"To be masculine-presenting is to be weird, abnormal, ugly, bad"
August 14, 2016 12:38 PM   Subscribe

 
I agree with everything in the article and I would add, why does Hollywood have a problem with showing powerful women who haven't been raised as brutal killing machines? Can we just get one science fiction story* without that stupid trope?

*not interested in nit-picking
posted by bleep at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2016 [38 favorites]


Yep. To focus in on the wlw aspect, we're living in an unprecedented time of queer female representation on television and in movies, and I still hear (mostly straight) people who are in favour of it responding with, "And I love that they're not gross flannel-wearing butch stereotypes!" without getting that the only reason this representation is currently flying is because the characters are still considered palatable for straight men.

As a bonafide brush-cut-sporting, hairy-legged, workboot-wearing butch myself, I find it genuinely disturbing that we seem to be running backwards on this. That in a weird way, my kind and I are somehow positioned as the ones contributing to homophobia by being "stereotypes" instead of nicely conforming to heterosexual style standards and gender presentation.
posted by northernish at 1:12 PM on August 14, 2016 [103 favorites]


The upside, though, is that we're still somewhat outside the consumption machine. You can't put masculine-spectrum people, butch women or other unfuckable-to-straight-men people on packages to sell stuff. There's still some outside for us, when pretty much everyone else has been fed into the "must look maternal or fuckable for straight men" system. I won't lie, sometimes I would sure like a little representation, but there's a steep downside to representation in the present system.
posted by Frowner at 1:17 PM on August 14, 2016 [41 favorites]


Maybe I wasn't watching and listening closely enough, but when I first saw Eleven in Stranger Things, I assumed she was a boy. Even in the diner when she is discovered by the owner, I thought it weird that he immediately thought she was a girl.

To me, the best part of the series was picking up on and discovering the various references to older films, stories and TV shows. I grew up immersed in Stephen King, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Spielberg and all other sorts of horror/sci-fi/fantasy. The "dressing her as a girl" just seemed like a conscious throwback to the early 80s. Also, boys in that day would have thought that's the only way for her to pass as a student.

Anyway, I agree with most of the article, but Stranger Things was almost the one example where this was done intentionally, so sort of doesn't count. Ham-handed (like the 80s), thinking herself "pretty" was a first step of discovering she is something other than a secret, a test subject, a weapon, etc.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:20 PM on August 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


adding - Similar, though much more of an art film, Far From Heaven with Julianne Moore was an homage to films of the 50s where interracial relationships and homosexuality were frowned on and even criminalized. It was left to the viewer to see that attitude as outdated and wrong, but presented bluntly in the film.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:26 PM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm enjoying the thoughtful responses to Stranger Things, but I agree with jeff-o-matic. This particular makeover was an intentional homage, but it felt consciously framed in more-progressive ideas; I'm pretty sure Mike was developing a crush on Eleven pre-makeover, and the "Pretty...good" scene had a direct mirrored response after El lost the wig, and Mike specifically said that he didn't need the wig. It's sad that she felt insecure about it, but the insecurity felt realistic for the time and setting.

Over in Fanfare, larrybob posted a link to this essay about Stranger Things, "Stranger Things’ treatment of Barb reveals the show's greatest flaw: its limited view of women", and those points resonated more with me. The Duffer brothers seem like they're detail oriented and aware of specific problematic elements (I love that Winona is "hysterical" yet still competent, intelligent, and absolutely correct), but there's a bigger picture to look at, and they dropped the ball.
posted by redsparkler at 1:42 PM on August 14, 2016 [19 favorites]


What Shannon Keating is pointing to is definitely a common fixture in Hollywood films and has been since almost their beginning, but as true as it is I'm not quite willing to lay the blame entirely on Hollywood for this since it has been such a significant trope over the decades.

The "Ugly Duckling" story features so prominently in films about women, and even more in films aimed at and attended by women that it suggests some fairly strong connection between the audience and the image. In this way it's similar to the boy becoming a man stories that have their own readily recognizable sets of tropes repeated over decades. Is this a Hollywood thing, where they are fabricating an idea of this visual transition from girlhood into womenhood out of whole cloth or does it resonate because it fits some ideal of many women in the culture around their notions or dreams of being desired and Hollywood is just recognizing that interest?

Hollywood has always tried to feed its audience what they believe they already want, and then amplifies and repeats the concepts that work over and over again because movie goers generally want to repeat previous experiences in slightly new forms rather than actually see something really different. Audiences generally seem to want repetition of their favorite cliches, they just want them in new packages to make it seem like something different is going on. I'm not sure I can entirely blame Hollywood for giving people what they want in that way, even if I'm not going to celebrate them doing so.

My personal feeling is that Keating is right in suggesting it would be beneficial for more diverse representation, tomboys that aren't going to play dress up just to get a man and so on, and I'll be happy to support films that do go that route, so if the goal here is to create some pressure to get those kinds of films, great, but if the question is more one of placing blame, I can't wholeheartedly sign on as this being more a Hollywood problem than an audience one.

I do also second the notion bleep brought up at the top of the thread, I'm more than a little concerned about the somewhat recent turn to more films about "tough women" where that's measured in the way being a "tough guy" used to be. We see how well toxic masculinity works, I'm not sure exporting some of the tenets to young girls is all that great an idea. (It is unquestionably good that Hollywood is making movies where the heroes better represent the diversity of the audience, I'd just like the types of characters to do the same, so I just hope people will support more movies outside the action film/comic book realm with the same kind of enthusiasm.)
posted by gusottertrout at 1:58 PM on August 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I absolutely hate movies where some sort of make-over of a girl or a woman is the big theme. It's not just the 'tom-boy to girlie girl' theme I hate, it's the class - based makeovers in films like 'Georgie Girl' or 'To Sir With Love' to name a few. There's one called 'La Violaterra' which is based on 'Pygmalion' by George Bernard Shaw. I can't remember the English version off hand. Anyway it bothered me as a kid living in Mexico.
I saw quite a few examples of strong, beautiful femininity, in real life, and then saw in that movie the fragile, helpless type of femininity.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:24 PM on August 14, 2016 [15 favorites]


Thanks to Steven Universe I've gotten so spoiled by awesome lesbian space moms, nurturing dads, and a boy whose power largely resides in his ability to feel compassion and love that I have no patience with less progressive shows. Rebecca Sugar is showing everyone up right now.
posted by emjaybee at 2:36 PM on August 14, 2016 [40 favorites]


When I was a tomboy kid, before I knew or cared that I was queer, I felt so enraged by the tomboy makeover trope.

