Gender Policing and Justin Bieber

"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.

More articles by Category: Education, Feminism, LGBTQIA, Media
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Gender bias, News, Social media, Sexuality, Music, Transgender, College



Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.