Androgyny is the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics into an ambiguous form. Androgyny may be expressed with regard to biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual identity.
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When androgyny refers to mixed biological sex characteristics in humans, it often refers to intersex people. As a gender identity, androgynous individuals may refer to themselves as non-binary, genderqueer, or gender neutral. As a form of gender expression, androgyny can be achieved through personal grooming or fashion. Androgynous gender expression has waxed and waned in popularity in different cultures and throughout history.
Androgyny as a noun came into use c. 1850, nominalizing the adjective androgynous. The adjective use dates from the early 17th century and is itself derived from the older French (14th Century) and English (c. 1550) term androgyne. The terms are ultimately derived from Ancient Greek: ἀνδρόγυνος, from ἀνήρ, stem ἀνδρ- (anér, andr-, meaning man) and γυνή (gunē, gyné, meaning woman) through the Latin: androgynus, The older word form androgyne is still in use as a noun with an overlapping set of meanings.
Androgyny among humans – expressed in terms of biological sex characteristics, gender identity, or gender expression – is attested to from earliest history and across world cultures. In ancient Sumer, androgynous and hermaphroditic men were heavily involved in the cult of Inanna.:157–158 A set of priests known as gala worked in Inanna's temples, where they performed elegies and lamentations.:285 Gala took female names, spoke in the eme-sal dialect, which was traditionally reserved for women, and appear to have engaged in homosexual intercourse. In later Mesopotamian cultures, kurgarrū and assinnu were servants of the goddess Ishtar (Inanna's East Semitic equivalent), who dressed in female clothing and performed war dances in Ishtar's temples. Several Akkadian proverbs seem to suggest that they may have also engaged in homosexual intercourse. Gwendolyn Leick, an anthropologist known for her writings on Mesopotamia, has compared these individuals to the contemporary Indian hijra.:158–163 In one Akkadian hymn, Ishtar is described as transforming men into women.
The ancient Greek myth of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, two divinities who fused into a single immortal – provided a frame of reference used in Western culture for centuries. 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 repair the resulting cut surfaces, 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. Other early references to androgyny include astronomy, where androgyn was a name given to planets that were sometimes warm and sometimes cold.
Philosophers such as Philo of Alexandria, and early Christian leaders such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, continued to promote the idea of androgyny as humans' original and perfect state during late antiquity.” In medieval Europe, the concept of androgyny played an important role in both Christian theological debate and Alchemical theory. Influential Theologians such as John of Damascus and John Scotus Eriugena continued to promote the pre-fall androgyny proposed by the early Church Fathers, while other clergy expounded and debated the proper view and treatment of contemporary “hermaphrodites.”
Western esotericism’s embrace of androgyny continued into the modern period. A 1550 anthology of Alchemical thought, De Alchemia, included the influential Rosary of the Philosophers, which depicts the sacred marriage of the masculine principle (Sol) with the feminine principle (Luna) producing the "Divine Androgyne," a representation of Alchemical Hermetic beliefs in dualism, transformation, and the transcendental perfection of the union of opposites. The symbolism and meaning of androgyny was a central preoccupation of the German mystic Jakob Böhme and the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. The philosophical concept of the “Universal Androgyne” (or “Universal Hermaphrodite”) – a perfect merging of the sexes that predated the current corrupted world and/or was the utopia of the next – also plays a central role in Rosicrucian doctrine and in philosophical traditions such as Swedenborgianism and Theosophy. Twentieth century architect Claude Fayette Bragdon expressed the concept mathematically as a magic square, using it as building block in many of his most noted buildings.
Symbols and iconography
In the ancient and medieval worlds, androgynous people and/or hermaphrodites were represented in art by the caduceus, a wand of transformative power in ancient Greco-Roman mythology. The caduceus was created by Tiresias and represents his transformation into a woman by Juno in punishment for striking at mating snakes. The caduceus was later carried by Hermes/Mercury and was the basis for the astronomical symbol for the planet Mercury and the botanical sign for hermaphrodite. That sign is now sometimes used for transgender people.
Another common androgyny icon in the medieval and early modern period was the Rebis, a conjoined male and female figure, often with solar and lunar motifs. Still another symbol was what is today called sun cross, which united the cross (or saltire) symbol for male with the circle for female. This sign is now the astronomical symbol for the planet Earth.
Historically, the word androgynous was applied to humans with a mixture of male and female sex characteristics, and was sometimes used synonymously with the term hermaphrodite. In some disciplines, such as botany, androgynous and hermaphroditic are still used interchangeably.
When androgyny is used to refer to physical traits, it often refers to a person whose biological sex is difficult to discern at a glance because of their mixture of male and female characteristics. Because androgyny encompasses additional meanings related to gender identity and gender expression that are distinct from biological sex, today the word androgynous is rarely used to formally describe mixed biological sex characteristics in humans. In modern English, the word intersex is used to more precisely describe individuals with mixed or ambiguous sex characteristics. However, both intersex and non-intersex people can exhibit a mixture of male and female sex traits such as hormone levels, type of internal and external genitalia, and the appearance of secondary sex characteristics.