It's such a betrayal. You get one of these rare portrayals of masculine girlhood, you feel that for once you're being reflected, and then it turns out the whole thing is really gender conformist propaganda.

I remember being especially mad at the end of My Life as a Dog.
posted by latkes at 3:03 PM on August 14, 2016 [21 favorites]


One of the best parts of cutting my hair off is that now I'm less fuckable to men. Representation, yes, but...man I do not want to have to give that up. It's such a relief to be invisible in that way.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:11 PM on August 14, 2016 [22 favorites]


As a trans woman, I sure see the symbolism of Eleven’s makeover differently.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:14 PM on August 14, 2016 [28 favorites]


Thanks to Steven Universe I've gotten so spoiled by awesome lesbian space moms, nurturing dads, and a boy whose power largely resides in his ability to feel compassion and love that I have no patience with less progressive shows. Rebecca Sugar is showing everyone up right now.

Well, speaking of Steven Universe (also, SU spoilers in this comment)... I've always wanted to see more masculine/butch female characters in media. It seems like, if they DO show up (which is not often in the first place), they usually come in two flavors, the Conventionally Attractive Tomboy, and the "GRAAAAHHH I'M MEAN AND VIOLENT" X-treme type. I really find myself pining for other traditionally masculine archetypes--the gentle giant, the cool uncle, the casanova, etc--to be applied to butch women. So, I was really hyped up for a character like Bismuth in Steven Universe, but was disappointed in how it turned out, that ultimately her character was too extreme and therefore she must be indefinitely bubbled. I mean, I appreciate everything else about female representation in SU, it's just those episodes were like a little rollercoster of "OH BOY OH BOY!!!" and then "ehh... okaaay..."
posted by picklenickle at 3:18 PM on August 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


I do think Eleven is a bit different. They were trying to camouflage her, because a young girl with a shaved head would be very unusual in 1983, plus the bad people were looking for her, so it made sense to disguise her. If she hadn't ditched the wig as soon as possible, that would be a different story.
posted by Ruki at 3:18 PM on August 14, 2016 [20 favorites]


I dunno. Yes, the tomboy/atypical girl makeover is tired and stupid, but I disagree that it was unnecessary in the context of Stranger Things, per one of my own comments over at FanFare, and there are also a couple of recent counterexamples that Keating seemed to miss: Patty Tolan, Leslie Jones' Ghostbusters character, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool. (There was a Tumblr post that someone made that had Eleven, NTW, and Furiosa as a Pokemon evolution path.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:26 PM on August 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


WATTS! I crushed on that character so hard when I was a teenager. Still makes my heart skip a beat. Before Watts I had Jo from the Facts of Life, Pepper from the 1982 version of Annie, and even earlier, George from Enid Blyton's Famous Five series. Based on this I think I'd found my type by the time I was about eight years old.
posted by Cuke at 3:28 PM on August 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


When I was a little girl, I wanted to be pretty so bad. I also wanted to be so telekinetic that I could throw boys across the room with the sheer force of my rage. We contain multitudes.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:35 PM on August 14, 2016 [64 favorites]


I agree with pretty much all the points the article makes, but my very first thought on seeing Eleven in the dress and wig was ET.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:47 PM on August 14, 2016 [16 favorites]



(not all straight men go for long-haired "girly" women with makeup and high heels)


Seriously, dude? She said LESS. It's right there.
posted by AFABulous at 4:33 PM on August 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


#NOTALLMEN
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:55 PM on August 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


WOW?!
Thats so weird because I thought it was hilarious the way Stranger Things managed to deconstruct and critique the "make-over" montage from The Breakfast Club by the fact that in Stranger Things had a bunch of kids turn someone into a self-conscious ideal of a "girl".

And Eleven's response of "pretty" was trying to illustrate the indoctrination of femininity in society that Eleven knew the word "pretty" and that it was good but clearly didn't really "understand" what it meant.

Overall I thought Stranger Things was really good in its development of female characters. Like the teen protagonist sleeps with the "cool" guy, but because she really is deep down curious about sex. And then SHE dumps him cause he's a dick. It leads you on with the cliche and then subverts it totally. I thought Eleven was the same. The pre-teen boys don't even see Eleven as a "girl" in that way its all a "performance" in a very Judith Butler way that is the absolute opposite of Ally Sheedy in which the make-over reveals her "true self".
posted by mary8nne at 5:03 PM on August 14, 2016 [25 favorites]


The "Ugly Duckling" story

Can I just say that even as a kid "The Ugly Duckling" made no sense to me?

The "ugly duckling" is made fun of by everyone, but then later grows up into a beautiful swan. Doesn't that undercut the message about not judging people by their appearance, because in the end the "ugly duckling" is beautiful after all? It's not like the other ducks realized they were wrong for making fun of the "ugly duckling", they were basically right that appearance is all that matters and fortunately the "ugly duckling" ended up physically beautiful.
posted by Sangermaine at 5:18 PM on August 14, 2016 [40 favorites]


As a transmasculine person I also got something very different out of that moment. It's a remarkably complex moment. Before anything else, it just makes sense that the boys around her would think that way; it's true to their characters. I am fine with a story set in the '80s being true to the characters of the '80s.

More importantly, it's not a classic John Hughes makeover, because it's not being applied to a John Hughes type of character; it's being applied to Eleven, and there's a jarring mismatch that makes the boys' concept of gender look ridiculous. And the trappings of femininity are literally a costume for her. And get this: I have yet to come across a review that didn't see it this way. Everyone has picked up on it. So I'm pretty sure this story is not just thoughtlessly recycling gender normativity. It's deliberately portraying a ridiculous aspect of gender in such a way that it's clearly seen as as ridiculous.

Meanwhile, Eleven herself responds to it in a way that is also true to her character - as a child that grew up in a brutal and genderless way, experiencing something that is soft and pretty and purely decorative for the first time. And, for the first time, having some choice in her own appearance.

The idea that this detracts from El's heroism is, in my opinion, fucking absurd.

What surprises me the most is that seemingly everyone has picked up on El's lack of gender. That's kind of seriously unprecedented. I think it marks - one - a serious victory for The Discourse about gender, and - two - some seriously good filmmaking.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 5:28 PM on August 14, 2016 [44 favorites]


Can I just say that even as a kid "The Ugly Duckling" made no sense to me?

