When Simone de Beauvoir wrote “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman,” in her pivotal 1949 work, The Second Sex, the existentialist was arguing that femininity is an idea and that gender is merely a social construct people gradually learn and adapt to fit into throughout life.
Many people have been challenging the traditional gender mind-set - fighting to push the idea that one’s view of their own gender sits on a spectrum, as opposed to on two opposing poles. Most notable of these is transgender woman, Caitlyn Jenner, who recently transitioned, and Orange is the New Black star, Ruby Rose, who refers to herself as ‘gender fluid.’
Recently, the #FreeTheNipple hashtag has fought to expose social media’s gender inconsistencies – allowing exposed male nipples in photographs, but not female ones. A backlash has recently led to women photoshopping men’s nipples over their own, to highlight what they see as absurdity of the rule, and a Free the Nipple film.
21-year-old actor, Antonio Marziale, is the latest gender campaigner working to blur the strict divides through his Instagram account @manaswoman.
On his account, Marziale posts beautiful photographs of men in traditional ‘feminine’ garb – make-up, dresses, nail varnish, and as pietas, gently cradling babies.
The photographs not only challenge gender binaries, but also focus on the idea that femininity is shrouded in negative connotations and that society tends to “idealise the straight, white male", as Marziale told i100.co.uk.
One of Marziale’s photographs is of Jason Greene, with long hair and lipstick and wearing a silk dress that has slipped off the shoulder, to expose a bare nipple - highlighting the contradiction behind social media's stance on exposed breasts.
Marziale told i100.co.uk that the ‘Man as Woman’ project is intended to “make people feel uncomfortable,” challenging the status quo.
But Marziale is keen to press that the project:
“Is not about making the men look like women, it’s about them adopting what is feminine, becoming feminine and so experiencing what that feels like.”
So often, ‘feminine’ attributes such as being in touch with one’s emotions, are twisted into negative words like as ‘hysterical’ or ‘weak.’
Whereas women can proudly be tomboys, Marziale says, men are not applauded for expressing femininity.
“I think that has its roots in misogyny – that we’re allowed to glorify what is traditionally masculine and are ashamed of what is feminine. I think that’s really sad that so many men are never able to experience the power that comes from that feminine energy,” he says.
There are much deeper problems in society caused by enforcing strict gender binaries than simply whether or not we can expose our naked breasts on social media (although, it certainly exacerbate the problem), one such being the higher suicide rate amongst men, which psychologists have largely attributed to the stigma surrounding men who bottle-up their emotions rather than expressing them openly as women often do.
Through these photographs, Marziale hopes to scrap gender boxes, “flipping the categories on their head.”
Words: Harriet Hall