Betty-Ann's Both Sides Blog

Think Outside the Gender Box

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To expand your opportunities, think outside the gender box by considering yourself more broadly as a human being. The entertainment world is leading this charge by casting men and women in an increasing variety of roles, and we’ll all benefit from supporting and reinforcing its initiatives.

‎I first paid attention to this in September, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). When describing her role in the new film Our Brand is Crisis, Sandra Bullock ‎told the audience it had originally been written for a man. In fact, George Clooney intended to play it, but he was too busy.

She loved the dynamic part and blazed forward, asking the producers to make the lead female, rather than male. They agreed to do the gender swap, and other than changing her character’s name, hardly tweaked the role at all. And this isn’t the first time she has taken a part written for the opposite gender—that’s how she landed the film Heat.

Imagine if Hollywood became a ‎sea of great roles, not written specifically for either men or women, she mused, but instead written for humans?

Shortly after hearing Bullock’s comments, I read that Stephanie Meyer, the author of the wildly successful Twilight series, swapped the lovers’ genders in her new novel. Myers committed to write extra content for Twilight‘s 10th anniversary, but found herself short of time and decided to rewrite the opening chapters of her original book by throwing gender aside.

It made no difference if the human was male and the vampire female, she concluded. This also gave her an opportunity to discount the criticsm of Bella for being consumed by a love interest, which doesn’t have to be considered a girl thing. She also found writing outside the gender box was not only fun, “It was really fast and easy”. She went on to estimate that only five percent of the character traits needed some kind of re-writing.

Clearly, our genders, which are usually divided into just two categories, are more alike than different, and there are more opportunities for women when we don’t restrict ourselves to traditional roles or adhere to limiting messages.

This hit home for me when I came across a Twitter ‎account called @Manwhohasitall. A parody on the advice given to working mothers, they imagine how it would sound if men were subject to the same scrutiny. Of course, it comes across as ridiculous: “I have nothing against fathers in the workforce, as long as they can concentrate on the job”.

Another hilariously absurd tweet when the roles are switched: “Working ‎husband and father? Feeling overwhelmed? YOUR FAULT. Drink more water, get up earlier and dress in your ‘wow’ colors. And this one: “Men! If you speak up in a meeting and want to be taken seriously, dress smart, but not too smart, stay calm and avoid appearing too ambitious”.

Gender-swapping these ‎tweets highlight the unrealistic expectations placed on women. It is a good reminder that all the messages we give (or receive) need to be tested to ensure they are applicable to humans, not inappropriately targeted to only our gender. That means becoming more conscious of the way we present ourselves as well.

Jennifer Lawrence discussed this in a recent article she penned for the newsletter Lenny. ‎She described a personal experience as follows: “A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” as if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I see and hear all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the exact same manner, and you would have thought that I had said something offensive. I am over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likeable!”

Actresses Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lawrence, along with author Stephanie Myers, advanced themselves and their careers by consciously unshackling the chains of gender constraints. They defined themselves (along with their characters) first and foremost as humans.

Society intuitively follows this gender-swapping pattern, and finds the interchangeability of roles totally natural. We simply have to take up the mantle and do it too. From now on, let’s consider every opportunity a human opportunity, and not whether it’s appropriate for a man or a woman, but whether we are up for the challenge!

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