Frinkiac was being uncooperative, but this is all I can think of when that story comes up:
LISA, I KNOW A SONG THAT WILL CHEER YOU UP:
♪ THERE ONCE WAS AN UGLY DUCKLING ♪

SO YOU THINK I'M UGLY?

NO, NO! I MEANT YOU WERE ONE OF THE GOOD-LOOKING DUCKS... THAT MAKES FUN OF THE UGLY ONE.
posted by lkc at 5:32 PM on August 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


Doesn't that undercut the message about not judging people by their appearance, because in the end the "ugly duckling" is beautiful after all?

Well, the message of that story isn't "Judging people by their appearance is wrong", but rather "Don't be mean to people even if they have obvious defects because you might want something (possibly sex) from them later".

It's not very altruistic, but it is totally in keeping with the general mores of Western society.
posted by IAmUnaware at 6:03 PM on August 14, 2016 [16 favorites]


Thats so weird because I thought it was hilarious the way Stranger Things managed to deconstruct and critique the "make-over" montage from The Breakfast Club by the fact that in Stranger Things had a bunch of kids turn someone into a self-conscious ideal of a "girl".

Exactly my impression upon watching. It was one of the laugh-out-loud moments of the series for me. The dress and wig so obviously don't work for her personality or character, and it's clueless adventure boys playing at what they think a girl should be, with Eleven herself just hapless and confused. It's a funny scene.
posted by naju at 6:43 PM on August 14, 2016 [12 favorites]


IAmUnaware: " "Don't be mean to people even if they have obvious defects because you might want something (possibly sex) from them later"."

I sometimes dream of a world in which the lesson of a story, any story at all, could just be "don't be mean to people", and nothing else. Not because it's to your advantage, not because you want something from them, not because someone tells you to, just be kind because kindness is a virtue. Clearly there's something wrong with me.
posted by langtonsant at 6:47 PM on August 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Growing up as a straight tomboy, the makeover trope never failed to make me feel shitty about myself. I don't know if Stranger Things totally fits the bill, as Mike was definitely into her beforehand and she ditches the wig pretty quickly and it's also largely a disguise, but the 13-year-old in me was still a bit sad when I saw it.

The worst part of the trope is that it convinced so many other real-life people that they should definitely offer to give me a makeover.
posted by retrograde at 6:54 PM on August 14, 2016 [12 favorites]


When I was a kid, I could tell that the message of most fairy tales had to do with girls being sweet to everyone they met, even - especially - if someone was hideous and in their way. My favorite story was about a girl who was kind to a poor old woman, and then afterwards found that every word from her mouth turned into a precious jewel. You would think that a clever girl would rebel against this kind of message, but as it is, I have always been a pushover for weird strangers.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:54 PM on August 14, 2016 [13 favorites]


Ask any lesbian and she’ll tell you that McKinnon’s character is so obviously queer that they left the Ghostbusters theater even gayer than when they walked in.

*raises hand, testifies*

Holtzmann's awfully high 'conventional feminine attractiveness' score seemed a bit of a missed opportunity. However, movie nonetheless contains did I mention Holtzmann?
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:03 PM on August 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


I'd seen that photoset for Bend it Like Beckham before, and rewritten the movie in my brain accordingly, so when I read in this article about the girls being portrayed as only straight I was like, "Oh no excuse me Buzzfeed author but I think you'll find in BiLB the subtext is actually t... oh."
posted by nom de poop at 7:19 PM on August 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Seriously, if you had asked me half an hour ago to summarise the plot of Bend it Like Beckham I would have said "girl from a conservative Indian family discovers her identity and gets a girlfriend through soccer".

Is this really not the case? Have I fallen through a wormhole or something, or is it just that this was the obvious direction for the plot and my brain summarised the film down to a shot of two close female friends in sports gear?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:31 PM on August 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've always wanted to see more masculine/butch female characters in media. ... I really find myself pining for other traditionally masculine archetypes--the gentle giant, the cool uncle, the casanova, etc--to be applied to butch women.

Seconded. Does 'media' for you include fiction? Because lots more there, e.g. Sarah Schulman, Nichola Griffith.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:46 PM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


this got me to watch the first episode of Stranger Things...... it's so good.
posted by rebent at 8:15 PM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ask any lesbian and she’ll tell you that McKinnon’s character is so obviously queer that they left the Ghostbusters theater even gayer than when they walked in.

I'm straight and she turned me at least 2% gay.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:35 PM on August 14, 2016 [13 favorites]


I haven't seen the show but you guys are making me want to (which is the opposite of the OP article's effect). As I generally trust ya'll more than random articles, I probably will give it a shot.
posted by emjaybee at 8:36 PM on August 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Thats so weird because I thought it was hilarious the way Stranger Things managed to deconstruct and critique the "make-over" montage from The Breakfast Club by the fact that in Stranger Things had a bunch of kids turn someone into a self-conscious ideal of a "girl".

That's what I got from it, too. It didn't turn her into a gorgeous fashion plate, it dressed her up in the stereotype of what boys thought what a girl should be.

At the same time--I think it wasn't a "now you're pretty and worthwhile" moment. I think it was also the first time Eleven felt "normal". Most of the time these super-gendered makeovers take women who happen to live outside a narrow beauty ideal and render them socially acceptable by forcing them into it. But Eleven had been raised a genderless weapon, and this genderless-ness wasn't a groundbreaking deviation from cishet norms, it was another aspect of her systematic dehumanization by her captors. The makeover, as clumsy and ridiculous as it was, offered a chance at expressing an aspect of her fundamental identity that had been taken from her. Like a closeted MtF trans kid who secretly puts on her sister's frilliest dress and finally feels something is right.
posted by schroedinger at 9:03 PM on August 14, 2016 [16 favorites]


Also, I think it is significant that by the end of the series she's lost the wig and the dress is a wreck but she's still accepted. The gross Hollywood makeover moments all imply that the "ugly duckling" now stays a swan forevermore. Eleven's visual return to tomboyishness further emphasizes that the significance of the makeover was not about looks, it was about being seen as an individual.
posted by schroedinger at 9:07 PM on August 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think Rainbo Vagrant's comment is more or less the final word on this but when I read this article the other day I was really disappointed that the author used this bit with Eleven to frame the article--it's a lazy analysis of that scene in Stranger Things and she doesn't even get the line right, nor acknowledge how Mike is finally honest with Eleven about his feelings later on, when the wig is off. That flips the entire thing on its head.

Not that the overall premise of the piece is wrong (sadly).

