In today’s ever-changing society, the concept of gender is constantly examined. What is gender? How does it relate to culture? How has it changed, how can it be changed? And, most importantly, what I’ll be discussing: what does it create? For years, gender has formed barriers, and, arguably, contributed to a wider culture of sexual assault, violence, and disrespect. This is evident everywhere, but especially in Hollywood, the high-brow reflection of “normal” society.
Like a catchy pop anthem, gender beats on in an undercurrent, forever existing in the landscape of our minds but never quite filling us up. We have to take classes to learn how to talk about gender, as if we are not already equipped. As if we don’t already consider the identity of our culture, the soft tug it has against our heartstrings, our retinas, our big juicy brains. Pink and blue and long and short and hair removal and shiny lips and eyeliner against too-soft skin. As if we don’t understand.
I remember I always felt like a girl. I was determined and free-spirited and stubborn, generally unladylike from birth, but I played with dolls and sang in the bathtub and grew my hair out long, so its fine tendrils brushed my spine when I danced. No one needed to tell me how to be a girl; when I grew a chest, got my first period, when my hips widened and sharpened and time beat me, like model clay, into a figure of a woman, I obeyed. Without hesitation.
There was no spectrum. There was just me, standing at the edge of mirror, cutting my hair short and kissing the girls. Fighting with my mother about the labels we use, keeping the tiny ballet shoes, never wearing a skirt again. On a screen sat the women I would learn to look up to: businesswomen and models in low-cut tops and skinny girls sitting on laps and lawyers and singers and mothers. All played by actresses, who walked the red carpet with their perfect smiles, on the arms of men, in the seats at the stadium, Instagram posts about new shows, dead friends, good causes. Money donated in small boxes. Women with their lips pursed and shiny, glowing in the moonlight.
Image from popculturallyinformed.com
In Hollywood, everything is made of gold; it is curled up under the concrete streets, it is in shop safes, it is against her chest. The fumes from the smoke of the factories and film sets rise up to create the LA skyline, dipping into the future of us, of everything. The women wear gowns, or else two-thousand dollar Gucci tees, paired with somehow elegant ripped jeans, and the men wear black suits that ache against their muscular arms, lights illuminating their chiseled cheekbones and prominent jawlines. It is here, more than anywhere, that we find gender defining everything.
It is not so much in the words, or the roles, these days. It is not written in the scripts, not loud or harsh. It is, again, an undercurrent. At the awards ceremony, she wears the pink dress with a bow at the back. They all paint their faces, but are not all the same. They all wear the pins and say the right things, backs must be aching against the spandex, hands against the clutch. It is not in words, but there is no spectrum. The men wear the suits and the woman wear the dresses. They grow their hair out, they cut it off, they marry each other, live happily ever after, enforce the gender roles again on to their oddly-named children. They thank the change but do not make it, make speeches about the change and love it. Eat it right up along with the champagne and the stars.
I watch the cover girls, hair curled, skin perfect and pore-free, glossy on the magazines. I watch the men, bulky, strong, sharp-tongued, and I watch the headlines pile up. Another case, another judge, another girl or twenty, another monster glistening under Hollywood’s big-light scrutiny; again and again, say their names. It is all about blame now, and what she was wearing, and how it is not about what she was wearing. Why does this keep happening?
Maybe it would stop, if we stopped insisting that men be strong, and dominant, and brutal. If we stopped telling women to settle down. If a boy wore a dress to an awards ceremony, and nobody said a word. Maybe it would stop we learned to subvert our culture; if we never gave our children labels like ‘him’ or ‘her’, never taught a girl to stand with her chest forward, a boy to work his body into a machine. Maybe it would stop with us.
Can you call a culture by its name? On the Hollywood Walk Of Fame I want to write: Gender Will Kill You All. But they would probably get too offended.
Hollywood Walk of Fame, image from energy106.ca/hollywood-walk-of-fame-class-of-2018/
I remember I always felt like a girl. Always wanted to blossom into a woman, a real-life woman. I remember the women I loved, still love, standing with their red lipstick and gold earrings, heads cocked to examine the expression on an interviewer’s face. I remember the way they talked, quickly, quietly, innocently, as if not to make a fuss. Voices light and pretty. Above them men glowed like ornaments I longed to collect. Big strong men with big strong deep voices echoing across rooms where they would only speak to other men. And all the women stood still, holding their breath.
Some of those women sent men to prison with only their voices. Some of them cried at the stand. Some of them started their own companies. Some of them are activists. Some of them still pretend. The men stand behind and it is their turn to be silent. They do not cry, they do not gasp, they do not act shocked or supportive when the conviction comes through or the name is said. The women are loud now, and they are not pretty. But they will always wear the dresses.
I remember I always felt like a girl. What if I never had to?
Zadie is a 16 year old Melbourne-based writer, fond of cats, books, TV, film, fashion, and art.