On the new cover of Dossier, a biannual arts and culture journal, a model with shiny blonde hair curled up in rollers looks down and away from the camera. The compellingly feminine features on the model’s face draw you in. But then your eyes drift down to see that the model is removing a button-down shirt, leaving shoulders, chest, and stomach exposed. It’s a little jarring to see the model’s flat chest—without breasts—and suddenly you realize the figure on the cover is not, actually, a woman.
Andrej Pejic, a Serbian model, is challenging the binary of gender and quickly positioning himself as a key example of androgyny—the term is derived directly from the Greek words for man and woman—a conception of gender that tends to fly well below the radar in modern U.S. society. The Dossier cover is helping to bring androgynous images more to the forefront of the gender conversation—and the controversy surrounding the issue sure isn’t hurting androgyny’s visibility.
Barnes & Noble and Borders have told Dossier representatives that they wouldn’t shelve the magazine unless all copies were covered with opaque poly bags—the kind typically reserved for Playboy or Maxim. According to Skye Parrott, the co-founder of Dossier, both stores acknowledged that they understood the model, Andrej Pejic, is male. But representatives asserted that the femininity inherent in the image was too confusing to risk putting on the magazine shelf.
Of course, that was exactly the point of the photo: to confuse gender and challenge the binary of our current system. In the essay that was paired with the photos of Pejic within the magazine, T. Cole Rachel wrote:
"In these images, Andrej is somehow both sexless and hypersexualized. Depending on the viewer, Collier’s images reveal either the most beautiful boy ever or a striking blonde goddess. He is neither. He is both."
Attempting to deal with an image of an adrogynous male, on the front cover of a current magazine is like asking a newborn baby to eat raw sirloin steak. He may put it in his/her mouth but certainly will not be able to disgest nor even ingest the complex meat.
And, if ever we are going to move past a one-dimensional notion of both men and women, but especially men, it is going to take a revolution and a transformation in the public and private definition of what it means to be a male.
The gay and lesbian community continues to experience rejection, alienation and outright hostility, for being who they are. The latest pop culture icon, Lady Gaga, who is a gay rights activist, is attacked for her "perversion" and told by some males to desist in her activism on their behalf.
It is straight males, raised in the image of "Rambo" or any of the many other images that have devolved from John Wayne, General Patton, Winston Churchill, and even Margaret Thatcher (that woman who is more like a man than a woman) who are most uncomfortable witnessing and certainly discussing a subject like androgyny. And that is one of the significant cultural and religious and social hurdles that our society is facing, in our attempt to legitimize both any serious attempt to ramp up an initiative against global warming and climate change, as well as any initiative that seeks to demilitarize the Pentagon, or the military armaments of the "advanced" or "first" world countries.
The exercise of power, still mostly by male executives in primarily male-dominated corporate culture, is almost exclusively the exercise of what has become known as "hard power"...negative judgement, punishment, discipline, alienation, even some forms of satire that cut to the bone of the subject, and, of course, bombs, missiles, aircraft carriers, Fighter Jets, AK-47 rifles, firings, suspensions, fines and even in schools detentions, suspensions, expulsions. The legal system takes such forms of punishment and discipline as its primary menu for the "treatment" of those who do not conform with the laws.
And yet, more and more, we are finding that any form of revenge, on the part of the institution, or the family, or the CEO, generates more negative complications than positive transformations.
For example, for many "transgressors," community service is a far more effective method of integrating those whom society has already ostracised (hence their initial midbehaving), than additional time of incarceration, or of elimination, separation and alienation. Banning those who do not conform is a way of telling the world, by those making the judgements, "You have erred and now you must pay" because:
- by punishing you we will deter others from similar mis-deeds
- by punishing you we will preserve order and the status quo, of the operation of power, in our society
- by removing you we will demonstrate to our peers and supervisors that we are in charge
- by making an example of you, we will serve to exact "justice" on behalf of the victims of your acts and thereby reduce the potential for violent revenge on their part
- by putting you in jail, we will grow our most treasured institution, demonstrating to all our capacity to provide good order and government...