I do also second the notion bleep brought up at the top of the thread, I'm more than a little concerned about the somewhat recent turn to more films about "tough women" where that's measured in the way being a "tough guy" used to be. We see how well toxic masculinity works, I'm not sure exporting some of the tenets to young girls is all that great an idea.

KINDA SPOILERY COMMENT ABOUT STRANGER THINGS TO FOLLOW

I'm not sure if this comment was specifically about the character of Eleven, but I never got the sense that her powers were treated with this kind of simplistic perspective. The scene where Dr. Brenner carries her in his arms away from the cell he had ordered her to be locked up in after she failed to kill the cat broke my heart--he basically forgives her for not killing the cat because she has succeeded in (being manipulated into) killing two guards, and while she is physically exhausted what struck me more than anything is that she is emotionally exhausted and deeply hurt by what she has been forced to go through. She is broken. No scene showed how vile Dr. Brenner is better than that one--I was disgusted and terrified every time he showed up after that. If that scene wasn't explicitly about toxic masculinity I think it's pretty easy to read it as a byproduct of unchecked militarism and how it produces inhumane outcomes.

To be clear, there were other parts of the series that were certainly all about how cool and kickass her abilities were--but I still think it was pretty nuanced, overall.
posted by dubitable at 9:08 PM on August 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


To me it seems like it's a case where somebody probably has their own troubled history and they're projecting their experience onto a pop culture thing where it doesn't really fit. (And I may well be doing the same thing, seeing Eleven's makeover as somebody who has been cruelly denied feminine presentation finally getting her chance to girl it up and reveling in the moment.) I'm not trying to say that this essayist is totally wrong about how pop culture mistreats masculine girls and women! But in this case I think it's unfair to look at Eleven and say, "They're dis-empowering this cool butch girl by making her attractive to boys." That's a very grim spin on the episode, and it veers into girly girl = wrong, which is just as bad in its own way as butch girl = wrong.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:11 PM on August 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


Relevant or not, I love this gif so
posted by naju at 9:12 PM on August 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Interesting. I'm afraid to get into that article too much because I don't want ST spoilers (I'm behind), but per Joe in Australia, I do remember Bend it like Beckham annoying me for chickening out on the ending it had been suggesting all along. I reflexively blamed the studio at the time, assuming they made a last-minute change, not realizing the director herself was the feathered fowl in question.

Sometimes you're supposed to "offend your audience", Gurinder.

Oh well. It was still a few baby steps forward, I guess.
posted by rokusan at 9:29 PM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, I think it is significant that by the end of the series she's lost the wig and the dress is a wreck but she's still accepted.

She was accepted before the dress. They dressed her up specifically to sneak her into the school. Making her look 'normal' (and disguising her) was the primary objective, not making her look pretty.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:10 PM on August 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


I want to know how/why Mike learned to apply blush.
posted by tzikeh at 12:01 AM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I want to know how/why Mike learned to apply blush.

He has an older sister. She almost certainly used to pretend he was a doll, and dress him up...etc.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:10 AM on August 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Is this a Hollywood thing, where they are fabricating an idea of this visual transition from girlhood into womenhood out of whole cloth or does it resonate because it fits some ideal of many women in the culture around their notions or dreams of being desired and Hollywood is just recognizing that interest?

Doing the latter does the former. It is precisely by indulging and performing culture that it is kept alive, spread, reinforced, reified and made manifest in the world. Being influenced by culture does not mean that you stand outside it.
posted by Dysk at 3:21 AM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I can't find the original tweet now (and apologies to the original tweeter, who was much funnier) - but the gist was "Stranger Things is the story of some little boys with a $2,000 lace-front wig in their dress-up box, along with the skills to apply it perfectly".

The whole makeover bit was weird and unnecessary. The only way to tell the gender of a clothed pre-pubuscent child is by their clothes, hair, and (learned) gendered behaviour. Eleven had no learned gendered behaviour, so based on her haircut, both the cafe owner and the boys would have assumed she was male unless she thought to tell them otherwise. It all seemed engineered to shoehorn in a first-romance subplot - to make the tragedy of (whatever happened to Eleven) more tragic because oh-no-she'll-miss-out-on-having-a-boyfriend-and-going-to-a-school-dance. The whole thing didn't ruin the show, but it would have been much better to let her friendship with the boys stand on its own, without forcing romance into it.
posted by cilantro at 4:07 AM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I agree with that Dysk, but that's why I question the direction of the article, and many others like it, where Hollywood, or culture seems to be entirely creating ideology rather than reflecting and sometimes emphasizing certain beliefs held by the population at large. This kind of story predates Hollywood, and while that certainly doesn't give Hollywood a pass on what they choose to amplify, it isn't quite the same as being able to place the blame for its existence squarely on their doorstep alone.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:21 AM on August 15, 2016


Lile others here, I am also of the mind that Eleven's makeover in Stranger Things was wrongheadedness on the part of the boys presented as critique, not as a makeover victory over nontraditional femininity.

I mean, if them including a bookend scene where she pointedly ditches the wig wasn't enough, how about the boys' striped tube socks?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:55 AM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


This was the thread where I discovered that I'm going to be spending the rest of my life explaining that, no really, my nick does not come from Stranger Things.
posted by Eleven at 5:20 AM on August 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


We would, of course, never see a story where they dressed Eleven up as a boy, or where Eleven was played by an actress with a receding chin, or where there wasn't a romance sub plot. The horizon of possibility for depictions of gender in mainstream media is still "people that straight men can imagine themselves desiring or identifying with", which is precisely why we don't see butch women or masculine spectrum people on television very often, and we only see trans men when they are, like, super-buff athletes.

But of course, this is probably just me projecting my "troubled history" onto an innocent media world, not a real thing.
posted by Frowner at 6:10 AM on August 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


I disagree a fair bit with the linked article, largely because I think there's a lot more to Millie Bobby Brown's performance than just the wig and a kiss, which never rose much beyond costume. Less than that even because Lucas is more comfortable putting on Rambo drag than Eleven ever was in that wig.

I don't think there's any reason to assume that any of the boys must be straight either. But your mileage may vary.

