The curse of the proper lady: Conceptualizations of purity and the slag

The conceptualization of purity. The definitional phenomena of this term has perplexed me in a way that transcends the performative, stylistic form of language and co-existence. Essentially, purity has formed a social hierarchy, a subjective oppression and repression, and a convoluted ideological framework of sexuality. The convergence of sexual identity and purity has culturally and socially produced a ‘polluted danger.’ Mary Douglas, British anthropologist who focuses on ritualism, comparative religion, and feminism “attempts to clarify the differences between the sacred, the clean and the unclean in different societies and times.” I will primarily be referring to her work in this particular post. I intend to address the intersection between sacred sexuality, womyn’s agency, and the theoretical and historical implications of purity.

Deconstructing body symbolism is crucial in the analysis of the hierarchical order and configuration of gender and sexuality in terms of the social taboos of what is considered ‘pure.’ We’ve all heard – be a proper lady! Sit up. Close your legs. Just sit there and look pretty. Hack up your skirt a little more (many thanks to Dave Matthews), bend over, more make-up, less make-up, shave, trim, wax, shorter skirt, longer dress, more cleavage. My point is we are consistently bombarded with a cacophony of messages which create an absurd imbalance of our perception of purity and something of utmost distaste. So why does this occur? What prompts such a contradictory mess? Firstly, it’s wanting the best of both worlds. These binaries are both desirous and expected unconsciously. But why? Well, because we are not linear, categorical creatures of reason. Humanity thrives on the complex opposition of humane traits and characteristics.

So in terms of gender construction, what is a proper lady? How can we know for sure when we’ve been consistently harassed with an imbalance of messages telling us what is sacred, clean, unclean, unholy, impure, etc.? History and post-christian beliefs have taught us that womyn were only sacred and holy in terms of their sexuality and how they were possessed. Biblically, womyn were unclean during menstruation, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, and in general. They weren’t allowed to enter holy temples (that was only for men). King Solomon mentions it’s already difficult to find holy people in the book of Ecclesiastes, but there is definitely no upright, holy womyn.  The historical, social, economic, and political implication is that womyn are mainly used for mass consumerism, sexual objectification, as commodities, for reproductive reasons, etc. So how are we supposed to view ourselves? Are we clean? Dirty? Does it matter? Of course it does. Even if consciously we don’t want to accept the societal standards placed before us in a distorted way, it produces confusion. Confusion then creates hostility, warfare (on all levels), and inequality. Possessing a clear view of oneself in accordance to societal conformity is crucial to healthy development. So how do we achieve this?

Pre-christian religions like paganism, wicca, etc. revered both the Goddess and God – a balance of both female and male. That’s a start. Capitalism, inclusive of the commodification of womyn, the profit of human capital, the unnatural sexual exploitation of humankind, indulgent, mass consumptive behavior, the obvious lack of viable alternatives are some of the reasons as to why humanity is struggling with identifiable options. A postmodernist view would be that sex, gender, race, class, etc. would not influence the social and economic system as a whole. The de-centering of the subject if you will. The dismantling of the social and economic infrastructure we have become complacent with.

There is no direct solution; rather a plethora of ideological frameworks we can begin to implement in order to advocate change. There is no subjective definition of who and what is clean, dirty, sacred, etc. It’s a matter of perception dependent on history, economics, and social processes created in order to maintain a social hierarchy. Be radical. Start the change. Wear the dress.


The Florescent Powers of Androgyny: the Progressive Gender

The mystification of androgyny. The ability and creation of both masculine and feminine characteristics and traits within an individual. The inhabitance and possession of a duality still unknown to humankind. Is androgyny the epitomized construction of gender progression? Is an androgynous persona of necessity in establishing a more effective egalitarian system? What classifies or defines an individual to coalesce  what is perceived as both masculine and feminine traits? I wish to address these questions and provide a psychological, sociological, and economic perspective as to why androgynous beings would be advantageous to our society and culture. One area that is still untapped and under-researched is the establishment of androgyny cross-culturally. Anthropologically, there has been limited evidence of androgynous communities.

