Seeing is not the whole story.

Above all else, the first thing people judge is how you look. When a woman wears a dress, they are obviously female. It’s when you can’t discern someone gender by their attire is when things get messy. But appearances can be deceiving, as many films and literature show. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Viola dresses as a man, and a eunuch at that, in order to survive.  She is able to infiltrate both the male and female realms without trouble because she looks like a non-threatening male. She performs as a male and they believe her. When Viola, as Cesario, for encounters Olivia, the first thing she says is that Olivia is “most radiant, exquisite, and unmatchable beauty” (I.v.168). Viola immediately performs as a male, commenting on how beautiful Olivia is. Typically men start out by complimenting a woman and then proceed with the conversation. Viola is performing as any male would, pointing out something about their appearance and then pushing forward with what they really want to say. When Viola/Cesario leaves, Olivia says,

I’ll be sworn thou art [a gentleman];
Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit,
Do give thee fivefold blazon. Not too fast; soft, soft,
Unless the master were the man. How now?
Even so quickly may one catch the plague?
Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes. Well, let it be. (I.v.292-299)

She falls for Viola’s performance of a man all based on how he looks and how he speaks. If only a biological male could perform masculinity as well as woman can, which is what Olivia is saying, unaware that Viola is a woman, at line 295.

Fuss says in her article, “Reading Like A Feminist”, that our bodies are constructed and “bodily experiences may seem self-evident and immediately perceptible but they are always socially mediated” (Fuss, 25). How we present ourselves to others is a performance of gender. In order to be feminine, women must be seen doing feminine things. When people are not performing according to their genders, they get unwanted labels, like “tom boy”, for women.


Page 214

In Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, there is a section where she is trying to copy her mother’s appearance. Both of her parents are highly concerned with this their gender performances, as is evidenced by how much time they spend on it. In the span of two pages (214-215), we see her mother taking time to get ready on the first page, and on the second she is plucking her eyebrows at a later time. Likewise, we see her father getting ready and Alison rushing him, implying he has already spent a lot of time getting ready. Bruce also has time to criticize Alison’s fashion choices for not looking feminine enough.


Page 215

Alison does try to look more feminine which is evidenced when she colours in her school photograph and borrows her mother’s make up. She is surrounded my people who are highly concerned with their appearances, so she naturally feels like she is not performing her own gender properly. The fact that she colours in her cheeks shows that is aware of her lacking performance and she tries to substitute it by making it look like she is performing.

I came across this video, which I think fits into this categoy of sight.

It is a clever ad to get most women to pay attention to their health You have the doctor performing as an authoritative male. He looks professional and is an older man, which gives him the appearance of being a wise healthcare professional. The males standing in for female patients are performing as objectified males. Women are objectified in most ads for men, so here the advertisers are doing the same, but the opposite. The men are playing up what makes them attractive to women, and in doing so are performing the stereotype of “hot guy”, as the doctor points out at the beginning. I still think this is a great commercial to get women to pay attention because of how rare it is to see men portrayed this way in medical advertising.


ModelClicker ANTM America's Next Top Model Cycle 7 Melrose Bickerstaff

Melrose as Donald and Melania Trump in cycle 7 of America’s Next Top Model (source)

This photo is from Cycle 7 of America’s Next Top Model. The concept for this shoot was for each of the models to portray a famous celebrity couple. They did one set of shots as the man and one as the woman (apart from the one who portrayed Ellen DeGeneres & Portia de Rossi). Here,  Melrose is both Donald Trump and Melania Trump. I chose this particular shot because Melrose performs both genders the way society tells us we should be. Melania is graceful and elegant, the way all women are supposed to perform, and Donald Trump is assertive in his stance, with hands in his pockets showing that he is masculine. She also does a really good job on capturing his facial expression.


Works Cited:

Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother? New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Company, 2012. Print.

Fuss, Diana. “Reading Like A Feminist”. New York: Routledge, 1989.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night or, What You Will. New York: Signet Classics, 1998. Print.

Melrose <>

Rethink Breast Cancer presents: Your Man Reminder <>


3 responses to “Seeing is not the whole story.

  1. I really loved this post as you incorporated both the literature from class but also made it enjoyable with media clips. Great way to capture your readers attention while discussing gender. The video was funny yet informative!

  2. Reblogged this on A Journey of Resistance and commented:
    This post shows how ‘sight’ aka what we see influences us as society. An excellent incorporation of our class literature with media! It can be closely related to my blog concerning women’s appearance; looking at people a certain way based on what they wear (women wear dresses).

  3. Well said, couldn’t agree more with your analysis of Bechdel’s presentation of herself in the book. She really goes to great lengths to show how her parents are opposing forces that create conflict in her identity, self expression and self awareness, which actually translates throughout both graphic novels read together.

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