The Gender of Recycled Clothing

Friday, May 11, 2012

Spring is now fully upon us, bringing with it an anxiousness to rid oneself of all the habits and possession that we accumulate in the long cold winters. Some students are moving on to new lives having graduated, others may just be moving on to new places, leaving behind their cramped residence rooms, in lieu of less supervised and more spacious digs to live out their future university memories. In any case it has led to an abundance of perfectly good clothes, food, and furniture to end up on roadsides, in dumpsters, and in some cases in our Dump ‘N Run locations.

For those of you that haven’t seen the photos, or seen our posts, Dump ‘N Run is a time when we take donations or things we’ve found dumped around the University, sort it, clean it up and then donate it to local charities and shelters, saving hundreds pounds of perfectly good things from ending up in landfill sites. For those of you who have seen the photos and posts, yes we did in fact climb into dumpsters and sort through garbage, as yes the smell is as bad as we claim.

Now I’m not an organizationally inclined individual, so my recent condemnation to “the pit”, as we’ve nicknamed it, to sort through Dump ‘N Run things, has caused a temporary shift in my otherwise abstract thought process. Everything has a category, subcategory, and by extension a pile on the floor. Now this may seem silly to most but this has lead to an immense amount of internal conflict and self-reflection for me, especially when it comes to sorting clothes.

You see some of our categories are things like mens shirts and womens shirts, mens pants and womens pants, and then dresses/skirts. This means every shirt, pair of pants or dress/skirt has to be designated as a man’s or woman’s. Now at first I didn’t think much of it, some things just seemed to obviously belong to one pile or the other, but every now and then I would wander across something which I couldn’t decide to which pile it belonged. This got me thinking about what descriptors I was using to categorize clothes in.

For instance larger shirts often got grouped into the “mens” pile, while smaller ones “womens”, but that didn’t seem right as women can and do wear large size shirts, and men smaller ones. Colours and cuts also were a factor, but that too wasn’t taking into consideration men who may like more tailored cuts, or find that the colour pink really brings out their eyes, or women who like mens clothing cuts and patterns. This just lead to deeper and deeper contemplations, like “well why is this a descriptor I associate with a specific gender, and why is everything to be confined to such a binary system”.

I myself have been known to wear ‘mens’ clothing, and many of my male friends to wear ‘womens’ clothing, so who am I to reinforce age old gender stereotypes on people, especially on those who might not identify with the gender norms imposed by society.

So before I knew it I had one towering pile developing in front of me, filled with a mix of colours cuts, sizes, patterns and no longer subject to sub categorizations, or classifications. Now I know that many of you may think I took this sorting thing too far, and maybe that’s why my room is in a state of perpetual disaster, but I couldn’t help but to continue these contemplations on the gender assumptions we make which I feel are based on outdated systems of categorization.

I guess I’m not totally sure where I going with this, or whether there is a point to this blog at all. I suppose all I’m trying to do is engage you readers in my thought process, and share in this reflection of mine, in hopes that maybe we can all move forward being more conscious of the gender binaries and norms which exist in our society, and work to develop alternative structures, because well... sustainability is about more than just the environment.

~kira - campus sustainability coordinator
photo credit - jonathan rausseo

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