What is design? What does it cater to and why is it relevant to gender? These are few of the questions that popped into my mind when I first joined design school. An identity can revolve around so many miniscule aspects of a person. But when I think of gender, it inevitably reminds me of the three prevailing genders that are dominantly present in our society. Because any other preference is simply ‘not natural’.
Acceptance of gender roles comes at a cost. And when you do talk about it freely, society brands you as a liberal. The challenges of being a queer person in a country like India, with a rich heritage of queer mythology, is highly paradoxical. Because when you see how abundant our history is in terms of gender diversity, it’s insane to think that people are actually against it and even go as far as shunning the queers from society.
Gender, for some, is an expression. How they present themselves to the world is very important to them. However, the visual culture represented by booming fashion icons, the mainstream media and most of the influencers don’t pay attention to one important thing, which is, their freedom of identity. Ironically, it is this very visual culture that holds the heaviest responsibility, which I’ll talk about shortly.
I am a design student, where I am constantly taught how to unlearn the rules of society. So, there came a great question, ‘Should design be gendered? Should I think in two parallels?’ And then I read an article by Dr. Badrinarayan Srinivasan which said, ‘A designer should be gender fluid, at least at the brain function level.‘ One must empathise and systematise – and switch back and forth. The author also says that ‘a designer is somewhat of a Bissu (one of the five genders of the Indonesian community – Bugis), imbued with the magical knowledge and power – the power to create. Perhaps the secret to good design is this kind of mental gender mobility.’
And when I read that, I had an awesome epiphany – should design be genderless? No, instead, I think it should be gender rich. Why restrict something to be exclusive when you can make it inclusive of everything? Making design a part of our ingrained culture where everyone can relate is far better an option than making it neutral. The question of who to create for is eliminated and then you are equipped with the freedom to include every possible perspective. It also helps greatly in the forming of an equal society, where the discrimination, at least on the basis of design and apparel, is somewhat eliminated. For example, a pair of shoes can be designed to be worn by either a male or a female. Eliminating the distinction gives that pair of shoes a wider audience. Three years ago, I gave up on sandals. I started wearing unisex sneakers, long before I realised how it would help shape my identity.
When Louis Vuitton launched its Men’s spring collection 2020, later in the week, Gigi Hadid (a female supermodel) was seen on the streets wearing it. That is a prime example of gender richness, when you can wear something so elegantly, no one questions why, but only notices how beautiful it looks.
The visual culture I spoke about before is so dominant in today’s world that people undermine the power of it. In communication design, we study exactly how the presence of media affects the community. Whatever we see on our phone screens is highly sensitising you to the visual culture. Which is why design is so important, because it helps send the message in the right way. When the masses happen to open their newspapers or phone screens and see a particular icon, or somebody they idolise, breaking gender conventions, it influences them a lot more than when some sort of legal reform is brought about, and ideally, both these forms of changes need to go hand in hand. This is the quintessential role design plays today.
Design should be able to transcend all labels and be accessible in a universal manner, without judgement of who it would be utilised by. And I think that’s beautiful; because you create and inspire and become free from all these rules and surreal stereotypes and just create – for everybody. It makes me glad to go into the field with a purpose. Someone recently told me that the world desperately needed design or everything we believe in will be lost forever. I didn’t understand it then, but now that I’ve given it some thought, I get what she meant.
Anushi Bhamra is a first year design student from Pearl Academy, who pairs her loyal Converse with long flowing kurtis, which she believes is the perfect communion of cultures – acknowledging both western artistic influence and the Indian culture which she believes is rich, vibrant, ancient, and colourful. She is an avid reader, a stickler for perfection, best understood when you take a look at how organised and colour coordinated all her college notes and assignments are. An eternal romantic, colours and the emotions they convey, inspire her above all else. Her most powerful motivators are family, music, books and poetry. In a crowd of a million sweaty, screaming people, you’d find her sitting in the corner, holding Gibran’s Prophet in her hand, looking around, taking everything in.