Last Tuesday, seniors Andrew Schneider and Greta Floding decided to break with convention.
Schneider attended class, clad in a tunic and leggings borrowed from Floding, while Floding sported a men’s T-shirt, basketball shorts and a sideways cap. People across campus stopped to stare and wonder exactly what Schneider and Floding were doing, some even mistaking them for the opposite sex.
“We are both interested in gender differences and style,” Floding said of the experience. “And not just in the sense of what is trendy, but also in noticing the differences in how people react to you based on what you are wearing.” Both Floding and Schneider stressed that it was not their intention to do this as a social experiment but rather to express themselves.
“I don’t see why men cannot dress in more feminine styles. I feel like the gender system only gives you two options and it does not account for how people actually are,” Floding said.
While on a bigger campus, this may not have seemed out of the ordinary, Floding and Schneider both understood the risks of their actions on Northwestern’s small, Christian campus. Both felt that many people are too rigid in their opinions of social norms and that there are things in our culture we might need to reconsider.
Questioning of fashion in gender roles started for Schneider last year.
“I started to realize that society has determined how people dress,” he said. “The gender system is dichotomous in order to keep power the way that it is. The gender system is keeping the power differences between me and women alive.”
Floding added that it was her desire to bring awareness of how gender roles dictate the way in which men and women act and to challenge NW students to ask questions.
“I tried to emphasize that I was doing it because I wanted to and because I had the right,” Schneider said.
Floding and Schneider had markedly different responses to their day in the other gender’s shoes. Floding had less of a reaction, while Schneider had many people mistake him for a female. The pair suggested that this may be because society is more accepting of women’s diverse dress, while men are subject to a very specific style.
While Floding’s preparation for her role was comparatively easy, Schneider was surprised by the amount of work he had to do to transform for the day. The tasks of shaving and putting on make up were nearly overwhelming.
“I wonder how that affects women.Who sets the standards for beauty for them?” Schneider said.
Despite the reluctance of many to accept his mode of dress, Schneider found that the day after was even more difficult. Even though he had had good conversations with fellow students, Schneider got reactions such as, “It is good to have you back as a guy again.” This made him wonder if he had really helped students begin to question society’s dictations regarding gender roles.
Floding was confirmed in her belief that she needs to continue questioning societal norms, and Schneider realized that one can be a Christian and still challenge the gender role system, something that he believes continues to promote gender inequality.
“It is a social justice (issue) that we are to wrestle with,” he said. “I don’t want to change who I am or my sex. I am who I am. But I should still be able to wear different things and express myself.”