Gender Agenda - Biology, Fashion and Performance

The “Gender Agenda” talks, which took place this month, involved a series of fascinating lectures on the meaning of ‘Gender’ from various perspectives. What does Gender mean to us in the 21st century? And how have our perceptions changed?

Leading us off into these questions was Ms Wainwright, who outlined how, unfortunately, the notion of our gender prescribes who we should be instead of recognising who we are. She told the story of her own journey in dealing with gender stereotypes when it came to pursuing football. With gender no longeras simple as the polar opposites of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, the realisation that gender consists of a whole spectrum was an issue brought forward. This idea challenged the traditional labels of ‘dandy’ for men who don’t fit into the cage of conventional masculinity, or Queen Victoria’s belief that feminists would “perish without male protection.”

Next up was Benjamin Norris, highlighting how while our biological sex may be determined by the XX and XY chromosomes, gender is simply a social manifestation of this. Biologists are still looking for an intrinsic link between sex and gender, and whether or not essentialism – which argues that the traits of individuals are constant throughout history as they are mainly influenced by biology – is a theory still applicable today. He also informed us of intriguing scientific phenomena; for example, how the biological sex of crocodiles is determined by the surrounding temperature upon their birth.

After delving into some interesting (and rather mind-blowing) scientific views, Shaina Sangha and Minnie Life pinpointed the relationship between gender and high fashion. Despite the fashion industry being predominantly for, and about, women, the majority of creative and commercial control stems from male figureheads. Is this the root cause of why the industry is scrutinized for being exploitative and promoting unattainable female body images in advertising? Another argument for the current photo-shop trend was that human nature has always held an obsession with the ‘perfect physique’ As many feminists argue that fashion trends are oppressive to women, the industry is slowly beginning to change, this is exemplified in Selfridges on Oxford street; the shop has released its own genderless fashion campaign called ‘Agender’. Yet for the most part the idea of femininity and sexiness remains a crucial aspect of how clothes are designed, marketed and bought.

 Finally, to end the evening, Susannah Bramwell, Hannah Clayton and Alex Cook delved into the relationship between gender and the media. As a race, the idea of a population with multi-faceted sexualities is only now beginning to be embraced. So should we repudiate the negative depiction of transsexual characters on programmes like CSI and The Cleveland Show? In addition, it was highlighted that while 90% of Oliver award winners are male, 70% of those studying drama in higher education are female- with no discernable reason. In 2015, male characters received twice the amount of screen time as female characters, while roughly half of the top grossing films in 2013 failed the Bechdel test (which aims to test how equally woman are portrayed on screen). One might claim that the statistics aren’t always representative of reality, nonetheless, the evening of enlightening talks revealed aspects of gender that are worth thinking about in a world of ever-changing ideals.