Performing as Gender Mannequins

Bonjour. Hi, GM 1I’m Wendy, an Australian anthropology student visiting Montreal as an intern this summer, and now I’m a guest blogger on BILD this week which I’m pretty excited about. I also have my own blog (Wendy’s Out of Station). The research I do includes a focus on gender, which is sometimes a confusing area, so I invite you to come on a bit of a visual journey, and think about gender and identity.

Firstly, gender isn’t biological. Sure you’re born with genitals. Please don’t show me. And perhaps you like to get friendly and intimate with certain kinds of people. Again, please don’t show me. But, like your identity, you learn, evolve, live and perform your gender. You learn what behaviour you like. What clothes make you feel fabulous. You learn what people expect and sometimes you perform that for them. Gender M CoverDifferent cultures have different expectations of gender which can lead to funny and not so funny confusions. Sometimes you experiment, change, perform, try something a bit crazy just for fun, just to stretch yourself. Some days you’re the straight guy in the suit, while other days you’re… well not. Some days you just like to play at confusing people. I mean a joke can be entertaining if it’s just to confuse – but it’s totally not cool if you act to hurt or use someone.

GM3So, gender is a continuum of behaviours that people choose from so they can feel authentically themselves. Sadly too many people find that too confronting and choose to discriminate. And so I do research on how gender impacts people negatively by limiting their life choices, their rights, their freedom, and subjects them to harm. Whether you’re a woman being violated, or maybe a trans person being shut out of a bathroom where you feel safe, or a straight man struggling to live up to social expectations, gender can be used to hurt us all.

When I got to Montreal I saw this shop – Gender Mannequins and the name got me thinking about how in some ways we are all mannequins. I’m not saying that gender is not deeply meaningful and authentic and inherently who we are, just that we each live and choose how we portray ourselves everyday – some days to acclaim, some days to ridicule. GM2So I started looking for images around Montreal of different ways people sought to express gender identity in art. It turns out there’s a regular street art festival in Montreal, so there are plenty of colourful walls to think about, and there’s the incredible Montreal Museum of Fine Art for inspiration. I deliberately did not photograph any people – this is not a personal critique of individuals, just pictures of art and how people see the world looking at them through a gender lens.

For those of you feeling a little unsure about where this is going – it’s nothing new, just art and ideas about how people perceive themselves. What could be confronting about art?

Oh yes, Napoleon performed gender. People have always been performing gender.

Don’t worry, you see this all the time. It’s all around you. And sometimes, when you’re not aware, it challenges your assumptions and confronts your expectations.


We ascribe gender performance to the strangest things. Did you notice the speed hump warning on the image near the top of this post? A speed hump near the hidden buttocks of an almost naked woman. Wonder what that’s saying?

I know you don’t always stop to let yourself see inside your own performance, to see your gendered subtext. But it’s there. The show must go on.


Have you ever felt this way?

Ever felt like all the words and names are just falling out of you? Leaving you empty? Who would you be without labels?

What are you reaching for? With whom?

What fills the hole in your soul?

GM30Can you hear yourself reflected in the identity performances of others?





Have you ever looked fear, looked death, in the face and said…


You know you’re never too old to have gender, to have attitude, to hold the can of spray paint to your life. What will define what identity you hang on your mannequin today? Habit? Choice? Conformance? Rebellion? Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as you’re performing you.

All the images in this post are photographs taken by me in Montreal between June and August 2016. I have not been paid for any of them. Many of the pieces of art were/are in Montreal Museum of Fine Art, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. Particular credit and thanks to the  student exhibition “Models Wanted: Diversifying Body Image” which promotes self acceptance and acceptance of others. If only we could all accept and applaud the freedom of others to perform their gender, their stories, their lives. Merci.

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