Androgynous is a term used to describe individuals whose outward gender expression cannot be distinguished as feminine or masculine, or combine traits that are considered masculine and feminine. It is sometimes a term related to gender identity.
The word androgynous is derived from the Latin word androgynus and from the Greek word androgynos, the latter combining the root words andros for "man" and gynē for "woman". In the 1620s, androgynous meant "womanish" when referring to a man; by the 1650s, it was interpreted as "having two sexes, being both male and female." In 1833, the noun androgyny was defined as a "state of being androgynous, union of sexes in one individual."
Throughout the twentieth century, gender often dictated what a person was permitted to wear. Women were prohibited from wearing trousers, while men were simply not given the option to dress in a feminine manner. In the 1800s, female spies came into existence and Vivandières began to wear dressers over trousers to allow them mobility. Women activists during this time wore trousers as a statement against the patriarchal rule. In the 1920s, the "flapper" era was introduced. It began to blur the lines of what a woman was permitted to look like, as they often wore "boyish" haircuts and had androgynous figures despite their flashy dresses. Coco Chanel donned an androgynous look of a short hairstyle, striped shirt, pants, and an androgynous figure in 1928. By the 1930s, Marlene Dietrich fascinated many with her strong desire to wear trousers and adopt the androgynous style. She is remembered as one of the first actresses to wear trousers to a film premiere.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the women's liberation movement is considered to have contributed to ideas and influenced fashion designers in terms of the androgynous style. Elvis Presley introduced an androgynous style into the world of rock n' roll. His generally referred to pretty face and use of eye makeup often made people think he was a rather "effeminate guy". When the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park in 1969, Mick Jagger wore a white "man's dress" designed by Michael Fish.
Androgyny became increasingly more mainstream in the music industry by 1971. Marc Bolan was also considered a pioneer of "glam rock" and performed in 1971 wearing glitter and satins, with The Independent labelling him as responsible for the influx of teenagers experimenting with androgyny. In 1972, David Bowie launched his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars. The character "Ziggy Stardust" was a symbol of sexual ambiguity. Bowie would go on to be one of the biggest faces in androgynous media, often blurring the lines of classic "men" and "women's" wear.
By the 1980s, it was reflected within pop culture icons, such as Annie Lennox and Boy George. Androgynous fashion made its most powerful in the 1980s through the work of designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, who brought in a distinct Japanese style that adopted distinctively gender ambiguous themes.
In modern times, androgynous individuals are often celebrated and are pioneers in fashion, music, and magazines. They are hailed as creative trendsetters. Most popularly for magazine spreads, men wear dresses, makeup, accessories, all while sporting a fashionable stubble and androgynous figure. Women, having paved the way for androgynous expression, were depicted in magazines and stage presences. These trendsetting women included Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Lady Gaga. In the Japanese culture, androgyny is often celebrated and reflected in numerous forms of media such as K-pop, anime, manga, and J-pop.
An androgynous pride flag was designed by arco-pluris, a moderator of the Tumblr blog Beyond MOGAI Pride Flags, on January 30, 2019. The flag is based on the feminine and masculine flags by imoga-pride on Tumblr.
Androgynous is different, but often confused for, non-binary. Non-binary describes someone's gender identity, while androgynous only refers to an outward appearance of not being specifically masculine or feminine. It is not indicative of a gender identity.
Most of the controversy surrounding androgyny comes from conservative individuals who claim the blurring of gender lines and identifiers might lead to a societal upheaval or confusion without gender roles. Most of the concerns regarding androgyny stem from societal dichotomy concerns. From its fundamental creation to modern day, it challenges gender roles and sexuality, as well as stereotypes surrounding gender and sex.
Perceptions and Discrimination
In the 70s, psychologist Sandra Bem argued that psychological androgyny—the extent to which a person crosses sex-typed standards of desirable behavior—has important consequences. Research studies have shown associations between androgyny and a wide range of positive outcomes such as self-esteem, satisfaction with life, marital satisfaction, subjective feelings of well-being, ego identity, parental effectiveness, perceived competence, achievement motivation, cognitive complexity when evaluating careers, cognitive flexibility, and behavioral flexibility. Kelly and Worrell (1976) found that androgynous individuals were raised by parents who stressed cognitive independence, curiosity, and competence.
However, despite the research showing a monumental boost in self-identity and self-worth, when comparing their results to others perceive them, the perception was slightly different. They found that femininity in both men and women was not perceived well by employers or peers. On the flip side of this argument, when women exhibited masculine traits and blurred the lines of gender in the workplace, they were looked down upon or considered too "intimidating" or was simply frowned upon.
This section should be used to elaborate on the portrayal and representation of this identity in various forms of media, which can include a listing or links to various artists or movies, series, etc.
- Gabriel - Constantine
- Dr. Haru Tanaka - Bones
- Judoon - Doctor Who
- Pat - Saturday Night Live
- The Person of Indeterminate Gender - A Series of Unfortunate Events
- David Bowie
- Miley Cyrus
- Lady Gaga
- Boy George
- Cyndi Lauper
- Annie Lennox
- "Androgyny" by Garbage
- "Androgynous" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
- Glenn Close
- Ruby Rose
- Tilda Swinton
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