Week 3: Drag

Video

For this week’s post, I chose to focus on black women’s sexuality and how it pertains to comedy. I came across a clip of Wanda Sykes’ comedy routine that demonstrates points made by hooks about black female bodies. Sykes’ states that, from a young age, girls are taught that they have something everyone wants and that it’s their job to protect themselves. She then goes on to theorize the use of a “detachable pussy,” which would allow women a greater amount of freedom due to the absence of the fear of being attacked taken advantage of. She also states that a detachable pussy would prevent a fear of being robbed or raped simply because without a pussy, women have nothing of value.

In this sense, Sykes’ is reducing women to sexual object or simply body parts similar to hooks’ depiction of historical European culture. hooks refers to black females on display stating, “[Guests] are not to look at her as a whole human being. They are to notice only certain parts” (p. 62). By placing value only on a woman’s vagina, Sykes reduces female sexuality to one body part and ignores the possibility of any other valuable traits.

Additionally, Sykes’ suggestion of danger for women who travel alone emphasizes gender roles in which women are taught to be fearful of being out late at night. This idea can be linked to hooks’ theory that the dream of racial equality is linked with a fantasy of assuming conventional sexist gender roles. Sykes’ use of sexist jokes and crude statements, while humorous, actually serve to perpetuate gender roles while devaluing women.

-Krystal McKenzie

Inferiority has many Forms

In the book, Imperial Leather by Anne McClintock she begins the argument that women are seen as inferior.  This can be demonstrated when cartographers would map out new lands and the maps would vaguely look like a women body.  This was also noticed when lands would receive names such as the virgin islands; these would be unmapped lands.  They were seen as virgin territories that needed to be “penetrated” by explorers and learned about (pg 24).  The art of discovering or penetrating was something only a man could do because he possessed a penis.  This gave him superiority.  This idea can be seen in Kathryn Morgan’s book The Gender Question in Education: Theory; Pedagogy & Politics.  She created a wheel to look at what traits were viewed as superior with privileges.

If you look above the domination line, it shows the traits that must be possessed in order for a group to be seen as dominant or the normative in a culture.  Being male is seen as a dominant sort.  This encourages the fact that women are looked down on and allows men to continue oppressing women because they have a vagina which according to Freud is seen as “the normal prototype of inferior organs” (McClintock 42).

Another category on the wheel is social class.  McClintock discusses how “sexual reproduction served as the paradigm of social order and disorder” (42).  This goes along with males thinking they are the dominant gender.  The penis gives them the normative and the that leads to a higher social class.

Looking back to another area that might give men the thinking that they are dominant is Adam and Eve.  In a book written by the psychologist Janet Hyde, there is an Adam and Eve story where Adam is created first and then Eve is created second from his rib (pg 23).  This shows that women are second to men and come from men but are not as “adequate” as men because they do not possess everything a man has, especially a penis.

Even many years after the discovery of the Americas and many feminists movements, women are still seen as inferior to men.

– Stephanie Banas

Androgyny in Fashion: Progressive or Presenting Old Problems in a New Way?

As presented in a previous post by Lucas, androgyny in the fashion world has become a popular topic of conversation. When discussing the different forms of drag and how the act of drag functions in queer and seemingly “gender normative” societies, I immediate thought of an article I read a few months ago on the use of “gender-bending” fashion.

(Image taken from Grrrl Beat)

Last July, the fairly new online magazine Grrrl Beatpublished the article “Dude Looks Like a Lady: Why Androgyny in Fashion is a Good Thing.”  In this reflection, the author mentions that the recent surge in androgynous modeling that has surfaced before in more subtle ways.

“Flappers from the 20s pushed the limits by cutting their hair short, reducing hemlines, ditching the corset, and openly discussing sexuality. A thin, boyish physique was also associated with the flapper image. Androgyny cropped up again during the 70s when David Bowie released Ziggy Stardust and wore makeup and bodysuits for concerts. 80s metal bands such as Motley Crue and Cinderella also touted an androgynous image with their teased hair, eyeliner, and platform boots.”

