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The Ideal (Wo)Man: Part Two

April 25th, 2011

Androgyny, in a Western context, relates more to women and their subjugation by patriarchal systems of power. Tracing a few moments in history will exemplify this point before switching over to a discussion of the “sexiness” (Garber 233) in alternative vein of androgyny.  In ancient Greek and Roman society, those androgynous figures, as illustrated through hermaphroditic bodies, were considered genetic “monsters” (Brisson 2).  In ancient Greek and Roman society, sex was pivotal in defining which gender role a person belonged to as that determined “above all, status in society” (Brisson 3).  Thus, to occupy both sexes, and therefore both genders in an ambiguous body, meant that such an individual was in effect cancelled out or in possession of neither, rendering him/her reproductively (and socially) worthless. Such biological mishaps were interpreted by these societies “as foreboding signs sent to human beings by the gods to manifest their anger or announce the destruction of the human race” (Brisson 2).  In short, they were the so-called harbingers of doom.  Also, curiously, the word ‘androgyne’ was employed to scorn cowardly men on the battlefield (Brisson 61), as an affront to their masculinity.  Yet, Greek society in particular presents contradictions.  Women “who challenged the institution of marriage [were] forced into the direction of warfare,” (Brisson 61) whereupon they became warriors.  Furthermore, aside from transitory cross-dressing traditions, Greek men schooled young boys in the social practice of sexual arts, to learn “how to enjoy the pleasures of life in the right way and with correct moderation” (Brisson 65) in a sort of regulated homosexuality for educational purposes, not just for the sake of pleasurable debauchery.

The Renaissance period in England features the same sort of restraint of women and the feminine.  Men in power penned moralistic literature and pamphlets with the aim of “castigating women” (Henderson & McManus 17) who did not assume conventional, submissive feminine behavior, and even more crucially, dress.  They turned to classical and biblical figures of yore, from masculine directed texts, like the Bible, to depict women as weak-willed, meddling Eves and Pandoras.  One influential writing, Hic Mulier, The Man-Woman, derides mannish costuming for females as “an outward sign of woman’s attempt to usurp masculine aggressiveness, authority and sexual freedom” (Henderson & McManus 8), which demonstrates that men authored these pamphlets out of fear of shifts in power.  By maintaining crisp delineations, the patriarchal balance could remain unquestioned.  Manly women and womanly men were met with extreme distaste.  Playful androgyny was unacceptable because for Renaissance thinking, and during other periods in Western history for that matter, “in a truly ordered society men and women accept entirely different roles (of which clothes are the symbol)” (Henderson & McManus 52). Such androgynous flip-flopping only shows that the assignment of such roles is random and would thus potentially awaken pandemonium.

Later, around the 17th century, when exploration to foreign and tropical lands became increasingly popular, apes fascinated explorers.  These men returned with detailed accounts of “rude, lascivious” (Schiebinger 99) male apes in contrast to the female apes who “were distinguished by their very great modesty” (Schiebinger 99).  According to reports, female apes hid their faces and their “secret parts” (Schiebinger 99) from the men and displayed highly emotional human sentiments.  This type of portrayal became popular among naturalists to convey such “ideals for middle-class European women” (Schiebinger 99).  Madame Chimpanzee, who arrived in London in 1783, manifests the zenith of these ideals.  Reports circulated that she grew attached to a man on board and covered herself, expressing “‘great Discontent’” when the gown was taken off her.  London Magazine declared her formed “‘in every Part like a Woman except… [her] Head” (Schiebinger 99) and she had the very best of table manners reportedly.  Associating human behavior with primates seems appropriate given our genetic bond but these accounts possess a certain amount of ludicrousness in the manner in which they venerate behavioral characteristics for female apes and female humans.  Another technique to uphold gender stereotypes of the savage, robust and competitive male and the controlled, timid and demure female, and other such distinctions is kept in order by whom else? The masculine system of power.

Once, men and women partook fashion with more ease and equality.  Although they still share fashion in a general sense – because everyone has fashion – “truly ‘unisex’ fashion is rare (Eroticism 25), historically, since the 17th and 18th century (Wilson 117), fashion delineates the genders. The sartorial domain is the feminine domain. When it comes to modern androgyny, women can adapt male ornamentation with the clarification that they “do not attempt to disguise their biological sex” (Hegland 181) but with males, the allowances are even more restricted.  Men who adopt feminine dress “are viewed – at best – as humorous and peculiar, and – at worst – as an abomination” (Hegland 181).  Female engagement in androgyny throughout history has aroused ire, but now as permissions in gender roles slide, dress codes become comparatively more relaxed in regards to formality and women.  For men, such investment is never appropriate, and “any deviation from conventional male attire is viewed with great unease” (Arnold 111) because that anomalous behavior calls masculinity into question, and “within a strictly patriarchal society threatens the existing balance of power” (Arnold 111).  Attendance to male clothing, then, is appropriate only within a few settings “where it can be read as a sign of duty, discipline and devotion to a just cause” (Arnold 114).  Men simply do not need androgyny. By engaging in androgyny, they relinquish their power.  The effeminate man has been detailed in a past blog entry.  Two of the examples of the effeminate man stand out, however.  Glam and Goth bestow interesting insight into the effeminate man because they show that when men do engage in androgyny, they do so more for the sake of theatricality than power.  Robert Smith, lead singer of The Cure, incorporated an “unashamed and deliberate display of androgyny” (Geryhalter 219) into his brooding look.  Yet such posturing was “remarkably unconventional, even for the music business” (Geryhalter 219) where most cases of androgyny can be found in eccentric performers including David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Prince, Boy George and others. Androgyny, like fashion, rests in the feminine domain.

In real application, androgyny is not so much a fissure of two halves, but a chance for women to perform the male; it is the only opportunity for women to gain power and it is wholly one-sided. Truthfully, androgyny does not dismiss gender conventions, though it might revise them in that the female can acceptably occupy the masculine dress in order to assert limited dominance.  Today, the business woman “declares symbolic allegiance to the professional, white, male world” by “playing ‘male’ (almost always with a softening touch to establish traditional female decorativeness” (Jacobus et al. 104-5) so that she not frighten her male co-worker with any “serious competition (symbolically, that is)” (Jacobus et al. 104-5).  For women toying with the masculine indicates liberation “from a reproductive destiny and a construction of femininity seen as constraining and suffocating (Jacobus et al. 105).  Anyway, the woman in shoulder pads with cropped hair more likely, or more regularly, exists in everyday life than the man in silver spandex with a full face of make-up. One flirts around and into the accepted mainstream while the other inhabits the subversive peripheries of anti-fashion subcultures. Androgyny is not about finding egalitarian footing in society between the genders. Rather, it is about accepting that one must assume the masculine to gain control.

Judith Halberstam explores the inequities of such masculinized appearances in women in her book, Female Masculinity.  She perceives the arbitrary disparities in tomboyism.  Just as past cultures and communities practiced ritualized and transient cross-dressing, parents tend to overlook tomboyism, “an extended childhood period of female masculinity,” (Halberstam 5) as a natural, benign phase in a little girl’s life.  Halberstam associates tomboyism with female androgyny “as a sign of independence and self-motivation” (5), or, in other words, young girls openly desiring the same assertion and agency that other young boys command.  However, parents punish this conduct either when the child carries the gender confusion to extremes, like “taking a boy’s name or refusing girl clothing of any type” (Halberstam 6) or when the youth “threatens to extend [tomboyism] beyond childhood and into adolescence” (Halberstam 6) instead of rebuking the routine in place of more ‘fitting’ feminine comportment.  To Halberstam, the age of adolescence for girls is critical and conveys “the crisis of coming of age as a girl in a male-dominated society” rather than a celebratory rite of passage, as reserved for boys and venerated by men in literature as a great ascension to dominance. On the contrary, female “adolescence is a lesson in restraint, punishment, and repression” (Halberstam 6).  As Halberstam argues, gender conditioning commences in infancy, immediately after the child is born.  Yet, Halberstam claims that femininity requires intensive costuming and illusion, whereas “it is relatively difficult to not appear masculine (28).  Her assertion presents, problematically, that femininity is easy to impersonate but masculinity is the natural state of being.  Apparently, femininity is a state of smoke and mirrors, negotiating artificialities.

Carrie Paechter of “Masculine femininities/ Feminine Masculinities: Power, Identities, and Gender” finds gender terminology troublesome since people have a mutual “inability to define either masculinity or femininity except in relation to each other and to men and women” (254).  According to Paechter, humans attribute masculine and feminine traits on a broad, generalized continuum without considering such attributes on a smaller scale, where behaviors are more likely to be fractured and individualistic (255).  Moreover, masculinity is the practice of enacting manhood while “femininity is the Other of that” (Paechter 254), which explains why neither unisex androgyny nor male/female androgyny ever work.  Femininity is “constructed as a variety of negations of the masculine” (Paechter 256), it is not a free and independent entity because it refers to the subordinate state, “a lack, an absence of masculinity” (Paechter 256) without equality between the masculine and feminine characteristics, androgyny is nearly impervious.  Thanks to the formation of gender, the woman is bracketed to the man. She remains secondary as she must inhabit the feminine and not the masculine on a wholly meaningless basis but she upholds a twisted authority in a self-denigrating way in that “man must have woman to make sense” (Paechter 257). Returning to the model of Fausto-Sterling’s five sexes, the pure hermaphrodite is rare, but the gradations of male/female pseudohermaphrodites proliferate on the sex schema.  Similarly, pure androgyny is a fanciful concept filled with delusions of gender equality.  No unisex androgyne can live for sure and the male/female gender bricolage surfaces in unstable, fickle waves.   People fail to acknowledge it, but the androgynous is present and has existed throughout history.  As Paechter states:

“Once we understand that not all masculinities are entirely masculine, or femininities feminine, we may be able to think of ourselves as humans who construct our identities in various ways, some of which are related to ideal typical forms of masculinity and femininity, and some of which are not.” (262)

Sometimes a drag queen might mimic the images and actions of femininity more astutely than a natural-born female, and the same holds true for drag kings and natural-born males. Freud suggested that for women “a residue of the masculine survives (and in all men something of the feminine)” (Wilson 120), gender writes people in absolutes. Rarely do people consider themselves and others on a human level.  They notice all the minute differences.  We are trained to classify and rank from the very beginning, and we are reinforced and rewarded by mainstream society for our efforts.

Sharp lines, tailoring and bifurcated garments personify the masculine woman.  Woman seized the suit around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. During the 1920s, spirits and hemlines ran high.  The young, especially the young women, rejoiced in a “revolution of morality” (Tortora & Eubank 449) and amended the code of proper conduct for women, along with its wardrobe.  Women of the twenties revealed their legs or covered them with pants.  Previous attempts “had utilized bloomers, which were cut differently from a man’s trousers” (Tortora & Eubank 449) but now women donned those assembled like men’s.  For one of the first times in fashion history, women cut their hair short like men and aspired to look like adolescent boys, although it should be noted that these flappers delighted in heavily applied rouge and lipstick as well as dresses.  Nevertheless, a notably vivacious, effervescent play with gender began in this decade. Women idolized the physiques of gangly, prepubescent boys.  James Laver of Costume and Fashion: A Concise History declares that “there was now nothing to distinguish a young woman from a school boy except perhaps her rouged lips and penciled eyebrows” (233), yet this description renders the female wearer not with an androgynous authority, since they appear more like boys than full-grown men, but with more of a whisper of subversive sexuality. They aspire “to inscribe masculine power upon the female body” (Arnold 122), however, these women are no threat to men in their sartorial display with the bodies they intend to echo.

