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My Experience With Gender Roles & Fragile Femininity

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

Sitting at the top of a pedestal in a glass box lies inside the most fragile thing of all: a man’s masculinity. If we dare to make the slightest move, we might shatter the box, stripping a man of his very identity. We are accused of gay-baiting, a term most are well familiar with. To associate supposedly “feminine traits” to a straight man is a crime. We are told never to make a man feel like less of a man. We have created products, people and a world that never crosses the line between masculinity and femininity.

But what about stripping a woman of her femininity? To make women feel like less of a woman is an issue practically unheard of. It is true that the societal expectations for a man in this world to fulfill his “masculine” role is entirely absurd, and in that sense, men are in a constant battle with themselves to feel as though they fit into a specific part of society. If they don’t fit into the homosexual mold of society, their only other option is to fit into the heterosexual mold of society and to do so they must supposedly be and act the complete opposite of any homosexual man.

However, it is also true that society expects women to maintain a certain level of femininity to uphold a certain role, if not equally as brutal, even more so. As a girl with a pixie cut and a sense of fashion that can be described as more masculine, I know firsthand what it feels like to feel like less of a girl than I am. Lewd comments I typically used to ignore, I realized gravitated me towards a more gender-conforming approach to life. I wanted to dress more like a “girl”, whatever I thought that meant. I was sure to coordinate my actions with other girls who I believed fit this mold of society admirably. I started to feel insecure about the friends I hung out with and who I spent too much time with. At certain points, I was even uncomfortable with myself.

It was upon my detest and loathing towards the idea of toxic masculinity and the absurd need to constantly prove the extent to which you fit a gender mold, that I realized that I had taken upon myself that very same toxic approach towards gender. Women in today’s society and even throughout history have been burdened with the need to prove their femininity to others through the way they dress, the products they use, and the people they associate with the most.

As a collective society, we prefer labels and concepts that are easier to wrap our minds around, in opposition to concepts that are fluid and are continuously being molded over time. This has pushed the idea that a woman is either straight or queer, and has eliminated the possibility of any middle ground such as simply straight women that presents more masculine traits or takes on a less gender conforming approach to life. It is that very middle ground in which we experience that toxic push towards going in one direction or the other, because of our need not only to be more feminine but also in the case of queer women, to fall more on the higher end of the spectrum in an attempt and almost fear of not being identified in people’s limited conceptions of gender.

While our development of gender over time has allowed us to open up gates to gender spectrums, and new ways to identify our gender, it is important to recognize that gender is not solely about identity. Within the fluid nature of sexuality and its evolution, we can recognize not only an identity within gender but a lifestyle, an exploration towards some goal or even a lack of identity within gender that people seek out. Toxic masculinity is not a male-oriented gender issue, it is a gender issue. Our gender is not solely the framework in which we need to prove through our actions and looks how we want to present ourselves to others, but also to ourselves. And rather than being in a constant battle to fit into a specific gender role, we should find peace in the fact that no one can define our own unique gender representation, better than ourselves.

Gender is not black or white…or even grey. There is literally a whole color spectrum, some we can’t even see yet!


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Dena is a sophomore at Boston University studying English Literature. Her writing is mainly focused on opinion pieces but also varies from listicles to questionnaires.
Writers of the Boston University chapter of Her Campus.