ANDROGYNY BECOMING GLOBAL?

 

By Diana Lee

March 2005

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UNIORB: REALITY CHECK: SOCIETY

What do international celebrities, Michael Jackson, David Beckham, and Angelina Jolie have in common?  Besides being superstars and multi-millionaires, they are the icons of androgyny in our modern culture. As borders blur, markets merge, and cultures blend, androgyny seems to have found its way to global mainstream.

 

There are two definitions for androgyny: physical (intersexual) - born with both male and female genitals; and psychological - combining both masculinity and femininity as traits of a unified gender that defies social roles and psychological attributes. The common usage of the term 'androgyny' in society refers to the latter description. As to the sexual orientation, an androgynous person can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.

 

In fact, evidence of androgyny being embraced by society appears everywhere - institutionalized in entertainment and fashion cultures, more explicitly in expanding gay and lesbian communities. As trendsetters, entertainment and fashion industries have played an influential role in advancing a challenging perspective on human sexuality for modern times. In the 1980s, androgynous musicians - Boy George, David Bowie, and Prince - made headlines as they captured the world's fascination with sexual ambiguity. Perceived as a worldwide idol, Michael Jackson personifies androgyny with his falsetto voice and effeminate manners. Since the 1980s, Hollywood has produced movies depicting sensuous beauties - Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill - as intelligent, tough, and strong adversaries in leading roles. Nowadays, female stars are expected to perform equally well in all the exciting moves and dangerous stunts as their male counterparts.

   

Capitalizing the growing social affinity to androgyny, the fashion industry promoted the meteoric rises of fashion designers - Helmut Lang, Giorgio Armani, Pierre Cardin, to name a few - for their unisex-styled clothes. To this day, glamorous male and female models sporting androgynous garments have often been found strutting down catwalks or posing for the covers of fashion magazines. Recently, the cosmetic companies have joined in to lure metrosexuals (aesthetically conscientious straight men) to the lucrative markets of beauty products which once were considered exclusively for women. As reports trickled in, cosmetic surgeries have surged for both women and men in North America, Europe and Asia. 

 

During the 'counter-culture' revolution in the 1960s, music and fashion industries inspired a trend towards self-exploration emphasizing individual freedom and self-realization. The women's liberation movement of the 1970s refuted the idea that women were 'naturally' passive, emotional, and weaker than men. The notion of androgyny wasn't accepted in society until Dr. Sandra Bem, who was honored the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award in 1976, introduced the concept of 'psychological androgyny' to describe those men and women who did not fit into traditionally defined gender roles. She also forwarded the view that a blending of masculine and feminine dispositions is more adaptive than stereotypic emphasis on either alone. At the heels of Bem's revelation, the gay liberation movement embraced the idea of androgyny, for it allowed lesbians and gay men to show their gender characteristics openly in society. Subsequently, the prevailing wind for social changes started to sweep across the globe, empowering women and softening the image of men, while altering the perception of human nature consisting of opposite sex roles to human nature unifying two complimentary sex roles as a legitimate gender. 

 

The spread of the androgyny movement could also be fueled by the economic transformation of the workforce in developed countries. As nations became more affluent, greater amount of energy was required for production, thus businesses demanded a larger number of workers (men and women) to the workforce. The economic situations of wealthy nations enabled women to work with men as 'equals' due to the current elevated women's status in male-oriented societies. 

 

As a result, many rich nations have observed similar findings: a lower childbirth rate because some working women tend not to marry or delay marriages past their prime for childbearing; a higher divorce rate due to many collapsed marriages when working parents didn't spend enough time together with their families; and an increase of unmarried people as more singles enjoy their financial independence and individual freedom. Perhaps, the metrosexuals have evolved from the economic circumstances in urban areas where those men have to compete not only with other men but also with women for jobs, as well as to appear attractive to the opposite sex. To deal seriously with the negative aspects of family unit erosion, the governments need to provide efficient childcare facilities to help working couples and incentives for women to bear children, so to be in step with social climate changes.

 

Evidently, the rise of singles and singled-parents in society has led to the emergence of individual autonomy. Regarded highly in democracy, individual autonomy upholds the pursuant of one's rights, happiness and freedom in personal choice of living. Individual freedom includes the right to express personal sexual orientation. It seems as lifestyles continue to change, society has accepted human sexual diversity as manifestations of humanity.

 

In reality, human sexual diversity had long existed in world civilizations. In fact, bisexuality was institutionalized in ancient Greece and Rome where men practiced homosexuality in the form of pederasty (male mentorship) while maintained heterosexual relations with their wives for procreation. Historically, pederastic relationships were found in writings and arts not only in western cultures but also in non-western cultures as in China, Japan, South Pacific, and Middle East. Even world religions have embraced numerous deities and demi-deities with androgynous qualities, such as Hapi (Egyptian), Dionysos (Greek), Shiva (Hindu), and Obatala (Voudoun religion in Africa, South America and the Caribbean).

 

What caused the obsolescence of androgyny was the prominent rise of Christianity which buried the culture of androgyny and drove same-sex relationships underground. In the traditional biblical point of view, God created human beings in His own image. They are not accidental, but essential part in the grand scheme of things. Homosexuality defies the purpose of God in humanity as male and female, and therefore is a perversion against God and Creation.

 

The argument for the revival of androgyny offers a contrary perspective in two-fold - human is by nature androgynous; and humanity is an accident of evolutionary process. First, androgyny in humanity is 'natural' since all humans are born with both sex hormones. Furthermore, men and women have the same emotions but their gender behaviors are conditioned by social norms varying from culture to culture. By discarding the imposed restrictions and inhibitions, one would discover the 'natural' androgynous self. Second, humanity is an accidental creation of Nature. Evolution underlies the 'natural' process of change in which accidents are created without any divine intervention. Thus, humanity is one of the accidents created in the evolutionary process of Nature.

 

Apparently, the increasing global attraction to androgyny indicates that the modern theory of evolution holds greater sway than the traditional doctrines of Christianity. Some may believe that androgyny is just a passing trend, and others may think that it's part of the evolution of humanity. Whichever it is, one thing seems inevitable - as the world becomes more integrated and complex, society will adapt pervading changes as social norms to move humanity forward in its social evolution.

 

 

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