What exactly constitutes an androgynous being? One definition is, “Androgyny is a term—derived from the Greek words ανήρ, stem ανδρ- (anér, andr-, meaning man) and γυνή (gyné, meaning woman)—referring to the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. This may be as in fashion, sexual identity, or sexual lifestyle, or it may refer to biologically inter-sexed physicality, especially with regards to plant and human sexuality” (Wiki). My primary focus of androgyny in this particular post will be the possession of masculine and feminine traits. Dr. Sandra L. Bem’s work on the measurement of psychological androgyny has provided an expanding insight into the dimensions of human sexuality and gender identity. She developed a new sex-role inventory “that treats masculinity and femininity as two independent dimensions, thereby making it possible to characterize a person as masculine, feminine, or androgynous as a function of the difference between his or her endorsement of masculine and feminine personality characteristics.”

So how is this scale assessed?

“The Bern Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI) contains a number of features that distinguish it from other, commonly used, masculinity-femininity scales, for example, the Masculinity-Femininity scale of the California Psychological Inventory (Gough, 1957).” There are neutral items (characteristics) which are also presented. For further information, please refer to this article  (p. 2). The results and findings of this study has shown that those who identified as more androgynous beings were considered to maintain a more positive psychological health than those who identified with singularly femininity or masculinity. Psychologist Carl Jung was also preoccupied with androgyny during the twentieth century. “Some of his followers have suggested that androgyny is a way of overcoming dualism and regaining a primal unity; the half-beings of man and woman as we know them must yield to the complete man-woman.” In other words, a Utopian vision of gender identity is one of androgyny.

How will this benefit humanity?

From an economical standpoint, the mainstreaming of gender in politics, government, and within an economic infrastructure is necessary to the balancing of human power and control. “Sexual is the dominant discourse of reproduction and love – therefore the base of human power. The complementary dual[ity] of male and female gender roles and gender powers constitute even the sexual and the biological. The war between sexes is the symptom of the war between genders that all too often end in wars between nations, classes, races and other groups” (Gender Economy). Within a capitalistic framework, the primary target for mass consumerism and mass production are females. A globalized androgyny would transform the current economic system. A metamorphosis of a capitalistic structure would contribute to the balance and equality of gender powers which would then create an economic androgynous global identity. This would minimize wars, the utilization of militarism, violence in all forms, and the mass production of gendered stereotyping.

A sociological and psychological perspective as to why androgyny would benefit humankind is one that is quite multi-dimensional. Dr. Sandra Bem states, “Androgyny was a concept whose time had come, a concept that appeared to provide a liberated and more humane alternative to the traditional, sex-biased standards of mental health.” Within any institution, whether it be the nuclear family unit, religious organizations, corporatism, mental health, government, military, etc., gender roles and stereotyping continues to prevail. This has not improved society at all; rather, it has continued to denigrate and regress the natural state of humankind – the encapsulation of both masculine and feminine energies. The study I have mentioned in this post show significant levels of positive psychological and emotional well-being in those who identify as more androgynous beings. This shouldn’t come as much of a shock given traditional gender roles have maintained a capitalistic framework in tact along with womyn being treated as secondary citizens. In saying that, not ALL men are benefiting from conventional gender roles. Instinctual human traits such as the development of emotional maturity and mutual understanding of the feminine energy has been removed from their psyche. The progression of cognitive development in regards to affection, expression, passion, and nurture have been severed from men’s psychological advancement.

There are many reasons as to why an establishment and development of a global androgyny would be advantageous to humanity. (Far too long to list in this post). To sum up:

Research studies have shown a bunch of positive associations between androgyny and wide range of outcomes such as self-esteem, satisfaction with life, [relational] 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 (Psychology Today).

So how do we become more androgynous? I should say I am not proposing a negation of what we currently perceive as masculine or feminine traits. My objective, rather, is to promote the dualistic features and assembling of masculine and feminine traits. A synergy of the balance of masculinity and femininity along with the complete awareness of the holistic individual is vital to the creation of the progressive gender – Androgyny.

Stay tuned, stay plugged, be androgynous!