What follows is probably gonna
make a few folks pissed. I hereby apologize in advance to those who experience any
panty bunching while reading this particular post. I’m just thinkin’ out loud,
So here’s the thing. There’s a
long history of humorous cross-dressing and “drag” as comedy. Classic stuff. From
ancient times, through all of vaudeville, to Bugs Bunny and good ol’ Uncle
Miltie, to Bosom Buddies, to Klinger
in M*A*S*H and well beyond. In fact
my wife attended an Ivy League school that has a long tradition of ending every
variety show with a Can-can style
kick-line composed entirely of beskirted males. I’ve seen it at reunions and
it’s a blast. Always hilarious. The point is I’ve laughed at this kinda stuff
repeatedly over the years and have many friends in show biz (and out) who
partook and still partake.
Hell, I’m even capitalizing on
it with this post’s illustration.
All in good fun, and so forth.
But here’s what I think, when I
think. There’s something deeply wrong underlying it. Why exactly do we find it
hilarious when a guy dresses up as a woman?
Why isn’t it funny the other way
around? When Marlene Dietrich wore top hat and tails it wasn’t silly, it was erotic.
When Janelle Monáe performs in a suit & tie, it’s way hot. Face it, even “Mary Poppins” (Julie Andrews) in Victor Victoria was rockin’ the
dude-wear. If some woman in a perfume ad wakes up and slips into nothing but
her man’s dress shirt? Super sexy. Some man in a cologne ad shrugs on his lady’s
frilly blouse? Not so much.
And, frankly, it often feels
like there’s something deeply demeaning toward women when a male performer gets
laughs simply by dressing himself up as a female.
Brace yourself because I’m about
to make a really disturbing analogy. But I think it’s at least semi-valid. Here
goes. Minstrel shows. We don’t allow
them any more, thank God. Yet for years white male performers regularly dressed
up as African Americans – a brutally oppressed, beaten-down group. They’d doll
themselves up in the clichéd trappings of that group and prance about
pretending to be a part of that “jolly” exploited underclass for our
entertainment. They exaggerated every supposed characteristic folks of the time
believed about people of color: shuffling walks, wacky patterns of speech, banjoes,
watermelons, wild hair, massive lips, and blacker-than-blackface. “Look how silly and goofy them folks are! Ain’t
it funny when I, a white male, pretend to be one?”
We all, hopefully, get how
obscene and wrong that is now. But somehow it’s still okay nowadays for random gents to entertain the crowd by adopting
exaggerated versions of all the stuff our society currently thinks of as “female.”
These men pretend to be women (which – ahem – also happens to be an oppressed group, not coincidentally) by wearing
gaudy dresses, overstuffed bras, huge wigs, fishnet stockings, gigundo
eyelashes, and tons of ladled-on lipstick, all while teetering about on high
heels, clutching handbags, and squealing in high-pitched voices. “Look how silly and goofy them women are!
Ain’t it funny when I, a male, pretend to be one?”
Really creepy, when you think
Dietrich Does Drag. Because Damn.
Okay, so maybe I went off a bit
on a tangent there with my minstrel show analogy. Harsh, but I feel it’s legit,
at least on some level. I do, however, realize that some modern drag shows,
particularly non-comedic ones performed by yet another oppressed group (gay men), can sometimes be more of a
respectful celebration of “classic
old-Hollywood feminine glamour” than an attempt to belittle and demean women. Understood.
Oh, and speaking of non-comedic
drag that works, last summer I saw an amazing production of Richard III at the New Globe in London where, just as it was originally done, men
played every role, male and female. It was subtle, beautiful, and brilliant.
Looks like I not only lost my
train of thought there, but then missed the following train and was forced to
take a cab home.
Okay. I’m back. My real point is: the clothing we as a
society dress our daughters in is stuff we find hilarious when our sons wear,
but not the other way around. And that’s fundamentally
I think it’s all tied in with
how it’s still considered an insult
to call a boy a “girl,” how a slang word for female genitals is still used in the locker room to call a dude
“weak & cowardly,” and how it continues to be cruel to suggest a guy “runs
like a girl,” etc. Girl-ness is
still thought of as intrinsically inferior. Frivolous. And silly.
And therefore, when a guy
pretends to be one, it’s funny. Ha ha ha.
Bottom line time. As a life-long
feminist, I have to say that I feel like we will not have achieved true
equality until the day comes when either women have largely stopped wearing the
kinds of clothing that we find “hilarious” when men put on, or the day our attitudes toward so-called
“girly” clothing has changed enough so it’s no longer funny for either sex to wear it. (The latter would
be preferable because it’d suggest we’d’ve become a more accepting society in all gender directions.)
And with that (clumsily)
expressed, this particular fellow who is (in spite of a last name that implies
otherwise) of mostly Scottish descent, will straighten the pleats in his kilt, adjust
his undersized sporran, and sashay off into the daughterset.