Tag Archive | gender norms

I am a cucumber

I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern throughout my life with how people react to me. People often assume that body image just relates to size and shape, but my experience has to do with my hair.

Being the child of a hairdresser it seemed natural I would at some point do some experimenting. My first radical change came at university and my brother did a similar experiment. I got dreadlocks and my bro shaved all his hair off. Both of us noticed the immediate effect on how people reacted to us. I had the better deal I think. I had complete random strangers – with dreadlocks, smile, say hi, want to talk about music and life and just generally I seemed to gain entry into groups without needing to do much. My brother however found female shop owners avoiding eye contact, refusing to serve him and generally perceived as a threat. Needless to say, going out for coffee together was interesting.

I then grew my hair long for many years and just blended into the generic background. That was until the start of this year when I got over it and went for the full chop. People were surprised but positive. So then I decided why not go really short and messy, to the edge of respectable margins of femininity.

That was my cucumber moment. People just freaked out like in Cats vrs Cucumbers on youtube. People who weeks before would say hi, talk to me stepped aside and looked at me suspiciously, they stopped short of hissing but I might have detected the odd growl. I could tell I had crossed the line and fallen out of the respectable image others held of my gender – people, like those cats saw me differently and I was a little perplexed for a while. But now I’m ok with my new cucumber status. Because I actually tried the cucumber thing with my own cat, I was all primed with a camera to catch out but he didn’t freak. In fact he was rather disinterested and looked at me like what is this thing doing here that looks like it could be food but isn’t. I suspect my cat has never encountered a snake unlike some of the other cats in the USA. So being a cucumber itself isn’t the problem, it’s the association with threat and fear.

So I’m embracing my cucumberness, I might even become as cool as one.

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Face Facts

I’m confident most people will realise that puberty brings on changes, and one of those is growing body hair. It should be a choice to shave or not shave body hair. When I say ‘choice’ I also understand there is pressure to present your body in a socially acceptable way, I wish it wasn’t that way. There are also cultural aspects to body hair and some if has very significant meaning. Given our multi-cultural society here in NZ and being in the 21st Century, I do find it strange that schools can have rules about where hair is permitted to grow. Students in New Zealand still face strict uniform requirements around hair length and facial hair (if male…I’ll come back to this).

So I was heartened to hear of a petition started by Kapiti College student Antony McEwan to allow year 13 students to have beards (if they can grow them). The students there can wear mufti and make up but not allow their bodies to do their thing. It got me pondering the meaning of facial hair that is perhaps different to leg hair, or arm hair, even arm pit hair! I’m not sure but I have a feeling it is to do with actually becoming a ‘Man’. It’s a form of body uniforming – keeping all males looking ‘the same’ – even if they are in mufti. I think it achieves this by keeping young men/males appearing like prepubescent boys. They can’t stop voices deepening and besides no-one ‘sees’ a voice, this is about the body and how it is viewed in school.

That also got me wondering about transgender guys. Let’s say someone starts testosterone at 15-16, they’re ready to ‘bro up’ and they are on it for a while and they finally get to facial hair growing (let’s say they are genetically gifted). The last thing he’s probably not going to want to do is shave off that hard earned beard, no matter how patchy it is.

Which is why this is more than just a fight for cisgendered teen guys getting to sport the latest fashion accessory. This is about an expression of biological, social, cultural, and gender diversity. It is time for schools to face facts about facial hair, it happens and it is completely harmless. Razor cuts and burns however – not so much fun, possibly harmful I’m guessing.

Good luck Anthony, and I hope you get your 500 signatures – it could be a close shave.

 

 

Violent acts not always deadly

16-year-old transgender student Stefani Rose Muollo-Gray had a pretty rough ride at her school when she tried to use the girls bathroom. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised but I kind of imagined the bathroom policing was for countries like the USA, so I’m a bit shocked it is so close to home. She started a petition which has drawn attention to the issue.

While it’s hard to put it alongside the horrific events in Orlando, this is probably a worse kind of violence, one that society sometimes condones and supports. Policing where you pee these days seems to be the new way to ensure we stick with binary genders based on the most important part of being a human – how you excrete kidney waste. Sorry to get all anatomical but, frankly, that is what is being questioned.

I think the issue is with teacher education actually. Heck, you get one year to become a teacher at a high school – what portion is spent looking at the complexity of diversity, gender, sexuality, culture, functioning? Not much. but Principals could do more to support LGBTQI+ young people. The violence of silence is what bothers me. To not even recognise that a school they will have Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Fa’afafine, Takataapui students and teachers in them.

But Principals could do more to support LGBTQI+ young people. The violence of silence is what bothers me – to not even recognise that a school  will have Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Fa’afafine, Takataapui students and teachers in them.

Events like the school ball can be places where schools become more aggressive by asking for proof of gayness. Or for young transgender people trying to attend a school that fits their gender identity having to go through psychological interrogations to prove they are who they are. A serious lack of uniform options for High School students enforces gender norms – it is like wearing a straight jacket (great pun). Schools make life unnecessarily hard for people on the rainbow spectrum. School leaders need to take the lead.

I hope Stefani reaches the 7500 signatures she needs and I hope it starts some hard conversations among other schools about how to genuinely make schools a safe place for everyone.

