Why We Should Think Twice Before Idealizing Ruby Rose

rubyroseThe internet is abuzz about Ruby Rose, a genderfluid actor, DJ, and model who appeared in Season 3 of Netflix Original Series Orange is the New Black.

While Rose is undoubtedly stunning and a perfectly lovely person, our idealization of Ruby Rose represents a larger problem in popular culture – the very limited portrayals of androgyny, and more specifically, who is allowed to be androgynous.

When the only celebrated expressions of androgyny are idolizing those who are conventionally attractive, thin, white, able-bodied, and assigned female at birth, many of us who fall outside of these expectations can begin to feel as though we are not enough as we are, and that we are not androgynous unless we can conform.

This is not just about Ruby Rose, either. This is a norm that has existed for a long time. Simply plug “Androgyny” into a Google image search, and you will see an overwhelming sea of white, hollow faces. Thin, curveless bodies will be hiding underneath suit jackets and pinstripe trousers.

The reality, though, is that there are many diverse expressions of androgyny – and they are seldom celebrated, let alone represented, in popular culture.

As an androgynous person myself, beauty norms around androgyny have left me struggling to feel valid. I have curves, I have fat – my body can’t disappear underneath a suit coat, and my cheekbones will never be sharp or defined. The pressure to contort my body into this ideal, though, definitely weighs on me each time a new Ruby Rose is glorified by the media.

It’s alarming that we have such wildly limited portrayals of androgynous and gender diverse people, and on my more pessimistic days I wonder if we ever will. We celebrate a very specific body ideal while leaving countless other folks on the androgynous spectrum to contemplate their validity and beauty.

We’ve been told, through pretty explicit messaging that there is only one way to be androgynous. The reality is that there is an infinite number of ways to be androgynous – many of which look nothing like Ruby Rose.

Androgyny has long been defined by the mainstream on the basis of “passing” – that we be the chameleons of gender, able to be perceived as men OR women. But it is a problematic way to define androgyny because it limits it as an exclusive club, and validates our existence ONLY on the basis of others’ perceptions and cisnormative standards of beauty.

It does not allow for self-determination. It does not allow us to own the labels that best represent our gender identities.

There are androgynous folks of every color and every type of body, but we rarely see them represented. Shockingly, claiming an androgynous identity does not require that you pose with a cigarette in your mouth and suspenders (seriously, why are there so many pictures like that?). It does not require that you be white, thin, able-bodied and conventionally attractive. The only requirement for androgyny is that you identify that way.

Holding Ruby Rose up as an androgynous ideal only reinforces the idea that the only valid androgynous people are those who can pass and conform. In other words, the fanfare around Ruby Rose is part of a harmful ideal that already exists in our society – the rules of who is allowed to be androgynous, and who is not.

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A simple Google image search for “Androgyny” tells us who is allowed to be androgynous and who isn’t.

By all means, we can appreciate Ruby Rose’s divine looks (and great performance in OITNB, no?), but we should be critical of why she is celebrated, while other androgynous and genderfluid people are seldom visible.

And if I haven’t made it clear by now, we should by no means place her on a pedestal for all androgynous people to aspire towards – because it is an unattainable ideal for the vast majority of gender diverse people.

We should push for more and better representation of genderfluid people – not just those who reach this ideal, but for folks of all sorts of diverse expressions of gender. That means moving away from these white, thin, AFAB, “passing” folks and featuring, instead, androgynous people of color, genderfluid fatties, gorgeous AMAB genderqueers, bigender cuties with disabilities, and every intersection in-between.

Holding up Ruby Rose as a sign of greater acceptance of gender fluidity is misleading, because Ruby Rose’s look has been celebrated in magazine spreads and movies long before she was born. This ideal precedes Rose’s fame, and is an ideal we need to break down in order to have true representations of androgyny, and other kinds of gender diversity.

So, by all means, swoon over Ruby Rose. I’ll be right there with you.

But while it’s exciting that mainstream media is having a conversation about gender fluidity, we shouldn’t call this progress. Glorifying a very limited, singular representation of androgyny and calling it gender “diversity” can do more harm to our community than good.