I do think things are changing a bit in terms of LGBTQ representation. I've been sitting on this article about how Holtzman is obviously lesbian and not for men. We hit Stranger Things after another Netflix series Marcella, which was a gratuitously grisley narrative train wreck but had Charlie Covell as Alex Dier (on right) doing the Detective Constable thing in button-down blue shirts and wool jackets. Alex read as butch or nonbinary to me, and existed in the narrative with a refreshing lack of drama about her/them. Then again, I'm also a member of the Felix appreciation society on Orphan Black although I think he's more obviously constructed for the audience gaze.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:37 AM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


She was accepted before the dress. They dressed her up specifically to sneak her into the school. Making her look 'normal' (and disguising her) was the primary objective, not making her look pretty.


But EVERYONE thought she looked genderless! Why not throw pants and a t-shirt on her, let her go to school as a "boy" and call it a day?

I was totally squicked out with the makeover scene. The entire show lost my compassion for regurgitating old boring tropes just for the sake of nostalgia.

Then again, had any real, interesting or challenging changes been made, every 30-something white dude that all the movies used to be made for would cry, "my childhood! You ROOOONED my Childhood!" as if that was a thing.

In short: to me: Stranger things was blech.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:32 AM on August 15, 2016


Can we do a re-write called "Stronger Things" with an all-female cast?
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:33 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


cilantro, I agree: I am still totally puzzled that anyone looked at El and thought immediately that she was a girl. How did Benny know? How much easier would it have been to just put her in boy clothes and say she was their cousin Elliot?
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:59 AM on August 15, 2016


Thank you, CBrachyrhynchos, for the Tea Cosy article!!! My first time online-tipping in Euros, because her gloriously ranting, multidimensional take (not to mention its .gifs) is So. Full. Of. Win.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:18 AM on August 15, 2016


I'm also a little troubled by the implicit idea that the way you get a genderless person is through trauma.
posted by Frowner at 8:21 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


A lot of comments are stressing the cluelessness of the boys for dressing Eleven up, but I think the point of the article is that despite all the extremely horrible things she has gone through, Eleven seems weirdly hung up on appearing "pretty."

The idea that not appearing "pretty" - or traditionally appealing to norms for hetero males - is as deeply scarring as say, growing up in as an experimental human weapon that rips open the time/space continuum seems pretty problematic to me.

The scene where Eleven is awkwardly dolled up could easily have been pretty hilarious, but the "hubba hubbas" from the boys kind of squicked me out. And the fact that this desire to be seen as stereotypically feminine seems to be very important to Eleven doesn't really make any sense. I mean, were the evil scientists giving her Cosmo and Seventeen to read between experiments?
posted by forkisbetter at 8:21 AM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


Frowner, I hope your comment on projecting your history on an innocent media wasn't sparked by what I said since I certainly don't hold either the view that media should be free from criticism, or is innocent in any way, nor that our personal histories shouldn't inform our thinking about such things. I think rather the opposite really, but think the framing of the article and a lot of general discussion of media is kinda off the mark. Apologies for bringing it up if that comment wasn't due to what I said, just wanted to clarify were it so.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:21 AM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Frowner, I hope your comment on projecting your history on an innocent media wasn't sparked by what I said since I certainly don't hold either the view that media should be free from criticism

It was more a response to some...not even subtext, just sort of implicit assumptions in some comments. I get that everyone commenting on this thread is coming from a good place, it's just that this is a topic that is fairly intense (and easily tips over into really upsetting) for me.

I know there's really nothing special about being treated like you are a worthless person because of your appearance/gender presentation/gender/etc, and as a white person I'm protected from a lot. It's just that the hostility that I encounter every day from men wears me down and makes the topic a pretty raw one.
posted by Frowner at 8:40 AM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


But EVERYONE thought she looked genderless! Why not throw pants and a t-shirt on her, let her go to school as a "boy" and call it a day?

Well, to me, the better solution would have been to open the closets and let Eleven pick her own damn clothes. But a lot of this analysis is based on the very bad read that El's short hair and gender-ambiguity was volitional and not something imposed by horrific medical abuse with gendered implications. Suggesting that El pass as masculine because it's "easier" doesn't strike me as that much different here. No, it's not always easier to pass.

I see her character arc as about discovering an identity beyond a numbered test subject. And yes, that includes "pretty" because gods forbid that a person treated as monstrous and instrumental have anxieties about that. (It's an anxiety that I see across gender identities and sexual orientations.) But "friend" gets dropped more often. There's multiple shots of Eleven wordlessly admiring/envying Nancy via her bedroom before we get to the makeover. There's guilt, shame, vulnerability, badassery, and rejection of that damn wig. All of that was communicated by a young pre-teen actress with minimal dialogue but more expressive depth than any of the adults on set.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:02 AM on August 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


Frowner: Understood.

It's difficult to see past the blinders culture and our perspective put on us to see what other people's experience might show us. Art products like movies or tv shows can be particularly bad in that we seen to hold their value as how much pleasure they gave us, implicitly believing that since we found pleasure, the thing must be largely unproblematic since otherwise we surely would have been troubled ourselves given we're thoughtful caring types. Yet conventions are powerful things precisely because we often can't visualize the alternatives as we are so habituated to seeing things through an artificially narrowed perspective.

It took me a long time to even understand I wasn't getting the whole picture, trying to fill in my blank spots is still, and probably always will be, a work in progress that can only be helped by hearing other people share their own view of things.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:09 AM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's a some stuff being tossed around, here and in the article, about prettiness existing in service of straightness. As a trans lesbian, fuck that shit. I'm not pretty for men; I'm pretty for me. I literally gave some guy the finger this morning for catcalling at me, while he slowed down in his van to ogle my ass as I walked away. That's the real-world dynamic here.

The act of throwing off masculinity can be queer as fuck. And femme, straight-passing queer women (like me, and my wife, and many of my friends) are not in some way failing to realize their potential. I can be straight-passing and still refuse to participate in toxic social dynamics that value straightness. My femme presentation is, to me, the embodiment of my defiance.

Wishing that El had embraced her shaved head despite the fact it was forced on her is deeply resonant for me in a painful way. Yes, representation for masculine-leaning women needs to happen, but shit, this is not the hill to die on. That representation can't be built upon the narrative that my authentic self is in some way damaging to the cause.

(Julia Serano talks about this a lot in Excluded, how queer spaces and queerness in general are policed, how new hierarchies are established by the very people who were denigrated by the dominant hierarchies of broader society. She explains all of this much more cogently than I could.)
posted by WCWedin at 9:19 AM on August 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


I know there's really nothing special about being treated like you are a worthless person because of your appearance/gender presentation/gender/etc, and as a white person I'm protected from a lot. It's just that the hostility that I encounter every day from men wears me down and makes the topic a pretty raw one.

