Lately there’s been a growing movement towards gender neutrality. Fashion labels are jumping on board by not labeling their clothing as either men’s or women’s but designing it to be gender neutral. Their idea behind this is that genderless clothing allows freedom of expression and the possibility for people to feel more like themselves rather than stereotyped into a box.
It is understandable and, perhaps also necessary, to break free from the labels we like to put on ourselves and others. No one wants to be put into a box. Especially when these labels are not inclusive or push people that do not fit within these boxes to the fringes of society.
Questioning our Preconceived Notions
I have always believed that if we are to grow and evolve as a society, it is important to be able to take a step back from the preconceived notions that we have. Whether they are the ones we inherited from our upbringing or adopted from our cultural environment. This includes the re-examining of our beliefs that there are certain social roles or ways of behaving that are more suited for one gender than the other. Such as, women should have domestic type roles and men should be the breadwinners.
Resistance to Change
This however is sometimes easier said than done. It can feel threatening to move away from something that is familiar. Especially when we grew up seeing our parents with very specific set of roles. Not to mention, the media and our social environment that continue to reinforce these stereotypical identities where women are depicted as weak and needing rescue and men as needing to be strong and heroic.
Embracing our Differences
Of course, this is a generalised statement but it is evident that there’s a need to move away from cultural stereotypes of what ‘women’ roles and ‘men’ roles should be and what it means to be a ‘real’ man or ‘real’ woman.
But shouldn’t we also have the room to embrace our gender differences (rather than try to neutralise them)? In this march for gender neutrality, do we risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
The conversation I would like to see more of is perhaps not necessarily one that maks a case for gender neutrality but how we can move beyond the whole gender idea all together. What if instead of being fixated on defining (or not defining) what it means to be a man or a women, we shifted our focus on what it means to be human. That we instead draw our attention to the person inside us who is capable of having both feminine and masculine qualities.
Femininity versus Masculinity
As humans we embody both a feminine and masculine side. For one person, one side might be more predominant than the other, but rarely are we given the space to embody them both. If we are to create change within society we need to be given the freedom to express both currents within us. That means that men too are allowed to show their vulnerable sides, or their need for connection and love without being mocked for it and women are allowed to take the lead without being judged as domineering.
This doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t be caregivers or men should not take the role as the main breadwinner, but that there is the freedom for both sides to choose the roles they want to play, free from social or cultural stigma.
There are so many dimensions to what it means to be human, why place limits on ourselves and others? What if we were brave and curious enough to explore the nuances within ourselves. To experience the myriad of emotions we are capable of having. To honour the need we have to connect and the desire to be truly seen. To allow ourselves and others the ability to be all that we can be and in doing so become the best version of ourselves, irregardless of our gender.