DIY Social Change: Deconstructing Gender is an Individual Responsibility

by Frederick Loew

Coventry Patmore’s 1854 poem Angel in the House proposed an idea of what women should be like and shaped the gender norms of Victorian society. Patmore used his wife as an example, showing the people of Great Britain that a woman should be devoted to the family and submit to her husband’s will. This poem largely pushed the narrative that men and women reside in “separate spheres”, a sentiment that is still impacting us today. 

What’s particularly interesting is not the content of the poem but the way it’s ideas were popularized. The idea of an “Angel in the House”, while also a product of existing gender norms, was largely made popular by Queen Victoria. She played the role of the “Angel in the House” perfectly, setting an example for women to come.

While Queen Victoria had a large public influence, she still individually (however negatively) changed the gender norms of her time. Her everlasting influence corroborates the idea that gender norms can only be changed on a personal level. In order to deconstruct the constraining ideas of binary man or woman, it’s imperative that we challenge gender norms individually in everyday life. When it comes time for change, a simple conversation about gender norms has no meaning if it isn’t followed directly with individual action.

When I think of people who have changed the way that I see gender, I think of famous, influential people like Prince and Miley Cyrus, but also of the many friends, classmates, coworkers, teammates, coaches, teachers, and people in my life who I see on a daily basis. It’s by looking at the plethora of examples of individual gender expression that I am able to understand my own. Simply talking about fighting gender norms does almost nothing to my day-to-day life, but I find seeing everyday people expressing their gender accurately and not falling in line with society freeing and empowering. 

You have more influence on those around you than you think. Your personal expression, job, position, or even your attitude can drastically change someone else’s perception of their own gender. Individually, we each have the power to dismantle even the idea of gender! We all can only express our own gender, and, doing so accurately can deconstruct existing gender norms, making way for a happier and more inclusive society.

One of the most influential gender norms, the Angel in the House, was brought about by one person setting an example for others. So with that in mind, here’s some advice: it’s time to start caring about how people see you. Invite others to be persuaded by your interpretation of yourself and force them to be uncomfortable at times with your unfiltered expression. Challenge them to question our societally constructed gender norms. Invite yourself to be a Devil in the House.

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