Dear Present Me, it is important to notice how gendered the world is…

I have decided to try not to take gender lenses off, but leave them in place, and, rather than trying to eliminate the gender discriminations and differences that appeared, understand them and point them out for other people to realize they are there…

I went on a trip to New York City last Christmas and decided to observe how much the city was gendered. 

I’ve always thought of New York as one of the most modern and open-minded cities in the world. I think I haven’t seen more LGBT-friendly shops and signs clustered in one area in my life. But then I said to myself, gender is everywhere, it can’t be escaped, gender lenses cannot be taken off when looking into the world, and NYC is no exception. During my one-week trip, I therefore decided to not try and take these gender lenses off, but leave them in place, and, rather than trying to eliminate the gender discriminations and differences that appeared, understand them and point them out for other people to realize they were there.

I will begin with the example of a plane. The fact that a plane is gendered isn’t new, of course? Tyler and Abbott (1998) already noted this idea, concentrating on the fact that women in the airline industry were under a lot of pressure to be ‘extra-feminine’. However, on Norwegian airline, the airline I took to fly to NYC, I didn’t get this feeling. Women were dressed in the same way as men, meaning that they wore pants instead of the usual, typical skirt a hostess wears in pretty much all other airlines. This shows an obvious shift from gender accentuated clothes to gender-neutral clothes. Nonetheless, the fact that I was surprised that the hostess weren’t wearing skirts or dresses showed how badly societal gender assumptions were entrenched in my mind, and this is the kind of things people should realize: it’s good to make efforts to eliminate these gender-based affects, but it’s even more important to realize that it’s not only by changing these effects that the world is going to become less sexist. It’s by changing the mindsets of people.

Even though this gender-neutral clothing was a positive side, everything else was highly gendered. Indeed, in the video showing the emergency instructions, the only three people present were a man, a woman, and a child, and, of course, their roles in the video were very different. Indeed, the woman was with the child, emphasising her stereotypical role as the primary child-carer, and they were seated in economic class, while the man was in premium class. This hints that it is more likely for a man to be in premium class and therefore have more money than a woman.

I wish I could say that these were the only things that I noticed as gendered, but it unfortunately wasn’t. Even the choice in which movies to watch was gendered. I noticed way more women watching “Bride”s War” than men, and way more men watching “Deadpool” than women. Furthermore, the messages delivered by these movies were obviously highly gendered, and conditioned the people watching them into thinking that marriage is the only thing women think about, and being a superhero and saving the day is only a male asset.

Even in something as simple as a plane, where one would not expect it to be particularly gendered, the expectations and stereotypes regarding gender are very present. Noticing them is not enough however, something has to be done to eradicate them, and people’s mindset has to change towards a more gender-neutral based one.

Times Square is always full of light, full of people, full of fun. There are a lot of street shows there, and I got to see one when I was walking around. It was in one of these shows that two or three members of the public were gathered and then acrobatically jumped over by the performers. And guess what? The people chosen and the performers were… men! Even better, the performers were… shirtless! It might seem an innocent coincidence when you’re here just to enjoy the show, but, with my gender lenses, I saw differently. This was typical of hegemonic masculinity: men are courageous, men are stronger than women, men are more audacious. It is all part of how men need to prove their masculinity in order to be masculine. Not wanting to risk getting crushed by a performer that doesn’t jump properly, or not wanting to jump over four strangers would be seen as being weak for a man, but reasonable for a woman. A man would probably be called a pussy for not doing it!

That’s not the only thing I noticed in Times Square. There was a huge M&M’s shop there, that has, like everywhere in Times Square, a big advertising screen. I instantly recognized a man and a woman M&M’s because of the different features they had: the man one was giving flowers to the feminine one that had long eyelashes and high heels. It hit me like a truck that the only way the woman was represented was with things that are usually used to objectify her: makeup and very uncomfortable (but sexy of course) shoes. It is little things like this ad, that you don’t really pick up on in the first place, which highly influence how people view men and women and how people will then treat both genders very differently.

Anouk Gochard Lezebot