Genetically, as far as what’s between my legs, I am a ‘man.’ But I identify as gender fluid – I like to wear dresses, skirts, stockings and crop tops. Some of my best friends who are women wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress – they’d prefer lose jeans and a baggy jumper. Increasing numbers of young people are deciding that they do not identify by gender norms, and would prefer to go by “they” rather than “he” or “she” which is freeing for an entire generation. In the early 1970’s David Bowie proudly walked the streets of London in beautiful, flowing gowns. As a figure of fashion, self empowerment, and a representation of the redundancy of gender norms, David Bowie helped to shape the idea of casual cross dressers. Every time a boy decides to don a dress, or a woman decides to not, they are helping to chip away at the confusing wall of gender stereotypes which stunt personal growth, and cause people to act in ways which may be against their nature, but which society would define as “in line with their gender.” This wall has been built so high that Donald Trump envies it.
When we’re kids, it’s always the same story. Girls get the cute pink clothes, sequinned singlets, skirts and strappy sandals. Boys on the other hand, get a pair of shorts and a blue teeshirt. When I was a kid and I would wear my sisters skirts, my mum thought I was just ‘playing dress-ups’ and being silly. But I now realise that I wanted to express myself in the same way my sister got to, and I wanted to be just as pretty as she was. We confuse the youth with gendered clothing, which is tied so closely to gender norms and expected personalities. This is stifling to growth, and stifling to the whole idea of equality. Equality does not come from division – equality comes from breaking down the barriers that seperate our gender, and creating an even playing field from the rubble.
Today is International Women’s Day, and the Committee For Melbourne lobby group is installing ten “female” pedestrian crossing lights at Flinders Street and Swanston Street. The idea behind this is rather nice. The CEO of the committee Martine Letts has said that “unconscious bias reinforces stereotypes and influences daily decisions and attitudes.” This line of thinking makes a lot of sense. By replacing the traditionally “male” figure on the traffic lights with a “female” figure, the committee is chipping away at the male dominated public space. Minister for Women Fiona Richardson said, “there are many small – but symbolically significant – ways that women are excluded from public spaces… This is a wonderful way to make public spaces more inclusive for women,”
The biggest problem here is not the idea – it is obviously important to reduce the cultural bias against women that has been so engrained in our human history. The problem is the way in which it is being expressed – by putting a dress up on the traffic light, and saying that symbol means woman, is detrimental to young boys and young girls. For a young boy, it reinforces the idea that a dress only belongs on a woman. For a young girl, it reinforces the idea that she belongs in a dress.
Recently, non-gendered bathrooms have been cropping up all over Melbourne, and in different parts of the world. The Gasometer Hotel and The Tote in Melbourne have both introduced gender neutral bathrooms, which is freeing for people on both sides of the gender spectrum. The symbol that is being used on some bathrooms is below. If the Committee For Melbourne really wanted to promote equality and do away with gender assumptions, why not use a symbol like that? While I understand that there is an underrepresentation of women in our every day lives, and that the female traffic light is endeavouring to equal that out in some small way, it still only draws more attention to gender norms which in my opinion, are the real enemy of personal development.
Another issue here is the money being spent to implement something like this – why can’t that money go towards helping fund women’s shelters? The gesture of changing the traffic lights is symbolic and lovely, but that’s about it – outside of representing an idea, it doesn’t offer anything to women directly, and doesn’t promote any change. It simply reinforces pre-existing, suffocating ideas of gender expectations.
“It’s 2017 for f**** sake. Let the bi-gendered traffic light person wear whatever they want.” – Jesse Demos