Though definitions of androgyny vary throughout the scientific community, it is generally supported that androgyny represents a blending of traits associated with both masculinity and femininity. In psychological study, various measures have been used to characterize gender, such as the Bem Sex Role Inventory, the Personal Attributes Questionnaire.
Broadly speaking, masculine traits are categorized as agentic and instrumental, dealing with assertiveness and analytical skill. Feminine traits are categorized as communal and expressive, dealing with empathy and subjectivity. Androgynous individuals exhibit behavior that extends beyond what is normally associated with their given sex. Due to the possession of both masculine and feminine characteristics, androgynous individuals have access to a wider array of psychological competencies in regards to emotional regulation, communication styles, and situational adaptability. Androgynous individuals have also been associated with higher levels of creativity and mental health.
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. Bem understood that both masculine and feminine characteristics could be expressed by anyone and it would determine those gender role orientations.
An androgynous person is an individual 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 individuals 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.
Personal Attribues Questionnaire
The Personal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ) was developed in the 70s by Janet Spence, Robert Helmreich, and Joy Stapp. This test asked subjects to complete to a survey consisting of three sets of scales relating to masculinity, femininity, and masculinity-femininity. These scales had sets of adjectives commonly associated with males, females, and both. These descriptors were chosen based on typical characteristics as rated by a population of undergrad students. Similar to the BSRI, the PAQ labeled androgynous individuals as people who ranked highly in both the areas of masculinity and femininity. However, Spence and Helmreich considered androgyny to be a descriptor of high levels of masculinity and femininity as opposed to a category in and of itself.
An individual's gender identity, a personal sense of one's own gender, may be described as androgynous if they feel that they have both masculine and feminine aspects. The word androgyne can refer to a person who does not fit neatly into one of the typical masculine or feminine gender roles of their society, or to a person whose gender is a mixture of male and female, not necessarily half-and-half. Many androgynous individuals identify as being mentally or emotionally both masculine and feminine. They may also identify as "gender-neutral", "genderqueer", or "non-binary". A person who is androgynous may engage freely in what is seen as masculine or feminine behaviors as well as tasks. They have a balanced identity that includes the virtues of both men and women and may disassociate the task with what gender they may be socially or physically assigned to. People who are androgynous disregard what traits are culturally constructed specifically for males and females within a specific society, and rather focus on what behavior is most effective within the situational circumstance.
Many non-western cultures recognize additional androgynous gender identities. Jewish culture recognizes the Tumtum and Androgynos genders. In Chinese culture exists the Yinyang ren gender. The Bugis of Indonesia recognize five genders, Bissu representing the androgynous category. In Hawaiian culture, the third gender Māhū is recognized. In Oaxacan Zapotec culture, the Muxe are recognized as a third gender. In India, the Hijra is the third androgynous gender. Samoans accept Fa’afafine as a third gender. Native American culture includes Two Spirit as a general third gender.
Gender expression, which includes a mixture of masculine and feminine characteristics, can be described as androgynous. The categories of masculine and feminine in gender expression are socially constructed, and rely on shared conceptions of clothing, behavior, communication style, and other aspects of presentation. In some cultures, androgynous gender expression has been celebrated, while in others, androgynous expression has been limited or suppressed. To say that a culture or relationship is androgynous is to say that it lacks rigid gender roles, or has blurred lines between gender roles.
The word genderqueer is often used by androgynous individuals to refer to themselves, but the terms genderqueer and androgynous are neither equivalent nor interchangeable. Genderqueer is not specific to androgynes, and does not denote gender identity. It 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 considered by some to be a viable alternative to androgyn for differentiating internal (psychological) factors from external (visual) factors.
Terms such as bisexual, heterosexual, and homosexual have less meaning for androgynous individuals who do not identify as men or women to begin with. Infrequently the words gynephilia and androphilia are used, and some describe themselves as androsexual. 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.
Androgyny in fashion
Throughout most of twentieth century Western history, social rules have restricted people's dress according to gender. Trousers were traditionally a male form of dress, frowned upon for women. However, during the 1800s, female spies were introduced and Vivandières wore a certain uniform with a dress over trousers. Women activists during that time would also decide to wear trousers, for example Luisa Capetillo, a women's rights activist and the first woman in Puerto Rico to wear trousers in public.
In the 1900s, starting around World War I traditional gender roles blurred and fashion pioneers such as Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel introduced trousers to women's fashion. The "flapper style" for women of this era included trousers and a chic bob, which gave women an androgynous look. Coco Chanel, who had a love for wearing trousers herself, created trouser designs for women such as beach pajamas and horse-riding attire. During the 1930s, glamorous actresses such as Marlene Dietrich fascinated and shocked many with their strong desire to wear trousers and adopt the androgynous style. Dietrich is remembered as one of the first actresses to wear trousers in a premiere.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the women's liberation movement is likely to have contributed to ideas and influenced fashion designers, such as Yves Saint Laurent. Yves Saint Laurent designed the Le Smoking suit and first introduced in 1966, and Helmut Newton’s erotized androgynous photographs of it made Le Smoking iconic and classic. The Le Smoking tuxedo was a controversial statement of femininity and has revolutionized trousers.
