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Androgyny is the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. Sexual ambiguity may be found in fashion, gender identity, sexual identity, or sexual lifestyle. It can also refer to biological intersex physicality, especially with regard to plant and human sexuality.
Androgyny and homosexuality are seen in Plato’s Symposium in a myth that Aristophanes tells the audience. People used to be spherical creatures, with two bodies attached back to back who cartwheeled around. There were three sexes: the male-male people who descended from the sun, the female-female people who descended from the earth, and the male-female people who came from the moon. This last pairing represented the androgynous couple. These sphere people tried to take over the gods and failed. Zeus then decided to cut them in half and had Apollo stitch them back together leaving the navel as a reminder to not defy the gods again. If they did, he would cleave them in two again to hop around on one leg. Plato states in this work that homosexuality is not shameful. This is one of the earlier written references to androgyny.
For humans, androgyne (// AN-drə-jyn) in terms of gender identity is a person who does not fit neatly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of their society. Androgynes may also use the term "ambigender" or "polygender" to describe themselves. Many androgynes identify as being mentally between woman and man, or as entirely genderless. They may identify as "non-gender", "gender-neutral", "agender", "between genders", "genderqueer", "multigender", "intergendered", "pangender" or "gender fluid".
Bem Sex-Role Inventory
The Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI) was constructed by the early leading proponent of androgyny, Sandra Bem (1977). The BSRI is one of the most widely used gender measures. Based on an individual's responses to the items in the BSRI, they are classified as having one of four gender role orientations: masculine, feminine, androgynous, or undifferentiated.
An androgynous person is a female or male who has a high degree of both feminine (expressive) and masculine (instrumental) traits. A feminine individual is ranked high on feminine (expressive) traits and ranked low on masculine (instrumental) traits. A masculine individual is ranked high on instrumental traits and ranked low on expressive traits. An undifferentiated person is low on both feminine and masculine traits.
According to Sandra Bem, androgynous men and women are more flexible and more mentally healthy than either masculine or feminine individuals; undifferentiated individuals are less competent. More recent research has debunked this idea, at least to some extent, and Bem herself has found weaknesses in her original pioneering work. Now she prefers to work with gender schema theory.
To a degree, context influences which gender role is most adaptive. In close relationships, a feminine or androgynous gender role may be more desirable because of the expressive nature of close relationships. However, a masculine or androgynous gender role may be more desirable in academic and work settings because of the demands for action and assertiveness.
One study found that masculine and androgynous individuals had higher expectations for being able to control the outcomes of their academic efforts than feminine or undifferentiated individuals.
Androgynous traits are those that either have no gender value or have some aspects generally attributed to the opposite gender. Physical androgyny (compare intersex), which concerns physical traits, is distinct from behavioral androgyny, which concerns personal and social anomalies in gender, and is also distinct from psychological androgyny, which is a matter of gender identity.
To say that a culture or relationship is androgynous is to say that it lacks rigid gender roles and that the people involved display characteristics or partake in activities traditionally associated with the other sex. The term "androgynous" is often used to refer to a person whose look or build make determining their gender difficult, but is generally not used to describe actual intersexuality, transgender or two-spirit people. Occasionally, people who do not actually define themselves as androgynes adapt their physical appearance to look androgynous. This outward androgyny has been used as a fashion statement and some of the milder forms (women wearing men's trousers/men wearing skirts, for example) are not perceived as transgender behavior.
Lesbians, who do not define themselves as butch or femme, may identify with various other labels including "androgynous" or "andro" for short. A few other examples include "lipstick lesbian", "tomboy", and "tom suay", which is Thai for 'beautiful butch'. Some lesbians reject gender performativity labels altogether and resent their imposition by others. Note that androgynous and butch are often considered equivalent definitions, though less so in the butch/femme scene.
