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FEM vs. Men

 

Modern Day Men and Women

(some modern day people we think are awesome)

 
 
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Hannah Gadsby:

A comedian and writer from Tasmania. Gadsby identifies as lesbian and often refers to her sexuality in stand-up routines. In 2017, she gave her now-famous going-out-of-comedy show entitled “Nanette.”                     

 
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King Princess:

King Princess is her stage name, but in her personal life, she goes by Mikaela Straus. A singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, NY, King Princess also identifies as genderqueer and serves as a major advocate for the LGBTQ community. Many of her songs and music videos touch on struggles in the LGBTQ community.

 
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Cass and Ali Bird:

Cass, a photographer, and Ali, a director, have been together for 14 years and are now raising two kids. Together, they document their life, sharing photos of the intimate, messy, and many times humorous aspects of their “21st century” family life.                 

 
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Chella Man:

He’s a deaf, genderqueer, trans artist from New York City. Most recently, he was named as the first deaf transgender model to sign with IMG. He maintains a presence on Instagram where he has documented his transition, undergoing top-surgery and using testosterone.

 
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Alok Vaid-Menon:

They’re an American performance artist and LGBTQ activist. They identify as gender non-conforming and trans-feminine. An alumn from Stanford University, they now write queer poetry, maintaining a high-profile social media presence, and they also travel around the country to perform shows.

 

Historically, gender roles have provided society with a blueprint on how to live, what to do in life, how to engage with each other. If we think about it, the traditional image of gender gives people a considerable amount of certainty and direction in life. If a middle class man grows up, expecting to get a white collar job, a wife, and a few kids, he has something, an image, to work towards, to give his life structure and meaning. For many, there is something to lose by letting go of the idea of a gender binary--families achieve a certain amount of social status when they fulfill the normative family image (the house with the picket fence, a loving mother and father, a couple happy kids); furthermore, when women stay at home, they’re not competing for the same jobs that men hold. If we let go of the gender binary, we’re also letting go of an image, of a certainty relating to how one’s life will unfold. 

We can see that gender is evolving at a constant rate--we keep moving forward and pushing gendered boundaries. Almost everywhere we look, people of various identities are gaining access to what were once male-only spheres (high-paying careers, professional athletics, political positions, leadership roles); social media platforms are exploding with accounts that celebrate free gender expression; even large corporations are releasing ads showcasing their support for the LGBTQ community. The guidelines for manhood and womanhood have even changed. In today’s society, both men and women are allowed and even expected to exhibit a (somewhat limited) range of masculinity and femininity. While traditionally, men are thought to be assertive, strong, stoic, and rational, and women are thought to be receptive, emotional, loving, and intuitive, everyone could probably think of many men and women who embody a range of all these aforementioned traits. In our modern world, men and women aren’t expected to be so one-dimensional; there is room to express both femininity and masculinity, regardless of one’s gender. This all sounds like huge progress, and it is, but if we only focus on our culture’s successes, we miss out on the ways that our society can still grow.

 

Despite these (and many other) advances, the gender binary does not surrender to the progress in society--as we said, people with gender privilege have a lot to lose by giving up on traditional gender roles. So, instead of yielding to progressive ideology, the gender binary adapts to and manipulates our more developed understandings of masculinity and femininity.

 

How exactly is the gender binary evolving and intertwining itself in the progress we’ve made in re-understanding gender? We acknowledge that people of marginalized gender identities are gaining more rights and privileges, but it seems that this headway comes at a bit of a price. While there’s more opportunity for personal expression, there’s also more uncertainty regarding what will be deemed acceptable in society. We’re more free to oscillate back and forth on the gender spectrum, but there also exists a pressure not to stray too far outside what is an acceptable expression of gender. We’re left with the convoluted task of negotiating what’s too feminine or too masculine in a situation.

 

An example of this negotiation is fatherhood. Modern family values expect a father to be loving and patient and empathetic with his child; the role of fatherhood requires a certain amount of vulnerability that contradicts traditional masculine traits. But this domestic “Mr. Mom” image does not also allow a man to bring that fatherly softness or “femininity” into most other areas of his life. If a man is moving between, say, domestic and professional worlds, he must juggle his masculinity and femininity, moving about his professional settings with a more masculine confidence but returning home as the doting, sensitive father.

 

The same (but a bit different) balancing act applies to women and people who do not identify as cis-gender. While a woman’s success in the professional world requires her to put together a rational, confident, stable front, she is always at risk of coming off “too strong” or sounding like a “bitch.” So, a woman also has to know when to rely on society’s presumption that she is receptive and patient and means no harm. Mothers also receive a fair amount of judgement for their child-rearing practices. In many circles, women who choose to stay at home with their children experience criticism for being too old-fashioned and un-feminist, and women who maintain a career while also raising children are similarly demonized for being neglectful mothers to their children. It’s difficult to negotiate with modern gender norms without experiencing criticism from at least one area.

 

The questions we’re left with are--What does it mean to be a modern woman? What does it mean to be a modern man? What the hell does it mean to be a modern anything? We all live negotiating with this complex and high-stakes system of masculinity and femininity; it’s hard to know how our gender expression will be received in a given situation. The answer to “What does it mean to be a modern…” does not lie in figuring out the perfect way to present oneself to others--that sounds not only exhausting but inherently in conflict with the idea of self-acceptance. To address and de-stigmatize gender stereotypes, we must embrace radical acceptance. It’s so relieving to practice acceptance for self and for others and the fact that they might believe something different. It’s so relieving not to have to be modern anything.