“Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?”

There has been a small increase, in the school where I work, of students adopting a gender-neutral garb. It is almost always girls. I think it is significantly easier for them to make this choice, than it is for the boys to travel in the other direction. Patriarchy has always judged women by sexualised appearance, encouraging them to enhance their looks and adopt eye-catching fashions. Men haven’t needed to do that, so girls who want to be more like boys can dress down, while boys who want to be more like girls have to dress up, making a far more noticeable declaration and, unless they are very skilled, risking becoming a laughable caricature of what they want to become. 

This trend towards gender neutrality ought to be encouraging: these girls have cast off the patriarchal shackles of objectifying, sexualising fashion, right? Some students are clearly liberated by it. They can throw on their uniform, in the mornings, and bound into school with no (or minimal) make-up, a shaggy mop of hair and a happy smile. They are not necessarily denying that they are women, but they can concentrate on more important things than reinforcing their femininity to gain status.

But others are profoundly troubled by their inability or unwillingness to enact the stereotypes. They are overly anxious and prone to depression and, ironically, more pre-occupied with gender than their more confident classmates. Their lack of care over their appearance can seem more like defeated self-neglect than an achievement, a failure not a heroic resistance to social pressure. 

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