And are still breathtaking.
It was, appropriately, in a feminist theory class at UCLA that I first thought to myself that gender might be a crock. When I say "gender" I am not talking about the same thing as biology. Gender is a socially defined way of identifying whether one is male or female through characteristics and roles associated with a specific sex while biology refers to physiological differences between males and females. And before you find yourself up in arms let me explain my definition of said crock: I believe gender is mostly about social judgment and, therefore, a bunch of nonsense.
Perhaps a story can help me illustrate. It was in that same feminist theory class that I met Ali. This is what I see when I look at Ali for the first time: her hair is cropped close to her head, a pixie cut if she is a woman or a regular guy cut if she is a man. Her facial features are fine and almost delicate, blue eyes so light in color they are almost translucent, fair skin with a smattering of freckles across her button nose, straight teeth that are perfectly white and even. Her features mainly register as feminine, but she doesn't wear any make-up and she dresses as a boy. She is so beautiful, I think, and as I say this it registers in my mind that she is a he who is a she.
Ali identifies as "fluid." From what I can tell, fluid means that in terms of gender she could be either a male or a female. As I just said, it is unclear from her appearance if she is a really beautiful boy or a really beautiful girl. She is completely androgynous.
One day, as we are discussing Judith Butler, Ali volunteers him/herself as an example. "It happens all the time," she says. "Men and women get mad when they can't figure out what I am."
Get mad? I think. Why? What is there to be upset over?
"This old man came up to me on the bus today," she says, "and he goes, 'Are you a boy or a girl? Tell me!' He was really angry. I said to him, 'What do you think?' And then I got off the bus and walked to school instead."
Ali told this story as a person who experienced judgment on a daily basis. Her voice didn't quiver, as mine would have. Her eyes weren't sad. The old man on the bus was her reality, the judgment a consequence of bending gender norms.
I've often thought about her story since that class. Why is it that we need to label a human with an either/or gender? Either you are a man or you are a woman. Either you are a male or you are a female. And why does the lack of being able to identify a human make people uncomfortable and even angry?
The anger, which must be born of fear, is taken so far in our culture that some men (and some women) insist that women should only have long hair. Short hair on a woman? I once had a man tell me that only super models could pull off short hair. When I told him I was getting my hair cut the next day he promptly told me not to because I was not a super model. Really? Let me get this straight. If I, as a person who identifies my gender as female, cut my hair short I'm going to be hideously ugly? Or is the real problem that I'm getting too close to the edge? Perhaps it's that I am dangerously close to defying a gender norm.
A year out from that comment I have this to say back to it: forget you! Whether a woman identifies as a female, as fluid, as gay, as straight, or as none of the above, we are all breathtakingly beautiful. And as example there are many women in our celebrity culture who have chosen to take on the cultural identifiers of manhood (say short hair, for example) and still appear as beautiful women. Let's take a look:
5. Demi Moore
- Ghost was one of the first movies I ever saw that wasn't a Disney princess tale and that stuck with me. One of the reasons? Demi Moore's appearance. In case anyone has forgotten, Demi wore her hair so short she could have passed for a seventh grade boy. Her makeup was minimal, and she even wore overalls. While her style was somewhat androgynous, she was captivatingly beautiful.
4. Hillary Swank
Hilary Ann Swank, born July 30, 1974 began her film career began with a small part in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress twice, as transman Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry and as struggling waitress-turned-boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby. |
- This actress played the part of a female-to-male transgendered person in Boys Don't Cry. The story alone should open anybody's heart.
3. Emma Watson
- The longhaired Harry Potter star suddenly grew up when she appeared with a pixie cut. Why did she look so grown up? It was that androgynous cut. It said she was to be taken seriously. She was old enough to wear it. She was beautiful, period.
2. Michelle Williams
- The beautiful actress who so recently played the part of Marilyn Monroe also sported a pixie cut. She made the claim in Elle that she did it for Heath Ledger who was the only man she knew who preferred short hair on women. But I am sure there are many men, as well as many women, as well as many a person who identifies as neither who found Michelle beautiful.
1. Ellen DeGeneres
- Ellen's look has become iconic. It has pushed boundaries, just as she has, and she even became a model for Covergirl cosmetics.
These beautiful women, and my beautiful friend Ali, are proof that we need not label a human with an either/or gender. It is not either you are a man or you are a woman. It does not need to be that either you are a male or you are a female. And the lack of being able to identify a human as a specific gender does not need to make people uncomfortable or angry. We have pushed the gender lines back. The man who asked Ali on the bus if she was a girl or a boy was old. We are a new generation and as such can choose to defy gender norms. Let these women lead the way.