Saturday, April 28, 2012

Andrej Pejic

***NSFW Not Safe For Work NSFW*** 
(Begrudging warning because I don't believe any of this is inappropriate)

When considering the kyriarchy as an all encompassing tangled knot of authority and privilege, it is difficult to extract those who are the oppressed and those who are the oppressors. As an American feminist, I cannot fully appreciate what it is like to be a woman who is a citizen of another country, living under a different government. As a white feminist, it can be easy to neglect or deny the power I inherently have in our racist society. As an educated feminist, empathizing with those who do not have the same access to school and information can be challenging. As a straight, cisgendered feminist, it is impossible to experience the significant added struggles those in the LGBTQ(etc.)** community face. Denying any of my privilege will only work against the gains I want to achieve, not only for women, but people in general. 

Even though I lament the shortcomings females face due to our gender, I can't ignore the relative ease I've experienced regarding my own personal gender identity. Never have I questioned whether or not I was given the right parts or characterized in the right way. Cisgender means a person's assigned gender at birth, their body parts, and their personal identity all match. I am a cisgendered female because I have a vagina, the hospital I was born in labeled me a girl, and I personally choose to have a feminine identity. Transgender means an individual's gender identity does not match their assigned sex based on their genitals and/or they relate to masculine or feminine social roles regardless of their assigned gender. It can be a bit confusing when you first begin to consider these variables. Cis and Transgender identities have nothing to do with sexuality. Can you be a cisgendered lesbian? Yes. Can you be straight and transgender? Yes. 
Jenna Talakova, Miss Canada Participant

I'll be the first to admit this a new consciousness for me thanks to the open minded feminists I read everyday. BITCH Magazine has a great column on their website called "End of Gender" where they have been discussing these ideas for a while. Melissa Harris-Perry did a whole segment on her weekend show with transgender community leaders and prominent feminists. Even Donald Trump and his Miss Universe organization opened up competition to transgender women after Canada tried to kick out Jenna Talakova for being born male. Progress and awareness are being made by those who are informed, meaning there is going to be more for me to learn. 

Andrej Pejic is one of the fashion industry's current top models. Not yet 21, he has been in dozens of magazines and designer campaigns. What makes him a stand out is his ability to successfully model both female and male looks; most notably, walking in Jean-Paul Gaultier's men's and women's collections.  

He says his professional gender identity is up for artistic interpretation and that he feels no need to explain himself. In a fantastic, cliched fashion world way, he's simply Andrej. Which is great for everyone because his public image will affect more people on a personal level. After he said he would consider getting a sex change if offered a Victoria's Secret contract, some believed him to be flippant about the challenges faced by many transgendered individuals. While that may or may not be true, in the same quote he said he is comfortable with himself right now, projecting both female and male characteristics. I see this as a positive because his approach to gender seems to be extremely fluid, resulting in less suffocating either/or restrictions. 
“It’s not like, ‘Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman.'   I want to look like me. It just so happens that some of the things I like are feminine.”
Andrej was born in Bosnia in the early 90's but ended up growing up in Australia as a refugee after fleeing his homeland due to the war. In a New York Times
, he talks about shutting down for a while when he realized it was no longer acceptable for a boy to want to be pretty and behave like a girl. He eventually adopted a "Fuck it" attitude and decided to live the way he felt the most comfortable. Since his mother and grandmother sacrificed so much to protect him from the war, they unquestionably accepted him and his natural tendencies and are overwhelmingly proud of his successes. 

Many of us won't personally question our assigned genders. We should still be sensitive to those that do, not only because they could be our loved ones, but an accepting mentality fosters a better community. Remember when J.Crew ran the ad in their catalog of a little boy with pink painted toenails? Social conservatives said it was a celebration of transgendered children and were outraged. Many reacted to that outrage by supporting the ad; an example of progression due in large part to public figures like Andrej.  A ripple effect of tolerance forms around him based on his true sense of self.

Controversial Cover
Pejic's modeling career highlights a lot of the differences we place on the physical bodies of men and women. His topless Dossier magazine cover was banned by many shops in the US. Stores that did sell it, used a decency cover (the black plastic normally found over Playboy or Penthouse) in order to not offend their patrons. It was thought customers would think he was a naked woman, which would be upsetting.


Women's bodies are so sexualized we rarely think about it anymore. In the west we look at middle eastern cultures and cast judgement on the women who are fully covered in burkas yet we don't question the indecency assigned to breasts in our own culture. "You just gotta cover 'em up gals and make sure you don't show too much cleavage because that could invite stares or worse (!) from poor men who can't contain themselves." At the Christian camp I used to work at as a teen, girls weren't allowed to wear bikinis at the waterfront because they could become "stumbling blocks" for the boys.  This upsets me not because I don't understand modesty but because the responsibility of decency falls only on the shoulders of females. And that is a secular responsibility as much as it is a religious one.

