Sunday, 14 August 2016

Gender bender

I don't share the view that drag queens are sexist and offensive and mock women. A few of them maybe, but surely the great majority have nothing against women and are simply playing with the idea of femininity.

Most of them are obviously just having a laugh by sending up the whole female stereotype of tight dresses, dizzy heels, big hair and massive tits. Or they're simply enjoying wearing clothes they can't normally wear. Or they're seeing what it's like not being masculine for a while.

Okay, some drag queen performers make a point of insulting and belittling women, but then so do a lot of straight comedians. It's not drag that's sexist, it's women-hating individuals who happen to be in drag. Big difference.

The great thing about drag (or cross dressing) is the way it subverts the usual gender norms. You expect to see a bloke in the standard male outfit of suit and tie - or shirt and jeans - and suddenly there's a guy in a sequinned frock, blonde hair down to his waist and bright red lipstick.

That can only be good in a society where gender stereotypes are still so rigid that anyone who wears clothes of the "wrong gender" gets a rough ride.

I guess the most famous drag queen is RuPaul, and I don't recall anyone accusing him of being anti-women.

The other thing drag queens are accused of is making straight men "uncomfortable". Well, if that means they're disconcerted by men who don't wear what they're supposed to wear and flaunt their unorthodox clothing, that's fine by me. We all need to question these suffocating dress codes that stop us being what we want to be.

"Drag is a sarcastic spoof on culture, which allows us to laugh at ourselves" - RuPaul

Pic: Ireland's very own Panti Bliss

35 comments:

Wisewebwoman said...

I find the portrayal of women by most drag queens highly sexualized,full of crude innuendo, and, well, not remotely funny. I don't find blackface funny or the portrayal of "stupid" aboriginals funny or imitating Chinese accents funny, etc.
I honestly don't understand how finding feminine "performance" as a caricature can be humorous.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: I think you're mixing up different things here. Drag is simply playing with the idea of femininity. Blackface, imitating aboriginals or imitating Chinese accents have nothing to do with drag,and they are all obviously offensive. Yes, drag may be a caricature in the sense that it exaggerates typical female clothing and appearance, but that doesn't make it offensive. That would suggest that real women who are outlandishly dressed are themselves an offensive caricature.

But there are sharply opposing views on this and I'm interested in other people's opinions.

tammy j said...

I probably am the wrong person to comment on this with any knowledge.
I don't know any personally. but when I think of 'drag' I think of that movie we both enjoy...
"the bird cage."
I found it touching and wonderful!
I also feel that the simple words
"live and let live" are sufficient for most walks of life. if it doesn't hurt anyone else... who cares how one is attired or feels free to present himself herself!
everyone is so quick to take offense these days about everything.
perhaps I've seen them and just not have known it! I say... kudos to you whoever you are!
have you ever seen 'advanced style.' that blog that is all about women who LOVE to dress up and no longer care what the world thinks! it's fabulous!
I wouldn't dress that way but I love how they do! it's refreshing.
just google 'advanced style'
very amazing... and 'free to be me.'

Joanne Noragon said...

Drag is close to as old as history, and features drag kings as well as queens. It's expression; it's theater; it's not demeaning or belittling. Tammy's got it: "live and let live."

CheerfulMonk said...

I've never been upset by men in drag. The ones I've seen in movies/TV seem to be enjoying themselves, not putting other people down. I've never understood the fuss about gays and lesbians either.

Nick said...

Tammy: I agree, there was nothing offensive about the drag queen in The Bird Cage. Live and let live, as you rightly say. I love the clothes on Advanced Style - if only we could all dress like that! Unfortunately the idea of fixed gender roles and "gender-appropriate" clothing is still so prevalent that wearing what you want regardless is still a risky business.

Maria said...

We saw a drag queen show at our holiday beach once. They were beautifully dressed in shiny cabaret dresses, and with perfect make-up. They made sarcastic jokes and were actually teasing and picking on men in the audience; if they spoke to a woman, it was only to tease her husband or boyfriend.
Greetings Maria x

Nick said...