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16 thoughts on “Why We Should Think Twice Before Idealizing Ruby Rose

  1. PlainT says:

    Well said. I’m not a huge fan of Rose myself, but a queer friend of mine who is from the Dominican Republic says her friends from home are all posting how they’re “gay for Ruby Rose” etc., and while this is a problematic sentiment on many levels, my friend sees this as progress, and maybe an opening of doors for better acceptance of queer people of all flavors. Ruby Rose doesn’t represent everything for everyone, and having a handful of straight women think she’s gorgeous is not true equality, nor is it a humanizing force combatting the dehumanization/tokenization of queer people, but I really feel like mainstream audiences need some common ground on which to relate; in the case of Ruby Rose, its her broadly appealing looks. And then maybe they’ll read an interview by her. And then maybe genderfluid/genderqueer/gender-nonconforming rhetoric will become less “foreign” for mainstream audiences. I just hope that the body-inclusiveness movement within cis-female circles will start melding with the gender-inclusiveness movement. It sucks that this is what progress looks like, but in a way… yeah it’s kinda sorta progress. Then again, as you pointed out, fanfare is part of a narrow ideal; an ideal of androgyny that has been embodied before by Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, Davie Bowie… there have been visibly androgynous “role models” in the past, none of whom have really made progress… hopefully in light of recent LGBT gains, it’ll be different this time.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. mulan92 says:

    There have always been beauty ideals, and I would risk saying that it’s impossible to change the fact that some body type will always be much more celebrated than others. At the same time, I agree it’s a shame that those other body types are so heavily underrepresented in the media, and that this might impact the way many people think about themselves negatively.

    But… if you look at androgyny from another angle – as a matter of appearance, or in other words, of how people see you – then I think there’s really no reason to feel invalid. Because people might see you as many different things: an androgynous person, a teenage boy, a beautiful person, an adult woman, someone with the looks of a teacher, whatever. But these are just appearances, and (hopefully) we all know there’s more to a person than their looks: for example, this person may identify differently than they appear to other people, which you find out about only when you get to know that person better. But that’s no reason for this person to feel invalid. A person’s identity and how they appear to other people may well be two different things, and that’s okay. After all, an appearance is *just* an appearance.

    Like

  3. Ziya Tamesis says:

    I love that celebrities are starting to express themselves outside the gender binary (e.g. Miley Cyrus saying “I don’t relate to being boy or girl.”); it’s a step in the right direction. I also agree with you that we need more diverse representations of androgyny. I don’t need them to validate my identity, but I could definitely use the ideas on how to get my large curvy body to present as androgynous.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. shmeeper says:

    Cool post! As someone who supports this kind of thought but often isn’t up to date and/or immersed in the culture, I found your writing refreshingly accessible compared to some similar articles I’ve read. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Leetal Wmith says:

    YEEEEEESSSs! Thank you!
    This is exactly the opposite of a representation of me – every time it just hurts a little – never gonna be recognized as that, my gender is never gonna be validated like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Samantha says:

    This is SUCH an awesome post! As a curvy girl who looooves androgynous clothing, I always feel like I “can’t” actually be considered androgynous because of my body shape. It’s ridiculous, of course, because my brand of androgyny is as perfectly valid as Ruby Rose’s brand of androgyny. Not being skinny or able to “pass” as a gender chameleon (you’re brilliant–such a great phrase!) doesn’t invalid my personal expression and identity.
    Sam Manzella

    Like

  7. Jean St.Amand says:

    Substitute the word androgynous with black or woman and it’s the same issue. Just as an example, Halle Berry may be considered the ”ideal” black woman, someone like Jennifer Lawrence my be considered the ”ideal” woman. Who can live up to that?

    Like

  8. daniheart21 says:

    I think the media in general is horrible at accurate representations. I am so with you on the cigarette comment. Media is run by corporations and all they care about is money and what sells, what gets looked at. All of us who don’t fall into what is the acceptable beauty norm find ourselves trying to measure up and falling miserably short. Glad I stumbled onto this blog. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. sebastianlewispod says:

    Great post. A recent video by Ruby I saw that I believe was trying visually represent her genderfluidity got me feeling uncomfortable with her potrayal of male and female. I felt stereotypes creeped in to much. However I was trying to balance it with Ruby’s fame helping to make people talk/think about being genderfluid, many for the first time.
    You’ve got some really good points, enjoyed the read.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Rick Innis (@rickinnis) says:

    “claiming an androgynous identity does not require that you pose with a cigarette in your mouth and suspenders (seriously, why are there so many pictures like that?)” – I presume this was a rhetorical question, but my immediate thought was “Frank Sinatra, via Patti Smith.” (with due credit to Robert Mapplethorpe for taking the photo.)

    Great article though. The other high profile androgynes I can think of (The Swinton, Annie Lennox, Bowie) fit the same sort of mood, at least in their thinness, whiteness, and (for two out of three) AFABness.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. jessie says:

    Great post, really makes you think. I knew what Androgynous meant (I’ll admit, just a bit) and I have heard it mentioned, however when Ruby Rose stared in Orange Is The New Black I started looking more into it. I am pretty sure lots of other people did too. In my eyes that’s always a good thing. I think that most groups of people are not accurately represented in the media, however every so often someone breaks the mold. I completely agree with what your saying, but the sad fact is: sex sells. People who are regarded as sexy often get more media attention.

    Thank you for sharing this.
    Jessie

    Liked by 1 person

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