For the woman in a suit, though, that incendiary sexuality is heightened.   Indeed, Valerie Steele remarks upon the Freudian symbolism behind many articles of clothing in Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age. For instance, the necktie, along with several other aspects of the suit represents the phallus (Eroticism 25), which makes the masculine woman a masquerader according to the mainstream.  She has an uncomfortable sexuality.  Anne Hollander in Sex and Suits declares that the women of the 1920s “resemble dashing youths or cheeky urchins” (145), which imparted freedom and autonomy for the wearer. The level of androgyny depends upon the fit of the suit: whether the suit emphasizes the feminine shape or whether it fits like a man and resembles more of an attempt at hetero-normative cross-dressing.  The more the suit proclaims the woman openly, the more it elicits a heterosexual reading of desire whereas the closer it ventures toward concealing the woman totally, the nearer it steps toward a homosexual reading of desire.  Androgyny oscillates in the distance between the two. Androgyny, somehow consequently, as Garber observes, gets “conflated and confused with bisexuality” (207) because it inhabits the realm of duality and opposites.

But to Hollander, women wearing such conventional male garb, including “tuxedos or tailored pants-suits with neckties, still give off the old flavor of female provocation” (171) hunting and competing for male attention.  Finally, in the Seventies, “trousers were really accepted as female apparel” (Fifty Years 88) in any domain, informal or formal, probably a reflection of the popularity of women’s liberation movements.  Pants, during this period, rivaled the long-standing popularity of the dress, sales in France in 1971 demonstrated that the number of pants sold spiked from eleven to fourteen million where the number of dresses sold declined form eighteen to fifteen million” (Fifty Years 87).  Scholars argue whether or not the androgynous form continued into the Eighties.  Steele contends that it does in Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now when she identifies the decade’s fascination with the naturally toned and athletic body that “was characterized by broad shoulders, muscular arms, narrow hips, hard buttocks, and a flat stomach” (124), most of which are features generally assigned to the masculine build.  Over the last century, women’s clothes have updated and modernized, which “has meant copying men’s clothes, directly or indirectly” (Hollander 181) for their own consumption. Now, with a new century underway, men are acquiring fashion habits from women, although most of what they are reformatting are “simply male trappings” (Hollander 182), such as earrings and long hair, which had gone extinct for male use.  Hollander disputes the association to androgyny, though, by arguing that “trousers and tailoring and short hair are now wholly female in themselves, and women wearing them no longer look masculine” (182) since the practice has become so ritualized.  She believes that women dictated “the total male scheme of dress, modified it to suit themselves, and…handed it back to men” (Hollander 182) with the chance for new reinterpretations, though she doubts that “ancient Western female effects” (Hollander 182), like veils or billowy skirts, will come into vogue for men, at least any time in the foreseeable future.  In the last century women have profited from the opportunity to express themselves and rebel through dress, though the exact details become complicated by notions of performance, purpose and sexuality.

From a careful analysis of androgyny, it appears that the term does exist but not in a completely formed and faultless standardization.  Unisex androgyny furnishes the best possible literal definition, but it has no place in concrete reality.  Male/female gender bricolage androgyny, then, is perhaps the closest humans can reach to sartorial articulations of androgyny, but the balance is off, rarely can men access androgyny whereas women are well versed on the subject.  Androgyny often confounds investigation in that each man and woman somehow embodies it to varying degrees, but no clear model has been set and many instances seem geared more toward the masculine or more toward the feminine rather than balanced between the two. Then again, androgyny excels in its threatening harmony; it exposes the fragility of gender. But, let’s be honest, even if it worked flawlessly, androgyny only takes gender out of the equation, and other factors like race and class, that are much less readily obscured, remain subject to human classification.  As scholar Elizabeth Wilson notes, “Human beings, however, are not natural. They do not live primarily by instinct. They live in socially constructed cultures” (234). Plus, it is highly probable that even if androgyny is successfully implemented in place of the male/female blueprint, we would in all likelihood invent a series of gradations along that androgynous spectrum anyway.  And why? Because differences create power for a few to control the rest. Yet, androgyny is an undeliverable promise worth the time.  Paechter notes that if we can stop thinking in limited gender terminology, “we will free ourselves…from binary conceptions of masculinity and femininity that constrain both what we can think and who we can be” (262).  Decentralizing gender from human consciousness might take our minds off of nonsensical and unattainable opposites and allow us to see the reality we are afraid to confront: most humans are androgynous (to some extent). What all humans are not though, are static translations of gender.

Works Cited:

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Arnold, Rebecca. Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th Century. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Brisson, Luc. Sexual Ambivalence: Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. Trans Janet Lloyd.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Craik, Jennifer. Uniforms Exposed: From Conformity to Transgression. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough.” Sexualities: Identities, Behaviors, and Society.  Ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Rebecca F. Plante.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Garber, Marjorie. Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Geyrhalter, Thomas. “Effeminacy, camp and sexual subversion in rock: The Cure and Suede.” Popular Music, Vol 15 No 2 (May 1996) pg. 217-224. Cambridge University Press. <>

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Hegland, Jane E. “Drag Queens, Transvestites, Transsexuals: Stepping across the Accepted Boundaries of Gender.” The Meaning of Dress. Ed. Mary Lynn Damhorst, Kimberly A. Miller-Spillman, Susan O. Michelman. New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc, 2005. 180-8.

Henderson, Katherine Usher and Barbara F. McManus. Half Humankind: Contexts & Texts of the Controversy about Women in England 1540-1640. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Hollander, Anne. Sex and Suits. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Jacobus, Mary and Evelyn Fox Keller and Sally Shuttleworth. Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Joseph, Nathan. Uniforms and Nonuniforms: Communication through Clothing. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Krishnaraj, Maithreyi. “Androgyny: An Alternative to Gender Polarity?” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol 31, No 16/17, April 20-27 1996. 18 April 2011. pg WS9-WS14, Economic and Political Weekly. <>.

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Meeks, Wayne. “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity.” History of Religions. Vol 13, No 3, February 1974. 18 April 2011. pg 165-208, The University of Chicago Press. <>.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Paechter, Carrie. “Masculine Femininities/Feminine Masculinities: Power, Identities and Gender.” Gender & Education. Vol 18, No 3. May 2006. 18 April 2011. pg 253-263, Education Research Complete. Web.

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Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

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The Ideal (Wo)Man: Part One

April 25th, 2011

“Since wearers interact with a variety of others, their clothing becomes a complicated communication channel bearing many simultaneous messages, like a modern telephone cable, to individuals in their role sets.  Complications ensue.” (152)

-Nathan Joseph, Uniforms and Nonuniforms: Communication through Clothing

Androgyny, or so it seems to me, at least of the course of this semester, is an unstable, slippery term that eludes standardized definition.  And why? Well, largely because androgyny relies upon cultural concepts of gender, so it varies in concept and execution according to time and place.  The Oxford Dictionaries Online, referenced in one of my previous blog entries, cites androgyny “as partly male and partly female in appearance; of an indeterminate sex,” (“Androgyny”) which given its fluctuating quality, sums up the term succinctly.  The exact formula of general androgyny is indeterminate.  In theory, as the term suggests, androgyny should be equally half man and half woman from the literal combination of “andro” referring to the man and “gyny” referring to the woman.  In actuality, though, it seems easier and less hazardous to simply define, as I prefer in my own words, androgyny as a mingling of the two dominant genders, by which I mean ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in the Western sense. Locking androgyny to the body is a mistake because androgyny relates more to the performance of gender than the biology of sex.  Androgyny manipulates sex. Furthermore, the specifics of androgyny get tangled between two distinct approaches.  On one hand, the unisex provides a total merging, or even erasure, of genders, and on the other, the gender bricolage embodies a more playful, haphazard mentality. Problematically though, each mode supplies access to the androgyne but fails to quite reach the exact equilibrium. In this paper, or two-part blog entry, I intend to discuss both courses and determine the respective strengths and weaknesses through a fashion history perspective while also introducing outside disciplines, and then eventually conclude upon their relevance within contemporary society and explain why at least attempting or even acknowledging androgyny is worth the possibly self-defeating effort.

Although, as Marjorie Garber notes, the hermaphrodite relates to sexuality where as the androgyne represents gender (208), or the body and the performance of the body, the mention of biology is useful in a discussion of androgyny.  The unisex androgyne seeks to fulfill that hermaphroditic ideal, or rather link an ideology with the physicality. After all, “the hermaphrodite presents insignia of maleness and femaleness at once,” (Garber 208) in perfect biological harmony.  Essentially, the hermaphrodite “possesses one testis and one ovary” (Fausto-Sterling 39), though the exact frequency of hermaphroditism is difficult to determine since many doctors alter the ambiguously gendered infant upon birth so that the children “can slip quietly into society as ‘normal’ heterosexual males or females” (Fausto-Sterling 40) in what is seen as a “genuinely humanitarian” (Fausto-Sterling 40).  For true hermaphrodites, the opposing sex organs grow independently but bilaterally and create “an ovo-testis” (Fausto-Sterling 40), where in theory alone the pure hermaphrodite could father (and mother?) a child but more commonly, “the appropriate ducts and tubes are not configured” (Fausto-Sterling 40) so that the appropriate ingredients, the egg and sperm, can combine.

Additionally, Fausto-Sterling documents that pseudohermaphrodites, who lean toward embodying one of the conventional sexes with the underdeveloped aspects of the other sex (40), are much more prevalent than true hermaphrodites.  Ruth K. Westheimer and Sanford Lopeater of the Human Sexuality: A Psychosocial Perspective observe that humans tend to focus upon the “anatomical differences between men and women” (95) rather than distinguishing their striking similarities. In fact, they report that “no large, consistent differences have been found in the gross anatomical structures of the brains of men and women” (Westheimer & Lopeater 100) along with other physiological correspondences. Their assertion shows that people gravitate toward considering other bodies strictly in connection to their sex organs, and thus, their discrepancies. But the disparities do not really mean half as much “until social practices transform them into social facts” (Lorber 576) that cloud vision and separate the man and woman from the human. However, as Judith Lorber points out in “Believing is Seeing: Biology as Ideology,” in the physicals conducted among athletes more doctors more often find “significant within-group differences than between-group differences” (571). Humans see the gender constructed and rendered in appearance and action in order to deduce the sex.  We operate on a level of biological primacy and mating, and distinctions like fashion, which symbolically function as a signifier of gender, aid in distinguishing reproductive partners.

So, how does the hermaphrodite connect to the unisex androgyne then? Well, Maithreyi Krishnaraj argues in “Androgyny: An Alternative to Gender Polarity?” that “the primary identity of a person in a human society is gender” (9), which social interaction fixes early in childhood. Androgyny functions as a way “to overcome the conventional typecasting of each gender” (Krishnaraj 10), and the unisex androgyne embraces a fissure of the sexes, therefore it is an ideal that bolts itself to the physical.  The unisex androgyne has a historical association as “an enduring religious symbol” (O’Flaherty 283) and constructs its philosophy on highly spiritual terms “as a creature simultaneously male and female in physical form” (O’Flaherty 283).  Within early Christianity, the androgyne illustrated the opportunity for a “reunified mankind” (Meeks 166) with “the unification of opposites” (Meeks 165), thereby bringing people closer to a state of divine salvation.  Two would become one in a state of transcendent symmetry nearer to God as one complete and perfect being rather than separate halves.  Concepts become slippery here, though, because the ascetic ethos fortifies itself in the quest for the immaculate anatomy in order to eclipse human imperfection while jointly disregarding the physical self as “itinerant” (Meeks 196) and comparatively inferior to the final divine union with God.

