nasty social construct that has bitten me several times. Just last night for example when my housemate, a male, argued for the second time in a week that males are more objective and rational than females. How did this terribly de-valuing,not to mention false presumption evolve? Probably somewhere around the time when boys were dressed only in blue and girls in pink.

I wonder indeed, in today's 'modern' society, how difficult it is to abandon or at least modify gender norms? I believe, perhaps due to globalisation and the introduction of different cultures to our society that gender boudaries are to some degree, becoming blurred. But to quote Angier again, I believe this is occuring in a 'unidirectional' manner. By this I mean it is okay now for woman to wear pants but it is not okay for men to wear skirts. Just think about it, aside from the Scotsman in their kilts, how many men do you see in skirts? Even if women are wearing pants, etc. they are still being associated with strictly 'female' character traits, (for the record I was wearing jeans and a black shirt when my housemate made his remark).

The text, Human Culture (5th ed) defines gender as, 'the inner sense a person has of being male or female'. An individual's sexuality is one of their most precious gifts. It defines so much of who they are our character traits etc. So therefore, to make general assumptions about one's personality, based upon what they are wearing, to categorise them in this way is to undervalue the complexity and sacredness of sexuality.

Hopefully globalisation, the insight it is providing into different cultures will perform a kind of cultural shake-up and redefinition of gender norms. What do you think?

-- Anonymous, April 05, 2000

The Discovery of One's True Gender and Identity in Society

Hie Sarah. Replying to your message, I agree with your perception of gender and identity in our society and how it can be difficult for society not to judge people through dressing or first impression.

The colour scheme of blue and pink is a perfect example of The one thing that got me interested was the article in this web-site {} where the author said that men and women in their middle age goes through a phase where they would like to change their sex. Is changing sex a form of identity to belong in a society or a simple gender & identity problem that men and women find themselves in a crisis? Could it be that a person was oppressed so heavily against his own sexuality that it took half their life to decide on a transition between sex? I feel that society is quick to judge on people and how they lead their life and among many others, their identity and image as a whole.

Not to be forgotten is the societys expectation of femininity and womens beauty. The obsession of beauty in women is tremendous among men thus creating a misconception of what beauty really means and represent. Long forgotten is the idea of  beauty lies in the eye of beholder but more of what the magazine and media has portrayed beauty through splashes of thin and waif like actresses or famous people who has gone through tremendous diet and fitness program to look way to thin. As what Sarah has put it, males put themselves higher than women and the conception of males as objective and women as rational. Is this just because women are clad in floral skirts while men in dark coloured shirts?

The use of plastic surgery to alter ones feature to look more like a celebrity is becoming more and more popular. We begin to question the identity issue for this matter. Perhaps for many people, altering their features might give them a sense of security and to be accepted in our society. I personally feel that plastic surgery is a form of insecurity and a body torture. However, that is just an opinion.

I was reading through the book The Image Factor - A Guide to Effective Self-Presentation for Career Enhancement by Eleri Samson (Pg. 56). She claims that the right dressing is important for women in their career. The acceptable dress level for women skirt suits, dark colours, matching top and bottom with conservative styling based on a mans Establishment suit. This shows just how much the society still look on to the women as a different identity compared to men and how women is supposed to take over a mans image. I think that living in the 20th century, we need to question the society on what their perception of gender and identity is and how it affects us in our everyday life.

-- Anonymous, April 06, 2000


Hi Charmaine & Sarah, my name is Anne-Maree Morganti and I have joined your discussion as I haven't had any response to what I posted under Topic 3.

I have browsed through the sites both under this topic and topic 3 'Secret's Men Business'. The site that both Charmaine and I have browsed through describes the problem of an individual when anatomical sex does not match gender. To quote from an essay titled 'Gender Identity Disorder: A brief description of the problem' it says that 'most people mistakenly assume our sense of being male or female is defined with absolute certainty by our anatomical sex'. This is the view that I feel traditionally society on a whole takes. An individual that is born male should conform to society's idea of the way men behave and females should be soft and nurturing.

Today I think that some gender norms are being relaxed, it is acceptable for men to have long hair for example. Although if you have a look at the site, you enter a chat room called Tom's Cafi which is used by a lot of men who enjoy wearing women's skirts. Have a look at this site I must admit a couple of the photographs do not detract from the man's masculinity. The opinion here appears to be that it is unacceptable from society's viewpoint for men to wear skirts as nearly all participants talk about the shame & embarrassment these men can expect to feel if they go out in public. My answer on whether or not gender norms are being relaxed is that it depends on the situation.

