We are Made into Men and Women

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

–Simone de Beauvoir

In my Sociology of Gender class, we talked about how gender is not something that we are, that we are born into, but it is something we learn and then perform. People “do” gender. And this performance changes whether you are with your friends, with a lover, with your mother, at the store, in class. We act out gender according to circumstances.

I know I act differently when I’m with a group of my girlfriends then when I’m with a group of guys. And I assume guys don’t swear/hit on girls/drink when with their grandmother like they would if they were with their buds (not that all guys swear/hit on girls/drink). A business man or a politician would look very out of place hanging out with Lil Wayne or Arnold Schwarzenegger on the street. Both the politician and the Terminator are “masculine”, but in very different ways under very different circumstances.

I shall return in a timely fashion

Our performance lies in how we get ready every morning. I brush my hair, put on clothes that may or may not match, maybe put on make up, put on my Vans before I go out to school. Oh yeah, and I grab my homework and stuff. Can’t forget about that. Except right now we can. I present myself to the world in a very different way then my sister does.

My sister spends an hour or more every morning doing her make up, putting on foundation and… and… and I don’t even know what she does. She straightens her already straight hair for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, and her foundation consists of like three layers. Its like in The Uglies where the Pretties get new skin! She has an eyelash curler. For curly eyelashes. (What?) She has a very specific and coordinated set of clothing designated explicitly for public purpose, such as school or hanging out with friends, and when she gets home she changes into a tee shirt and shorts.

I ask her, “why do you change clothes?”

She says “because these are more comfortable.”

“Why not just wear the comfy clothes to school?”

She laughs. Apparently it doesn’t work that way.

My make up is usually just eyeliner; maybe a little mascara; and maybe, if I’m feeling extra fancy-pants, I wear lip gloss. Sometimes I wear guy clothes. Most the time I wear guy shoes. The way I present myself to the world is very different from the way my sister presents herself. Her public presentation is much different from her private one. She feels the very real need, perhaps even a pressure, to “act” feminine when in public.

This is a social pressure that’s acting upon her. It’s something she’s internalized that society has fed her. My question is: where has this come from? Why can’t my sister go out to see a movie at the dollar theater without dressing up? Why do I not feel the same pressure? and Do you do this?

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2 thoughts on “We are Made into Men and Women

  1. Roxi Now says:

    It is interesting that you use the example of a politician looking out of place around Arnold Schwarsenegger because he was a politician, but didn’t look like the stereotype. Because of this when he became the governor of California he got the nickname “The Govenator” even though he presented himself and his masculinity very differently as the governor compared to when he portrayed the Terminator.
    Another thing is how much women are pressured to act feminine. Society expects women to look and act a certain way and teaches them from an early age that being themselves is not enough. For example, there is a lot of make-up out there to make you look like you are not wearing make-up at all and women spend a lot of money on it instead to just not wearing anything because they are taught make-up is important.
    I find myself dressing and acting differently depending on who will be there. It is more than just dressing to match the occasion. If I know there will be guys where I am going I spend more time getting ready and act more feminine once there than I do if I am just meeting my friends or am by myself. I believe that society pressures us to move more into the stereotypical gender blocks while in mixed company because there are certain things that are seem as acceptable ways to behave and if you deviate too much from that you are seen as an abnormality and are treated as such.

  2. Right, I totally agree with you. There are different kinds of masculinity. Because we saw Arnold in the Terminator as being an ultra-macho dude, it’s like we couldn’t separate that from him. He is defined as ultra-macho, and that’s something that followed him into the arena of politics where masculinity comes in a completely different form, and he couldn’t shake his macho identity. We had to carry that with him, calling him “the Govenator”. It almost seems as though we had to call him that, like we had to justify him being there in some way.
    Also, yes, society puts this pressure on females to be feminine; but just not feminine, like Jessica Alba ultra-feminine. We see this on television, in movies, in magazines and billboards and ads. We make all little girl’s toys pink, frilly, princessy. But why?

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