Over 1)winter break, I had the opportunity to visit the newly opened 2)Barneys in my hometown,3)Scottsdale. Among the 4)throngs of 5)impeccably dressed shoppers, I couldn’t help but 6)eavesdrop on a particularly chic couple hovering near the dressing rooms, modeling potential purchases for one another. The Girlfriend stood in the open doorway, posing in a pair of tight dark-7)rinse jeans. Wrinkling her nose as she checked out her 8)butt in the mirror, she asked The Boyfriend, “So what about these?”
The Boyfriend shrugged, holding out a pair of slim black 9)denim pants towards The Girlfriend. “I actually really like these. What do you think?”
The Girlfriend turned the jeans over in her hands, 10)taking in their 11)tapered legs and 12)taut cut through the thigh. Her eyes widened as she exclaimed, “These are perfect! I could wear them with my black boots.” Her voice 13)trailed once she saw the look of confusion and embarrassment on The Boyfriend’s face.
“Actually,” he mumbled, 14)snatching the jeans back from her. “I meant I liked them for me.”
Weirdly, the scene I saw at Barneys shouldn’t have been as awkward for The Boyfriend as you’d think. 15)Androgyny is quite common in the fashion industry. Several new ads from 16)Jean Paul Gaultier feature models in role 17)switch-ups, with guys in slim 18)skinnies and women in baggy “boyfriend” style jeans. And it’s not just high fashion companies that are selling androgynous clothing. 19)Unisex lines at American 20)Apparel and Urban Outfitters, offering 21)cardigans and 22)tees in dozens of colors, make the gender-ambiguous apparel trend even more accessible to the public.
When it comes to our life, is androgyny everywhere? Our gender roles affect almost every aspect of our lives, but few of us spend much time thinking about them. If a man cries at times, is he less 23)masculine? If a woman tries to assert herself, is she less 24)feminine? In most cultures, there are distinct roles for men and women. Men are seen as having the competence traits, while women are seen as more expressive. Men are seen as aggressive and ambitious while women are 25)tactful and caring. But isn’t it narrow to equate masculinity with competency and femininity with expressiveness? In 1974, a Stanford University psychologist, Sandra Bem, developed the concept of androgyny. “Andro-” means “man,” and “gyn-” refers to “woman.” The androgynous person is high in both masculine and feminine traits. Androgynous people can be aggressive or 26)yielding, forceful or gentle, sensitive or assertive—as the particular situation requires.
Usually, bright or creative people tend to be androgynous. Androgynous people are more adaptable. They behave in ways appropriate to the given situation—regardless of whether the behavior is masculine or feminine. For example, when subjected to group pressures, androgynous women are more assertive and independent than feminine women.
Likewise, androgynous men are more nurturing than masculine men. Androgynous men feel more comfortable holding, touching and playing with babies: they are more able to show 27)empathy and offer support to others. However, stereotyped masculine men are typically 28)unresponsive in these situations. Rigid, stereotyped sex roles seriously restrict behavior. Masculine men have great difficulty in expressing warmth, playfulness and concern. They believe that expressing “feminine” traits will make them seem like “29)sissies” or 30)negate their “31)macho” image.
Similarly, feminine women have trouble being independent and assertive—even when independence and assertiveness are needed. In contrast, choosing from a wider range of behaviors, truly androgynous people are able to modify their responses—according to their needs and the needs of the situation. Bem believes that androgynous people are freer, more adaptable and more emotionally healthy than those who restrict their behavior to traditional sex roles.
Even so, men can be tender without losing their “macho.” Likewise, women can speak up for their rights without losing their femininity. Essentially, anyone’s behavior can be determined by their individual humanity or the demands of the situation—not merely by the restrictive roles of masculinity or femininity.
So when boy meets girl, it’s not just love, competition or fashion. It can also be androgyny.