Yet the prospect of nirvana appears troublesome and skewed toward the masculine image, since Adam was the original being sketched from Imago Dei, and Eve merely plucked from Adam’s body.  In any case, the unisex androgyne straddles boundaries in a purgatory state.  Many cultures throughout history, such as the ancient Greeks and Christians, have engaged in brief, experimental ceremonies of cross-dressing in order to better understand the gendered role of the opposite sex, and thus, perform their role with accuracy.  The unisex androgyne best epitomizes the truly “liminal figures” (O’Flaherty 284) poised between the genders, such as the eunuch, because “…true androgynes have no erotic possibilities” (O’Flaherty 291) they rejoice in the sexual merging of the male and female yet aim to strip it of its sexual emblems like temporal stains.

Moreover, many of these same scholars that concentrate upon notions of the unisex androgyne are quick to diagnose the trouble with such a model.  Krishnaraj, for example, agrees that the marriage of the masculine and feminine components can achieve a “psychic unity” (11) but the “unisex limbo” (13) of the male/female body misguides since the androgynous asserts “that to define attributes as masculine or feminine is wrong because these traits are found in both sexes in varying degrees” (13). In physical traits alone this holds true: female supermodels, the supposed contemporary epitome of beauty, are admired for their chiseled bone structure and svelte, willowy physiques while their male counterparts are esteemed for their pouting lips or doe eyes framed by enviably long eyelashes. Indeed, Fausto-Sterling supports this belief when she argues that five sexes, at the very least, rest upon the spectrum of the human body and sexuality.  She rules that “hermaphrodites have unruly bodies” (Fausto-Sterling 43) in the way that they evade “binary classification” (43).  Yet, the pseudohermaphroditic body is more prevalent and grounded in its subversive inequalities toward a particular sex.

One of the main problems with the unisex androgyne revolves around the point that it observes gender similarly to the current gender dichotomy: it endeavors for one definitive idea, rejecting all other possible definitions.  Unisex androgyny ignores, as Fausto-Sterling suggests, that sex comes in multiple, indeterminate “gradations running from female to male” (39) in favor of one body, one image and one performance.  Garber also derides the unisex “exalted state of being” (207).  She claims that this symbol of presumed wholeness centralizes around a utopian “snare and delusion” (215) supported by psychologists such as Carl Jung who made androgyny “a vacuous term which…fails to represent the richness of being” (217) because it celebrates the archetype and not the reality of humanness.  Such androgyny, according to Garber, invents a hierarchical division between good and bad androgyny, or the “spiritual, mythic, ‘archetypal,’ and productive of intrapsychic oneness” (218) and the “physical, sexy, and disturbing…which was likely to lead to bisexuality and group sex…” (218). Such fears have more to do with human sexuality it appears than human gender.  By denying gender, they deny sexuality. This type of highbrow, proselytized androgyny does not celebrate liberation and diversification of sexuality and gender, it condemns it.  The unisex androgyne paradoxically latches onto the biological aspects of the body in order to fuse, or more appropriately nullify such distinctions to enact a performance of genderlessness that conveys sexlessness.

Most importantly, even though the unisex androgyne is obsessed with the body, almost to the extent of puritanical devotion, in practice it simply does not work. This branch of androgyny bases itself in thought and subsists in “the thin, flowing, sexless bodies” (Sontag 4) of art, religion, philosophy and other ethereal –isms and –ologies. Such immaculate bodies do not exist, and fashion can testify to that accusation.  Unisex androgyne is a state affiliated to the past, “today androgyny has ceased to be sacred” (Wilson 122), and contemporary fashion values androgyny for its sexualized, playful possibilities. However, the best case of the failure of unisex lies in uniforms and other utilitarian garments. Fred Davis refers to the Utilitarian Outrage movement within fashion in his book, Fashion, Culture and Identity, which “castigates the wastefulness, frivolity, impracticality and vanity associated with fashion” (168) and proposes modular or surplice dressing as an alternative to “the vanities of egotistic dress and adornment” (168).  Such an approach would appeal also to the feminist protest against fashion, which begets an “unending succession of styles” (Davis 175) for women as designed by men to reinforce traditional female roles.  In theory, such dress would equalize the genders and help the buyer save money as the same garment can be converted for wear for all seasons.  Despite these positive factors, utilitarian dress never caught on, probably because consumer investment in fashion is compelled by novelty.  Elizabeth Wilson, in Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity, observes that the inherent purpose in “dress is never primarily functional, and…certainly not natural” (244); people do not approach clothing from the stance of efficiency and economy because the basis of dress relies on fantasy. But, even if such a utilitarian mentality caught on in the marketplace, it could in no way result in a unisex androgyne fantasy. Firstly, gender distinctions function pragmatically in the sense of sexual interest.  Without attraction there is no repopulation, and the unisex androgyne body seeks the airier pursuit of celestial sexlessness expressed through a kind of castrated gender over the carnal and the pleasurable.  Secondly, there’s no way that such dress could effectively mask the true form of the male and female figures.  Simply put, a man and a woman enrobed in the same cloth have different bulges and concavities.  For practical reasons alone, unisex androgyny does not work.

Furthermore, uniforms, maybe the most standardized apparel possible, struggle in balancing the genders.  Policewomen’s uniforms, for instance, “tried to neuter the women” (Craik 87) mostly out of fear of provoking “connotations of sex and sensuality” (Craik 87), and in fact, many sexually charged items, such as cosmetics, jewelry and undergarments are strictly taboo.  Moreover, female police officers are often required to wear culottes rather than pants like their male counterparts, which places them in an ambiguous sartorial limbo.  The culottes index them “as neither male (not quite trousers) nor female (not quite a skirt),” (Craik 88), but in any case, the women are still treated uneasily in a field traditionally designated for men.  It’s hard to take the ‘sex’ out of unisex.  Paradoxically, such unisex fashion calls attention to the body and its sexual discrepancies. Uniforms appear to be the route to exact the militant demarcation of the unisex androgyne, but in actuality, they are dysfunctional, and our gender binary does not allow it. As Jennifer Craik asks in Uniforms Exposed: From Conformity to Transgression “do people wear uniforms or do uniforms wear people?” (7), the question appears evident: the choice to wear a garment is ours, but we cannot control how others read our bodies.  And no matter how much we bind our bodies, shear our hair or paint our faces, our bodies will not and cannot be identical replicas, at least not without the aid of some sort of surgery. We are different, and clothing highlights that distinction, although clothing alone does not imply that we should treat each other so; humans have devised such signs and symbols to deprive marked or othered bodies of their humanity.

Works Cited:

“Androgynous.” Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. 15 March 2011. <>.

Arnold, Rebecca. Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th Century. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Brisson, Luc. Sexual Ambivalence: Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. Trans Janet Lloyd.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Craik, Jennifer. Uniforms Exposed: From Conformity to Transgression. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough.” Sexualities: Identities, Behaviors, and Society.  Ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Rebecca F. Plante.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Garber, Marjorie. Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Geyrhalter, Thomas. “Effeminacy, camp and sexual subversion in rock: The Cure and Suede.” Popular Music, Vol 15 No 2 (May 1996) pg. 217-224. Cambridge University Press. <>

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Hegland, Jane E. “Drag Queens, Transvestites, Transsexuals: Stepping across the Accepted Boundaries of Gender.” The Meaning of Dress. Ed. Mary Lynn Damhorst, Kimberly A. Miller-Spillman, Susan O. Michelman. New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc, 2005. 180-8.

Henderson, Katherine Usher and Barbara F. McManus. Half Humankind: Contexts & Texts of the Controversy about Women in England 1540-1640. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Hollander, Anne. Sex and Suits. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Jacobus, Mary and Evelyn Fox Keller and Sally Shuttleworth. Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Joseph, Nathan. Uniforms and Nonuniforms: Communication through Clothing. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Krishnaraj, Maithreyi. “Androgyny: An Alternative to Gender Polarity?” Economic and Political Weekly. Vol 31, No 16/17, April 20-27 1996. 18 April 2011. pg WS9-WS14, Economic and Political Weekly. <>.

Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 2002.

Lorber, Judith. “Believing is seeing: Biology as Ideology.” Gender and Society. Vol 7 No 4, December 1993. 18 April 2011. pg. 568-81, Sage Publications. <>.

Meeks, Wayne. “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity.” History of Religions. Vol 13, No 3, February 1974. 18 April 2011. pg 165-208, The University of Chicago Press. <>.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Paechter, Carrie. “Masculine Femininities/Feminine Masculinities: Power, Identities and Gender.” Gender & Education. Vol 18, No 3. May 2006. 18 April 2011. pg 253-263, Education Research Complete. Web.

Schiebinger, Londa. Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.

Sontag, Susan. “Notes on ‘Camp’.” 18 April 2011. <>.

Steele, Valerie. Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank.  Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress.  5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010.

Westheimer, Ruth K. and Sanford Lopater. Human Sexuality: A Psychosocial Perspective.  2nd ed. Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2005.

Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Image Credits:

“Brazilian Women in Uniform.” Photo. 16 October 2011. <>

“Hermaphrodite.” Engraving. c. 1690. 23 February 2009. 24 April 2011. <>

“Man, Woman and Bird.” Painting. 13 January 2008. 24 April 2011. <>

“Marilyn Manson.” Photo. 13 January 2011. 24 April 2011. <>

“Marilyn Manson in Concert.” Photo. 1997. 24 April 2011. <>

“The Hermetic Androgyne.” Painting. Late 17th Century.  14 April 2011. 24 April 2011. <>

“US Navy Service Uniforms.” Photo. 4 October 2009. 24 April 2011. <>

“Woman in Suit.” Photograph. 27 November 2010. 24 April 2011. <>

da Vinci, Leonardo. “Vitruvian Man.” Drawing. 24 April 2011. <>

Lavesvre, Jean-Noel. “Heramphrodite.” Sculpture. 14 May 2012. <>

Waterhouse, John William. “Echo & “Narcissus.” 25 April 2011. <>


April 5th, 2011

Okay, it’s time to cut through the academic crap flotsam and jetsam and straight-up name the questions I want to ask in my paper and why they are worth answering.

1. What is androgyny and does/can it really exist?

(At this moment I believe that androgyny is fractured between the unisex and the gender bricolage, I want to consider both and determine if one is the true source of androgyny, or if each is valid or if neither is valid, and why.)

2. Is androgyny one-sided?

(By that I mean, is androgyny exclusively for women, and if so, why might that be? Also, if androgyny is for women alone, is that then not actually androgyny? Could androgyny ever work for men?)

3. Regardless of whether or not androgyny does or doesn’t exist, should it? Can it do anything for us?

Gender, to me, is a system of categorization that marks human bodies.  Androgyny appears to fluctuate between an ideal and a source of fear for humans.  The androgynous figure challenges gender boundaries by presenting a body immune from classification according to our current system.  Lacan (yeah, I know, I’m back to the academic stuff) identified the mirror stage where humans learn to identify themselves by acknowledging the differences in their physical attributes.  Humans define themselves by what they are not.  So, androgyny offers one way of subverting a process of othering.  It has the potential to equalize the sexes.  Also, androgyny as a source of fear suggests human discomfort with the unknown and the inherent comfort of boundaries – with strict and specific distinctions and regulations things are easier, although not necessarily better.  Additionally, if androgyny is applied by one gender alone to mimic the other, then things get sticky.  Elevating one gender  inevitably denigrates the other.   Androgyny has the potential to equalize or skew the gender binary.  And in contemporary Western societies that are becoming more lax (relatively speaking in terms of history at least) in regards to dress code and what men and women can wear and when, androgyny is a complex, relevant topic worth exploring for both its possibilities and its problems.

