(I published this piece in my deviantART journal on 4 July 2011, but never on my blog, so I thought I’d share it here. Readers of Eve’s Rib are well informed on the question of gender, of course, but this was written for a more general audience.)
A few people have asked about the gendered world depicted in my pictures so I thought it would be worth explaining.
It may surprise some readers, but human beings are born without gender. Gender and sex are not the same thing.
Sex is about biology: which chromosomes, reproductive organs etc we end up
with. People are normally male or female, though ambiguous conditions
Gender however is a social construct. It is a set of
social conventions that says how males and females ought to behave: what
they ought to wear, how they should talk, what they should find
interesting. No girl is delivered into the world genetically programmed
to want to wear lipstick or chat about shoes. No boy is programmed to
like football or be aggressive. Masculinity and femininity are packages
of behaviours that are taught to us by intense conditioning from the
moment our parents dress us in either pink or blue.
behaviour is not ‘natural’ or innate and it is not directly connected
with biology. It varies over time and between cultures. An obvious
example is that the soldiers of ancient Rome (male, of course) wore
skirts. These soldiers conquered most of their known world. Yet it is
taken for granted by us that men wearing skirts is absurd and
embarrassing. Imagine the general response if the US marines went into
battle wearing skirts!
The roots of this lie in the division of
labour between male and female in prehistoric society (men hunting,
women foraging), and the later emergence of male dominance after the
agricultural revolution, when men acquired a disproportionate amount of
control over the soaring social wealth of human cultures. There is no
evidence at all that one sex dominated the other before the agricultural
revolution. But the dominance of males became a historical reality with
huge consequences for culture – most obviously sexism.
important to understand this power aspect because it explains the course
masculinity and femininity took. Masculine behaviours were about being
active, assertive, mastering nature, etc. Feminine behaviours were about
domesticity, prettiness, and knowing one’s place. It’s only very
recently in history that this has been consistently challenged. ‘Even’
today when women are more empowered, the sexes are still sold different
clothes, different deodorants, different brands of diet Cola. It is
still seen as absurd and embarrassing for a man to wear ‘women’s’
clothes, because our society still thinks that a man degrades himself by
adopting ‘feminine’ behaviours – or in other words, that a woman is not
a man’s equal.
This is why women, over the last century or so, have been able to adopt trousers and other masculine clothing whereas men have not been able to adopt feminine clothing. By intruding on
masculine territory, women are empowering themselves. By shifting onto
feminine territory, men however humiliate themselves. Or so the
Men who like to wear women’s clothes are therefore also likely, though not always, to be drawn sexually towards
certain power relationships. This is why crossdressing and masochism
often go together. Many crossdressers associate feminine clothes and
behaviours with submissiveness and inferior status (hence the femdom
aspect of my pictures, for example). This isn’t because women are
naturally submissive to men. It is because we are swept up into a
complex web of social conditioning that fills us with often very stupid
ideas about gender roles. But though the ideas are ultimately stupid,
the feelings, sexuality, etc that they bring about in human beings are
My own position is that people should be allowed to adopt
whatever gender behaviours make them happy. There should be no social
pressure, no prejudice, because gender is a load of old cobblers anyway.