Interesting article on the ways in which Italian men and women are constructing their gender identities through various forms of body modification. As a man who, at one point, has seven or eight piercings and a tattoo, there was a certain resonance for me with this article.
When I first began piercing me ears, back in 1981-82, men in my rural Oregon community did not have earrings - unless they were gay. So I was called faggot, queer, bitch, and various other slurs meant to degrade my masculinity.
I was not very conscious of my intentions in violating - transgressing, even - the gender norms of my community. What I did know is that The Sex Pistols wore safety pins in their ears, and the members of The Cure had chains connecting rings in their ears, and that Motley Crew wore inverted cross earrings.
What I knew was that these men represented rebellion and I wanted some of that.
The subtext in the rock world, especially the punk, goth, and (strangely) the metal scenes, has been a rejection of standard, hegemonic gender norms. In punk and goth, it was a rejection of ALL norms. But in metal, there is simultaneously a hypermasculine pose and a feminized appearance (think of any of the 80s hair bands like Poison, Bon Jovi, Ratt, etc.). I didn't understand the contradiction back then.
The reality, for me, is that I didn't fit into the hegemonic male norm - I wasn't conscious of it then, and able to construct my own gender identity, so I acted out my "outsider" status by getting earrings, growing long hair, and even wearing make-up (eye-liner) for a short time. Later I got my first tattoo.
Anyway, that's my story - this is an interesting article touching on some of these ideas.
Communicating, Constructing and Fashioning Gender: Tattooing, Aesthetic Surgery and the Promotion of the New (Beautiful) Body
affiliation not provided to SSRN
ESA Research Network Sociology of Culture Midterm Conference: Culture and the Making of Worlds, October 2010
Contemporary societies are facing a transformation of the relationship between genders, but also of the definition of the identity of gender itself (Connell 2002). This process has been influenced by the relationship between gender identity, the role of the media and, in particular, the consumer culture (Featherstone et al. 1991) – that strongly influences individual desires and represents a vehicle for the satisfaction and the expression of one's personality and vision of the world. On the one hand, ready made identities are available for the late modern social actors, who can look for new outfits and buy them modifying/enhancing their bodies and appearance (using tattooing, plastic surgery etc.). On the other hand, this wide array of options merely appears as a series of variations of the same model: the young, white, fit man or the young, white, extremely thin and seductive woman. In this setting a beautiful and hypersexualized appearance is not openly presented as an hegemonic cultural norm but is instead promoted as a desirable condition for the body that anyone can appreciate (Bauman 2001). At the same time this bodily shape becomes a means of differentiation and hierarchisation among individuals, genders and races.
How can this cultural process of gender construction be interpreted?
Providing research data (one-month participant observation in tattoo shops, 28 in-depth interviews to tattooists, piercers, aesthetic surgeons and ordinary people), this paper explores the ways in which in the Italian context men and women are looking for a successful (or unsuccessful) identity of gender and aim to reproduce a functional and hidden socio-cultural structure of gender (Connell 1987; 1995).
Ambrogia, C. (2010, October 14). Communicating, Constructing and Fashioning Gender: Tattooing, Aesthetic Surgery and the Promotion of the New (Beautiful) Body. ESA Research Network Sociology of Culture Midterm Conference: Culture and the Making of Worlds, October 2010. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1692085
Download the PDF.