Image Credit:

“Albert Einstein.” Photo. 30 April 2009. 5 April 2011. <>

The Effeminate Man

March 30th, 2011

In an earlier post I addressed the fact that that male and female styles shared more similarities than distinctions. But fashion has become an aesthetic apparatus for policing the roles we accept. Furthermore, from the research I’ve conducted so far, androgyny appears to center around the unisex (a denial of or complete merging of gender), or the masculine woman and feminine man (a haphazard play of mudding and tangling gender) Several waves of contemporary fashion, varying in their relation from mainstream to subcultural, feature feminized apparel for men.  The looks also differ in their incorporation of feminine traits, some of which I will interpret below.

Beat (Mid 1940s to Early 1960s)

The stereotypical image of the Beat is some cool cat rent-dodger in a black beret listening to jazz and dreaming about Zen Buddhism. That image is partly right, but bordering on parodic.  In reality, the Beat image divided among that of the black hipsters and a dismissal of stiff suits for more relaxed fare (Welters 152).  Dizzy Gillespie personified the hipster look, which originated in the 1930s among jazz musicians.  Gillespie had three “sartorial trademarks [that] eventually entered the style vocabulary of the Beats entered: “beret, eyewear and goatee” (Welters 152-3), although Dizzy wore the second two out of practical function.  The glasses protected his sensitive eyesight and the goatee provided a barrier against his abrasive trumpet, which would otherwise irritate his chin (Welters 154). The second conception of Beat fashion was born out of the literature itself.  Male characters were clothed “in faded jeans, chino pants, T-shirts, frayed sweaters, worn shirts, old Army jackets and Levi jackets” (Welters 154) out of comfort and frugality. At first, the original Beats, Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsburg and so on, stuck mostly to conventional attire.  Once they dressed in accordance to their writing and the movement caught on, the media encouraged them to appear disheveled and dirty in photographs.  Women, by and large, were absent, both in the fiction and real-life, however their role eventually increased.  Nothing of the look itself necessarily indicates outright femininity. However, the Beats reacted against post-war conservatism and their free-wheeling ways angered white suburban America and its precise social etiquette.   Diana Trilling, wife of James Trilling, a literary critic and “solidly middle-class” (Welters 162) remarked of the Beats after attending a poetry reading at Columbia in 1959, “‘…so many young men, so few of them – despite the many black beards – without any promise of masculinity (Welters 159).’” Maybe not overly feminine in form, the Beats represented a threat to the male ideal according to 50s Americana.

Mod (Early to Mid 1960s)

Also known as neo-Edwardians, mod fashion ushered in the Peacock Revolution for men with “narrow pants” (Cunningham 194) and “softly tailored shirts, longer hair and shoes with pointed toes” (Tortora & Eubank 568).  Mods demanded greater variety in styles for men. Many items for Mod men had to be commissioned and custom-sewn because such fashions simply hadn’t infiltrated shops at this point (Steele 56). One of the tenants central to Mod “was the notion that males as well as females were entitled to wear handsome and dashing clothing” (Tortora & Eubank 535).  Rockers, a rough and tumble group fond of greaser hair and motorcycles, mocked the Mod men for their epicene sensibility; many homosexual jokes were aimed toward male Mods. Actually, Great Britain decriminalized homosexuality around 1967 (Steele 58), though the correlation between the Mod and sexuality has not been traced. But, Mods, thanks to their unabashed interest in fashion, sparked a “passion for clothes among British youth” (Steele 55), further exacerbated by rock and roll simultaneously exploding onto the music scene.  And by becoming more enveloped in fashion, Mods caused fashion theorists to question if men, in taking more evident care in their ornamentation, were reverting the gaze and becoming sex objects themselves (Steele 55). In any case, Mods supplied the basis for hippie apparel.

Hippie (Mid 1960s to Late 1970s)

Hippie style emerged during a tumultuous period consumed by war and a movement for women’s liberation.  Consequently, Hippies, like other subcultures, continued to challenge traditional roles (Steele 72). Hippie style, like mod, advocated long hair for men “as a way of redefining ‘he-man’ masculinity” (Steele 72).  Growing out hair harkens back to the 18th century (and earlier) where men preferred shaggy locks as proof of health and indisputable virility. Additionally, Hippies claimed blue jeans and t-shirts in favor of their unisex, egalitarian ideology and popularized thrift stores as a new, unlikely source for fashionable garments (Steele 72). People, at least those involved outside the norm, became more comfortable of their bodies.  One of the owners of Granny Takes a Trip, a London boutique, recalls how their shop welcomed all customers from debs to pop groups and the store “was completely androgynous, we had only one changing room and the clothes were mixed on the rail” (Fogg 175). Moreover, men usurped jewelry as a female-specific item, particularly love beads and piece signs among other politically charged or eastern-influenced pieces.  Yet several businesses turned away gender-bending Hippies. The president of Tiffany’s, as quoted by the New York Times, mandated that “if we know a man is buying a necklace for himself, we will refuse to sell it,” (Steele 72), which subsequently affirms that the common view of the Hippie man, adorned in unorthodox garb disputing “social conformity and sexual restraint” (Steele 72), often “fascinated and sometimes horrified” (Steele 72) popular opinion.

Glam (Early to Mid 1970s)

Probably the most brazenly femme of all the subcultures here, Glam rock, or glitter rock, invokes an image of Marc Bolan or David Bowie fully outfitted in platform shoes, lamé and lurex and other showy accessories, like feather boas (De La Haye & Dingwall 62-3).  The androgynous play of Glam, full of “blatantly glitzy, futuristic, sexually ambiguous” (De La Haye & Dingwall 62) get-ups, sends the gender equilibrium into an unstable frenzy.  Male performers proudly donned extravagant, feminine costumes and distorted the gaze, if not heteronormative desire itself. Glam was rooted in theatricality; it “violated the taboo against men wearing cosmetics” (Steele 92) and any garment was up for grabs for Glam men. However, it is worth noting that ordinary men didn’t adopt the outlandish finery nearly to the same extent as the on-stage personas of glitter rock stars. Male onlookers at a concert might opt for bawdier apparel than normal, but in terms of everyday wear, Glam followers kept their ensembles toned down (Steele 92).  Platform shoes? Possibly.  Makeup? Highly unlikely. True Glam was a thing reserved for the entertainers and the performers.

Goth (1980s and after)

An offshoot of glam, Goths adored the macabre and the sinister, cut with a romantic edge.  Black, like many other subcultures, was a preferred color, because it signifies Goth interest in outsider, victimized status (Young 81) along with their fascination of death.  Robert Smith, of The Cure, epitomized Goth with his “massive hairdo and deliberately thick and improperly applied lipstick and eyeliner, looking both infantile and moody…” (Geyrhalter 218).  Again, Smith cites that he applies his makeup with the intent of showmanship rather than vanity (Geyhalter 219), perhaps a jab at the shallow feminine connections to face-paint and personal beautification.  Goth men, particularly Smith in this instance, subversively “suggest and flirt with the sexually ambiguous” (Geyrhalter 218) and are typically strewn along a bisexual spectrum due to their amorphous carriage.  Sure, Goths are dark and brooding, but their interest in the morbid and the maligned and their softened approach in comparison to the Punk, “renounces components of dominant notions of masculinity, achieving more flexibility in the performance of masculinity” (Goodlad & Bibby 344).  I selected Goth rather than Punk for this entry because the former insinuates a melancholic sentimentality whereas the Punks confront the mainstream with markedly more aggressive accoutrements, like faces punctured with safety pins and clothing ripped to shreds versus the gothic velvet and lace that pledges allegiance to Dracula (Young 79).

Preppy (Early 1980s and after) and Metrosexual (Mid 1990s and after)

The Preppy and the Metrosexual materialized during two different periods, however the Metrosexual lives in close relation to the Preppy.  Each considers themselves men of style, and who agree that image is everything.  While the Preppy opts for a more subdued, sporty aesthetic, the Metrosexual concerns himself with urbanity and hip trends.  Additionally, both crowds, out of the subcultures listed above, actually function within the mainstream. Preppy is based upon the affluent look of students at preparatory schools who esteemed “classic tweed blazers, conservatively-cut skirts or trousers, tailored blouses or shirts, and high quality leather loafers, oxfords” (Tortora & Eubank 604).  Today, Preppy style remains in vogue.  The Preppy man shares historical allusions with the crisp cravats, riding coats and immaculate tailoring of the dandy.  Dandies, like Beau Brummell, either lived among or aspired to such aristocratic grandeur, and their controlled attire permitted them to ascend the ranks and exude a nonchalant chic.  Likewise, a true WASP or a sycophant has access to Preppy style to pretend their way into a social group.  Metrosexuals, in contrast, advocate a slightly more pronounced style.  Articles concerning the advent of the Metrosexual have hailed him as a man unafraid of pink and ultra womanly pursuits.  As such, the Metrosexual exemplifies the spirit of the Macaroni, well-hemmed like the Dandy but considerably more flamboyant in his sartorial choices.

These aren’t all the available examples of the effeminate man.  I did skip over a few, such as New Wave/New Romantics and Grunge. But of the ones I covered, what exactly is the importance of all these facets and branches of effeminate male style?  Well, it hints that the effeminate male, a seemingly elusive creature in comparison to the masculine woman, has existed previously and continues to surface, though is possibly less identified.  Effeminacy in males nowadays remains a reproachable offense.  With the masculine woman reaching greater (but not total) acceptance thanks to dislodged taboos and a slow increase in opportunities for females, the feminized male symbolizes the downfall of a western, patriarchal society.

Works Cited:

Cunningham, Patricia A. “Dressing for Success: The Re-Suiting of Corporate America in the 1970s.” Twentieth-Century American Fashion. Ed by Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

De la Haye, Amy and Cathie Dingwall. Surfers, Soulies, Skinheads & Skaters: Subcultural Style from the Forties to the Nineties. New York: Overlook Press, 1996.

Fogg, Marnie. Boutique: A ’60s Cultural Phenomenon. London: Mitchell Beazely, 2003.

Geyrhalter, Thomas. “Effeminacy, camp and sexual subversion in rock: The Cure and Suede.” Popular Music, Vol 15 No 2 (May 1996) pg. 217-224. Cambridge University Press. <>

Goodlad, Lauren M.E. and Michael Bibby. Goth: Undead Subculture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Tortora, Phyllis G. and Keith Eubank.  Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress.  5th ed. New York: Fairchild Books, 2010.

Welters, Linda. “The Beat Generation: Subcultural Style.” Twentieth-Century American Fashion. Ed by Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham. Oxford: Berg, 2005.

