The Fault(s) in Our Gendered Social Constructs
"We are all sinners, my friend,"

That's what a religious friend declared during our recent friendly (*terrifying*) debate on the existence of God, or as said friend prefers to put it, his "noble mission to bring me to the path of redemption". Not that I'd dare believe to the contrary. And "believe" is, especially in sensitive circumstances as these, a rather strong verb. Nonetheless, this notion of having to atone for our so-called "sins" for a lifetime disturbs me. In its attempt to deter us from wrongdoings, religion, and society in general, finds it much easier to conveniently assume that we are in the wrong already, and redemption is the path we must follow. In their "righteous" eyes, everyone is guilty until proven innocent - a process which seemingly stretches on forever!
But while trying to herd us into this flock of "mass sinners", the modern society also wants us to "be the difference." In its attempt to be progressive, it doles out random advice to impressionable youngsters, urging them to break gender stereotypes, eschew racist slurs or shun environmentally damaging activities, all of which hold the male-dominated society's very fabric together. Society even goes so far as to dictate what we must fear and then asks us to overcome our fears for success!

But even if its doctrine of redemption is acceptable and well in place (something I can only touch on superficially), it would lead one to believe that what we fear is not innate, it is instilled in us by our circumstances, by our religions, in fact, by that very society.
Social tags, social labels in fashion, stereotypes
Photography by Jacek Dylag
People, society
So, is what we fear what society fears too? Put more emphatically, is what we are made to fear what society fears we would do? Is society scared of us, of the infinitely brave and wonderful things we can do? In that context, would "success" mean breaking the stereotypes society has so carefully set?

Apparently not.

Gendered social constructs are ingrained so deeply into our minds, that even doing things "differently" has an invisible limit which adheres, not explicitly perhaps, to social norms.
In the third world, this involves a husband from a "progressive" family of in-laws, "allowing" the wife to continue with education or jobs after marriage, while on a deeper level, still completely ignoring the woman's willingness.
In the West, things are perhaps better, at least on those terms but gender stereotypes remain. Case in point, the concept of #GirlBoss, which, while seemingly lauding female entrepreneurs or CEOs, also demeans their contribution in relation to their male counterparts. So how much of an empowerment is it really for women?

There are clever stereotypes in place for the supposed "different" people in the neighbourhood too – the tomboyish girl, the foppish guy, the "badass" grandpa, the glamorous single mother – what would this elaborate drama we call society be without these characters?

Soooo then, is it possible to be the really "different" kind of different? More importantly, is the ultimate power only possessed by society?
Social tags, social labels in fashion, stereotypes
Photography by Jacek Dylag
People, society
Well of course it is. That is exactly how society, and all its children – religion, law, education – want it, all under an illusion of "free will".

Paradoxically though, that is where society's ambitious scheme fails. When you have one society simultaneously making its rules, punishing non-followers, influencing every one of its members AND judging what is wrong with itself, a lot of subjectivity enters the scene.
The biggest shortcoming of our society stems from its tendency to label what is right and wrong. It dictates that we should laud the designer who introduces a new, sustainable line of accessories, while conveniently overlooking the fact that its leather lines remain stronger and more popular than ever. It puts countries that have ensured minimum wages on a higher pedestal, even though the designated wage is just around $100 USD per month, for workers who toil for hours in unhygienic, poorly lit and insulated factories.
Is that wrong? Yes.

But this tendency to label, this haste to react, is also something very human. Society's power lies in its ability to label, and therein lies its powerlessness: whatever is not labelled by society are sources of supreme power! Whether it's a 15-year old girl fighting with powerful statesmen demanding a greener earth, a woman shunned for her questionable personal choices going on to make one of the most premier luxury houses ever, or perhaps on a more human level, a straight guy who is just obsessed with handbags – these specimens of utter disregard for whatever is "normal", whatever is "appropriate", is scary to society, so much that it'll go to any lengths to scorn them, and that is when you are undefinable, that is when you are powerful.
Photography by Al Ho
Is there a way out then? Turns out, it is something society itself has been saying to us for quite a while, though perhaps not for the entirely same reasons – be yourself.
Or rather, accept yourself. Coming to terms with ourselves is perhaps the biggest aspect there is to sustainability, because if you do not know where you stand, you not only do not know where you can go, but you also don't know how far you've truly come.

And sustainability is not just about saving the environment, it is about instilling healthy practices to last, it's about breaking stereotypes for good.
In fact, we have accomplished scores of different things when it comes to women empowerment, with more women stepping in to contribute to the economy and more voices raised against child-marriage and domestic abuse in underdeveloped nations every day.

Then we have staunch activists like Ashley Sumner, CEO of Quilt, whose mission to eradicate the term "Female Founder", thereby giving women the credit they truly deserve, has made it to Forbes and the New York Times!

Even when it comes to sustainable development about the environment – brands are aware of it, for a start! Some designers are going so far as to even embrace eco-friendly practices rather than just jump on the bandwagon with a new range. Gabriela Hearst's recent appointment as Chloe's Creative Director is a testament of that too. E-tailers like Luisa Via Roma has its own section catering to conscious buyers, stocked with environment-friendly, women-empowering brands like Ree Projects.
These successes serve as little affirmations to society, which, like us humans, is flawed too, and just as society needs to accept our differences instead of labelling them, we need to be mindful of its issues too. Everything starts with acknowledgement.

So, I will start. As a not-so-stereotypical South Asian male from Bangladesh, constantly bombarded with (multiple) standards of toxic masculinity, femininity (is that the right word?) and homophobia resulting from a male-dominated world, I am constantly questioning why I'm supposed to live up to unreasonable standards.

I have controversial opinions that means I might possibly have a lynch mob chasing me at some point. As much as I try to be sustainable, I cannot stop ogling at Hermès and Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. I also love putting pink wallpaper on my phone. My favourite pastimes are re-watching Frances Ha, reading about bags, the Bloggess and indie-books. These are not signs that I'm effeminate. These are not sins that I should have to atone for. These are what makes me incapable of being labelled by religion and society. These are the wonderfully weird things that make me, well, me.

Now it's your turn – what makes you #unlabelable?
article by Sajid Bin Mohammad
main photograph by Taylor