Monday, February 20, 2006
Gender Norm Violation
1) I chose for my gender norm violation to have a goatee. I had a hard time figuring out what to do for the presentation, but knew that I wanted it to be something that was specifically appearance-based. I have always been aware that as a woman a lot of things are based on how I look, such as what kind of person I am. I have a friend who took a class in theatre make-up, and he offered to give me a goatee, since facial hair on a woman is something that is definitely not seen every day, yet we are all familiar with the carnival stereotype of “the bearded lady.”
2) I believe that facial hair is seen as a sort of rite-of-passage for men. Boys in high school who can grow thick facial hair are seen as more mature or manly. Old men with facial hair are sometimes thought of as having wisdom, and we have the old Bible story of Samson and Delilah, with Samson losing his power because Delilah cut off his hair. Women have narrower faces without facial hair, thus they take up less space. And as I’ve I mentioned before, there’s a lot of pressure on women to be pretty or feminine-- often to the point where it’s distracting. It can take up a lot of a woman’s time. I think it can be argued that this keeps women regulated to a certain place that isn’t as strongly related to power or even wisdom in our society. Furthermore, since we see men and women as very different, we expect certain physical aspects not to be same and facial hair is definitely one of these. A woman who has facial hair is seen as weird or as a sideshow freak. She may also be seen as butch—not as a true woman in a sense of the word.
3) I hypothesized that when I went out with facial hair that a few people would stare at me, that others would look away, and that some people might laugh, albeit nervously.
4) I chose to do my norm violations a) during the day on Michigan Avenue, where a lot of tourists would be b) during the day at a Bank, which would be an office-type setting c) At night at K-Mart, in my neighborhood which is more or less made up of people from the lower middle class and below and d) at night at a Whole Foods in Lincoln Park with mostly middle and upper middle class people.
5) At each place I tried to conduct myself like I normally do. On Michigan Avenue I walked around while window shopping, at the bank I had a check cashed and at K-Mart and Whole Foods I made some purchases.
6) The whole time when I wore the goatee I felt uncomfortable. I noticed that I looked down at my feet a lot when I was wearing it, and that I didn’t want to look people in the eye. I felt ultra-sensitive in that I feared that people were judging me. I felt relieved when I could finally take it off. I know that I felt this way because I’ve internalized the norm that women who have facial hair should get rid of it. I felt that with facial hair, I didn’t look attractive or like a normal person, instead I felt like I was actually breaking a rule.
7) Most people did a double take when they saw me. At first I don’t think they quite believed that they saw a woman with facial hair. Some people grimaced, while others, maybe because I was with my friend who is male, looked at us with visible disgust (because we might have looked like a same sex couple). No one said anything outright to me, however. It felt, however, that there was a purple gorilla in the room and everyone was doing their best to ignore it.
8) What this exercise taught me is that gender norms are deeply ingrained. I didn’t think I would personally have such a hard time walking around with facial hair for a school project, but it really did bother me. It gives me admiration for those women who do choose to have facial hair, but I don’t blame other women for wanting to be rid of theirs. I think we like to think of appearance as something that is trivial, but I don’t think it is. Appearance goes hand in hand with gender expectations, which dictates that men and women to look differently. This expected differentiation is a result of patriarchy, but I believe that it also furthers this system because it helps us believe that men and women are inherently different. This in the end can therefore make it more difficult for us to achieve a more egalitarian system.