This week in my gender class, we talked about gender and embodiment — that is, the way that men and women may experience our bodies differently, and how we train our bodies to signal gender differences just as much as the clothing and accessories we wear do. Men and women learn to use their bodies differently as part of their performance of masculinity or femininity; think of the difference in how men and women tend to hold cigarettes, how women are more likely to sit with their legs crossed (even if they’re not wearing skirts), and other ways in which we learn to use or position our bodies differently.
Lindsey sent in a link to an art project, Switcheroo, posted at Sincerely Hana that illustrates a number of topics related to gender. The project, by Hana Pesut, consists of (mostly) men and women exchanging outfits. In our gender binary, women have more flexibility to engage in some types of gender non-conformity; due to androcentrism, women may gain status by associating themselves with masculinity, while men generally only lose if they are perceived as feminine, a devalued status.
Not surprisingly, then, the images that stand out most in the collection are those with a man wearing clothing that is strongly coded as feminine. We’re not surprised that a woman would wear pants, but a man in a skirt or dress — that is, a man openly performing femininity — is still unusual in our culture and violates the cultural norm that masculinity might be good for everybody, but femininity is just for women.
In addition, a number of the photos illustrate gendered embodiment. When the men and women in the photos take on not just the other’s clothing, but also their postures, we can see how certain ways of holding or displaying our bodies are gendered — that we perceive them as feminine or masculine, and see them more often from one or the other gender.
It’s worth browsing the entire collection.Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.