Young, Tricia Henry. “Dancing on Bela Lugosi’s Grave: The Politics and Aesthetics of Gothic Club Dancing.” Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research Vol 17, No 1 (Summer 1999), pg. 75-97. Edinburgh University Press. <>

Image Credits:

“Adam Ant.” Photo. 19 August 2008. 28 March 2011. <>

“Andre 3000.” Photo. 4 July 2010. 14 May 2012. <>

“Boy George.” Photo. 16 May 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“Beau Brummell.” Illustration. 22 September 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“Dave Vanian.” Photo. 29 March 2011. <>

“Dizzy Gillespie.” Photo. 21 October 2008. 28 March 2011. <>

“Hippie Guy and Girl.” Photo. 22 March 2011. 29 March 2011. <>

“Jack Kerouac.” Photo. 12 April 2010. 28 March 2011. <>

“Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Velvet Goldmine.” Photo. 14 December 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“The Kinks.” Photo. 31 January 2011. 29 March 2011. <>

“The Kinks Album Cover.” Photo. 3 November 2007. 29 March 2011.>

“Macaroni.” Illustration.  4 February 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“Marc Bolan.” Photo. 7 December 2009. 29 March 2009. <>

“Pretty in Pink.” Photo. 13 October 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

“Prince.” Photo. 23 November 2009. 29 March 2011. <>

“Robert Smith.” Photo. 1984. 29 March 2011. <>

“Ziggy Stardust.” Photo. 30 June 2010. 29 March 2011. <>

Penn, Irving. “Early Hippie Group, San Francisco.” 1967. 29 March 2011. <>

Androgyny: Just a Bunch of Women in Suits?

March 16th, 2011

Much like the beginning of the semester, since I’ve decided to examine androgyny exclusively, I’m returning to the basics again: a definition. But androgyny is an expansive concept, and believe me, my head is spinning.  My vision of sartorial androgyny is the detached woman in a suit of a slippery and impenetrable sex.  Men aren’t completely missing from androgynous images in high fashion, but I don’t readily associate them as an iconic image of androgyny.  Men, in the position of power, have nothing to gain from androgyny so they seem to engage in it less frequently. Before I deliberate on androgyny through the perspective of fashion, I want to review it through different disciplines, including biology and gender, for a more complex rendering.  Oxford Dictionaries Online lists the adjectival form of ‘androgyny’ and describes it as “partly male and partly female in appearance; of an indeterminate sex” (“Androgynous”) with a bullet point under it that states, “having the physical characteristics of both sexes; hermaphrodite” (“Androgynous”).  That explanation seems straightforward enough, but upon further scrutiny that definition becomes problematic.

Biology provides the most literal interpretation of androgyny, if associated with hermaphroditism.  The term ‘hermaphrodite’ originates from Greek mythology.  Hermaphroditus was the son of Hermes and Aphrodite whose body fused with a nymph named Salmacis (Brisson 42).  Pure hermaphroditism, or the possession “of one testis and one ovary” (Fausto-Sterling 39) remains relatively rare.  With pseudo-hermaphroditism, in contrast, the individual has a more marked identification to a particular sex with aspects of the opposite incorporated. Yet a male pseudo-hermaphrodite lacks ovaries and a female pseudo-hermaphrodite lacks testes (Fausto-Sterling 39).  Thus, Anne Fausto-Sterling concludes that although “Western culture is deeply committed to the idea that there are only two sexes” in reality “there are many gradations running from female to male…along the spectrum lie at least five sexes” (39), if not more.  Hermaphroditism erodes the male/female binary.  Fausto-Sterling recounts the story of Levi Suydam, a twenty-three year old citizen, who wished to vote in an election.  At first, Suydam cast his vote but the town board subjected him to an examination that eventually classified Suydam as female since s/he had a vagina, menstruated regularly and “felt occasional sexual yearnings for women” along with “‘a fondness for gay colors’”(Fausto-Sterling 38) despite the presence of his/her penis.  Biologists note, though, that females and males, with the exception of reproductive organs, have a strikingly similar bodily composition (Lorber 569), and Ruth K. Westheimer and Sanford Lopater remark that while people recognize the difference between the sexes, they often aren’t as aware of the shared traits (95).  Consequently, the average person interprets androgyny as “having the psychological attributes of both females and males” (Westheimer and Lopater 95), thereby assigning androgyny to the mind and behavior rather than the body.

Throughout history, though, biology has functioned as the determining factor for social order and agency.  Ancient Greeks and Romans, for instance, viewed hermaphroditic humans “as monsters…by the gods to manifest their anger or announce the destruction of the human race” (Brisson 2).  These “primordial beings” (Brisson 2) represented the body before “the split” that generated two different sexes.  For classical antiquity (and most other eras for that matter), sex ordained one’s personal role and status within society.  As a result, “to possess both sexes was to possess neither” (Brisson 3) because “dual sexuality” (Brisson 5) disputed the ruling gender dichotomy, and therefore the very reality upon which it was instituted.  Still, Greek society differed in its approach to gender sanctioned etiquette.  Although they carved out the standard positions of nurturing woman and warrior man, the Greeks practiced a “transitory participation” of cross-dressing so individuals could “enter definitively into their true natures as men or women”(Brisson 64).  Achilles, for example, was raised as a girl around other females.  Brides in Sparta wore men’s clothing on their wedding day and those in Argos donned a beard on their wedding night (Brisson 64). However, any woman who rejected marriage forcibly became a warrior because a renouncement of one’s birth gender indicated a refusal of those duties and occupations in favor for those of the opposite sex. Furthermore, the term, ‘androgyne’ “was applied to a man who had proved himself to be a coward” (Brisson 64), especially those who failed to fulfill their expected military service.  Biology has outlined proper roles, though history alters the exact protocol.

Early Christianity saw the androgyne as “the unification of opposites” (Meeks 165) with particular regard to the masculine feminine dichotomy as a “prime symbol of salvation” (Meeks 166).  Although that high-reaching goal for “reunified mankind” (Meeks 166) was less a motion toward piety and more of a method of Christian relation to co-existing societies and an urge for Christians to identify themselves as “a new genus of mankind” (Meeks 166).  In fact, Wayne Meeks observes in his article, The Image of the Androgyne, that Christians would engage in cross-dress, along with other ritualized changes in clothing, as a figurative marker of a interruption from the quotidian (170).  A change of dress could reposition the wearer “in a liminal state…momentarily transcending the division between male and female” (Meeks 184).  Truly, though, the aspiration for the merging of sexes rests in the ascetic mindset of denying the “itinerant” (Meeks 196) body in order to gain spiritual transcendence; to re-connect with God on a spiritually transcendent level (Meeks 183).  Still, that yearning, as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, for instance, “The task of ‘making two one…’”(Meeks 193) becomes complicated with Creation in mind.  If Adam was crafted in God’s “divine image” (Meeks 185) then is that ultimate body masculine? And how does Eve, and femininity for that matter, fit in, if extracted from Adam’s rib?  The very belief of Genesis appears skewed toward a masculine finality rather than a metaphysical blending of sex.

In Renaissance England, satirists, preachers, and other public and moral figures espoused pamphlets “castigating women who adopted a masculine…style of dress” (Henderson and McManus 17), writing in favor for the obedient, submissive female.  They referenced classical and biblical figures, such as Eve and Pandora, as meddling women whose prying behavior wreaked havoc on normative masculinity (Henderson and McManus 7).  One pamphlet, Hic Mulier, The Man-Woman, addresses masculine dress with vigor, stating that such a sartorial display is “an outward sign of women’s attempt to usurp masculine aggressiveness, authority, and sexual freedom.” (Henderson and McManus 8).  Although the androgynous body is not absent from this period, the general consensus of Renaissance thought preferred a clear delineation between the sexes; womanly conduct on the part of men prompted disgust as well.  Overall, the woman, as portrayed by these writers, either fit into the category of proud and vain, ensnared by trappings of ornamental finery, seductress or the shrew, associated with “moral weakness” (Henderson and McManus 50).  However, at this juncture, women began to emerge and publish their own works in response.  Therefore, the concern of the masculine woman is attributable to the fear that by gaining a voice, and thus agency, ”the possibility of a general female rebellion against male dominance” (Henderson and McManus 52) might occur, at least in the minds of those men ensconced within patriarchal roles of power.  Moll Cutpurse, the heroine of The Roaring Girl by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, attracts much ire and distrust for her confident manner and androgynous countenance.  In actuality, she is a virgin and “the moral revealer of truth” (Henderson and McManus 125). Renaissance society, and for that matter, most societies, felt that “in a truly ordered society men and women accept entirely different roles (of which clothes are the symbol)” (Henderson and McManus 123), but either way, an decloration of strict gender rules or a denial of gender, misses the fact that real bodies and real appearance is messy and unstable.

Within the field of psychology, androgyny depends on high levels of both masculine and feminine characteristics (Kilmartin 41).  This notion of androgyny “is derived from a view of masculinity and femininity as independent dimensions” (Kilmartin 41). That means a person can exhibit high masculinity or high femininity in contrast, either of which match the traditional gender ideals, regardless of the person’s actual sex.  Additionally, a person can demonstrate low levels of either attribute and register as “undifferentiated” (Kilmartin 41).  Yet psychology has largely eliminated androgyny as a credible idea as it depends upon the unpredictable personality trait theory (Kilmartin). Christopher Kilmartin observes that the gender identity model conceives “gender roles as emerging from within the individual” while the androgyny model in comparison “sees gender role prescriptions as imposed through socialization” (42).  Moreover, he proposes that androgyny makes analogous, if not equal, demands upon humans as masculinity and femininity (Kilmartin 42).

In terms of gender and sexuality, androgyny straddles two possible categories. Androgyny can either signify a total absence of gender or a combination of male and female genders, otherwise known as genderfuck (Richards).  Conversely, the notions behind cross-dressing and transgender oppose androgyny in that they seek to perform a normative representation of gender (Richards).  The androgynous figure desires to erase, harmonize or confuse gender whereas the transgender figure hopes to acquire and enact the opposite gender role in a conservative portrayal to blend into society. Drag serves as a parody of cross-dressing by inhabiting a gender role to a theatrical extreme thereby highlighting typed gender behavior (Richards).  In regards to androgynous sexuality, the image of gender and sexual orientation rarely match up. Genderlessness can exude a “sexual iciness” (Richards) while the genderfuck manipulates easy dichotomies and slips between desire for men and women (Richards).  Although Marjorie Garber argues that androgyny is too often “conflated and confused with bisexuality” (207).  Moreover, Garber indicates that “…the hermaphrodite is a figure of sex, the androgyne a figure of gender, and the bisexual…a figure of sexuality” (208). Garber expresses skepticism toward the archetypal view of the androgyne, which at the worst explodes the term into a transcendent ideal.  She critiques Jungian perspective of the anima/animus because “the human body and its desires necessarily took a back seat” (Garber 211) to the universal and the eternal. Jung, as Garber interprets it, actually reinforces the male/female separation, seeing the androgyne as a mythic and uninhabitable character.  The suggestion that sex might figure into spiritual androgyny insults Jung (Garber 218). But if dismantled, androgyny can confront the irrationality of West’s two isolating genders.  Judith Halberstam declares that physical ambiguity “is inevitable transformed into deviance, thirdness, or a blurred vision” (20) as illustrated by her troublesome encounters in public bathrooms where another woman called security fearing that Halberstam was a man in the incorrect bathroom.  According to Halberstam, these instances prove that “your gender seems at odds with your sex” and that “single-gender bathrooms are only for those who fit clearly into one category” (24).  Androgyny provokes anxiety because it dethrones established gender and calls our own desires into question.

