Pop-Culture | Posted by Steph on 10/19/2010

Gender Policing and Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber: What his masculinity means about our societys views of femininity

Justin Bieber: What his masculinity means about our society's views of femininity

“What is Justin Bieber doing out of the Kitchen?”
“It is an offence that we need to share the same gender as Justin Bieber”
“If Justin Bieber was a woman…oh wait, never mind”
“Leave Justin Bieber alone, stop making fun of HER!”

There’s more like this. Whether or not you like Justin Bieber’s music, you have to agree that there’s something wrong with the above facebook groups. Every single group that I listed at the start of this article has over five hundred members. That’s five hundred people who, if they don’t actively believe that, say, Justin Bieber should ‘stay in the kitchen’, felt that it was at least funny enough to become a fan of it on facebook.

What does it say that these groups are so popular? More importantly, what does it say about the way our society values femininity?

Calling Bieber “she” says some very important things about how our society sees gender.

First, his feminine appearance and higher voice somehow reflect negatively on him as a man. Judith Butler, in her fantastic book Gender Trouble, writes that “under conditions of normative heterosexuality, policing gender is sometimes used as a way of securing heterosexuality”.

Placing these limits on what it means to be ‘male’, and firmly deciding that Bieber should live outside of those boundaries, while others who fit more into the definition of manhood are left to enjoy their tree fort with the secret password.

And what is that password? Just what is the secret to unlocking the manly-man-only club? It’s not sexual passivity. ‘Men’ are players, are lady’s men, are studs. Men who don’t fit that definition are sissies, or worse, fags. Judith Butler has it right; to reaffirm their own straightness (and therefore status with the in-crowd), these manly-men call men who express their manhood differently ‘fags’, or gay.

So what does the fact that Justin Bieber isn’t really being referred to as gay (note: while he is, in fact, being disparaged as gay, it’s almost secondary to this more bizarre ‘he’s so far gone he’s not even male’ mentality) mean? If he isn’t male, what is he? If he is(and he is), what does the backlash against his femininity say about our culture and how it values (or doesn’t value) femininity? And how does that affect us here at the F bomb, a site populated for the most part by teenaged women?

In 2006, Jen Jones, a senior at Hood College, was voted Homecoming King. Jones is openly gay, and has a look that could be described as ‘butch’. Another competitor for king, Santo Provenzano, said that “my first thought [was]…she’s a girl. Certain traditions are supposed to be a certain way”. Because Jen Jones doesn’t look like a woman should look like, doesn’t act how a woman should, society pushes back. What’s happening to Justin Bieber is the same thing writ large.

So if our society sees femininity as somehow ‘worse’ than masculinity, what does that mean for the feminine? The female? It puts anyone who isn’t a masculine-manly-man down a step. It views anyone who breaks from gender norms as having committed some kind of error. Women in science, math and other ‘traditionally male’ disciplines experience the same pressure that Justin Bieber does, that Jen Jones did – the pressure of the System pushing back and trying to make things work in the way they should.

But it’s obvious to those on the outside of the system that the system doesn’t work the way it should. The prevalence of suicide among queer youth is terrifying. Conservative estimates for the rate of attempted suicide for trans-identified or other gender-variant youth place it at over fifty percent. This isn’t a situation that doing what we should is helping.

If there’s anything that we need to be doing, it’s fighting for a brighter, more accepting definition of gender. A world where a future Jen Jones becomes her college’s Homecoming King, and nobody objects. A world where Justin Bieber is as much of a man as anyone else who wants to call themself one. That’s what we should be doing.

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  • Steph @ at 11:28 am, October 19th, 2010

    And…in before Seth makes a fool of himself.

  • Katherine C. @ at 12:34 pm, October 19th, 2010

    As much distaste as I have for Bieber’s music/personality, I have to agree with this. Gender policing is f’ed up, period. Nicely done.

  • Taylor @ at 2:05 pm, October 19th, 2010

    I’m so happy someone’s talking about this. Whenever I try to call people on this bull they just assume I’m a PO’d fan.

  • Natalia @ at 7:57 pm, October 19th, 2010

    Great article!

    I’m getting pretty fed up of men calling other men who aren’t as “manly” a fag or sissies. Or worse “wow you’re being such a girl!”

  • Emily S. @ at 10:01 pm, October 19th, 2010

    I agree – while I believe Bieber is a talentless hack, and that his haircut looks stupid (gender aside), I find this crazy “OMG, Bieber is a girl lolz!” thing quite confusing.

    Perhaps there’s some homophobia at work here? Bieber has zillions of preteen fangirls, yet he looks like he could also be a young teenage butch lesbian… perhaps many of these people are extremely uncomfortable on a subconscious level of the fact that there are young girls who are sexually attracted to someone who looks like they may be of their own gender?