The recently coined word genderqueer is often used to refer to androgyny, but the terms "genderqueer" and "androgyny" (or "androgynous") are neither equivalent nor interchangeable. "Genderqueer" is not specific to androgynes. It does not denote gender identity and may refer to any person, cisgender or transgender, whose behavior falls outside conventional gender norms. Furthermore, "genderqueer", by virtue of its ties with queer culture, carries sociopolitical connotations that androgyny does not carry. For these reasons, some androgynes may find the label "genderqueer" inaccurate, inapplicable, or offensive. "Androgneity" is a viable alternative to "androgyny" for differentiating internal (psychological) factors from external (visual) factors.
Terms such as "bisexual", "heterosexual", and homosexual have less meaning for androgynes who do not identify as men or women to begin with. Infrequently the words gynephilia and androphilia, and some describe themselves as androsexual are used. These words refer to the gender of the person someone is attracted to, but do not imply any particular gender on the part of the person who is feeling the attraction.
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An alternative to androgyny is gender-role transcendence: the view that individual competence should be conceptualized on a personal basis rather than on the basis of masculinity, femininity, or androgyny.
In agenderism, the division of people into women and men (in the psychical sense), is considered erroneous and artificial. According to agenderism, the biological sex (or lack thereof) is not associated with specific features and tendencies of personality, and should not be used as a yardstick to determine the human internal "I" (Ego).
Androgyny has been gaining more prominence in popular culture in the early 21st century. Both fashion industries and pop culture have accepted and even popularised the "androgynous" look, with several current pop stars being hailed as creative trendsetters.
The rise of the metrosexual in the first decade of the 2000s has also been described as a related phenomenon associated with this trend. Traditional gender stereotypes have been challenged and reset in recent years dating back to the 1960s, the hippie movement and flower power. Artists in film such as Leonardo DiCaprio sported the "skinny" look in the 1990s, a departure from traditional masculinity which resulted in a fad known as "Leo Mania." This trend came long after musical superstars such as David Bowie, Boy George, Prince, and Annie Lennox challenged the norms in the 1970s and had elaborate cross gender wardrobes by the 1980s. Musical stars such as Marilyn Manson and the band Placebo have used clothing and makeup to create an androgyny culture throughout the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s. Manson even appearing genderless in the album cover for Mechanical Animals, showing breasts and no reproductive organs.
One of the earliest celebrities to challenge gender stereotypes was Elvis Presley in the 1950s, whose wardrobe and use of makeup (particularly eye makeup) incited traditionalists to riot. Presley inspired extraordinary artists such as the Beatles (starting with long hair and progressing to full-fledged androgynous dress in life and on stage), the Rolling Stones (particularly Mick Jagger who strongly worked the androgyny angle) during the 1960s. Many other musicians challenged gender stereotypes such as, Jimi Hendrix who wore women's shirts, scarves, high-heeled boots, and was famously shy and soft-spoken in interviews. In the 1970s John Travolta made skintight male fashion disco de rigueur. Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant fashioned perhaps the most enduring image of modern androgyny. Plant combined a somewhat effeminate physical appearance with a high pitched, flamboyant vocal range coupled with a distinctly masculine sexuality. With this new fashion, celebrities have influenced other males to have an increasing interest in traditional female interests like clothing, fashion accessories, hairstyles, manicures, spa treatments and so on. These trends have arguably gone on to reshape fashion, clothing houses, including Top Man, and designer labels. There has been an increase in sales in relevant "androgynous" merchandise.
While the 1990s unrolled and fashion developed an affinity for unisex clothes there was a rise of designers who favored that look, like Helmut Lang, Giorgio Armani and Pierre Cardin, the trends in fashion hit the public mainstream in the 2000s (decade) that featured men sporting different hair styles: longer hair, hairdyes, hair highlights. Men in catalogues started wearing jewellery, make up, visual kei, designer stubble. These styles have become a significant mainstream trend of the 21st century, both in the western world and in Asia. Japanese and Korean cultures have featured the androgynous look as a positive attribute in society, as depicted in both K-pop, J-pop, in Anime and Manga, as well as the fashion industry.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Androgyny.|
- Androgyny: study and collection of articles
- Androgyne Online
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- Sandra Bem and androgyny
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- Video displaying male androgyny on YouTube