I actually thought this was part of the point of Eleven’s “makeover”— she’s a telepath, and most of her life she’s been surrounded by a group that is mostly men, who treat her as a subhuman thing, a weaponized brain inconveniently housed in a small girl’s body (the scene after she killed the guards where Brenner rubs her skull reverently almost made me sick). They punish and humiliate her and scoff at the idea of her having interiority or feelings regularly. Her body and her existence seem to infuriate them.

But she can see the way they think about other women, presumably— more “pretty” and “girly” women, women who are given names and affection and kindness. Her handlers had her spying on men all over the world— perhaps she saw men with their daughters, or their wives, or “feminine” women in general, and so it was very poignant to me that she seemed to view “pretty” as a form of protection that had been denied to her.

But after trying it on for a little while, she realizes it won’t work for her, which I thought was equally interesting. Being "pretty" with fancy blonde hair doesn’t work when you are the government’s secret missing weapon. And her friends were her friends because of who she was, not because of what she looked like.

Also, I thought the outfit in general was very explicitly an ET reference (link to image), and her dress was a near-exact match for the one my early 80s Cabbage Patch doll wore. I thought the latter detail offered some interesting commentary on how the boys cared about her, but treated her as a toy and a weapon more than a person. It made the payoff when they began to see her as human really poignant.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:46 AM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'm also a little troubled by the implicit idea that the way you get a genderless person is through trauma.

I don't understand why this one character is an implied statement about all genderless people. Or, even, all traumatized people. Especially because all the talk I've read about it hasn't said that she is genderless; they make the distinction that she was raised without gender. (And, I would argue, she lacks the capacity to express any internal gender identity, because of who she specifically is, in this specific situation.)

But EVERYONE thought she looked genderless! Why not throw pants and a t-shirt on her, let her go to school as a "boy" and call it a day?

The viewers thought she looked genderless. The characters did not.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 10:05 AM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah. I think I always have a really hard time with the "these makeovers are always horrible", because I empathize with them so deeply. For me, it's about the transformation into your best self, the process of turning from child to awkward adolescent to proto-woman. It's, for me, always about the process of puberty, of how it creates this nascent state and its up to you to realize it. Its about growing into your power as a woman - and one of those powers (whether you choose to use it or not) is your sexuality, whichever ways it goes. Whether you're giving an arch Ghostbusters wink at a lady across a table or a long gaze at a fella, it's not something that instantly comes to you, where you instantly know how to do that. And so the makeover montage is about shortening that incredibly painful process of false starts. Like - I agree that not all makeovers should go only one way, butch to femme, but the process of makeover itself is not a bad thing. The process of transformation, for many people, is empowering or healing. And for many people there is a visceral release at the idea of best beloved siblings or friends using their love to help you emerge from your chrysalis.
posted by corb at 10:06 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's a some stuff being tossed around, here and in the article, about prettiness existing in service of straightness.

I guess for me, because we live in the world where there's so much compulsory prettiness, it is difficult to see mainstream TV narratives of prettiness as not being defined by straightness. We can have counter-readings, yes, but I don't think that this means that the story itself isn't defined by unacceptability of girls who are not "pretty" and of masculine spectrum people. The television horizon of possibility is almost always defined by the need to center only people who can be the [sometimes exoticized/fetishized] subjects of imagined straight male desire. You will never see this kind of story told onscreen without some kind of plot reassurance that the body we are watching is "really" pretty underneath it all.

This is different from talking about how people individually experience/enact being pretty - I think it has more in common with the "TV lesbians"/real lesbians thing. I very seldom see any lesbians on television who look or act much like the lesbians I actually know. It's "representation" of a kind, but usually doesn't have that much to do with the lived experience of actual lesbians, and mostly IMO has to do with making sure that those important, important straight guy viewers and less important but still important straight women viewers feel attracted, moved to beauty/style aspiration or at least comfortable. This doesn't have anything to do with how queer women experience their interiority, attraction, style, etc.

I always think of James Tiptree's The Girl Who Was Plugged In because it's one of very few SF stories where the exploited woman is described as explicitly, specifically un-pretty and we the readers are forced to deal with that and what it means for her.
posted by Frowner at 10:31 AM on August 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm really enjoying this discussion and I wish all the different viewpoints people are expressing here were their own Buzzfeed articles that were being promulgated across the web rather than lowly metafilter comments that only us and the lurkers will read.
posted by gucci mane at 11:29 AM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


No really, my nick does not come from Stranger Things. -- eleven

As long as this is your walk-in music, we're cool.
posted by rokusan at 11:37 AM on August 15, 2016


Frowner: "I get that everyone commenting on this thread is coming from a good place, it's just that this is a topic that is fairly intense (and easily tips over into really upsetting) for me."

Yeah, I kind of know what you mean. As a transfeminine person I'm coming at this thread from almost the exact opposite direction, but this topic touches a nerve for me even when everyone is come from a well-intentioned place and where no-one is saying anything gross.

Like, for me I find myself wondering where I can go to see positive portrayals of girlish boys, where effeminate isn't used as an insult by men, or used as code for being gay, or where it doesn't get twisted into this thing where the experiences of the feminine boy (or man) somehow becomes a metaphor for the cis women. It's never possible just to be feminine and male without it being something else too. Even here in this thread... (pre-emptive apology to schroedinger - I'm totally being unfair to you!)

The makeover, as clumsy and ridiculous as it was, offered a chance at expressing an aspect of her fundamental identity that had been taken from her. Like a closeted MtF trans kid who secretly puts on her sister's frilliest dress and finally feels something is right.

So I wore dresses a lot as a kid, and I still very much enjoy doing so in those few space where I feel safe. And I do look at myself in a dress and think, "yes that feels right" despite the clumsiness of my feminine performance. But it still upsets me a lot to have this always get characterised as something more meaningful than just being a feminine boy (or man). Obviously this is totally me projecting my own issues here (again - sorry schroedinger - this is totally me being unfair to you!) but I swear this characterisation is nigh universal. Like, what if the kid is "just" a very feminine boy? Would that be so terrible? Is that idea so alien that he has to be pushed into some other category? Apparently so, because it always seems to be the case that he turns out to be gay, or she's actually a trans girl, or he's been abused and is broken, or something. It's never just "it's okay to be a feminine man". It is inherently wrong, apparently. Sigh - clearly I have issues here!

