Androgyny

Androgyny has been defined as physically comprising male and female in one. Androgyne is the name given to a person with these characteristics. The term is sometimes interchangeable with the word hermaphrodite. Sometimes the term pseudohermaphrodite may be used.

The instances of a person born with both male and female sexes is extremely rare. It is estimated that only 1 percent of the population is born in an androgynous way. There are times when androgyny has been referred to mistakenly as someone who has bisexual tendencies. This is inaccurate; androgyny is a physical condition, whereas bisexuality is considered within psychological orientation. The androgynous person may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual.

The word androgyny originates from the combination of two Greek words: andros for man and gyno or gyne for woman.

In certain cultures, androgyny is perceived in a mythical way. According to the "myth of creation" of the Dogon African tribe, androgyny is a sign of perfection. In other cases, the perception of a person born in this manner is that it is evil. In these instances, culturally, killing has taken place at birth.

Mythically, the term hermaphrodite is of Greek origin. According to Greek mythology, Hermaphroditos, the offspring of Hermes and Aphrodite, was said to be both male and female. The word, as attributed to androgyny in a nonmythical sense, is not accurate as someone cannot be born fully male and female. In Plato's Symposium, the character Aristophanes describes that, according to Greek legend, the sexes were created by Zeus splitting in half the two humans who had been joined as one. Further depictions of the male-female synthesis in mythical culture may be seen in the Hindu god Shiva who is often described as half-man and half-woman.

Androgyny comprises numerous types. Intersex is the terminology used for a person born with both male and female reproductive organs and may also be categorized as unclear male or female sex characteristics. It is considered to be a rare congenital condition, present at birth. The exposure to an abnormal level of either testosterone or estrogen hormones prior to birth may be one reason why androgyny occurs. Differences in the sexual organs may be pronounced or subtle. Additionally, it is also possible that intersexuality may become evident later, at puberty.

Intersexuality is not behavioral or psychological; it is physiological. Behavioral androgyny refers to the adopting of roles or activities associated with the opposite gender. Psychological androgyny indicates ambiguity regarding gender or sexual identity.

Androgynes may present themselves according to their intersexuality, as not male or female. This might be manifest in their clothing or accessories or their actions. It might be unclear what their gender is.

Psychologically, and within the realm of gender studies, much has been written about aspects of androgyny in a social, cultural or psychological sense. Thus, someone who does not present himself or herself in a clearly defined gender way may be said to be androgynous. This might refer to dress, behavior, gender or sexual identity. Gender role tests are a form of research study, as in Sandra Bem's BEM Sex Role Inventory, where classifications are made according to masculine, feminine, androgynous or undifferentiated.

Piel Cook defines androgyny as "the balanced blending of both masculine and feminine characteristics in a given person" in The Psychology of Gender and Sexuality. Further studies speak of androgyny relating to people who do not fit into society's characteristic gender roles. It is also noted that every person has both male and female hormones.

In the entertainment industry, androgyny has been utilized for a sense of appeal. The genderless portrayal of an artist might be seen to broaden the audience spectrum. Gender neutrality, or the use of it, may be seen in fashion, music and even sport. The late Michael Jackson, Boy George, Mick Jagger, Prince and David Bowie have all played with the notion of androgyny. David Beckham has also done so, along with Patti Smith, Angelina Jolie and Annie Lennox, who have toyed with androgynous imagery. Androgyny in these instances might refer to a hazy or dual sexuality or gender orientation, presented through clothing or behavior and coupled with an oftentimes enigmatic sense of non-defined "mystery."

The notion of a "genderless human psyche" as indicated in Hollywood Androgyny refers to what is considered to be a liberation from gender restrictions and limitations. This is a combination of mythical and psychological ideas, the former with the androgyne as a symbol of wisdom and self-sufficiency and the latter as a liberated genderless body.

Androgyny: Selected full-text books and articles

Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex
Alice Domurat Dreger.
Harvard University Press, 1998
Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality
Anne Fausto-Sterling.
Basic Books, 2000
Current Conceptions of Sex Roles and Sex Typing: Theory and Research
D. Bruce Carter.
Praeger, 1987
Librarian’s tip: "Androgyny" begins on p. 20
The Gender Question in Education: Theory, Pedagogy, and Politics
Ann Diller; Barbara Houston; Kathryn Pauly Morgan; Maryann Ayim.
Westview Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "The Ideal of Androgyny" begins on p. 67
Contemporary Feminist Thought
Hester Eisenstein.
G.K. Hall, 1983
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Androgyny and the Psychology of Women"
Women and Health Psychology: Mental Health Issues
Cheryl Brown Travis.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1988
Librarian’s tip: "Relational Androgyny" begins on p. 17
Curricular Track, Career Choice, and Androgyny among Adolescent Females
Wulff, Mary Beth; Steitz, Jean A.
Adolescence, Vol. 32, No. 125, Spring 1997
Gender Reversals and Gender Cultures: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives
Sabrina Petra Ramet.
Routledge, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 13 "The Procreative and Ritual Constitution of Female, Male, and Other: Androgynous Beings in the Cultural Imagination of the Bimin-Kuskusmin of Papua New Guinea"
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