Performing Gender

A week and a half ago I cut my hair. A lot. I buzzed it to half an inch.IMG_5262

My initial thoughts were, “Oh wow. There actually is some family resemblance between me and my brothers!” I had gone most of my life having no idea how we could possibly look related. But buzz my head? Spitting image of my brother. Who knew?

It’s made me think about how I represent my gender. I’ve always identified as a heterosexual woman/girl. My gender and sexual identity have always been clear to me, but this haircut, which is culturally “masculine”, has made me think about all the times I’ve tried on different levels of femininity and masculinity.

I don’t remember being particularly “girly” nor do I remember being a “tomboy.” The same fifth grade self who wrote a diatribe against pink for an assignment made sure she wore an anklet, necklace, bracelet, and hair bow every week at church. I loved dressing up.

When I joined speech team my freshman year in high school, I bought my first  suit. I loved the feeling of power wearing pinstripes. It looked good on me and I wish I still had it!

When I went to BYU, I started a collection of ties I acquired from DI. I would wear them to class, to church, everywhere. Those were the days of the Avril Lavigne tie style. I couldn’t get enough of the ties. I remember doing my makeup in costume-like colors and juxtaposing the tie with formal wear to dances and thinking, “Yeah, I’m a girl, but I can wear this tie better than any of the guys here.”

Oddly enough, I didn’t try wearing pants to church until 3 years ago when I was nursery leader and the calling nearly necessitated pants. (small plug for wear pants to church day this Sunday!)

I have tried different lengths of hair, different levels of make up, different levels of shaving/plucking, etc. It’s fun. Part of the motivation behind this haircut is wondering, “If I take off my hair, will I still be feminine?” The answer is, “Heck yes!” And I love that I’ve been able to “try out” different ends of the masculinity/femininity spectrum in my life. In the end, I think I’m rather feminine and you can’t mistake that, though I like to be feminine with a very easy hairdo.

Do you consider yourself culturally feminine? Masculine? Neither? Both? How do you represent that?


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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14 Responses

  1. I think it’s a complex question for almost everyone. For me, I grew up not comfortable in the male “mold” for various reasons, some due to abuse but most from how I saw the men around me. There were a lot of traits that I just couldn’t relate with. I’m not terribly good at (or interested in) most sports, slaving at a job you obviously didn’t like sounded like a horrible life, and settling in some brotherhood clique semed to be the only way to get things done in the community. When some mistake was made, I would hear “that’s so like a man” (which is a phrase I truly grew to hate, no matter who or what classification it was directed). At the same time, many of the qualities I had (and have) and those that seemed to be most desirable were strictly on the “feminine” side of the line. Empathy, singing, the act of creation, heck even just being nice to the people around you, rather than teasing each other as proof that you’re “man enough” to take it, were all presented as undesirable qualities. Needless to say, it’s been a rollercoaster in trying to figure out who I was.

    It’s only recenly that I’ve come to a realization – my gender, and how I perform it, is completely up to my HParents and me. No one else gets to define it for me. I can still very much prefer the company of women and find them easier to talk to and empathise with, can enjoy baking and knitting, find I like getting my hands dirty working on a car, have a deep desire to be a SAHD to more directly be with and take care of my family, can be a feminist on my own terms, can enjoy math and computer programming, and many, many other things, and still be confident that I am, completely, a real man.

    • TopHat says:

      Definitely, Frank! It’s a shame that it can take us so long to be comfortable being ourselves when there are gender expectations on us. We can’t deny there is social capital to be gained by performing our assumed genders “appropriately” but there is a lot of freedom to be gained by performing ourselves as ourselves.

  2. EFH says:

    When I learned that I got in at BYU, I cut my hair short like you to send a strong message that dating was not my priority. I cut my hair almost as short as you in this picture and I liked it. I kept it short like that for two years. After 10 years, I have longest hair I have ever had in my life and the only reason is because I want to enjoy my curls before I get gray hair and cut it short. But I find myself also looking forward to the day when I cut it and look more youthful, free and when my showers will take only 7 min the most. Hair is an accessory and it should be modified and played with in order to use it well.