I guess that's the thing about a lot of gender related topics. I feel like the range of gender identities and gender performances that we consider acceptable in society is so absurdly narrow that this ends up being a super touchy topic to almost everyone.
posted by langtonsant at 12:37 PM on August 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


The viewers thought she looked genderless. The characters did not.


So what? Then let her "pass" if not with her own choice of camouflage, then with boys' clothes she could borrow to do the very basic work of making her "pass" for "normal" and not "pretty girl"

I really really had a problem with this show.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:38 PM on August 15, 2016


So what? Then let her "pass" if not with her own choice of camouflage, then with boys' clothes she could borrow to do the very basic work of making her "pass" for "normal" and not "pretty girl"

Aside from being flabbergasted that coerced gender performance is being advocated as an alternative here on metafilter, in exactly which school in the 1980s would a "cross-dressing" person not be subject to harassment and abuse? School systems and students hate us in the 21st century! One of the many things that Stranger Things filters with nostalgia goggles is the degree of anti-LGBTQ violence in school systems, any honest view of that would have been depressingly brutal.

I spent nearly 15 years in my Indiana hometown driving two miles out of the way so that I wouldn't have to lay eyes on my middle school. With the CDC research released this week, I think parents of LGBTQ youth really need to consider homeschooling. The schools are that bad now, they were worse in the 1980s.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:05 PM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Here's the summary of the CDC study on LGB youth. Other work on trans and gender-nonconforming youth is even more dismal in comparison.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:19 PM on August 15, 2016


CBrachyrhynchos: "The schools are that bad now, they were worse in the 1980s."

Oh yes. Apart from my required once a year trip to visit my parents before they finally moved, I have never returned to my hometown in more than 20 years, largely because of my experiences with gender related violence at school.
posted by langtonsant at 1:24 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


in exactly which school in the 1980s would a "cross-dressing" person not be subject to harassment and abuse

Yeah, my immediate thought on that specific bit of plot was that unless there was an exceptionally compelling reason (like needing to get into boy-coded spaces) for her to dress in a way that might require using a urinal, those boys had every reason to fear what would happen to Eleven if she got found out in the boys' toilets or locker room, and how likely both of those things would be in a school setting.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:25 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I loathed Stranger Things enough that I quit after one and a half episodes, heavily because it seemed to be yet another cisheteronormative show where women orbit men and are defined in terms of them, and knowing that there's a makeover scene just reinforces this. I'm an androgynous queer woman, so I walk into every movie hoping the tomboy will hook up with the girl she's friends with, the one person who is actually nice to her and doesn't think she should change who she is, and then am disappointed when "success" is conforming to feminine norms and erasing her personality enough to get the boy's attention.

Holtzmann is awesome, and the whole queer subtext of the new Ghostbusters is really great. The closest thing to a makeover scene there is when they all get coveralls, which is such a nice change of pace.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:30 PM on August 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


Not to make a huge derail, but

With the CDC research released this week, I think parents of LGBTQ youth really need to consider homeschooling.

this presumes that home is safer and kinder to us than school.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I think one of the reasons the boys didn't dress her as a boy was that they had a lot of experience being bullied for being insufficiently masculine in the eyes of their peers. They knew that a "boy" with feminine traits (and IMO her face was clearly more feminine than masculine, if you ignore the hair) would draw a lot of negative attention at their school.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:25 PM on August 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Its about growing into your power as a woman - and one of those powers (whether you choose to use it or not) is your sexuality, whichever ways it goes.

As a non passing trans woman, this gave me a bitter sarcastic laugh.
posted by Dysk at 4:22 PM on August 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


But it still upsets me a lot to have this always get characterised as something more meaningful than just being a feminine boy (or man). Obviously this is totally me projecting my own issues here (again - sorry schroedinger - this is totally me being unfair to you!) but I swear this characterisation is nigh universal. Like, what if the kid is "just" a very feminine boy? Would that be so terrible? Is that idea so alien that he has to be pushed into some other category? Apparently so, because it always seems to be the case that he turns out to be gay, or she's actually a trans girl, or he's been abused and is broken, or something. It's never just "it's okay to be a feminine man". It is inherently wrong, apparently.

I am sympathetic to what you're saying here, but in this case we're not talking about a feminine boy. We're talking about a little girl who has been explicitly dehumanized by her captors, with de-gendering being a part of that, rather than a choice.

I think I would be more outraged by the makeover if, like I said, it wasn't so ridiculous. When Eleven goes into the auditorium she completely sticks out among the other girls because the boys dressing her are still so young that the makeover is as childish as the rest of their plans and ideas about defeating the monster.
posted by schroedinger at 7:15 PM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


But of course, this is probably just me projecting my "troubled history" onto an innocent media world, not a real thing.

Well, it seems like you're trying to call me out there. I apologize if the phrasing was offensive in some way, but it came from me fumbling for a term that wouldn't be offensive. "Troubled history" was my attempt to say that I had the feeling the author had faced some hard times and it wasn't meant as a slight. (And I sure hope you're not lumping me in with that "innocent media world" stuff, because I think I made it clear the author had good reason to critique the way the media generally portrays masculine girls, trans men, etc.) I already knew that some people might be offended that I was saying the author's personal experience may have been unfairly biasing her read of this episode, but I hoped I'd mitigate the offense there by pointing out that my own troubled history may well be biasing me.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:40 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am sympathetic to what you're saying here, but in this case we're not talking about a feminine boy. We're talking about a little girl who has been explicitly dehumanized by her captors, with de-gendering being a part of that, rather than a choice

Oh yes I totally agree and I'm not saying that my touchiness as regards femininity is especially relevant to the show (it's why I was at pains to flag that I say that I know I was misreading you!)

I think what I'm trying to say is that the moment any discussion about gender moves away from the very simple stuff the conversation tends to drag in topics that are legitimately difficult for people across a range of gender identities. This thread didn't start out being hard on me but the more we talk about the construction of masculinity and femininity and how they are imposed differently on AMAB folks and AFAB folks it sure started to get distressing. Which is not to say that your reading of the show is wrong but to comment on the fact that the way you phrased a pretty sensible point about the show happened to be hard for me to read. That's not your fault (hence my preemptive apology upthread) it's just how gender conversations go when the culture around us is so awful about gender.
posted by langtonsant at 8:17 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Or to put it another way, I'm pretty easily triggered when the topic of conversation pertains to someone who might have preferred to perform one gender but has been forced into another role in brutal fashion. I'm not idly speculating about gender portrayal on TV I'm trying to find ways of thinking about gender without panicking. Again I'm not criticising you at all it's just a fraught topic for lots of people for lots of reasons.
posted by langtonsant at 8:54 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Holy crap am I so tired of these ~discourse~ exploiting articles that are picked apart within 10 comments. "Did this new popular media object do something shitty and are you allowed to like it? Let's take something that seems possibly bad completely out of context to make it seem far more controversial! If you watch only this one scene you'll probably be shocked!".