Neurosis sits at the core of our application of hard power, in personal relationships, in family discipline and in geo-political actions including both military combat and all forms of punishment that seeks to remove life-support from our enemies. And corporate neurosis is not only permitted but perhaps even encouraged by the holding of unlimited competition as one of our society's highest ideals.
To compete is to satisfy our need for recognition and public affirmation, even if it stunts our personal spiritual growth. To demonstrate our superiority in any way over others, is merely to exercise our opportunity to prove our internal weakness, especially when such competition leads to and results in personal injury, or even death. We are sacrificing to an idol, unconscious of our profound attachment to that idol.
Masculinity, in its most stereotypical manifestations, is neither a full expression of manhood nor a positive contribution to the evolution of the individual male who is still, like a crysalis, attempting to emerge from the cocoon of such limiting definitions.
We love the music of a Beethoven, without having to cope with the personality behind the musical score.
We love the poety of a Shakespeare, without having to address the complexities of the character behind the iambic pentamenter.
We love the pas de deux of a Nureyev, without having to face the potential confrontation of our definition of what it means to be a fully evolved male.
We love the canvas of a Picasso, and prefer to explore our critical evaluations of the work, without having to enter into the psyche of its creator.
There is little doubt that, when Dancing with the Stars invites an NFL star to participate in their 'show' when he accepts, his team-mates will deride both him and his decision as "unmanly" until they see what he has accomplished and then, perhaps, they can see his own evolution as something more important to emulate.
As one who, from a very early age, saw no conflict between playing the piano and also playing minor hockey, and who continues to see no conflict or necessary exclusion of the one realm from the other, I continue to find tragic the political attack machines that destroy a male candidate for being subtle and sophisticated in his intellectual and in his personal mannerism, because he looks and sounds androgynous.
I continue to be repulsed by the entertainment's opportunism in cashing in on satirizing any male idiosyncracies that smack of androgyny, or of a more nuanced and sensitive expression of emotion than is "acceptable" from a male.
It is the emotions and their expression that are both the waterfall of our human energies including the energies of our imaginations. Men and women, both and differently, encapsulate a pulsating core of feelings that drive our responses to other human beings. The denial, repression and even minimizing of those emotions, no matter the depth and direction of those emotions, is a characteristic of a repressed and self-sabotaging individual, family, artistic community and even social culture. Those emotions, including emotions of anger, frustration, disappointment, superiority and complacency...are signals of our inner truths, of our inner responses to people and events we encounter. They are our best guide to "finding" ourselves, and to "creating" ourselves, and to growing community and to taking communal actions and decisions to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, for example, in the face of our own greed and comfortable life style.
We have to face the conflict between two competing emotions, like compassion and greed, if we are ever to reconcile our insatiable appetite for consumption, for the energy to generate the movements and the goods necessary to feed our appetitie for consumption, based as it is on our deepest fears of not being "good enough" WITHOUT whatever feeds our appetite, whether it is power, a fancy car, a 'mcmansion' or a 401K that is bursting at the seams.
And, furthermore, it is our emotions, primarily those of fear and additional neurosis that generate our capacity to hate, and to ridicule and to ostracise and to inflict unproductive punishments on those because we can. And such attitudes of fear and contempt, for gays and lesbians, for example, as well as for those of another faith whose tenets we simply do not understand, and whose people we fear, continue to generate what the therapists call "control dramas" that demonstrate our need for additional healing and evolving, past our fear of those emotions, past our rejection of our authentic emotional expressions, and past our politically correct repressions in the name of public acceptance, public morality, maturity and responsibility.
It is our own pride and the accompanying strivings, both overt and especially covert, that often generates the most significant and yet most hollow psychodramas...and that eventually dupes us into accepting our own vulnerability, the only safe route to humility and integrity. And yet, so long as we deny the reality, and the importance and the depth and the androgyny of our emotional energies, we will continue to sabotage our path to that vulnerability and its collorary, authenticity.