Charmaine, I agree with Sarah that your interpretation of clothing as a tool to identify gender is interesting. I just wonder how many times you have been out in public and said to yourself, is that person in front of me male or female. So I think therefore your idea is useful to some degree, most of the time you can pick a person's sex but not gender by what the clothes a person is wearing. Today I think society has allowed us to step away from the conformity of what we wear signifying our sex. I find it is becoming more and more acceptable for us to tailor our clothes to our individuality to a point. Most employers these days have a standard of dress that they find acceptable in the workplace and I would think that is a long time in the future before a man wearing a skirt to work is acceptable. Today I find that every aspect of society is being challenged and most of us are less judgemental on expressions of gender. As the world becomes more and more multicultural this influences the society we live in. It is perfectly acceptable for some men to wear skirts without having to deal with the feelings of shame and embarrassment as mentioned above eg in Fiji wear men frequently wear sarongs.

The one aspect of this topic I haven't addressed is where do we learn our signs of gender. If you subscribe to John Money's ideas of gendermaps (discussed at he puts forward that your gender is a function of the brain and is determined before you are born. Your sex is determined by chromosomes at conception. I find this theory has some merit, as is noted in an essay on the aforementioned website, if you raise a male child and a female child in neutral surroundings these children will still display traditional female and male traits. Our parents enforce our idea of gender based on sex which can become problematic if gender and sex do not match. The people an individual interacts with throughout their lives also provide guidance on what is the acceptable way to act. What we learn is hard to undo because it can mean the individual will face ridicule, shame and embarrassment. Traditionally I think people did conform to norms just so that they would not be labelled as a 'freak'. With the relaxing of gender norms by society, I think most people are becoming less judgemental and more accepting of a way of life that allows a person to express themselves. This expression of individuality would traditionally have been seen as unacceptable behaviour.

-- Anonymous, April 10, 2000


Hi Charmaine and Anne-Maree, Thankyou for replying to my entry. You both gave me a great deal to think about, particularly on how gender identity has impacted on equality of the sexes.

Anne-Maree, I think it was you who mentioned in your discussion that the acceptable dress level for women of today is, 'skirt suits, dark colours, matching tops and botttoms with conservative styling based on a man's established suit'. The assumption being made here is that for women to be accepted in the workforce they must dress like a man. This introduces us to a topic that is closely related to gender; identity politics.

Bessant and Watts, in their text, 'Sociology Australia' identify identity politics as a movement that began to evolve in the 1960's. Around this time famous writers like Dale Spender, Germaine Greer and Eva Cox began to challenge the traditional view of Women. Bessant and Watts both conclude their discussion by stating that, 'The women's movement has promoted gender equality'. I would like to challenge this by asking the question of how gender equality has promoted a recognition of women; their characteristics and abilities as being equally as good as, but at the same time different to those of men.

Greer in her recently published novel, 'The Whole Women' writes that 'the career woman of today does not know if she is to do her job like a man or like herself.......Even if it has been real equality would have been a poor subsitute for liberation'. Somewhere in the process of fighting for recognition of their sex women stopped fighting for liberation and settled for equality instead. As a result yes, we do have more women working but under the rules of men. And because of this, instead of being able to dress more as themselves, business women are being made to dress like men.

My point here is relation to the discusssion on identity and gender is that if perhaps women had of redirected their battle towards liberation instead of equality, society would be less quick to judge the individual characteristics of both a male and a female on the way they dress.

The direction of the women's movement towards equality relates to the relationship between conformity and gender norms. Why do we feel we have to dress according to society's established rules on gender code and conduct, and in doing so dress much the same as everybody else? Why does my housemate have this need to make generalisations about female and male character traits?

In concluding my previous entry I asked whether or not Globalisation would perform a kind of 'cultural shakeup', would people through increased exposure to different cultures, feel more free to dress and act outside the established gender norms? I myself, intially thought yes, that this would have to occur, at least to some degree. Now I'm not so sure. Many believe that globalisation should in fact be called 'westernization'. This is because due to the coercive nature of this predominately western-driven economic phenomenen the world is being directed towards an increasingly homogenised world order. One in which we all behave in much the same way. I ask the both of you what impact this, formidable cultural force will have on the liberation of women and men from established gender norms? My fear is that if this does occur, society's perception of gender that we have already had such a battle in changing, will become even more regimented? And gender ignorance, like that of my housemate's will continue to grow and irk me forever.

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2000

Conclusion on Gender & Identity

In reply to Anne-Maree Morgantis discussion, I would like to stress that gender and identity is very much based on societys preconceived ideas of traditional values and upbringing.

The identity politics through many great female writers may also be a way to challenge womens identity in the society. Gender identity for the womankind in our society has been a main issue in the 20th century. The need to be given equal treatment among men and women has caused a furore that the womens movement believes that we have the right to be treated the same way as men. And through this, women strike to work as hard as men to achieve the same recognition and in the dress, role and status context, women tries hard to achieve the same level as men. As an example, consumer products are designed to suit both men and women (i.e. Calvin Kleins perfume).