  • blakerivers @ at 1:25 am, October 20th, 2010

    I’m not going to go on and on about this, but in short traditionally masculine qualities are valued FAR above traditional feminine qualities. I use the word “traditional” because it needs to be understood that the definition/dichotomy of masculinity vs. femininity stems from an established traditional thought-pattern and is partially arbitrary.

    One can say that masculinity is valued over femininity, but usually people do not grasp what this actually means. It’s just a bunch of words. They do not grasp just how twisted and out-of-whack that reality really is. The pinnacle of human accomplishment usually takes a male form, because feminine attributes could never be as lauded as masculine ones.

    Watch the Be A Man part of Mulan. Is there a female equivalent? An equal but opposite? No. This is because femininity has been delegated unjustly to lesser aspects of humanity while masculinity has been promoted. In this lies feminism’s work.

  • Nano (Nyxie) @ at 3:47 am, October 20th, 2010

    @Steph: I thought this name was Ryan?

    @everyone else: One thing that has always interested me is how Justin Beiber, while being considered feminine, gets what most teenages boys want, which is the attention of millions of girls. He is a “ladies’ man”, in that, as a friend of mine so well put it, “he has at least a thousand girls across the world who quite literally would drop their panties at a moment’s notice for him, and millions of girls willing to say they would”. Isn’t that what a man (allegedly) wants? Somehow, this aspect of his “masculinity” has been completely lost because he looks and sounds less than manly.

    Just food for thought. :)

  • Steph @ at 5:11 am, October 20th, 2010

    @Nano: Ryan’s gone, Seth’s here. Whether they’re different people is debatable. Mostly only with Seth.

    And I’d never really thought about it that way – I think you’re right about the fact that Bieber is a ladies’ man being overlooked. Interesting analysis.

  • Lolita @ at 10:34 pm, October 20th, 2010

    Personally I don’t like Justin either but the remarks are just..wrong.

  • Serena @ at 11:57 pm, October 20th, 2010

    I admit it. when I first heard Bieber on the radio, I thought he was a girl. His voice is/was? very high pitched, so it confused me. >.> But calling him a “fag” and what have you just because he isn’t “man” enough is just wrong.

  • Ang @ at 4:25 pm, October 21st, 2010

    @Nano – I think it has more to do with jealousy. Guys want what he has (all the girls attention) but they don’t want to sing and dance to do it…I did think he was a girl the first time I heard his song, tho

  • Seth @ at 10:00 pm, October 21st, 2010

    Being a man is not something you are, it is something you become. One is not a man by default, on must “be a man”.

    The reason being is that male value and attraction to women is not something that is inherent for the simple face that we exist as females are inherently attractive to males. Females have inherent value to the opposite sex and males do not, we are not inherently desirable and approached.

    The feminization insults of Bieber are not an attempt to denigrate femininity, in fact they have nothing to do with the designation of femininity but to exemplify the antithesis of masculinity, to express the lack of “being” that connotes the very definition of masculinity.

    Males become men by being and doing, by being successful or useful. Male value is heavily weighted in external utility while female value is inherent. Again this is where the expression “be a man” or “man up” comes from.

  • Sarah @ at 6:26 am, October 22nd, 2010

    Lookit, here he is!

  • Seth @ at 1:52 pm, October 22nd, 2010

    Did my statement go right over your head Sarah?

  • Seth @ at 1:53 pm, October 22nd, 2010

    If you can get past your misandry you might put on your thinking cap.

  • Emily S. @ at 1:48 am, October 23rd, 2010

    You think that males become men by being successful or useful. Bieber is unquestionably successful, and both valued and found attractive by many females, thus making him a “man” by your definition. But, you also say that the insults directed at him are to express “the lack of ‘being’ that connotes the very definition of masculinity”.

    Care to clarify?

    Also, society in general places value on females almost exclusively based on their attractiveness and/or the “right” degree of sexual availability. And if you think that all females are inherently attractive to males, well, you’re basically reducing attractiveness to the presence of a vagina, at which point blow-up dolls and big bitches and fleshlights and ewes and also can be defined as as “attractive”.

  • On the (Rest of the) Net. « The Early Bird Catches the Worm @ at 7:27 pm, August 25th, 2011

    [...] The gender politics of Justin Bieber. [FBomb] [...]

  • Charlie @ at 4:15 pm, May 6th, 2013

    “Being a man is not something you are, it is something you become. One is not a man by default, on must “be a man”.”

    Um, wrong. When you are born with a penis, that pretty much makes you male. And when you reach adult hood, you’re a man. It’s idiotic to expect all men to rise up to these incredibly lofty standards and expectations in order to be accepted and respected amongst society. A man (and woman for that matter) should be free to be whomever they wish to be, be they a masculine macho person or a feminine flamboyant person. Trying to instill shame into a man for not rising up to your lofty standards is disgusting and despicable.

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