Everyone’s life can be written as a narrative. These narratives document and guide our experiences as our gender, culture, race, socioeconomic status, sex, education, etc. intersect in order to form our unique experience of life. A gender narrative specifically examines how the intersectionality of one’s identities influences one’s perception and performance of gender within society.
Gender narratives are fluid as we continue to have new experiences, interact with new people, and identify ourselves differently. For example, a female student from a traditional, white, middle-class family may subscribe to traditional gender roles upon entering college. However, after taking a Women’s Studies class, she may feel now define herself as a feminist and perform her gender in a less traditional (binary way).
Different gender narratives have already entered our class discussion as different members discuss their perceptions of gender performance. For example, during a class discussion one member discussed as part of their gender narrative that going to a high-school prom without a heterosexual partner was considered a social failure, whereas in another class member’s experience many people went to prom with groups of the same gendered people and that was not seen as a social failure.
Gender narratives are also often represented in popular culture such as movies, television series, and song lyrics. For example, the artist Taylor Swift who resonates with many pre-teen and teen girls have at least three songs where the female as represented as the princess looking for her prince (Foss, Domenico, Foss106) which is a narrative that reinforces traditional gender roles.
In general, there are three different categories that gender narratives can fall into, preparation, prescription, and reinscription (Foss, Domenico, Foss 107). The preparation narratives are typically directed at children and teens. These narratives socialize young people as to what roles and behaviors will be expected of them as they reach adulthood. For example, Dr. Seuss books focus on a dominance of male characters and a lack of power and voice for female characters, which socializes young children to accept a male dominant binary gender structure (Foss, Dominico, Foss 107). In comparison, the intended audience for prescription narratives is adults. Prescription narratives reinforce the standards and expectations of the gender binary and emphasize the rewards to be reaped from complying with the gender binary. An example of a prescriptive narrative is the magazine Cosmpolitan, marketed towards adult women. This magazine gives women tips for making themselves sexually attractive to men and then reinforces the rewards of sexual attractiveness as engagement, marriage, and successful relationships. Finally, thereare gender narratives that utilize reinscription, or retelling the traditional gender narratives in a more complex and complicated way. These narratives typically utilize two strategies, first they tell a story that reinforces the gender binary, and then they go on to reinforce the binary at the same time that it challenges it (Foss, Dominico, Foss 114). An example of a narrative that utilizes reinscription is the magazine US Weekly. US Weekly focuses on women who have achieved success in their field which goes against the traditional gender binary of a dependent
housewife. However, the magazine reinforces the gender binary by judging how well these women measure up to traditional gender binary standards of beauty and appearance (Foss, Dominico, Foss 117). The telling of all of these narratives combine to form our own personal gender narratives. There are three types of gender narratives that critique or rewrite the gender binary, namely synthesis, expansion, and innovation. Some gender stories use elements of both traits associated with masculinity and traits associated with femininity to synthesize a new gender. An example of this type of narrative is the androgynous model Andrej Pejic who models for both men’s and women’s fashion shows (Foss, Domenico, Foss 130). Expansion suggests to audiences that there are many ways to being a man and a woman and expand traditional gender categories. A popular example of this
type of narrative is the magazine Men’s Health which focuses on traditional masculinity in the form of cars and muscles but also includes articles about cooking and gardening, typically women’s domains. Finally, there Innovation where gender is escaped by ignoring it all together. An example of this is CN Lester and alternative singer-songwriter who identifies as neither male or female (Foss, Domenico, Foss 134) by refusing to be categorizes he/she is rewriting a different type of gender narrative.The telling of all of these narratives combine to form our own personal gender narratives.Gender narratives are the stories and expression of our experiences that influence our perception and performance. These stories contain the intersectionality of all other personal identification and are fluid over time.
Foss, Sonja K., Karen A. Foss, and Mary E. Domenico. Gender Stories: Negotiating Identity in a Binary World. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2013. Print.