Self-expression outside of the gender binary should be celebrated

Kennedy Walker, Contributing Writer

Emma Vaughters

It was just another day of scrolling through TikTok mindlessly when I came upon some people expressing a desire to be feminine in the ways that men are. Immediately, I began to do a mental dive into what that meant, how the trend began and ultimately what being feminine truly meant to me. 

This is definitely not a new concept. For years, people have been molding femininity and masculinity into whatever that means for them, sometimes getting rid of the binary prescription of gender all together, thus paving the way for androgyny and gender nonconformity to be beautifully introduced in all of its ways. There is true power in that choice to deviate from the norms surrounding ideas of femininity or masculinity. It wasn’t until recently, however, that the idea of being feminine in any other way than how female-identifying people present themselves even occurred to me.

For those of you who are not fatefully addicted to TikTok, the trend began in response to a large community of male-identifying users embracing traditional femininity by painting their fingernails, wearing dresses and putting on makeup. None of these things individually are gendered activities, which I believe is what these users were seeking to prove. By participating in these traditionally “feminine” activities, they shifted the idea of these activities from being very gender specific to being somewhat fluid if not genderless. Additionally, they denounced the toxic nature of traditional masculinity that they, as male identifying users, represent. 

Thus began the trend of female-identifying users wanting to look feminine in the ways that boys were able to. They, typically cisgender women, weren’t just being “girly”, but instead were adding a more rugged and androgynous tone to their style. This made me really think about what it was about men specifically not conforming to their traditional gender norms that was so popular. 

When men are being feminine, it’s seen as an expression of self identity and a step outside of traditional gender norms. When women are being feminine, it isn’t seen as anything other than them subscribing to the already set gender norms. Even if a woman is truly connected to her femininity and all the beauty that comes with that, it is not seen as an expression of self, but rather tied back to the idea that it is what she or they ought to do as a woman. On the other hand, masculine women are not nearly as celebrated when they go against the grain of the gender norm, so what is it that makes a male-identifying person so acclaimed when they are being feminine? Men being feminine calls upon them as individuals, and proven by the fact that it is a literal trend, it makes them creative and desirable. 

That being said, it is understandable why people want to be perceived the way men are when they present themselves as being more feminine. The patriarchy has made self-expression incredibly gendered so that certain activities are seen as “girly “ or “masculine.” For so long, those were the boxes that a person had to fit into to avoid being ostracized. When men embrace femininity while still maintaining the power that comes with masculinity, as given by the patriarchy, it is perceived as revolutionary. Self-identifying women that present in a more maculine or androgynous way aren’t celebrated because the patriarchy has made certain qualities so desirable. Femininity is traditionally equated with weakness and fragility, so of course women would look to escape those stereotypes. However, women cannot have that power, and the desire to be like men and have that power is not revolutionary, it’s expected. 

Initially, I was annoyed by this trend because I didn’t understand why it was being redone over and over again. I thought it was disrespectful to nonbinary people because it was reenforcing the binary so much that it had erased the idea of androgyny and gender fluidity. I thought that people wanted to play dress up with androgyny, but didn’t want to experience the real life possible consequences that gender nonconforming and nonbinary individuals face. 

It wasn’t until I began reading the comments of nonbinary users explaining that essentially this trend was the goal that I understood. Even though androgyny wasn’t named per se, the ability to encapsulate power and sex appeal in the way that cisgender men can when being feminine is how some users really aim to feel. Gender envy, a feeling of envy for how someone presents or expresses their gender identity, is more than just a trend. It is reflective of true feelings that vary on a spectrum. For nonbinary, gender nonconforming, transgender and even cisgendered people, gender envy can be a reality with outcomes that range anywhere form small questionings to gender dysphoria.  

Self-expression should be individualized and removed from the gender binary, so that anyone, no matter how they identify, can be celebrated because everyone is creative and desirable no matter how they choose to present themselves. Titles like “girly” or “tomboy” are archaic and reinforce the power that the patriarchy has placed on the binary. 

Respecting and celebrating people however they choose to present themselves is something we should all just do.