Advocates for gender-boundaries do more harm than good
// Victoria Fawkes

On the cover of the February 2012 issue of Canada's Fashion magazine, there stands a statuesque and feminine model, with a halo of long blonde hair and a frothy pale pink gown. Inside the magazine, the angelic woman models a series of ladylike pantsuits and colorful mod dresses. The men and women that admire the undeniable beauty of model Andrej Pejic may be surprised to discover that the gorgeous female cover model is, in fact, a man.

Depending on who you ask, some believe men and women should act within society's constructed gender confines, while some believe that the expanding of gender values clears the way for more acceptance and tolerance. Instances of gender intolerance must be treated seriously, in every age group. Though it’s important to take gender-based harassment seriously in schools, it doesn't stop there.

In late May 2011, readers of the men’s magazine FHM voted Pejic to its "100 Sexiest Women" list. FHM is a mainstream magazine geared toward heterosexual men, so this would have been a great accomplishment for all transgendered men and women worldwide. However, the commentary that followed Pejic’s listing was degrading and prejudiced.

“Although his sexual identity is ambiguous, designers are hailing him as the next big thing. We think 'thing' is quite accurate … The blonde gender-bender has jumped the gun in hoping he might one day be signed as a Victoria's Secret Model (Pass the sick bucket). Well, he might have a hard time keeping it a secret then,” the magazine commented.

The magazine went on to further abuse Pejic and famed British transgender model Lea T.: “More troubling is the fact that Andrej is not the only one when it comes to supermodels that are not all they seem. The current face of Givenchy and 'lady' locking lips with Kate Moss on the cover of Love magazine is transgender model Lea T. who began life as Leandro. One fashion trend we won't be following.”

Although FHM apologized and cited the review as a premature posting by one of its writers as soon as criticism arose, the damage had been done.

In May 2011, a topless Pejic graced the cover of Dossier magazine. The public uproar was so loud from those offended by (turned on by?) Pejic’s topless cover that Barnes & Noble first refused to sell the magazine, but then later relented and stocked the issue, provided it was swathed in a sheet of plastic that covered Pejic’s supposed ‘naughty bits’.

However, Pejic (and many others) couldn’t see what everyone was getting so excited about: “I think the question really isn’t the gender of the person on the cover, it’s whether it’s porn or it’s art. And clearly, it’s art, so art really should not be censored in a democratic society.”

Pejic certainly isn't the only topless man to grace magazine covers. It's obviously the fact that Pejic was a man who embraced his own femininity that made people take offense. Although Pejic’s lifestyle and career veer pretty far toward liberal standards, those against the idea of going outside gender roles are often easily offended, to say the least.

Consider one infamous J. Crew nail polish ad. In April 2011, a photo that was emailed through J. Crew’s newsletter depicted creative director Jenna Lyons painting the toenails of her young son Beckett in a bright shade of pink. Below the picture, the caption read, “Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.”

Media Research Center’s Erin Brown called the ad “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” In an opinion piece released soon after the ad, Brown continued her criticism of Lyons, stating, “Not only is Beckett likely to change his favorite color as early as tomorrow, Jenna's indulgence (or encouragement) could make life hard for the boy in the future. J. Crew, known for its tasteful and modest clothing, apparently does not mind exploiting Beckett behind the facade of liberal, transgendered identity politics.”

Neither J. Crew nor Jenna Lyons responded to the criticism. Jenna Lyons knew better than to apologize for the values of acceptance and open-mindedness she wanted to pass down to her son. She came to the logical choice that forcing your child to spurn a specific colour or activity just because gender stereotypes say they should is misguided. Clearly, if Beckett prefers to paint his toenails rather than take part in a more male-oriented activity, Lyons will encourage him to do what he enjoys. By doing this, Lyons made a positive and loving choice for her child, letting him know that she accepted him no matter what his preferences were.

According to a recent study in Pediatrics, parents and adults like Erin Brown, who are uncomfortable with gender non-conformity, may be more likely to treat children acting outside these boundaries differently or badly.

“In some cases, they believe they’re helping the child, that gender nonconforming won’t be accepted by other people,” says Andrea Roberts from Boston’s Harvard School of Public Health, who researched the study. “But of course, abuse is never protective.”

After the study concluded, researchers found that the children who conformed to their gender the least were almost twice as likely to report any kind of childhood abuse over those who did confirm to typical gender roles. Those who were researched on also reported symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.

As a result, children and adults should not be forced into the tight little pink and blue boxes that their separate genders have previously demanded.

Jo B. Paoletti, the author of the book Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, voiced her opinions about the overreactions after the J. Crew story broke: “Lots of kids, say, seven and under, might ask their parents for something that would seem to be cross-gender, and I think most parents, especially in the privacy of their own home might think, what’s the big deal?” said Paoletti.

During their formative years, children should be allowed to experiment with all the colours and toys they like until they find what is right for them. Above all, it is so important to understand that the path to peace and acceptance runs right through a thick wall of boundaries, misunderstandings, and gender-related hate, and to advance in the world, this wall must be torn down by society.

Those who are critical of parents who support a child’s gender non-conformity may blame the parents when instances of gender-based bullying occur. Though some critics may see bullying and harassment as an inevitable part of youth that simply must be endured, these people must change their perspective and realize that the long-term negative impact that bullying leaves can be avoided just by promoting understanding and acceptance throughout all age groups at every opportunity.

//Victoria Fawkes, staff writer
//Graphics by Shannon Elliott

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