With all this in mind, I wonder what androgyny can do for us.  Androgyny requires finding a balance, one that appears near impossible to negotiate.  To become an androgynous society, or perhaps just a less gender-oriented society, we would probably have to restructure our entire society.  We use appearance to read and codify the people surrounding us.  Stereotypes are unfair and damaging, but comfortable.  The acknowledgement of gender (or any sort of distinction) alone is not necessarily harmful but judgment based upon these categorizations solidifies damaging, limited viewpoints. So, is rebuking and revising gender norms more important than instating androgyny?  After all, it does get dull when everything looks the same.

Works Cited:

“Androgynous.” Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. 15 March 2011. <>.

Brisson, Luc. Sexual Ambivalence: Androgyny and Hermaphroditism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. Trans Janet Lloyd.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough.” Sexualities: Identities, Behaviors, and Society.  Ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Rebecca F. Plante.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Garber, Marjorie. Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Henderson, Katherine Usher and Barbara F. McManus. Half Humankind: Contexts & Texts of the Controversy about Women in England 1540-1640. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

Kilmartin. Christopher.  The Masculine Self. 4th ed. Cornwall-on-Hudson: Sloan, 2010.

Lorber, Judith. “Believing is seeing: Biology as Ideology.” Gender and Society. Vol 7 No 4, December 1993. pg. 568-81, Sage Publications. <>.

Meeks, Wayne. “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity.” History of Religions. Vol 13, No 3 (February 1974) pg. 165-208. The University of Chicago Press. <>.

Richards, Gary, Dr. Conversation with professor. 15 March 2010.

Westheimer, Ruth K. and Sanford Lopater. Human Sexuality: A Psychosocial Perspective.  2nd ed. Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2005.

Image Credits:

“Androgyne.” Photo. 11 September 2007. 16 March 2011. <>.

“Androgyne Diagram.” Illustration. 22 November 2010. 16 March 2011. <>.

“Hermaphroditus.” Photo. 15 July 2006. 16 March 2011. <>.

“Grace Jones.” Photo. 25 September 201o. 16 March 2011. <>.

“Milla Jovovich.” Photo. 6 January 2011. 15 March 2011. <>.

“Moll Cut-Purse.” Illustration. 21 March 2011. <>.

Cranach, Lucas the Elder. “Adam and Eve.” Painting. 21 March 2011. <>.

Pollock, Lindsey.”Bust of Athena.” Photo. 15 June 2010. 16 March 2011. <>.

Russell, Richard. “Androgynous Faces.” Photo. 25 October 2009. 16 March 2011. <>.

Wheeler, Alice. “Genderfuck Courtney.” Photo. 2002. 16 March 2011. <>.

Women on the Verge: An Introduction to Punk, Kinderwhore and Heroin Chic

February 23rd, 2011

Methods of overt fashion rebellion are often conceived within subcultures as a way to resist the dominant culture’s ideology and propagate new counter-arguments against the mainstream, be it a political, social, economic or moral focus.  These three styles: punk, kinderwhore and heroin chic herald a subversive aesthetic, particularly fascinating in regards to women, because they diverge with such polarity from the general notion of prettiness and instead concentrate on the woman as vamp, temptress, juvenile, drug abuser, androgyne.

Over the course of the twentieth century, fashion became more accessible to the everyday person with a trajectory toward technological advances and mass-marketing.  As a result, the Western population at large began to implement fashion in the “general design for living” (Ewing 230) as an indicator of personal taste.  But as the leading class decreed a more conventional approach to personal taste, punks took to the streets.  Derived from the seventeenth century term, which “denoted a gaudy prostitute,” (de Marly 143) punk caught on largely because of its “do-it-yourself” (Barnard 130) ethos in the face of a “monolithic, unadventurous and predictable” (Barnard 130) culture. Punks reappropriated clothing associated to the establishment but ravaged them with slashes and rips.  They also sought out materials previously dismissed and wore them in an unexpected manner, like “safety pins…plunged through cheeks” (Barnard 131) or tampons repurposed as earrings.  Punks approached fashion with a violent flippancy, seeing the potential and the protest in the lowliest of sources.  Consequently, punk accentuated the “unnaturalness” (Barnard 41) of the dominant class’s aesthetic and, thus interrogated the legitimacy of its prevalence and its authority over society (Barnard 41-2).  Still, as punk excelled in popularity and expanded, the mainstream swallowed up the anti-fashion movement by commercializing its look in a twist of sad irony.

More interesting, perhaps, is women’s role in punk. Rebecca Arnold mentions how “previous subcultures had usually cast women as marginal figures” (47) whereas punk invited women to adopt “a strong, if intimidating dress code” (47) that refuted standard femininity but not the feminine form itself.  Female punks donned items such as ”ripped fishnet stockings, plastic mini-skirts and garish…make-up” (Arnold 47) that alluded to imagery of prostitutes yet “with a violent retraction of the sexual invitation” associated to them.  These women invented a brazen, surly figure not previously connected to femininity.  They emancipated garments of “bondage” and “sexual perversion” (Arnold 47) to fabricate a persona of rebellious power.  Vivienne Westwood, an iconic and dynamic sartorial director of punk, cultivated the movement alongside Malcolm McLaren in their King’s Road boutique, and she even designed herself into long-term commercial success.  Her original formation of punk liberated women from a singular physical ideal and constraining their bodies within the latest silhouette.

Kinderwhore, an offshoot of nineties grunge commonly attributed to musicians Kat Bjelland and Courtney Love, does not refute traditional femininity in the same the way punk did.  Rather, it marries the concepts of adult femininity to adolescent dress-up to render a crude, perplexing, albeit more ordinarily appealing, sensuality.  Scarlet lips and heavily lined eyes partnered with ringlets adorned with plastic barrettes and sugary, baby-doll frocks, frequent components of kinderwhore, produce an appearance akin to sweets laced with razor blades.  The items individually hold little shock value, but when partnered form a discomforting countenance that fractures “the expected neatness of femininity” (Barnard 147).  The combination corrupts the innocence associated to young girls through its perilous juxtaposition with a dangerous, free-wheeling sexuality of adulthood.  Kinderwhore seeks an ironic Lolita effect through an incongruous coupling, but critics object that the fashion disempowers the wearer and imprisons her within the standard confines of feminine values (Barnard 147).  Even though kinderwhore agitates, it peculiarly panders to the “the tiredest trick in the paedophile book” (Barnard 147) by acquitting men of their sexual satisfaction in imagining adult women as overgrown children.

Another movement from the nineties, heroin chic differs from punk and kinderwhore in that it originated within the mainstream, but aroused much rancor.  Heroin chic retaliated to the material excess of the eighties and emerged during the same time as the grunge subculture and punk revival, when the economy spiraled toward recession and the disaffected Generation X reached its zenith.  The look revered “bruised and drug-hazed images” in defiance of “fashion magazine’s airbrushed notions of beauty” (Arnold 52), and signaled the vulnerability and isolation of modernity and urban lifestyle.  With the shifting political and economic climate, the glassy-eyed waif, personified by Kate Moss, ushered in the new anxiety-ridden aesthetic.  Designers and photographers “claimed that their style was natural, that it reflected their real lives,” (Arnold 52) however the drug-fueled pictures of underweight, androgynous models connected with heroin chic are problematic and indicative of an exclusive existence.  More likely than not the average consumer doesn’t engage in habitual drug use and possess a skeletal physique, although the consumer could possibly identify with the melancholy symbolized by the battered, dirty models during a period of existential interrogation.  But realism appears termed so only if it depicts an extreme gritty nihilism in contrast to healthy, idealistic perfection.  Realism remains questionable in fashion.  Still, “we seek validation from media representations, in images that are projections of desired selves,” (Arnold 52) and heroin chic undermines that easy, submissive adoration of the latest female archetype.  What’s more, heroin chic triggered unrest in the moral core of the mainstream.  Calvin Klein, proponent of the trend, underwent an FBI investigation for “not only potential drug abuse but also references to child pornography in the very thin bodies of his very young models and tatty motel settings” (Arnold 54).  Because of its controversial nature, heroin chic didn’t last long.  Then again, not much lasts long in the fashion world.  Heroin chic pandered to a sensational, outrageous portrayal of the modern woman and paved the road for the painful rail-thin shape favored on runways today. Women’s involvement both in fashion and anti-fashion eludes straightforward classification.  In either sphere women grapple between achieving bodily perfection or finding an avenue to manipulate and edit that formula without erasing the feminine or undermining a new draft of femaleness.

Works Cited:

Arnold, Rebecca.  Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th Century. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Barnard, Malcolm. Fashion as Communication. London: Routledge, 1996.

Barnard, Malcolm.  Fashion as Communication. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge, 2002.

de Marly, Diana. Fashion for Men: An Illustrated History. New York: Homes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1995.

Ewing, Elizabeth. History of 20th Century Fashion. New York: Costume & Fashion Press, 2002.

Image Credits:

“Courtney Love in Blue Dress.” Photo. 12 October 2010. 16 October 2011.

“Courtney Love on Bed.” Photo. 13 September 2011.

“Courtney Love Sitting.” Photo. 23 March 2009. 22 February 2011.

“Kate Moss in Calvin Klein Ad.” Photo. 8 December 2010. 22 February 2011.

“Punk Woman Close-Up.” Photo. 21 July 2008. 22 February 2011.

“Punk Woman.” Photo. 21 July 2008. 22 February 2011.

“The Slits.” Photo. 23 October 2009. 22 February 2011.

Day, Corinne. “Giorgina, Brixton 1995.” Photo. 29 November 2010. 22 February 2011.

Sorrenti, Davide. “James King.” Photo. 31 January 2006. 22 February 2011.


February 17th, 2011

Just FYI, I’ve decided to move my Fashion Link Friday to a separate page from my blog entries. In the future, I might also create a separate page for research sources.

Image Credit:

“Antiquated computer.” Photo. 17 February 2011.

Androgyny and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

February 16th, 2011

Since cultural norms define the dichotomy of conventional fashion nothing feels more disturbing than androgyny.  Indeed, androgyny subverts the patriarchal roles of man and woman because it resists clinging to such static identities.  Androgyny reminds the individual that male or female designation is social artistry rather than natural impulse.  As Nancy Cervetti interprets it, gender is but “a repeated stylization of the body that congeals over time and produces the appearance of substance” (174) thereby manifesting itself as an inherent code of conduct that guides the sexes into accurate behavior.  Yet androgyny, which seeks to unite and navigate freely between the genders, “continues to hold fast to and maintain the very binary system it would seem to escape (173).”   Virginia Woolf’s Orlando begets a complex discussion of gender and androgyny.  In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf addresses the concept of the androgynous mind where “two powers preside, one male, one female” (96) with the gender of the biological sex typically dominating.  Woolf insists, though, that both sides should “live in harmony together, spiritually cooperating” (96) in order to cultivate a “fully fertilized” (97) mind in control of its creativity.  In Orlando, Woolf writes, acutely aware of gender, but her approach is more humorous and straightforward in comparison to her other fluid narratives that produce a free-formed plot through an androgynous voice.

The novel begins with “He,” (Woolf 11) an assertive proclamation of Orlando’s gender.  Furthermore, Orlando’s very action, a masculine and destructive occupation, “slicing at the head of a Moor” (Woolf 11), correlates to the prosaic representation of maleness.  However, Woolf comically undermines this opening detail by quipping “for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it” (11).  In one sentence, Woolf confirms and teases Orlando’s gender, and suggests an arbitrary designation that fluctuates with popular opinion, reinforced by fashion.  Initially, Orlando’s apparel, “crimson breeches, lace collar, waistcoat of taffeta” (Woolf 16) indicates the similarities in gender in regard to the sartorial.   Although Orlando’s regimen uses violent verbs such as “scoured”, “pared” and “thrust” (Woolf 16) and he manages to dress in under ten minutes, Orlando still demonstrates an unwavering dedication to proper dress, even for items like “shoes with rosettes on them big as double dahlias” (Woolf 16) that verge on the ridiculous.  Such foppish garments mock the overlap between and the very fickle attitude of fashion, which constantly mutates a conflicting etiquette of gender-appropriate attire.

