Big Question: is it easier for some to transgress gender than others?

Many might agree that society considers it more ‘acceptable’ and is more receptive to gender-transgressive behavior in women; it is not uncommon for women to don ‘masculine’ clothing, enter typically considered ‘masculine’ work fields, and compete in ‘masculine’ sports. While this is not to say that it is easy for women to transgress gender, I would assert that it is a more common occurrence than men’s transgression of gender. Most men are careful to avoid the use of feminine products and clothing, evade the appreciation of typical ‘feminine’ activities and occupations, and many even tease each other for displays of femininity. According to Karin Martin in “William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One?” when it comes to parents’ worry about their children transgressing gender, “These questions are much more frequently posed about boys” (Martin, 470). Many gendered behaviors are accumulated at an early age, and perhaps this reflects the anxiety parents feel, particularly, about instilling ‘appropriate’ gender in their boys at an early age.  If parents created a more comfortable space for young boys to push the limits of gender, the occurrence of men transgressing gender might be more common. Ultimately, perhaps for women, the breaking down gender roles is simply a more comfortable exercise (with the rise of feminism). What do you think?

 

Karin Martin. “William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and       Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender and Society, 19, (4), August 2005. 456-479.

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3 thoughts on “Big Question: is it easier for some to transgress gender than others?

  1. qleah

    I do agree with your proposition: MTF transgression does seem “easier” than FTM transgression. I question, however, the reasons why this is so. Strictly stereotypically speaking, there seems to be a greater community for the MTF transgender lifestyle compared to FTM. Look at the sheer number of MTF interviewees in “Diagnosing Difference” and even the following of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. There is simply a more present image and community for MTF transgenders, making the transgression “easier” (seemingly and stereotypically of course).

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  2. sewilson17

    I also agree female gender transgression is more socially acceptable. It’s obvious just from the fact that a feminine shaped pair of “girlfriend jeans” would never be marketed to men but that women’s “boyfriend jeans” are a popular style in every clothing story. However, I don’t think it’s the rise of feminism that has made it easier for women to break down gender roles. Rather, I think it’s the perception of male gender superiority that permits this transgression. Women embracing aspects of masculinity is seen as reasonable, even admirable, attempts to imitate the superior qualities of the men around them. “Tomboy” is not an insult, it’s often an affectionate term for a girl who just wants to be one of the boys, but “sissy” is an insult and a boy who prefers typically feminine activities is seen as perverse and weird. Men can comprehend a woman wanting to be a man, but a man trying to be a woman is unnatural and ridiculous as they are willing taking on the qualities of the inferior sex. Therefore, I don’t think that women’s ability to transgress is a statement about the power of women but instead about the power of man over our social narrative.

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  3. alimthongviratn

    I too agree that people who are designated as female are more socially accepted for transgressing genders. In a society where identification within the gender binary is the norm, between male and female, the former gender is largely considered superior. It’s reasonable to assume that society is more accepting of female gender transgression because it is seen as attaining the power and superiority associated with the male gender. The reverse too would be sensible: condescension and scorn are directed toward people who choose to “lower” themselves from the male hegemony.

    Since sewilson17 has already discussed what I discussed above, I want to expand what qleah touched upon: gender transgression for trans people. If we step away from societal acceptance and look at what sciences offers – I realize this may not be the most popular approach, but I think it is important to consider – one might say it is the opposite. qleah mentioned that there seems to be a greater number of MTF* transgender people than FTM. I would reword that statement: there are less FTM trans individuals than MTF. Part of this, I think, is because people who identity as male but are designated as female are more accepted when they present as they identify. To expand upon this, I may be mistaken but there are less legally recognized trans men. This may because some may want to have top and bottom surgery, which is very financially constraining. Additionally, bottom surgery is not as effective for trans men than trans women. As a result, trans men may choose not to transition or openly identify as transgender and express themselves within what is socially accepted as gender transgression for people designated as female. For trans women, however, there is the issue of hormones, among many other issues, that may make it more difficult to outwardly transgress genders even though there may be more trans women. Testosterone overpowers estrogen, so people receiving estrogen may also take androgen blockers while people taking testosterone do not need blockers to inhibit the effects of estrogen. For this reason, and others, trans women often have more difficult passing than trans men, making it more difficult for them to transgress genders outwardly.

    *I use the terms MTF and FTM sparingly because people who identity as transgender are not only ones to transition. Some people who identity outside of the binary also transition. Additionally, “male to female” and vice-versa may imply a propagation of the gender binary.

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