‘Nips’ and Gender Identity

Recently, I’ve started to explore gender and identity in some of my work. For ‘Nips’ (below), I wanted to look at what it means to be masculine in today’s society and the limitations of living up to the ‘macho’ stereotype, particularly the stereotypical assumption that men wearing pink is somehow automatically an indication of homosexuality.

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I’ve always loved nipple tassels – particularly ones embellished with sequins – and I felt that these would be an appropriate object to use on a male subject, as they’re usually associated with women, not men. As I said in my last post, I mainly use my mum and dad as my subjects in my work, as I have constant access to them. My dad has always had issues around his body and normally feels quite uncomfortable when topless. So, I wanted to do something that celebrated his masculinity, but also demonstrated his ‘feminine’ side, like his ability to be able to express certain feelings.

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I’d never really experimented that much with photography until fairly recently, as I never thought that I was particularly good at it. However, I’ve found it to be a really useful medium for documenting my ideas quickly, effectively, and easily. I was really happy with how my short ‘Nips’ series turned out, and so I decided to carry on experimenting with photography. This is what led me to producing ‘Party Girl’ (below), which explores the same idea as ‘Nips’, but uses a more intense shade of pink and an alternative material in the form of a lace garter.

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One of my all time heroes, for both style and artistic inspiration, is the wonderful artist, Grayson Perry. I first came across his work after watching the TV series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry’ for Channel 4, which documented the research and production process of his six large tapestries, ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’, based on class in Britain. This series of tapestries is definitely worth taking a look at, as is the TV series, as it provides a real insight into the different tastes of each class in Britain, and the tastes that make up British society as a whole.

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As a lover of kitsch and all things tacky, Perry’s fashion sense is his fabulous alter ego – although he doesn’t identify it as this) – Claire, who is my idea of heaven. Claire’s brightly coloured and brilliantly gaudy wardrobe reflects the artist’s use of colour and imagery in his art. One of my favourite moments ever was when Grayson was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003 and in his acceptance speech, he exclaimed with a grin, “It’s about time a transvestite potter won the Turner Prize,” and he was right, it was.

For me, Grayson Perry epitomises the idea of breaking the barriers of gender identity. I feel like some members of the art world can sometimes deliberately pay little attention to those artists that are thought to be a little too ‘wacky’ or ‘out there’ and don’t follow the minimalist fashion sense of most artists. We should all be celebrating ‘wacky’ artists, wacky is good after all.

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One thing that annoys me about masculinity is this wide-spread assumption that just because you’re a man, you can’t wear pink. Also, don’t even think about wearing anything that’s sparkly, or anything that even mildly touches on femininity, unless you want to be considered as homosexual. It’s absolutely fine if you’re not a massive fan of pink or you don’t really think pink is your colour, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a man and wanting to wear pink items of clothing while enjoying it. A lot of my peers, both female and male, seem to think that pink or pastel colours are not colours for men to wear or even like. I know there’s a deep rooted view in society that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, mainly driven by children’s toys and clothing aimed at specific genders. However, if you see a little boy, teenager, young man, or elderly man (the age group is of no relevance) wearing a pink item of clothing, don’t mock them. Instead, celebrate the fact that they have the confidence to wear a ‘woman’s colour’ and still be totally comfortable with themselves. Pink is a colour; it’s not a living being that screams “I’m a colour for women! Never will I be a man’s colour!” It’s just a colour. It is society that’s set up this limitation. For every man out there who is confident enough to wear pink and still feel super sassy, you go for it.

Along with the limitations of masculinity, there are also gender limitations for women in society. Should women choose to break away from the female stereotype, this somehow causes people to automatically assume that they’re lesbians, or that it’s “just a phase”. FYI: not every woman wants to be girly and get their nails done nor does every woman want to listen to riot grrrl and read feminist literature, that’s what makes up our wonderfully rich, global society. It also irritates me when feminism is sometimes associated only with women who rebel against all aspects of femininity, particularly musicians.

If you go on feminist Etsy shops, there are absolutely loads of patches and badges with something along the lines of “feminine, but not anti-feminist.” While I’m not a fan of Etsy feminist patches myself, this concept is completely true. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being very feminine; it doesn’t make you any less of a feminist. And no one has the right to determine who’s more of a feminist or less of a feminist because it just creates further division. No one can be “more of a feminist;” we all share the same common idea, and we are all united under this idea, even if some feminists are more radical in their views than others.

I discovered feminism when I was seventeen, mainly through bands like The Slits (of whom I’m eternally grateful for inspiring me at such a young age.) When I was fifteen I was bored of fitting in and limiting myself in order to be accepted, I wasn’t on a quest to be individual, I just couldn’t relate to mainstream music or mainstream fashion for some reason and I was trying to find something that I could relate to, that’s when I found punk. I decided to cut my long hair, which I had had since the age of eleven, into a short bob and get my nose pierced, two things that I’d wanted to do for a long time but hadn’t really had the confidence to do. As stupid as it sounds, after I’d made these two changes I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I was finally starting to discover myself and who I was, I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else anymore. As you have probably all noticed when I’ve been discussing my secondary school in my previous articles, it was a very narrow-minded environment to be in. After I’d had my hair cut short and had my nose pierced, rumours were spread around school about me supposedly being a “dyke”. Apparently, having your hair cut short and wearing Dr. Martens is automatically a sign that you’re a closet lesbian! What a sweeping generalisation! You obviously didn’t just make that up as a result of your own prejudices, no, definitely not. This is a similarity to the assumption that men wearing pink means that they’re obviously gay.

I’m actually straight, but even if I was gay, or bisexual, or asexual etc., who honestly cares? Does someone’s sexuality automatically change their personality and make them a terrible person? No, it does not. Is someone’s sexuality the first topic of conversation that you bring up when you mean someone new? Probably not. If a woman cuts their hair short or does something that isn’t considered to be feminine with their appearance, get over it. Just because you might happen to know of one lesbian who has short hair, does not mean that every lesbian on the earth has short hair. It’s absolutely ridiculous, unacceptable, and quite frankly embarrassing to make sweeping generalisations like that.

If you’re a woman and you want to explore masculinity or you even just want to cut your hair short but you’re too scared to do it because of what people will say, just go for it. It’s your body, you can do whatever the hell you want with it. Life’s too short to worry about what other people think of you, and as clichéd as it sounds, do what makes you happy. But, if you do get abuse from your peers as a result, try to ignore it. Their nastiness is probably rooted in the fact that they too want to break out of their gender’s limitations, they just don’t have the confidence to do it yet.

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