Questioning gender bends College

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April 11, 2008

9:51 AM

Why do people on this campus choose such bizarre events to get upset about?

We are facing economic depression, an ongoing war halfway across the world and an historic presidential race, and yet people take time out of their day to worry about guys wearing skirts? GenderBending Day, which took place yesterday, was, apparently, something to get worked up about — flyers were torn down and vandalized, the event was mocked and some even took offense at its mere presence.

While I wasn’t involved in planning the event (and, I confess, did not participate), the premise of GenderBending Day seems clear. Students were encouraged to dress in a way that exposed typical conceptions of gender, either by cross-dressing or deviating from their typical feminine or masculine style. Essentially, the students in this group wanted to address the difference between sex and gender and encourage people to think critically about how our culture enforces a female versus male binary. Basically: Why do we claim that gender roles are somehow naturally and inextricably tied to sex?

GenderBending Day, as you can imagine, did not see wide involvement. That’s not to say that the event wasn’t successful — it certainly sparked discussion, and the students who did participate had great experiences. I’m sure it was no surprise to the group that most students on campus were either too busy to remember the event in the first place or too uncomfortable with its premise. The negative responses from some individuals, however, were somewhat shocking. Sure, GenderBending Day isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but did people really have to have a big problem with it?

The event’s flyers were continually taken down and vandalized. As president of Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood, I can attest to the disappearance and vandalism of flyers with a so-called “controversial” message, and hearing about this group’s similar encounters was extremely frustrating. Moreover, because this event was sponsored through a Women’s Studies course and not a student organization, the small group of students had limited resources with which to address these actions. But really, it shouldn’t be a problem to begin with. To see a flyer that says, “Cross-Dress on April 9,” and respond by writing “No,” or tearing down the flyer and ripping it up, is simply childish. And, frankly, puzzling.

The purpose of this event — and all the Women’s Studies activist projects taking place this semester — is to bring otherwise obscured issues to the table. GenderBending Day was about getting people to think. Why does it make us uncomfortable to see a man wearing a skirt? Is an otherwise conventionally attractive woman still sexually desirable if she wears traditionally masculine clothing? These are interesting and important questions to ask ourselves, and there are countless responses and reactions among students on this campus. Maybe the most pressing question GenderBending Day raised, perhaps without intention, is “Why are we so deathly terrified of examining gender?”

More than just this specific event, though, the inappropriate negative reactions to GenderBending Day speak to a larger problem on this campus. We should be actively challenging each other’s ideas and critically evaluating ideologies — these abilities form the basic foundation of a liberal arts education. However, the impetus should never be to prevent that debate entirely. This stunting of intellectual exchange comes from all sides, too — from the people who tried to prevent the Sex Workers’ Art Show from receiving equal funding to the individuals who vandalize issues of The Virginia Informer.

You may believe that the Sex Workers’ Art Show is filth, you may see the Informer as “Nestled Comfortably In the Asscrack of Journalism,” or you may find GenderBending Day pointless or repulsive. I’ll leave my opinion on these issues to the imagination, but I will say unyieldingly that each has a right to have its perspective heard.

Devan Barber is a senior at the College.

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