Unable to point to a reason for this current exploration of gender stereotypes and fashion, the author suggests that changing frames of mind and challenging the status quo could be the cause.  However, it is then boiled down to the notion that “fashion is fashion.” Whether it has something to do with progressing standards of the fashion world or a shift in the general public’s view of gender, the author wraps her article by stating that, regardless, this resurgence will help to bring issues of gender normatively and performance to a more mainstream audience, in hopes that more people will be forced to confront how important sex is to gender, and whether gender is relevant at all.

On the whole, I agree with the author quite a bit.  I think androgyny in the fashion world has helped to bring about much discussion about gender.  Getting people talking to talk about gender performance rather than creating assumptions about the topic is a step in the right direction.  Nevertheless, and I feel Judith Bulter as well as bell hooks would agree, I think it is also necessary to recognize the connections between these androgynous models and white patriarchal ideals of beauty.  For example, the four models shown below:

Left to right: Freja Beha Erichsen, Eliza Cummings, Agyness Deyn, Stella Tennant. (Image taken from Grrrl Beat)

These “gender-bending” models, with their slender facial structures, silky hair, pouting lips, and thin noses, are all white males that portray the common view of what is considered to be “high class” or “couture” standards for fashion.  Even though each may be challenging the social ideals of gender representation, they are not pushing the limits when it comes to representations of beauty within these gender categories.

-Elizabeth Nash

Reconstructing Black Masculinity

Please watch the video above!

Tyler Perry is representative of a man who portrays a crazy African American “Grandma” role in every play or movie that he is in. The most interesting thing is that he writes all of these scripts for both the movies and the plays. In the bell hooks, “Black Looks” book there is a chapter that she talks about Reconstructing Black Masculinity. I find this very interesting considering how he represents Madea. She is loud, ghetto, and not a very good representative of an African American “grandmother” . It saddens me as an African American that he chooses to portray her in this fashion in every role. It saddens me even more that he is a male playing this role. This makes me question the point of his identity. His attempt is to appeal to the African American audience in hopes that we will laugh and understand what he is portraying. I will admit, I used to watch every movie and play and die of hysterical laughter but now that I am older it saddens me. This is not how him as an African American man should portray an African American woman. His masculinity is constantly being question in the African American community contrary to what he has said in many interviews. If we as African Americans want respect we have to start playing better roles in society and showing that we are better than what we portray.

-Shannon Dixon

tags: black masculinity, hooks, tyler perry

Coming Out

Aside

In this week’s class discussion we examined Judith Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”. We looked at one quotation in particular and its relation to the idea of “the closet” and whether or not the act of coming out of the closet truly liberates a person. Butler argues, “To install myself within the terms of an identity category would be to turn against the sexuality that the category purports to describe” (pg. 121). In thinking about coming out of the closet, it becomes clear that some people actually just move from one closet to another. Society labels homosexuals and box them into identities, expecting certain behaviors that when not performed receive negative responses such as bullying. We can see these results of coming out of the closet and the harassment many young adults face today just by watching the news. By searching Jonah Mowry on youtube you can find a video posted a few months ago of a young boy about to start 8th grade expressing his fears because of the bullying he encounters for being homosexual. Another young man who posted a youtube video titled “It Gets Better” in hopes of giving other homosexual teens support recently committed suicide from years of bullying. Many lawmakers however are fighting to enact anti-bullying legislations, hopefully we will see a decline in the lives lost from bullying and homophobia

Commodification, Appropriation, Performativity and the Indy Pride Drag Lady

One of the ongoing themes of our in-class discussions over the past week and a half has been the commodification of radical subculture: Every frat boy who’s ever smoked a joint has a poster of Bob Marley hanging in his dorm room. White adolescent men make up the majority of hip-hop consumers. The lyrics to Lady Gaga’s anthem celebrating (liberal pluralistic) “diversity” are filled with racist slurs against the minorities she is supposedly trying to uplift.

Our discussion has generally been limited to racial appropriation within mainstream culture. With this week’s topic of drag within hooks’ and Butler’s articles, I’d like to examine the ways in which this phenomenon can impact and alter queer self-representation.

