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Sunday, October 24, 2021

(Re)Fashioning Gender: Get in Loser, We’re Going Shopping

If you thought this column was going to be about the movie Mean Girls, I’m so sorry to have to tell you that it’s not. But please, before you leave to re-watch clips of what is probably the best teen movie ever made, I have a proposition for you: Find me a place where I can comfortably shop for gender-neutral clothing. Seriously. I dare you. I’ll even buy you the limited edition director’s cut of Mean Girls if you succeed. (I’m kidding. Probably all I can afford to give you is a high five.)

In all seriousness, the struggle to find clothes that aren’t exclusively made for women or men is extremely difficult. Sure, American Apparel has a few items that are labeled “unisex,” but you can’t deny the fact that their store is divided into two distinct sections solely devoted to men and women.

Virtually every other clothing store you might find yourself in is also divided by gender. Why is this? When did we, as a society, decide that it was necessary to ascribe girls to wear dresses and boys to wear to baggy jeans? And what does this do to the people who are gender confused or gender neutral or gender anything else that falls outside the spectrum of masculine and feminine?

The division of gender is probably most prevalent in where we do (and don’t) shop. From the moment we enter a clothing store, we make a decision: Are we a boy or are we a girl? Most of us, however, probably don’t even realize that we’re making this decision. That is because we’ve been either a girl or a boy all our lives and therefore it’s only natural that we shop in the section that’s assigned to us. Right?

That’s just the problem: most people stick with the genders that are assigned to them at birth. They never consider the idea that not all facets of that gender are true for them. If you’re a girl, for example, have you ever been shopping in the men’s section? (I mean other than for your dad or your boyfriend or some other male-identifying person.) If you haven’t, you’re missing out on some majorly comfy T-shirts. And have you checked out the pants? So many pockets!

But, maybe men’s clothes aren’t your style. I totally get that. It’s understandable that many women are perfectly happy with the clothing choices available to them. And the same goes for men. However, even if you are comfortable with your options, not everybody is comfortable with theirs.

Also, you can’t deny the fact that some people don’t have any options available to them. When clothing stores divide themselves into two separate sections for men and women, they are completely forgetting about (or completely ignoring) the tons of other identities that simply don’t fit into either of those categories.

There is a whole spectrum that dismantles the notion of a gender binary, which is a social dichotomy that restricts gender to rigid ideals of masculinity and femininity. Think of this spectrum as a rainbow: rainbows don’t have just two colors, right? That would be so lame! Rainbows have tons of colors with tons of different shades. Some colors are dark and some are light. Some like to be referred to as Sir and others as Ma’am, and, well — you get the picture.

The fact that shopping malls are so diligent in making only two sections available to only two genders is completely irrational. It obliterates the whole beautiful rainbow spectrum metaphor thing that I just blew your mind with.

It also instills in us archaic notions of overly-simplistic gender binaries which lead to all sorts of problems like sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other issues that are generally tied to gender. By forcing everyone to abide by a rule that they essentially have no control over, people’s gender identities become mutilated at best, or completely erased at worst.

So the next time you go shopping, I challenge you to ask yourself: are you a boy or are you a girl?  Maybe you’ll find the answer easy, but maybe not. Or maybe you won’t have an answer at all. Either way, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find yourself posed with only two options that are considered valid in the eyes of the clothing store.
If you’d like to dismantle heteropatriarchy or participate in other fun and wholesome activities, contact Chelsea Spiller at ctspiller@ucdavis.edu.

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