    • TopHat says:

      Ooh I’m jealous of your curls. I have a slight wave to my hair (though you can’t tell when it’s this short). I’m not sure what I’ll do once it starts graying. I love it short, but I love the long gray hair look on some people- I might try that out. Maybe. Going short is wonderfully easy! I can spend my time worrying about other things!

  3. Hedgehog says:

    Ha yes. I keep my hair in a very short bob. Just a few years ago I was unnerved to take off my glasses in the salon and see one of my brothers staring back at me in the mirror. I certainly hear you on that one.

    As a teen I would raid my Dad’s wardrobe for his ties, so I did the whole tie and makeup thing too, with chunky clip on earrings courtesy of my grandmother. My Dad has lots of amazing ties, and bow ties. I wore trousers to church then only very rarely since my Mum hated it back then. I wear them now. As a science/engineering student I grew may hair long (or as long as it would get, which was only just past my shoulders) for a brief time, but otherwise I’ve had it short.

    As I’ve got older I’ve found I don’t care about makeup so much, though I like perfume and jewelry still. And scarves.

    I don’t think of myself as particularly masculine or feminine, though from descriptions I’ve read, I’d appear to have a male brain. I really can’t multi-task. But I’m an ace navigator. I enjoy sewing, reading and music, and dislike sport, so I wasn’t really a tomboy.

    • TopHat says:

      It’s so weird to see your brother in the mirror!

      And yeah… I have a lot of “male brain” traits like navigation, too. In fact, my 5 year old daughter is AMAZING with her sense of direction and memory.

      When I was at BYU, I went to a forum about male/female brains and it was interesting to learn about the differences and how hormones affect it, but in the end, one of the panelists made a point that we really are more alike than we think- after all, we all have human brains. I believe that is really true.

  4. Jessawhy says:

    I love your new do!

    And thanks for your reminder about Pants Day on Sunday. I probably would have forgotten and we are singing in the choir. Actually, I think that happened last year as well!

    My hair always made me feel feminine, and I’ve almost always worn it long. I’ve thought about cutting it, though. More often in the summer when it’s so hot here in AZ.

    I’ve never thought of wearing ties, but I love that you did. Thanks for this post!

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I read somewhere that 80% of women identify themselves as tomboys as children, but only about 40% girls fit that label. I thought that was interesting–do we, as girls, see exhibiting our masculine attributes as detrimental at such a young age and work to hide them?

    • Or it could be that many girls see the more obvious and accepted power in “boyish” pursuits when they are young, and later learn the power they have as girls. I see this as more of a problem of male being the default for society.

  6. Melody says:

    I adore you and your haircut! Really. It’s fabulous. I was a bit of a tomboy in childhood. I ran track and was on the swim team in highschool. But I also enjoyed sewing enough that I competed in Make-It-With-Wool. (Do they even still have that!?) I loved all my “Home Economics” courses. But I also loved hanging out with guys and in some ways felt more comfortable with them. . . It’s all fun to think about. Nowadays I feel I’m a good mix of culturally feminine and masculine characteristics and behaviors. I like that.

    One thing that’s been really intersting to me as a nurse is seeing how newborn babies are not easily identified as either feminine or masculine by facial or other traits. Neither are elderly folks. Early in life hormones have not done their magic and late in life hormones are done doing their magic. Our gendered physical characteristics follow a sort of reverse-hour-glass pattern during the life-cycle. This fascinates me. Anyway, thanks for a thought-provoking post, Tophat!

  7. Daniel Reynolds says:

    “Yeah, I’m a girl, but I can wear this tie better than any of the guys here.” No you can’t, and you are a delusional, self-important, egocentric drama queen, if your other posts on your blog are any indication of your real personality. All your sycophantic relatives who comment here are no doubt stuck in your same pool of self-delusion and ignorance of anyone outside the sphere of your own confused personality.

  8. Melody says:

    Now, now, Daniel. I can only speak for myself: I am indeed a self-important, egocentric and occasional drama queen. But I don’t think anyone appreciates being called delusional. Trim the insults back a bit, brother.

    Have a nice day.

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