Elvis Presley, however is considered to be the one who introduced the androgynous style in rock'n'roll and made it the standard template for rock'n'roll front-men since the 1950s. His pretty face and use of eye makeup often made people think he was a rather "effeminate guy", but Elvis Presley was considered as the prototype for the looks of rock'n'roll. The Rolling Stones, says Mick Jagger became androgynous "straightaway unconsciously" because of him.
However, the upsurge of androgynous dressing for men really began after during the 1960s and 1970s. When the Rolling Stones played London's Hyde Park in 1969, Mick Jagger wore a white "man's dress" designed by British designer Mr Fish. Mr Fish, also known as Michael Fish, was the most fashionable shirt-maker in London, the inventor of the Kipper tie, and a principal taste-maker of the Peacock revolution in men's fashion. His creation for Mick Jagger was considered to be the epitome of the swinging 60s. From then on, the androgynous style was being adopted by many celebrities.
During the 1970s, Jimi Hendrix was wearing high heels and blouses quite often, and David Bowie presented his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a character that was a symbol of sexual ambiguity when he launched the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars. This was when androgyny entered the mainstream in the 1970s and had a big influence in pop culture. Another significant influence during this time included John Travolta, one of the androgynous male heroes of the post-counter-culture disco era in the 1970s, who starred in Grease and Saturday Night Fever.
Continuing into the 1980s, the rise of avant-garde fashion designers like Yohji Yamamoto, challenged the social constructs around gender. They reinvigorated androgyny in fashion, addressing gender issues. This was also reflected within pop culture icons during the 1980s, such as David Bowie and Annie Lennox.
Power dressing for women became even more prominent within the 1980s which was previously only something done by men in order to look structured and powerful. However, during the 1980s this began to take a turn as women were entering jobs with equal roles to the men. In the article “The Menswear Phenomenon” by Kathleen Beckett written for Vogue in 1984 the concept of power dressing is explored as women entered these jobs they had no choice but to tailor their wardrobes accordingly, eventually leading the ascension of power dressing as a popular style for women. Women begin to find through fashion they can incite men to pay more attention to the seduction of their mental prowess rather, than the physical attraction of their appearance. This influence in the fashion world quickly makes its way to the world of film, with movies like "Working Girl" using power dressing women as their main subject matter.
Androgynous fashion made its most powerful in the 1980s debut through the work of Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, who brought in a distinct Japanese style that adopted distinctively gender ambiguous theme. These two designers consider themselves to very much a part of the avant-garde, reinvigorating Japanism. Following a more anti-fashion approach and deconstructing garments, in order to move away from the more mundane aspects of current Western fashion. This would end up leading a change in Western fashion in the 1980s that would lead on for more gender friendly garment construction. This is because designers like Yamamoto believe that the idea of androgyny should be celebrated, as it is an unbiased way for an individual to identify with one's self and that fashion is purely a catalyst for this.
Also during the 1980s, Grace Jones's a famous singer and fashion model gender-thwarted appearance in the 1980s which startled the public, but her androgynous style of heavily derivative of power dressing and eccentric personality has inspired many, and has become an androgynous style icon for modern celebrities. This was seen as controversial but from then on, there was a rise of unisex designers later in the 1990s and the androgynous style was widely adopted by many.
In 2016, Louis Vuitton revealed that Jaden Smith would star in their womenswear campaign. Because of events like this, gender fluidity in fashion is being vigorously discussed in the media, with the concept being articulated by Lady Gaga, Ruby Rose, and in Tom Hooper's film The Danish Girl. Jaden Smith and other young individuals, such as Lily-Rose Depp, have inspired the movement with his appeal for clothes to be non-gender specific, meaning that men can wear skirts and women can wear boxer shorts if they so wish.
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. Agendered individuals are those who reject genderic labeling in conception of self-identity and other matters. They see their subjectivity through the term person instead of woman or man.:p.16 According to E. O. Wright, genderless people can have traits, behaviors and dispositions that correspond to what is currently viewed as feminine and masculine, and the mix of these would vary across persons. Nevertheless, it doesn't suggest that everyone would be androgynous in their identities and practices in the absence of gendered relations. What disappears in the idea of genderlessness is any expectation that some characteristics and dispositions are strictly attributed to a person of any biological sex.
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 celebrities 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, Pete Burns and Annie Lennox challenged the norms in the 1970s and had elaborate cross gender wardrobes by the 1980s. Musical stars such as Brett Anderson of the British band Suede, 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.
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.
- List of androgynous people
- Gender bender
- Gender dysphoria
- Gender neutrality
- List of transgender-related topics
- Non-binary gender
- Sexual Orientation Hypothesis
- Third gender
- True hermaphroditism
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