 

Coded dress

I have blogged about school balls before. I thought I was over it. But it just keeps popping up like a painful blister from wearing high heels (apparently – I don’t wear heels – I get altitude sickness – and I never passed my femininity licence).

A school has decided it can veto the style of dress worn. The main issue is the amount of skin being shown. Now on the face of it, that does sound a little OTT. However, it is a Catholic school. Why should that make a difference? Well, it is about what values the school is upholding. This is a religious school, with a particular set of ideologies and beliefs about modesty and the body. So I am not shocked that they have taken this stance. I’m more shocked that people attending the school would be. I think some people forget that Christianity is a religion.

Schools already have a sense of ownership around policing bodies, uniforms do that well and this is a school event.It kind of fits with representing the school image, like sports teams. What I do take issue with is not being able to take shoes off if they are hurting. Those wearing high heels have to suffer in order to maintain the forced gender code of femininity even if it results in excruciating pain and discomfort. I can see that being a fun night on the dance floor. My tip – just don’t wear heels or take two pairs of shoes, one for show and one for go! Another solution is to have uniform ball dresses, now there’s an idea – along with uniform ball jewellery. Let’s go all the way and have set hair styles and makeup. For guys lets say they must keep their tie and jacket on all night, gotta have some gender equality somewhere.

So as all schools head into ball season lets get a bit of a reality check. It is an old tradition we haven’t quite integrated into the 21st-century ideas of diversity and difference. It is the ‘Straightrix’ – like The Matrix that codes all forms of gender and sexuality norms. If you know that you can choose to take the blue pill for the night (no I am not encouraging drug use – see the movie!) go for it and have a fun night.

Hairs a thought about bullying

Today pink shirts were hauled out of the depths of wardrobes (or closets) and worn with varying degrees of comfort and style. I heard from someone that a group of boys – maybe 9-10 who wore pink shirts to school today were called names and that no teachers responded or challenged this. That in my books is an epic fail. I also know my 8-year-old daughter (at the same school) has struggled with boys understanding that cutting her hair short does not actually, miraculously turn her into a boy. Actually, I don’t think they believe that either, but she feels pretty down that none of her friends will stick up for her, or the teachers. She also just wants to get on and not make a big deal out of it, but I’m kind of on the edge of going parental supernova. It probably doesn’t help that I am also a counsellor…so I’m going to let her tell me what support she would like. I get to dress up as Wolverine Sunday and do the mud run at the school, I’m tempted to see if the boys are there and to have a chat to them in full character…but I wont…claws sheathed.

My dilemma is I want her to feel safe, happy and accepted for who she is, not the length of her hair. Why is this society still insisting on such strongly defined ways of being correctly male and female – it’s hair! So while pink shirt day points to the idea of femininity being wrong for boys (symbolically indicated by the pink shirt) there is no ‘shirt option’ of the reverse for girls, but hair length is.

So how about a cut your hair short day to go with pink shirt day? Could be a great way for hairdressers to get some training for their apprentices – free cuts in solidarity.

Think Pink

So it’s Pink Shirt Day tomorrow. It occurred to me just how much meaning the colour pink has gained over the years. Wearing a pink shirt tomorrow is replicating the act of solidarity shown by a bunch of mates when their mate had homophobic comments made after he wore a pink shirt.

That’s probably the bit that is missed, the action of solidarity after because I think it is a little unrealistic to think that wearing a pink shirt tomorrow is solidarity, I think symbolic and that’s not quite the same thing. I like the word solidarity – it has ‘solid’ in it….and ‘arity’ but that’s not really a word. To be firm, grounded, real, present…to matter. Because people could wear a pink shirt tomorrow and challenge no-one about mocking people for being gay. Solidarity doesn’t need a shirt it needs action…from everyone…pink or no pink shirt.

Actually, it would be good to destigmatise the colour pink and not have it attached to gender or sexuality, so if anything we need to think where we see and don’t see pink. Let’s put pink in its rightful place, back in nature and not on every single girl’s toy (if there is such a thing) and bit of clothing…toothbrush…hair brush….you get my point.

Blowing the horn on porn

Well I’m not sure how to bring this up but sex is everywhere. I think the leap in technology has the generation gap about as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon or the Mariana trench (bit of a geography lesson on the side). Problem is parents and young people get a bit awkward talking about sex anyway, so talking about pornography is probably right up there with topics likely to induce a heart attack. Realistically the statics say 90% of boys and 60% of girls have seen porn. Now back in the day like maybe 20 years ago, people had to buy magazines or hand over their ID to a video store. These days it’s the click of a button away and with cameras these days people are sharing more and more images, including themselves (I talked about this in my other blog).

Funny thing is no-one really talks about horniness or being ‘turned on’ by stuff. I don’t think people watch pornography for the plot, drama or suspense so let’s get real, sexual urges are normal for girls and guys and everyone else in between. But porn doesn’t always show what is realistic, kind of like driving cars and street racing isn’t like it is in The Fast And The Furious.

If you have mates that are into it and you think they are about to jump in and put the foot down without realising what they might really be getting into, send them to It’s Time We Talked. It’s got stuff for young people, parents and schools to think about.

There might be a bit of a generation gap happening with technology but some things like respect, trust and support are timeless. If you are not sure and need some help you can talk to netsafe anonymously.