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Gender-bending progress

By Stephanie Cairns
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 3, 1998
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Stephanie Cairns

You could say it's a sign of the times. You can see it in the strong arm and quick wit of Drew Barrymore's Cinderella-esque character in Ever After. You can hear it when women laugh at other women who believe they can't survive without a boyfriend. You can feel it in the presence of good female friends who are capable of laughing together - and at themselves.

What is this continuously emerging trend in behavior? It's called gender-bending, and it's been happening for years. These days, you may notice it's spreading.

Gender-bending occurs when women adopt characteristics and behaviors usually assigned to or associated with men. It can go the other way also. Gender-bending also defines the actions of men who are able to discuss their emotions openly, take charge in the kitchen and allow a woman to handle challenging situations.

So why would women and men want to trade traits or switch roles? Shouldn't each individual be proud of his or her place in society - and stay there?

Maybe so. There is no question that it is great and admirable to be proud of who you are and comfortable in your own skin. But it is widely known that a fundamental principle of relating to others is the ability to listen to - and possibly understand - one another's situations and lifestyles.

Perhaps we could all learn something if we simply saw the world from someone else's perspective once in a while, even if that other person is of the other - and "opposite" - sex. As Atticus Finch, the wise and fatherly lawyer of To Kill A Mockingbird, states, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Maybe it's time we should listen.

Beyond relating to each other, gender-bending opens the doors to a more relaxed and accepting society. These days, women who fire out dirty jokes with the best of them are not spoken of in derogatory terms within gossip circles. And men are finally allowed to celebrate their masculinity without being labeled as male chauvinists.

Up until this summer, I thought I was completely open to the possibility of men and women doing whatever they wished to do, regardless of their gender-set place in society.

Then I worked as an intern for a magazine headed by a woman - whose husband stayed home and took care of their baby girl.

Honestly, I was surprised. For so long it has been traditional and so-called "normal" for a man to work regardless of whether his wife has an income or not. Years ago, a man who stayed home while his wife worked probably wouldn't have been heard of, least of all accepted by men or women.

The editor of the magazine I worked at noticed my surprise and told me that her husband simply doesn't believe that his life should be spent working. In fact, he had worked for 10 years and was now much happier taking care of his daughter. It made sense to her that if she loves her job and her husband loves raising their daughter, then no other arrangement would make more sense. Of course, I agreed.

So is gender-bending a necessary and positive phenomenon that will continue? I invite you to conduct your own survey. Perhaps I can predict your findings. Most people feel comfortable doing what they want to do rather than what society thinks they should be doing. And anyone knows that a real woman stands up for herself and a real man allows himself to cry.

Stephanie Cairns is an international studies and education senior. She can be reached via e-mail at

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