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Rebel Rebel! Breaking the Binary

In a place like St Andrews, where we are constantly trying to succeed in a battle of trendiness on Market Street, we might not think of how much our clothes form our personality more so than our appearance. While many of us contemplate whether the skirt is too high, others stare longingly at the section of the “other gender” and wonder if for once, they must just pick up that dress or that leather jacket. Standing at a battle of gender appearance on the stairs of H&M is something many students across this town and the country will face, many who are yet to express the Ziggy within them.

Androgyny, the term which denotes the ambiguity of someone’s gender — having both female and male characteristics, has defined much of music for many decades.

Looking to those who broke that binary, one can never ignore the works of those in the music industry who catalysed an androgynous movement in the 70s and 80s. It is simply impossible when we think of names like Bowie or Lennox to not picture Ziggy Stardust’s red lighting strike or Annie Lennox’s striking ginger hair. These names are but a few of many music artists whose gender fluid persona became just as important as their music, and who continue to influence the style of many artists today.

Arguably the most famous androgynous singer of our generation was David Bowie, whose musical persona Ziggy Stardust became one of very few to challenge the definition of gender at a time where the confines of gender were embedded into society. Bowie’s extraterrestrial bisexual trailblazer in Ziggy, donning that infamous red spiky haircut paired with the iconic lightning strike, formed an alter-ego which lit a fuse within pop culture, breaking into the world of “the other gender”. The entrance of Ziggy in 1972 with Bowie’s fifth studio album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, garnered a huge cult following, and if Bowie hadn’t created an icon which challenged grandma on what male and female meant, would we still be mourning the hole that “Starman” left with us in 2016?

A fellow redhead and Scotland’s female answer to Bowie, Annie Lennox’s male persona in The Eurthymics’ 1983 music video for “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”, proved to be yet another music artist who was ready to challenge the archaic norms of gender. Hailing from the North East of Scotland like myself, Annie Lennox’s wardrobe of suits, leather jackets and short hair proved a perfect match for the macabre tone of “Sweet Dreams” and devilishly confused society’s idea of what a woman should be.

Many other musicians’ fashion choices, like Robert Smith of The Cure’s famous red lipstick and Boy George’s long beaded hair, have become fellow relics of music today. Even in Scottish-American rock band Garbage’s 2001 song “Androgyny”, the term has continued to thwart music’s trajectory.

These strong choices have arguably transcended into current pop culture, as without the likes of Bowie, would we have the bold persona of Lady Gaga and her catalogue of supernatural costumes? Or if we look at Billie Eilish’s baggy clothes which many deem to be “boyish”, would she become just another cardboard cutout of a pop star? These performers are nothing without their gender-bending choices.

So to quote the Cranberries’ 1993 album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? is a question many of us should ask ourselves, though I understand it is a difficult one. In a small town which can easily be narrow-minded, we must challenge norms and we must challenge ourselves. Our choices in clothing become a part of us and we should not abide by standards which do not meet our inner selves. By that one choice, you speak a thousand words.

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