Following the sexual revolution of the 1960s, sex differences in strength and endurance have been increasingly ignored or minimized, and standards for physical fitness altered, in venues where physical strength matters. These include the armed forces and police and fire departments. As one consequence among many, for the first time in American history, young American women stand a chance of being drafted into combat positions.
There is also the explosion of gender ambiguity and fluidity in popular culture, beginning, though not only, in the United States. MTV, following the new ideological regimen, in 2017 moved to “gender-neutral” awards for acting (i.e., no more separate awards for “actors” and “actresses”). Other vetting boards in the performing arts and related circles are following suit.
Then comes fashion. Denim jeans became the first sartorial plumage signifying the interchangeability of the sexes. In the 1990s, a handful of designers including Helmut Lang, Giorgio Armani, and Pierre Cardin pioneered what was called “unisex” clothing. Today, it is hard to name a major designer who hasn’t reinforced the trend and gone further.
Androgyny is also front and center in popular music—and has been, for a while now. Once, David Bowie was a lone, mildly sexually ambiguous figure on the rock scene. Today, stars who flirt with gender bending are assured not only of fan love but also of competing on a field that gets more crowded by the day.
Androgyny’s rewriting of popular culture isn’t an expression of European or American sexual exceptionalism. In Japan, designers such as Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Kenzo Takada render versions of the same androgynous cool seen in Europe and the United States. As with fashion, the pop-music trend is just as pronounced on the other side of the planet.
Androgyny is a staple of Korean and Japanese popular genres, from K-pop and J-pop to anime and manga. In society after society, it is androgyny that is most visible across the genres of fashion, music, and other byways of pop culture.
In short, an increase in androgynous expression is now to be found around the world—specifically, in societies transformed by the postrevolutionary remaking of primordial ties. Plainly, something unprecedented is happening to humanity across the planet, something so hitherto unknown, and operating with such power, that it demands more than passing explanation.Here’s one thesis: The new androgyny is not incidental to the collapse of family and community. To the contrary, the new androgyny is being driven by the collapse of family and community.
- Mary Eberstadt, The Lure of Androgyny