I agree with Sarah on her idea that women may have directed their battle towards liberation instead of equality. The see themselves hidden behind the so-called soft and feminine side and begin to change themselves as equal to men and liberate their main idea of living in the society.

Status is very important in this world. Most people worked hard to achieve a status they believe is acceptable in the society and women particularly tries hard to achieve a status that men may easily accomplish. A very good example of this would be that women usually get lower salary and less recognition on their efforts at work.

Personally, I also agree with Anne-Maree that society is beginning to accept the different role and status of women and men living together harmoniously. Society is beginning to breakaway from traditional ways of looking at gender and identity and more willing to accept individuality and less judgmental on people based on first impressions. Although this idea has its limit on many aspects, I believe that it is an ever-changing world and soon to be, everyone will be accepted regardless of their identity and gender in the future.

As a conclusion to the topic Gender & Identity in the Dress, Role and Status Context, I believe that my research has made me think of many different factors as to why gender and identity is an ever revolving issues that at times we may never be able to find the right answers.

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2000

Conclusion on Gender & Identity

Hi Sarah & Charmaine, I thought that I would try and summarise some of the isuues we all have brought up in relation to the questions we were set under this topic.

How are necessary are signs of gender? From what I have read it appears to me that signs of gender, eg the way we dress, are the catalyst for how an individual is treated. Charmaine noted that dress is a tool for identifying gender to which both Charmaine and I added the thoughts is this a help or a hindrance and to what degree we can effectively use this tool. For example, the womens liberation is about women being treated different to men due to their femininity. Women want equality, not this differential treatment just because we are perceived by society as the weaker sex. We all seem to agree that to some degree this perceived idea of women being the weaker sex is changing.

Where and When do we learn them the most forcefully? The consensus to this question was that society applys rules and regulations on how members of each gender should behave and dress throughtout our lifetime. As members of this society our parents have passed these conceptions on to us, their children. We all made comments that it is also learnt from within as if we are born with a sense of what gender we are.

How difficult are they to abandon or modify - indeed can it be done?

Traditionally it has proven very difficult to adandon or modify the signs of gender we have learn't. The fear of being different outweighed the need to dress different to the norm. This difficulty also revolves around status and its importance, ie the way we dress can indicate what level an individual can achieve in society.

Do you think our society is relaxing gender norms - or are we just experiencing another swing in the cultural/fashion swing? My interpretation of what the three of us thought on this question is that as the cultural influence in our society increases,fashion changes which is leading to a permanent aceeptability of different fashions for both men and women. Therefore, gradually our gender norms are becoming more relaxed. The final frontier appears to be the workplace, in that this is one environment where gender norms are still very traditional.

Are we becoming less judgemental of our own and others expressions of gender?

As individuals I am pretty confident that we all felt that yes we are becoming less judgemental on expressions of gender and are judging people as individuals rather than how one person fits in with society's preconcieved ideas.

What might this mean for the future? The future appears to be full of questions. The consensus was that globilization is having an affect on society but to what extent this will alter society will depend on how far individuals are willing to test the boundaries.

Charmaine and Sarah, I hope you agree with these conclusions on our discussion but if not (and you have time) please feel free to add/challenge question my interpretations on this topic.

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2000


Hi girls, Thankyou each for your end contributions. I'm not going to give a sumary of the points raised because I think each of you already did a pretty good job of that. Instead, as an end point for this discussion I would like to discuss the necessity of gender norms.

Judging from the range of views presented I don't think signs of gender are necessay. This is for a number of reasons: they are devaluing to the individual and overly generalist. As I explained in my discussion yesterday they have stopped women from success in the workforce. I don't agree with Charmaine that men and women are able to live together happily. This is because Women are still having to live by men's rules. Society is still very patriachal in its strucutral set-up. Until we see more recognition of women through improved workplace policies etc. then I will not change my mind on this matter.

I can't help thinking that if gender constructs hadn't been invented women may have achieved liberation. In their construction gender stereotypes have given men supremacy-they are the ones who are attributed as being strong, more intelligent and rational. Women don't want equality in the way its been achieved. We want to be recognised not only as being 'as good as men' but different too. I don't see how this can be achieved unless society stops relying so much on gender norms in their perception of people.

I don't think that society will ever stop making judgments because as humans it is in our nature to do so. What I do hope is that the way in which we view others will become broader; one in which the person is valued as an individual. The only way I can see this as happening, as ideallic and unrealistic as it may seem, is through the phasing out of gender norms. Only then will society, both men and women truly live contentedly side by side.

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2000

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