The controversy surrounding Andrej's cover seemed really silly to me because I, like most, have normalized topless men.  Guys are always shirtless. Sometimes they are sexualized but most of the time a topless man is just out on the beach or working in the yard. It's no different than having rolled up sleeves or cropped pants. Even using the phrase "topless man" seems a bit off. But an exposed nipple on a lady?! Look out! And the idea that because Pejic has feminine features, a topless picture of him should be hidden or scandalized highlights just how obnoxious that modesty standard really is. If breasts are inherently sexual and therefore indecent in public, how could his cover create a problem when he clearly doesn't have breasts?

By choosing to appear feminine, Andrej experiences the same type of sexualized attention women are well accustomed to. He is harassed by men who believe him to be female. Many are surprised he doesn't take offense to being mistaken for a woman.

Original Image

 "In this society, if a man is called a woman, that's the biggest insult he could get. Is that because women are considered something less?" - AP

Now, don't be shocked, my answer is YES! Female bodies are regularly consumed for sexual purposes. Even covering them up is sexual because it is to preserve some idea of modesty. Covered or exposed; we are on display in a way that men aren't. Men are allowed control over their bodies and always have been. This is why a feminine male is so confusing and discomforting for us. Why would you choose to give up control? Andrej doesn't believe he gives up any authority when he accentuates female characteristics. That's empowering and true. We are only less if we believe that we are. 

This image is a great visual interpretation of the sexualization of females. The male superheroes cause unease when you first see them. You almost want to look away because their pose is so unfamiliar and feels indecent; like an exposed breast if you will. When you see Wonder Woman and realize the males are just positioned and dressed like her, you're hit with a wave of realization about how standardized hypersexual images of women are compared to those of men. 

As we emerge from the womb, we are labeled either male or female: either/or. Our parents and caretakers further cement this distinction in the way they clothe us, how they speak to us, the activities in which we are allowed to participate, and the entertainment they use to educate us about our acceptable roles as either boys or girls. Mother Goose nursery rhymes inform us little boys are made of a creepy mix of puppy dog tails and snail bits, while little girls are formed with sugar, spice, and whatever it is "everything nice" entails. 

Andrej, right, modeling for Marc by Marc Jacobs
Pejic and others like him are breaking us out of the either/or gender trap which upsets us.

Believing in two genders, accepting only two genders, seems to give us great comfort. Without any leniency, we are relegated to one side or another, making the development of self identity predetermined, thus minimizing individual choice (which is hard, y'all!). If you are a male, you can choose from column A; including acceptable, expected masturbation, jobs running the world, sports, and other activities aiding general domination. Column B, for women, offers gestation/birthing/nursing/raising males (preferably) or females, menstruation, dresses, and unquestionable submission to male domination. See, simple.

Of course, it's not simple. 

Gender exists on a spectrum; varied and undefined. You can be a woman without a womb and a man who doesn't produce testosterone. Your birth certificate may read "female", however, you can choose to live your life as a man. Eventually, whether current society likes it or not, our gender roles will be a thing of the past, as outdated as chastity belts and duels to the death. This can't be stopped and our population won't suffer because of it. We will be free to choose from either Column A or Column B: which will create a more satisfying society. We'll be happier and will feel emancipated. 

Before you get too uncomfortable with this future, remember not long ago it was unthinkable women would wear pants or men would choose to care for children. So many of our accepted "natural" rules for gender are eliminated within a century or a few decades. How are women who inflate their boobs with silicone or men who use steroids more natural than those who identify against their assigned gender? We're simply more comfortable with those physical alterations because they propagate the gender structure as is. I'm more uncomfortable with the idea that we would somehow stop gender progress now as if we've reached the all mighty grail of complete cultural enlightenment. Spoiler alert: We haven't. 

The need for societal androgyny is not solely based the "feminist desire to crush male domination". Gender roles repress both men and women. They harm families who don't accept children who reject their birth certificate identity. Individuals who never feel comfortable with their assigned gender can suffer from depression, self-harm, and suicide. This is an ailment holding us back as a whole which is why it should be important no matter what your personal gender identity may be. People like Andrej are leading us into a new time that will provide more variation and personal expression which is nothing short of natural progression.

Have you ever considered what your likes and dislikes would be without influence from gender guidelines?

**I add the etc. after LGBTQ because after watching Kate Bornstein on Melissa Harris-Perry's transgender segment, she said those letters were not all inclusive so that is my small way of updating it until there is a more widely accepted inclusive version. 

A great reference on androgyny as an identity is the website "Practical Androgyny". Great answers for lots of questions!

This pic is from one of my last Jane magazines and it's up on my fridge!