Constructing Gender: More or Less (with Media)

You wake up. You choose an outfit. You put it on. What are you thinking about while this is happening? Aside from being groggy, you may be either excited about something or dreading something, or you may feel neutral. Whether you realize it or not, you are also deciding who you are going to be today, and your presentation of yourself is a reflection of that decision.

Part of that decision has to do with your gender. Generally speaking, gender is made up of two components: self-concept (or identity) and presentation. How you think and feel about yourself as a gendered person translates into your gender presentation. The examples of gender you see in the world translate into your thoughts and feelings about  yourself, for whether you realize it or not, you are constantly comparing yourself to the images you see and wondering how you stack up. The limited nature of the gender binary (male/female, man/woman, masculine/feminine) combined with society’s narrow interpretation of what these labels describe, make the examples of gender in the world, both in media and real life, very limited.

This film project was for my class on Intersectional Approaches to Media Studies, and I began it intending to highlight how gender is constructed by images and ideas, and how anybody can don the images and ideas of either gender. The images in the film are intersectional, as is every image, because they represent race, class, sex, and gender all at the same time. However, the film contains very little variety in racial and class differences because the pool of images we have in our heads are usually images that match up with our image of ourselves. I am white. Although my parents and I are poor, I go to a private liberal arts school and have all the appearances of being middle class. My sex is female, however my gender presentation changes throughout the film. The images I see in the film reflect my own intersectional identity (as a white person, I am lucky to have a host of images in my well to choose from).

Because media platforms’ main goal is to make a profit by entertaining people, executives and producers have everything to gain by taking advantage of stereotypes and caricatures that people readily understand. Most of these stereotypes are very harmful. For instance, men’s strict association with agentic qualities and women’s strict association with communal qualities restrict both groups, but especially men, from a dual agentic/communal experience. Additionally, women are characterized more by their physical appearance than men are, and are more often objectified as well, further depriving them of agency over their own bodies. The list could go on and on.

Media representations of men and women (and there are, for the most part, only representations of cis-men and cis-women, nothing in between and very rarely any trans-men or women) perpetuate these stereotypical ideas about gender and contribute to the well of images in your mind when you wake up and get dressed.

This short film is a dramatization of such an effect. Surely when I’m getting dressed in the morning I don’t literally imagine a scene from the last movie I watched (but maybe you do, how should I know?), but I definitely draw from that mixed-up well of images when I decide how to present myself. Pants or dress? Brown belt or black? Smile or frown? Saunter or sashay? With each choice I make, whether I mean to say something about my gender or my personality, I am contributing to the well of images other people who see me have when they wake up tomorrow.

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One response to “Constructing Gender: More or Less (with Media)

  1. Pingback: The Rabbit Hole: Gender-Neutral Dating and the Politics of Heteronormalcy | pundit from another planet·

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