Sasha’s introduction into the text reveals Orlando’s commitment to a heteronormative relationship and how androgyny generates a sense of obscure entrancement.  Woolf hardly camouflages the mystery of Sasha’s gender.  Her “oyster-coloured velvet” (Woolf 26), possibly an encoded reference to female genitalia and aphrodisiacs, along with a parallel of Sasha’s eyes to the sea, a feminine symbol, permits the reader to determine Sasha’s gender in advance of Orlando.  The application of the feminine pronoun, “her” (Woolf 26) functions either as an obvious admission of Sasha’s femaleness or as Orlando’s own speculation and desire for her anatomy.  After all, he stands, “ready to tear his hair with vexation that the person was of his own sex (Woolf 26), and thus ineligible as a romantic target for him, a man firmly situated in a patriarchal structure.  At this point, Orlando operates according to his ordained position.  Still, that same frustration attracts Orlando to Sasha.  The pursuit of classifying the unknown and reinstating it to its allocated space excites Orlando. Because Sasha’s dress, which customarily assists in gauging interest and formulating opinions, cloaks her gender, Orlando turns to her physical attributes.  Yet, when he disassembles her body, Orlando cannot reach a conclusion.  Instead, he wavers between delight and despair after detecting evidence of each sex.  Woolf acknowledges the biological likeness within the different sexes and the disconnect between clothing and the body.

As a man, Orlando thinks little of gender.  However, his bewildering transformation requires him to consider a foreign perspective.  Suddenly, Orlando’s legs, which once “moved like a stag” (Woolf 89) without hindrance of skirts and endless layers of petticoats, feel the constraint of femininity.  As a woman, Orlando reassesses her previous model of the ideal female: “obedient, chaste, scented, and exquisitely apparelled” (Woolf 110) as she comes to understand the difficulties in maintaining a feminine appearance.  Additionally, she discerns the danger of female sexuality, how the sight of an inch or two of flesh might mean “‘death to an honest fellow’” (Woolf 110) and she carries the responsibility of covering one of her “chiefest beauties” (Woolf 110), consequently modifying her physical and figurative motion within society.  The more Orlando wears women’s clothing, the more she becomes “a little more modest, as women are, of her brains, and a little more vain, as women are, of her person” (Woolf 131), thus as clothing envelops our form, it shapes our character.  Or, as Woolf’s narrator contends, “it is the clothes that wear us and not we them” (Woolf 132).  Furthermore, Orlando observes how anatomy dictates demeanor. During her interactions with Nell, a prostitute, Orlando adorns herself as a man, and Nell’s feigned fragility arouses a masculine desire within Orlando.  However, Orlando soon sees that Nell’s “hesitating answers” (Woolf 150) and “the droop of her wrist” (Woolf 150) were attributes displayed merely “to gratify [Orlando’s] masculinity” (Woolf 150).  Once Orlando confesses her masquerade, Nell deserts her “plaintive, appealing ways” (Woolf 151) almost instantaneously in favor of a casual attitude.  Gender is a performance cast at birth, and Orlando feels “awkward in the arts of her sex” (Woolf 128) at her rebirth, but as the centuries pass, she gradually becomes versed in the skills of womanhood. In contrast, Archduke Harry treats Orlando with excessive chivalry as he courts her and disregards Orlando’s cheating during an absurd round of Fly Loo with the excuse that she is “only a woman” (Woolf 129).

But is Orlando ever a true androgyne? At least, an androgyne in the sense of the word where she can traverse gender boundaries at whim without fear of upsetting either force, masculine or feminine.  Near the conclusion of the novel, Woolf refers to Orlando with wardrobe updates by the hour that suit her activities.  Over the course of a single day, Woolf documents Orlando:

“…spending her morning in a China robe of ambiguous gender among her books; then receiving a client or two…in the same garment; then she would take a turn in the garden and clip the nut trees – for which knee-breeches were convenient; then she would change into a flowered taffeta which best suited a drive to Richmond and proposal of marriage from some great nobleman; and so back again to town, where she would don a snuff-coloured gown like a lawyer’s and visit the courts to hear how her cases were doing… and so, finally, when night came, she would more often than not become a nobleman complete from head to toe and walk the streets in search of adventure” (Woolf 153).

While Orlando selects and sheds her genders as she pleases, she doesn’t quite transition to androgyny.  With each outfit Orlando acquires the associated posture and plays out a series of neatly compartmentalized genders in place of the overlapping harmony Woolf envisions with the androgynous mind.  Although Orlando gains a heightened awareness in terms of gender, she is never able to bypass the enduring question of male or female.  Despite that Woolf’s removed narrator notices “different though the sexes are, they intermix” (Woolf 132), other voices wondered how Orlando “is excessively tender-hearted” (Woolf 133) yet “she detested household matters” (Woolf 133) or how she was ”bold and active as a man” but “would burst into tears on slight provocation” (Woolf 133) with incessant curiosity.  In fact, Orlando herself “seemed to vacillate; she was man; she was woman” (Woolf 113) but found in both sexes guilty of “the most deplorable infirmities” (Woolf 113).  Orlando’s court case, established to verify her gender and rectify the ambiguity surrounding her inexplicable shift of sex, operates out of a fear of confusion.

Ultimately, the affirmative ruling for Orlando as a woman “indisputably, and beyond the shadow of a doubt” (Woolf 176) is shortsighted.  I am hesitant to call Orlando man, woman or androgyne.  Cultural biases fracture her unique biological position.  Perhaps Orlando could become an androgyne, if the law permitted her to deny categorization.  If anything though, she appears to submit to femininity in the end, particularly with the reversal of her scorn and dismissal of marriage upon her quick engagement to Shelmerdine with a “wedding ring on her finger to prove it” (Woolf 182). Orlando and Shel’s relationship has a farcical chime to it, especially since Shel has undergone the inverse of Orlando’s situation, a woman mutated into a man. But Orlando’s waffling underscores her acceptance of a womanly personality that she starts to favor.  Moreover, as Archduke Harry sobs in her presence she realizes though “men cry as frequently and as unreasonably as women…women should be shocked when men display emotion…so, shocked she was,” (Woolf 127) consequently fulfilling her expected performance.  While Orlando’s feminine behavior increases, she still belongs to no one group.

By comparison, the androgynous figure has emerged at the forefront of contemporary fashion.  Fashion has a fascination with the gender-neutral figure.  And the fashion industry disorients the consumer with androgynous bodies.  Lanky women and pouty, baby-faced men often dominate the runways.  However, only women appear to own the right to androgyny.  Usually women don suits and crop their hair as tomboyish gamines.  Rarely, but with a few exceptions, do men soften themselves to the point of incorporating feminized practices and ornamentation such as long hair and nails, dresses and skirts or a noticeable face full of makeup.  Unisex, apparently to fashion, is male, not female.  Androgyny, for fashion, though, sometimes has less to do with gender and more to do with age.  Rather than a gender-equalized domain, fashion venerates the “awkwardly adolescent” (Arnold 123) phase of the body.  There is an implicit desire for the easy beauty of the form unblemished by age and a general repugnance for the developed adult body, which signifies the impending descent toward physical decline and death.  Where Woolf’s androgyny seeks to sort out the nonsensical relation of gender and sex, the androgyny of contemporary society carries with it subtle tones of ageism.

Works Cited:

Arnold, Rebecca.  Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th Century. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Cervetti, Nancy. “In the Breeches, Petticoats, and Pleasures of Orlando.” Journal of Modern Literature. Vol 20, No. 2. Winter 1996, p. 165-175. Indiana University Press.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. London: Penguin Group, 2000.

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. London: Penguin Group, 1993.

Image Credits:

Ballingall, Tim. “Virginia Woolf.” Photo. 25 January 2011. 16 February 2011.

Curtis, Laurie. “Close-Up Elizabethan Orlando.” Photo. 22 July 2010. 16 February 2011.

Curtis, Laurie. “Orlando and Sasha.” Photo. 22 July 2010. 16 February 2011.

Curtis, Laurie. “18th Century Orlando.” Photo. 22 July 2010. 16 February 2011.

Curtis, Laurie. “Orlando and Shel.” Photo. 22 July 2010. 16 February 2011.

Seliger, Ralph. “Elizabethan Orlando.” Photo. 22 October 2010. 16 February 2011.

Weismann, Jork. “Androgynous Models.” Photo. 13 December 2010. 16 February 2011.

Signs and Symbols

February 10th, 2011

After these few weeks of combing through library shelves, exploring different approaches to and topics on fashion and composing blog entries, I’ve decided to narrow my lens a little more precisely on my research.  The what, why and who of fashion are all electric questions, if not endless, daunting and so hypnotic, but browsing through my handful of previous entries and my ever-expanding list of ideas for blog entries to come, I’ve noticed the theme of gender cropping up again and again.  So, I think I’ve stumbled into my focus.

Fashion operates as the visual barometer of class, wealth, religion, nationality, etcetera.  But fashion most obviously and most immediately measures and rehearses gender.  When we see an individual we first notice his or her gender thanks to clear boundaries and the absence of those sartorial signals cut us socially adrift.  Amorphous appearances send out shock waves.  We are unsure how to react in the presence of androgyny and ambiguity.  Essentially, fashion has usurped factual, clinical biology and devised a series of arbitrary signs and symbols through evolving articles of clothing, which assign social, moral, sexual, and thus gendered, meaning upon the wearer (Barnard 119).  Consequently, “fashion is uniquely able to unsettle and unnerve us” (Barnard 117) in the case of subverted gender.

Over the course of the semester I hope to interpret fashion’s signs and symbols via gender.  I want to analyze the relationship between fashion and gender in terms of normative responses and anti-fashion reactions.  Furthermore, I seek to disassemble the masculine/feminine dichotomy and discern any possible overlap between the two and examine the discrepancies between cultural ideals.  For the time being, I intend to leave my perspective open to both the heterosexual and the homosexual.  To Roland Barthes, “to change clothes was to change both one’s being and one’s social class, since they were part and parcel of the same thing” (65), and I wonder if the change of a dress can indeed rewrite one’s gender.

Maybe I should have arrived at these explanations sooner, but I needed to plunge straight into theory and do some investigating first.  If all goes well (and here’s to hoping), I aim to integrate my final paper into my blog, which will allow me to incorporate multimedia examples, thereby imbuing the completed product with a multidimensional application of sources.  Additionally, an online paper will hold me more accountable for the quality and accuracy of my work. But what about all the things I can’t cover?  Although I’ve selected a particular viewpoint, I’m still curious about other aspects of fashion.  Since I tend to post on or before Wednesday, I’ve decided to dedicate Friday, on a more casual basis, to sharing any interesting links concerning subjects on the periphery of my vision.

Works Cited:

Barnard, Malcolm.  Fashion as Communication.  2nd Ed. London: Routledge, 2002.

Barthes, Roland.  “Dandyism and Fashion.” The Language of Fashion. Trans. Andy Stafford. Eds. Andy Stafford and Michael Carter. Oxford: Berg, 2006.