Joanne: Indeed, drag goes back centuries, and shouldn't be offensive if it's simply a celebration of over-the-top femininity.

Jean: I don't understand all the fuss either. Some people declare themselves offended by virtually anything, even if it has no effect whatever on their own lives.

Nick said...

Maria: That's quite common to drag acts I think, which is why some men complain it makes them "uncomfortable". Well, lighten up, boys, and shed your uptight masculinity now and then - you'll enjoy it!

kylie said...

Nick,
When you see drag, you dont expect to see a bloke in men's clothes, you expect to see a bloke dressed up as an extremely stereotypical and caricatured woman. Drag doesn't offend me but there's no way in the world that you can truthfully say it subverts stereotypes.

Where are the drag queens with minimal makeup (obviously it wouldn't work if they were natural) or short hair or jeans and sneakers?

Nick said...

Kylie: Well, minimal make-up, short hair, jeans and sneakers wouldn't be very dramatic, would it, seeing as that's what a lot of women wear anyway. And if you don't think the crazy extremes of drag are subverting stereotypes, it's hard to think of anything that would. Conchita Wurst maybe, with her beard? Or any bearded, hairy man wearing a dress?

Bijoux said...

You don't see it as making fun of women? Even a little bit?

It's interesting that there's no counterpart with women in shows depicting macho males.

Ursula said...

Sorry, Nick, you have blown your cover.

On your blog you will go on and on and on and on about your vision of "misogyny". You will blow it out of all proportion. And yet, here we are, and how sweet: You can NOT see anything wrong with cross dressers.

Neither can I. But that's not the point. The point is that some, by no means all, cross dressers do take the piss. And it's not funny.

AND, do not kid yourself: A man in a dress is still a man. Albeit one who takes himself seriously indeed. I know this because, not that long ago, I stood outside my house, forlorn and trying to decide which direction to take when three "women" walked towards me. The one in the middle looked like thunder. And I hadn't even said anything yet. In fact, I hadn't even noticed "her". Let's just say that I am glad she didn't swing me one. May I also say that she looked ridiculous, a sad caricature of herself.

Other than that I am totally in love, always have been since I watched the film for the first time, with Jack Lemmon in "Some like it hot". But then his attire and tottering on high heels was born of necessity and had a purpose.

U

Nick said...

Bijoux: I haven't seen many drag acts, the drag queens I see are mainly the ones at Gay Pride Parades, so maybe I'm a bit ignorant and you're more up to speed than I am. I have to say the drag queens at Gay Pride don't show any sign of ridiculing women, and the women present don't criticise them. That's all I know.

There are female drag artists but not that many. Maybe it's not so much fun dressing as a bloke?

Nick said...

Ursula: It may surprise you to learn that I agree with all your points. Yes, some cross dressers take the piss, but surely that's not because they're cross-dressers, it's because they're just nasty. Yes, a man in a dress is still a man. Obviously. Yes, some cross-dressing men look ridiculous - they have no idea how to do it properly. And yes, I love Some Like It Hot. But I don't think the drag was really a necessity, just a whacky plot device.

kylie said...

well what I am saying is that drag queens choose to represent the very most cliched version of femininity. Jeans and sneakers are probably more normal than gowns and up-dos, so why pick the gowns? because it's a caricature.

Conchita Wurst definitely subverts every stereotype in the book. I like to think I am open minded but Conchita Wurst is beyond my ability to comprehend. She just leaves me baffled (and cold)

Ms Scarlet said...

Have you ever seen The Accused - Tracie's Story? Sean Bean does an amazing job as a cross dresser. I recommend.
Sx

Nick said...

Kylie: It may be a caricature, but surely the point is that they're taking the feminine stereotype to a crazy and hilarious extreme? Jeans and sneakers would defeat the whole object because they're so ordinary! Conchita Wurst merges male and female in a wonderfully stylish way. What's not to like?

