Gender As Advertising

Subject: Gender As Advertising
Date: Thu 13 Aug 1998 - 23:01:26 BST

If gender expression is form of communication that humans use to express who
they are and what role they intend to play in the world, isn't gender
expression a form of advertising?

When we create a gender expression, from dress to hair to speech to behavior,
we communicate who we are and how we want to be treated. We speak for what
we want to be and how we want to be treated, making offers and promises with
our expression, just like any advertiser makes offers and promises on the
package to explain and entice.

Some of this occurs on a concious level, but much of it is not at all
concious, just a reptition of patterns we have been taught. That too is an
advertisement, an advertisement of how we have been trained, how we have been
taught to take a role by our parents. Our parents have an obligation to make
marriagable young women and men, a task that they are rated on and proud of.
This tranining includes class, heritage and racial characteristics -- a young
woman in Minnesota may cook Swedish meatballs to show her skills, while a
young woman in Alabama may cook fried chicken. From dress to homemaking to
providing skills, we advertise all of them with our gendered expression to
establish our place in culture.

Is it any surprise then that there is some anger, resentment or distress when
people find that they didn't get what they expected? From lesbian partners
who worry about being forced to become straight women, to straight women who
worry about being forced to become gay women, to men who just feel angry and
humilaated, these people who got the surprise package that is transgender in
this culture can feel like truth in gender advertising was violated.

If gender expression is advertising, making promises about who we are, what
role we play, and what we can do, then how do we make the contents match the

This is a big issue. At OutWrite this year, the usual cruising was inhbited
because, acccording to one attendee, "It was hard to tell who was what in this
place." Systems of desire, and that includeds homosexual life that centers
around who you sleep with, need clear packaging to function, a way for people
to see who they can connect with. This may be as explict as hanky codes or as
nuanced as the manners at a cotillion, but the communication -- the
advertising -- is the way we make choices about where we spend our energy.

Some suggest that this is all a mistake, that we need to deal with people on
who they are inside rather than the image they project. The challenge is,
though, that negotiating with everyone we meet from scratch is virtually
impossible. We need to make assumptions to communicate, even if we clarify
those assumptions over time as we get to know someoneone. That's why people
learn to create images that convey something about them, give a first
impression that will help set them in class, gender and society.

If gender is advertising, then how do we find a way to either be able to
deliver what we promise or find a way to promise what we can deliver? In one
case, if we communicate our normativity, we have to be able to deliver that
normativity, which is hard unless we reconstruct ourselves both in body and
acculturation, and in the other case, we have to find ways to communicate
ideas of transgender in a world where there is no language or even generally
percieved need for new modes of being gendered.

In other words, if we want to claim to be a plumber, we better be able to fix
the pipes or if we want to be something new, we better be clear about what
that is and be able to communicate it to others. If that new thing is based
on some old model, an older role -- and humans tend to go with evolutionary
models, new symbols built on older ones -- then we need to be able to own the
older roles and our new modifications to them.

If gender is communication, isn't it just a form of advertising? And if it
is, doesn't that mean that each one of us is our own product manager, faced
with the challenge of both making sure that the product is good and that the
communication about it is clear, specific and honest?

In other words, shouldn't there be an obligation for truth in gender



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