Can we stop giving this stuff clicks, even to just discuss it? I look forward to the fascile articles on how The Get Down is actually super racist that are countered when someone thinks about it for a couple minutes and points out that it's actually subverting X trope.

What do you call long form clickbait? Other than clickbait, of course.
posted by emptythought at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


To be clear, I agree with the overall premise completely... I just think this show and this story element are the worst possible example.
posted by emptythought at 9:42 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


A lot of the pictures in that article just seem to be of women with practical hair styles.

Which reminds me of one time I was reading an article about some celebrity, and one commentator was utterly livid about her having short hair. As in short hair was responsible for feminism, women being assertive, and every other horrible thing that was causing women to reject him. Then he waxed lyrical over Japanese women and their long hair, and their gentle, submissive ways. After I picked my jaw up of the floor I could only mutter "Guy, you obviously never even met any Japanese women."

So yeah, that was the first time I saw a person who considered a refusal to present as "properly femine" to be a direct threat. Unfortunately, it wasn't my last.
posted by happyroach at 3:44 PM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Something made me remember the English name of 'La Violaterra' 'My Fair Lady'
It was an estheticaly pleasing movie. But the class - makeover theme was really what it was about.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:55 PM on August 16, 2016


Just finished the show. Is 11s degenderization by the scientists backed up my anything in the film, or is it assumed by viewers? Do they refer to her as "it" or "them" in a scene I missed?

Watching the show, I was confused about how 11 knew the word "bathtub". Degendering seems and aspect of depersonalizing her.

I'm interested in seeing a page of the and child heads to test if prepubescent kids are truly indistinguishable. Seems off to me, but I don't know any kids.
posted by rebent at 7:47 AM on August 18, 2016


rebent - it's hormones that cause gendered differentiation in faces and bodies, and these hormones don't appear until puberty. Trans women on estrogen develop more feminine features even without makeup or surgery. They have softer skin and gain more fat on their faces so they become rounder. Trans men on testosterone go the opposite direction, obviously. Skin gets rougher, the jaw appears squarer because the fat distribution changes. Hair grows, and the hairline recedes. Kids and women usually have rounded hairlines and post-pubescent boys and men usually have squared off hairlines. If you removed all gender markers from a bunch of 10 year olds and met them individually, you would not be able to tell the difference (group dynamics would probably give things away).
posted by AFABulous at 6:23 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't think that Eleven was actually degendered - Matthew Modine's character seemed to treat her like a little girl rather than a boy. I think the shaved head was purely functional to allow for the electrodes.
posted by AFABulous at 6:25 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Do they refer to her as "it" or "them" in a scene I missed?

Her name is a number. Which is tattooed on her.

The degendering is a byproduct of her total dehumanisation.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:28 PM on August 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yep, byproduct of her dehumanization, and also a byproduct of being raised almost entirely outside human culture. Only one scientist seems to interact with her at all. Gender has to be situated within a cultural context, which she lacks.

but this is not how any of the characters would see it, not even the scientists.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:03 PM on August 18, 2016


I'm interested in seeing a page of the and child heads to test if prepubescent kids are truly indistinguishable. Seems off to me, but I don't know any kids.

it's hormones that cause gendered differentiation in faces and bodies, and these hormones don't appear until puberty.

*climbs out of rabbithole, reports*

Children have been undergoing gendered differentiation since they were several-week-old embryos. Testosterone and other hormones show up and do this work (not necessarily with binary-standard results). But does any of it matter for faces?

The way I was taught to sex skulls was by looking at the angle of the jawbone just below the ear. It's a more sloping angle on female skulls, vs. closer to a right angle on males. Gender here, as usual, isn't so much an essence as a statistic. This particular measurable thing (called the gonial angle) correlates highly reliably (you'll only misidentify 1 person out of 20) with gender-assigned-at-birth. Even so, that statistical reliability varies with population, e.g. Viking skeletons are more androgynous, hence harder to sex.

So what about the angle in prepubescent children?

Bottom line: AFABulous is right about their faces.

If you look at statistical studies on any topic, you'll find some statistical studies that are themselves statistical outliers. Plus some studies that are just blatantly manipulated -- don't even get an anthropologist started on skull measurements, race, and intelligence. You have no idea how much work we had to do to get rid of that bullshit. (Some of it done by Franz Boas standing on a streetcorner in Harlem, with colleague Zora Neale Hurston at his side convincing people to let him measure their heads.)

So of course a few studies find it's possible to distinguish children's skulls, e.g. a dental school master's thesis at St. Louis University. But then again, there are are also some forensic dental scientists in Uttar Pradesh who found no significant sexual dimorphism of the gonial angle in adults. Forensics textbooks refer to forensic anthropology and say gender identification of prepubescent remains is, uh, very difficult and subtle, which basically means they might as well be trying to identify the kid's astrological sign. Gray's Anatomy says "differences have been detected" (again, so have differences between Aquarians and Pisces), but then they're like, uh, the statistical reliability is super-low so, er, don't rely on it, or even bother trying, because it's ... uh ... subtle. Yeah. Right.

Even the people who think differences might exist would not think middle school students could detect those differences.

But they don't exist. I would bet tons of money, if that were a bet that could ever be conclusively settled. I would also bet that smoking causes cancer, climate change is real, and the theory of gravity is more than just very, very well-attested.

Thanks a bunch, rebent and AFABulous.

*returns to catsitting responsibilities {which are in fact arduous]*
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:48 PM on August 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Before this thread closes, I just wanted to thank everyone who commented. When I first read the article I felt very much like the author did, but I've been thinking about the variety of interpretations of Eleven (and what her gender signals mean) offered here for the past month and it really enriched my understanding of the show. I also think this point by langstonsant:

I guess that's the thing about a lot of gender related topics. I feel like the range of gender identities and gender performances that we consider acceptable in society is so absurdly narrow that this ends up being a super touchy topic to almost everyone.

...is one of the truest things I've ever read. Anyway, thanks, all, for an enlightening read.
posted by thetortoise at 3:28 AM on September 14, 2016


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