Image Credits:

“This is the woman.” French Connection Ad. Photo. 24 October 2010. 10 February 2011.

Alexander, Omar. “Tush: Love Me Gender.” Photo. 10 May 2009. 10 February 2011.

Beauty Confessional. “Eat Meat. Dress Well.” French Connection Ad. Photo. 5 February 2010. 10 February 2011.

Contagious Magazine. “She is knowing we are looking.” French Connection Ad. Photo.  2 March 2010. 10 February 2011.

“The Man.” Photo. February 2010. 14 May 2012.

Body Conscious

February 2nd, 2011

Despite a common fascination with fashion, rarely do people consider undergarments, or at least admit that they think of underpinnings at all.  Foundation garments, usually relegated to the private domain, remain essential to producing the final desired effect.  They smooth, they lift and they cinch to perfection.  When people introduce them for public wear, though, the distinction between private and public becomes murky.  The role of clothing struggles between the morality and practicality of concealing the “shameful naked body” (Arnold 67) and the lust and wanton behavior it generates.  Mario Perniola discusses in Between Clothing and Nudity, how clothing perpetuates a distinction between humans and animals.  Furthermore, he acknowledges how “clothing gives human being their anthropological, social and religious identity, in a word, their being” (Perniola) where nudity, in contrast, “is a negative state, a privation, loss, dispossession” (Perniola) of self.  He continues by mentioning how nudity degrades a person because of its historical association to “prisoners, slaves and prostitutes” (Perniola).  Even though clothing carries the reputation of hollow excess, nudity remains a far more disgracing condition.

The very eroticism evoked by risqué apparel or lingerie attracts through suggestive ornamentation and sexual promise.  A nude body is less interesting than a partially clothed one because it’s entirely exposed and all the mystery revealed.  According to Muriel Barbier and Shazia Boucher in The Story of Lingerie, Magnus Hirschfeld, a physician, discovered that “only 350 men out of 1000 were attracted by the naked body of the female, whereas 400 preferred the body semi-clothed and 250 preferred it to remain fully clothed” (Barbier and Boucher 143).  Since its conception underwear has occupied ambiguous territory.  The sight of a body “caught between dress and undress, has a disturbing yet fascinating erotic effect… we are unsure how to respond to the sight of women seemingly dressed…yet clad only in transparent fabric or items of lingerie” (Arnold 67), such attire induces discomfort since it reminds people of desire and sex, topics repressed by polite society.  Underwear as outerwear disrupts the public.  Clothing itself highlights the body with subdued sensuality but underwear serves as a blunt reminder of human carnality.

In a consideration of underwear as outwear, the codpiece makes a unique example.  While the codpiece is technically not an undergarment, it works as the next best instance of underwear/outerwear, except, of course, maybe for the boxers sticking out of low-slung jeans fad.  Men, generally, don’t have many cases of underwear as outerwear.  Valerie Steele, in Fashion and Eroticism, observes how the penis and vagina “have not been utilized by fashion for the purpose of sexual allurement” with the exception of the codpiece, which “made the penis the central focus of male dress” (40).  Essentially, the codpiece is “visible penis sheath” (Vicary 3) that was created in the 16th century when shorter doublets became popular with the wealthy (Reed).  The shorter doublets would have exposed the male genitals, hence the necessity for some type of coverage.  Multiple types of codpieces existed but the differences in materials in constructions, a padded and protruding codpiece versus a soft, triangular-flap codpiece, signaled the division between high class and low class.  The existence of the codpiece, though, has uniformly baffled historians. Even though the codpiece originated for the sake of modesty, the enhancing trend developed garish extremes in terms of size and prominence.  As a result, historians consider the codpiece an “embodiment of aggressive virility” (Vicary 3), and while that interpretation isn’t incorrect, new research proposes that a more practical reason might have invoked the conception of the codpiece.

Around 1495, a syphilis pandemic swept through Europe.  Because of the nature of the disease, spread through venereal contact and causing unsightly swelling and discharges of pus and blood, thick bandages were required to dress the affected area.  Yet those swathings were impossible to hide (Reed).  So, the codpiece was created. Initially, the codpiece camouflaged dressings and shielded wearers from additional pain – men suspended many items from their belt, such as daggers and purses, at this time – from accidental abrasions.  However, those uninfected might have donned codpieces “as a sign, or talisman to ward off syphilis” (Vicary 14), thereby making it virtually impossible to identify who had the disease and who didn’t.  As powerful leaders adopted the codpiece, they legitimized it as a new fashion trend (Reed).  Thus, the codpiece is a curious garment of both protection and pride that has not entirely dissipated over the years.  Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange includes a re-imagined codpiece for Alex and his droogs.  By calling attention to the genitals, Kubrick implies their destructive hypermasculinity, particularly in juxtaposition to the nude female tables in the Korova Milk Bar.

One of the first appearances of public ‘underwear’ is Marie Antoinette’s chemise dress, or the chemise à la reine, a simple gown of muslin (Arnold 66).  Marie Antoinette gravitated toward this style when her reputation as queen dwindled thanks to her lavish spending and extravagant frocks.  She hoped the chemise would make her appear more rustic and relaxed to the French people.  In the end, though, Madame Deficit’s image revision didn’t work out.  But perhaps one of the most iconic instances of underwear as outwear is Madonna and her cone bra corset designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.  Even though he ignited the underwear frenzy, Gaultier wasn’t the only designer to include such pieces.  Vivienne Westwood, Azzedine Alaïa and Thierry Mugler all incorporated underwear styles in their collections between the mid-eighties and late nineties, and contemporary designers still return to the trend.  Additionally, Madonna’s constant image revision “suggested that identity was a construct, that it was something that one produced and could be modified at will” (Keller 162) along with one’s public perception.  By manipulating reinvention, Madonna conquered the sartorial, even when adorned only in her skivvies.  Modern pop stars, such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, follow her exhibitionist model, but without the same emphasis on continually revamping personal image.

Moreover, during the Eighties the public began to toy more assertively with erotic undress as “a site of empowerment for women who wanted to reclaim their sexuality” (Arnold 66), just as long as that undress was feminine and not overly provocative.  A woman in a corset or lacy bustier would be deemed playful in her sartorial approach while a woman in a codpiece or baggy boxers would most likely be condemned.  Today, underwear/outwear perpetuates as a similar expression of liberation and free will in women’s dress.  In the Eighties, however, the underwear/outerwear look first evolved with the discovery of AIDS.  Skimpy styles called for taut bodies, but “the rigorously exercised body…was as much a protective shield, a perfected exterior…to ward off anxieties surrounding death and disease” (Arnold 76) and the medical unknown.  Both the codpiece and the cone-bra corset were linked to a fixation with healthy bodies during a time of a new, widespread disease.  They prove how humans idealize the body at its physical peak, not the body declining toward death or the one riddled with illness or deformation.  Each, regardless of the codpiece’s pragmatic function, suggests agency in the face of humbling and fatal afflictions.

Stripping away clothing can’t and won’t strip away cultural influence.  In fact, even the unclothed self can display the same superficiality implicit with the clothed self. Patrizia Calefato contends in Degree Zero of Fashion and the Body that

“The naked body doesn’t really exist, it is a construction

of representation, be it photographic, filmic or off the drawing

board; it is the result of beauty treatments, exercise, medical

history and age; it is both product of and fuel for imagery (77).”

In other words, even without clothes, humans aren’t natural.  Human contact with and consumption of modern society renders individuals artificial to the core and it supplies them with visions of the physical ideal.  Regardless, states of dress or semi-dress seem more appealing and comfortable than undress.  Semi-dress in particular possesses “an erotic charge because it is the closest clothing to the private female form” (Barbier and Boucher 17) and the strongest moment of attraction because it unites the imagination required with full dress and the reality of imminent exposure.  Once a person reaches nudity, their arousal and interest gradually dissipates. Underwear as outerwear has been a style largely confined to the feminine realm.  This might be due to the fact that females live under the penetrating male gaze.  Men have nothing to gain from wearing their undergarments; women can either manipulate them to empower themselves or allure the opposite sex.  So maybe there’s a reason Pretty Woman seems to play on TV more often than American Gigolo.  We’d rather see Richard Gere admiring and rescuing the scandalously clad prostitute instead of removing his own clothes.

Ultimately, women rule suggestive semi-undress as a source of reauthorization. This practice gives women a sense of empowerment without true power.  A woman could, say, sport a bra sans shirt to reclaim jurisdiction over her own body, her choice in apparel is a theatrical proclamation of self, but her male audience, on the most simplistic level, could reduce the performance for instant sexual gratification.  Everything is on show; displayed upfront.  Furthermore, such garments are imbued with a flirtatious edge.  Women like men to look, whether or not they have purposeful intent, and they enjoy the idea of controlling that gaze, whereas men just like to look. In reverse, this situation simply cannot function because the man would gain nothing, real or illusory.  By dressing in this way, the male would abandon his stature of patriarchal dignity, stability and order in favor of the feminine.  The reversal of the gaze alters gender roles dramatically.  Women, throughout history, have been dismantled for visceral enjoyment to their anatomical parts.  Breasts are nothing new, though vaginas are slightly more unsettling in comparison, but penises are sacred territory.  Because of the implicit authority on the masculine side of the gender dichotomy, the image of a man’s genitals ousts him of culturally inherited birthright and aligns him with the exposure, lack of control, lawlessness and irrationality affiliated to femininity.

Works Cited:

Arnold, Rebecca.  Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the 20th Century. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

Barbier, Muriel and Shazia Boucher.  The Story of Lingerie. New York: Parkstone International, 2004.

Calefato, Patrizia. The Clothed Body. Trans. Lisa Adams. Oxford: Berg, 2004.

Fashion Television CTV. “FT: Underwear as Outerwear.” Online Posting. YouTube. 19 February 2010.  2 February 2011. <>

Perniola, Mario.  Between Clothing and Nudity.  Mario Perniola Personal Website. 1 February 2011.  <>

Reed, C. S. (2004), “The codpiece: social fashion or medical need?.” Internal Medicine Journal, 34: 684–686. doi: 10.1111/j.1445-5994.2004.00635.x

Steele, Valerie. Fashion and Eroticism: Ideals of Feminine Beauty from the Victorian Era to the Jazz Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Vicary, G. Q. (1989), “Visual Art as Social Data: The Renaissance Codpiece.” Cultural Anthropology, 4: 3–25. doi: 10.1525/can.1989.4.1.02a00010

Image Credits:

“A Clockwork Orange: Milk Bar.” Photo. 10 February 2011.

“A Clockwork Orange: Rape Scene.” Photo 10 February 2011.

“Lady Gaga.” Photo. 26 May 2010. 14 May 2012.’s-hangout-grace-jones-outside-studio-54-–-ok-so-gaga-you-need-to-salute-the-queen/

“MadonnaGaultier.” 25 April 2012. 14 May 2012.

“Marie Antoinette.” Painting. 2 November 2010. 10 February 2011.

“Natalie Portman and Clive Owen in Closer.” Photo 22 May 2007. 24 February 2011.

“Richard Gere: American Gigolo.” 10 February 2011.

“Spring Trend: Underwear as Outerwear.” Photo. 27 March 2010. 10 February 2011.

“Taylor Momsen.” 10 September 2009. 10 February 2011.

Holbein the Younger, Hans. “Portrait of Henry VIII.” Painting. 5 December 2006. 10 February 2011.

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