Take Indy Pride, for example. Pride festivals were originally intended to serve the dual functions of providing a (temporary) safe space for queer expression and increasing the visibility of these expressions. They had a radical purpose; they were supposed to make the world a queerer place.

This is not meant as some sort of glorified history of Pride festivals. Certainly, they had certain flaws from their very inception. However, I do wish to provide some sort of context for what is lost when radical spaces are commodified and appropriated.

Indy Pride 2011 had been both commodified and appropriated. In a crowd of people walking hand-in-hand (or leash-in-hand) with their same-sex partner were a number of relatively heteronormative-looking couples whose primary objective seemed to be photographing every instance of same-sex affection—seriously. Among the tables for Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and LGBT-friendly churches were booths where gay and lesbian couples could sign up for a shared membership at Sam’s Club. The message was clear: Queer was cool, queer was profitable.

Within this environment, I was not expecting much from the drag show. True, there was no cover to get in, so in that aspect, at least, capitalism had not yet triumphed. Yet there were also advertisements hung from the stage and played over the speakers between each performer, and with the July heat and a total lack of shade, it would have been nearly impossible for anyone not to purchase a $5 softdrink.

bell hooks discusses both the radical and conservative potentials of drag. Drag, she says, allowed her to temporarily inhabit a position of dominance within a patriarchal social order, but it also allowed black men to profit from that patriarchal social order by enacting caricatures of black women. Furthermore, the most positive representations of women performed by men in drag are generally representations of white womanhood, with black womanhood once again relegated to the sidelines.

The Indy Pride Bag Ladies had two drag kings among their numbers, but how these kings felt about temporarily performing masculinity, they didn’t say. The drag queens did little to disprove hooks’ criticisms of drag; they were by and large white men enacting white womanhood to songs originally performed by white female stars. However, there was one unconventional aspect of the Bag Ladies’ performance, which may have salvaged some sort of radical component of the day, at least from the Butlerian perspective of performativity: Despite their wigs, makeup, and too-tight gowns, none of the Bag Ladies were truly trying to hide the signs of their biological maleness. Some even had mustaches.

The Bag Ladies’ appearances were a striking reminder that femininity is never natural. Their performances can serve as a more dramatic way to see the performative nature of all gender—the real, repetitive work that goes into maintaining a gender ‘identity.’ Watching the Bag Ladies’ show may not have caused a radical shift in consciousness for everyone in the audience any more than signing up for a Sam’s Club membership allowed same-sex couples to enter into the privileged realm of capitalist heteronormativity. Nevertheless, it did open a brief gap in the seemingly seamless framework of gender norms.

— Jazzi Kelley

Butler and Paris is Burning

Judith Butler’s article “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” offers an interesting lens through which to examine Jennie Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning. According to Butler, “drag constitutes the mundane way in which genders are appropriated, theatricalized, worn and done; it implies that all gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation” (313). In other words, drag demonstrates that gender is not natural or fixed, but rather a performance. Butler takes this idea a step further, and argues that if this is true, then “there is no original or primary gender that drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original” (313). There is not a natural or authentic or true gender, but rather gender itself is only a copy of a copy. Gender presentations only have meaning through this repetition. For example, our understanding of masculinity is only intelligible because it has been repeated over and over again. There is no original or natural masculinity to present.

Butler’s analysis of gender and drag, when used to look at Paris is Burning, shows the ways in which established gender norms can be subverted and undermined. Drag demonstrates the way in which gender can be played with and manipulated, as well as the ways in which gender can be changed. Gender, like drag, is a performance. In the same way that the members of each house perform, we each perform our own genders everyday.

That is not to say, however, that Paris is Burning is problem free. As bell hooks, argues Livingston’s documentary portrays Black ballroom culture as obsessed with an “idealized fetishized vision of femininity that is white” (148). She finds this portrayal as problematic because it presents white capitalist patriarchy as the only meaningful way of life. Hooks also takes issue with the way that Livingston presents the documentary. She does not challenge or grapple with the fact that she is a white woman making a documentary about Black ballroom culture, and fails to address her white hegemonic position.

-Hannah Craddock