Changing Rooms - The Gender Issue


Ah, changing rooms - you pick out a few items in your size, bop over to the never-ending queue, faff and fuss for about an hour or so until you finally decide that you prefer the other dress anyway (plus, the lighting in those places sucks right?) Although for many women this is considered the standard shopping experience, not everyone shares this view; in fact, many steer clear of changing rooms all together. Why? Because they are part of the many women in our world who's attire, stance or hairstyle is not what society would consider ‘feminine’.
Picture this: a girl walks into a department store to search for a pair of trousers, and is immediately greeted by a screw-mouthed sales assistant who eyes her outfit and hair and whispers something about boys and confusion to her sniggering colleague. She then receives a puzzled look from the manager as she strolls through the men’s section and holds a plaid shirt against herself in the mirror. She ends up walking out, empty handed and embarrassed. As much as this sounds like a work of fiction, many of my friends have experienced just that, resulting in a massive drop in confidence and growing levels of self-doubt.

The truth is, many women who don’t adhere to the stereotypically feminine image have to endure this sort of treatment on a daily basis; if it’s not being greeted with mystified faces in a changing room, it’s having noses turned up in the female toilets or eyes scanning the torso for sign of breasts. Despite significant cultural developments regarding opinions on homosexuality and gender roles, women are still finding themselves being pushed into showing off their legs or wearing the highest heels. I have had countless occasions where my short-haired t-shirted girl friends have been asked whether sir would like milk with his tea or have been pointed in the direction of the men’s toilets – are we still living in such a narrow-minded world where a woman wearing baggy jeans can be mistaken for a man, or are we just being sufficiently ignorant? Are we lacking in knowledge and education, or are we simply not as accepting as we should be?

As much as I’d love to blame someone for this obtuseness, I find it hard to the point the finger at the older generations. My father was raised in a time where women dressed in miniskirts and permed their hair twice a week, and he frequently comments that contemporary women (cue the epic Polish accent) “wear too much trouser."As society’s views develop with the times, I’d like to see the education system step up a bit and freshen the minds of our youths; my gender studies began only when I hit university, a surprise considering how important they are in our everyday lives.

Either way, for many of my friends these questions will linger unanswered, and the incidents of mistaken gender identity will continue to exist in their lives; many are still affected by the comments and stares, others have simply given up on trying to change the world. In the meantime, we'll be heading over to H&M, Gap, and Banana Republic – their changing rooms are gender neutral. Win!


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