Scarlet: Never seen it, never heard of it! I must investigate.

mia more said...

I can only say : let people live the way they want to live. Who said that men must wear trousers ? All these dress codes are ridiculous.My husband has a Japanese friend who wears skirts and he looks just great.I had the pleasure to be introduced to Conchita Wurst and get into a very nice conversation. He /she is a wonderful intelligent and charismatic person.I was raised by my parents to neverjudge people without knowing them and their background. It's a good advice and diversity is what makes life so thrilling .
Mia More

Nick said...

Mia: Exactly, let people live the way they want to live. Men can look rather wonderful in a skirt. Glad you enjoyed meeting Conchita Wurst. Indeed, judging people without knowing anything about them is foolish. Appearance is so often totally misleading.

Nick said...

Clearly attitudes to drag vary enormously, and it seems to be closely related to what sort of drag queen you've come across - the nasty, bitchy, women-hating ones or the happy, playful, pro-women ones. I don't think I've ever come across the former, but undoubtedly they exist.

Rummuser said...

I have never seen one except in some movies. They are not visible in India.

Nick said...

Ramana: That surprises me. You're missing out on an interesting tradition! And clearly a controversial one....

Hattie said...

There is an episode of Roseanne in male drag which is kind of horrifying. Going to a bar, chugging beers, harassing women,trash talking...
My aunt loved the lavish costume shows at Finocchios in San Francisco. Not all the performers were gay. The stereotype was that they were way more beautiful than mere real women.
A person who sends up drag in an interesting way is Dina Martina, a Seattle comedian. She is terribly funny! There are clips on You Tube.
Drag comedy does not interest me much, except for the fabulous Dina. After all, the ab-fab ladies are real women and much funnier than comedy drag queens. I think a lot of their comedy is that they are making fun of drag comedy stereotypes of female behavior.
A good bit of comedy was and still is based on the repression of male homosexual desire. Watching old comedy sketches by Jonathan Winters on you tube brought this to mind for me.
Just rambling thoughts in the early morning here.

Nick said...

Hattie: I like the idea of women making fun of drag artists who're making fun of female stereotypes. And I agree, Patsy of Ab Fab is much funnier than a lot of drag artists. She's sending up female stereotypes all the way. Drag comedy doesn't interest me either, but I love all the hyper-feminine drag queens at the Gay Pride Parades.

Jenny Woolf said...

Quite a lot of gay women in London seem to be having fun being fullblown drag queens. So I guess they are laughing at male drag artists? what do you think? It seems good humoured anyway

Nick said...

Jenny: Interesting - that must be a fairly recent development. Perhaps they're just fooling around with the idea of masculinity, the same as drag queens sending up femininity? If it's good humoured, it must be okay!

helen devries said...

There were female music hall artistes who dressed as men...

For me, the line is drawn when a chap who wants to dress as a woman decides to use the ladies' loo.

Or decides to stand as an officer in the women's section of a Student Union.

I find drag queens unappealing...but equally unappealing is the type of woman they choose to depict..

Nick said...

Helen: I'm not sure if you're referring to cross dressers or transgender people. A cross dresser shouldn't be claiming things that only born women are entitled to, but transgender women are different because they've taken a female identity permanently and are entitled to whatever born women are entitled to. Though I can see it's awkward if someone whose appearance is still rather ambiguous insists on using a women's loo.

Liz Hinds said...

What a beautiful woman Panti Bliss makes!

Nick said...

Liz: Doesn't she just!

Suburbia said...

I've never contemplated them ...will go away and think...

Nick said...

Suburbia: Maybe you've never encountered any drag queens? If you had, you'd probably have a clear opinion one way or the other....

Secret Agent Woman said...

I am not outrageously offended by drag queens, but I do think they are presenting women in a negative way. I think they are indeed making fun of women.

Nick said...

Agent: Interesting that so many of you think drag queens present women negatively. I need to do a bit of research and maybe revise my own opinions accordingly.