Sunday, May 20, 2007


So, the question of the day: someone I know has asserted that a male owning a dress to go in drag at halloween proves that he's not sexist.

I think just the opposite, that drag is often undergirded by serious misogyny, especially drag as done by straight men at halloween. Nor do I think there's anything necessarily pro-woman about gay drag.

Movies about how men in dresses are really superior to women, you know, Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, To Wong Foo? Also not pro-woman.

So, what do you think, oh wisdom of the internet?


  1. Yeah... that to me sounds a lot like the point of Carnival, when elites dressed like peasants for a day to prove they weren't so superior. Except what it really did was to confirm the hierarchy.

  2. I think it depends. Certainly, wearing drag DOES NOT make a man not a sexist, and wearing drag DOES NOT make any man (gay or straight) necessarily pro-woman. It could just reinforce misogyny by playing to stereotypes.

    That said, I ALSO don't think that drag is inherently anti-woman--some men seem to wear drag out of a real admiration for (a certain kind of) female power, or to gain an appreciation for some of what it is to be a woman.

    There was an article, I think in the Atlantic or Harper's, a couple of years ago about a convention or something for straight men who like to dress in women's clothing--men who are, by and large, married, Republican, and all the rest. It was pretty interesting.

  3. Anonymous1:24 PM

    I would say that anyone who feels that one act can absolve him of accusations of sexism (or, for that matter, any other ism) is almost certainly ---ist.

    I mean that half-snarkily, half not. If you feel the need to prove you aren't, then you are. And I think that P/H and Flavia make good points, too.

  4. Anonymous1:27 PM

    I'm with you, Bardiac. I think hetero men in drag for Halloween is almost certainly misogynistic and that it plays on stereotypes. And I also think women who dress up as men for Halloween are guilty of emphasizing the same types of stereotypes.

    The only time I've seen men and women in drag where they weren't playing up stereotypes was at a drag show that was more about celebrating the blurring of gender lines rather than simply disguising oneself.


  5. Anonymous1:59 PM

    roaringgrrl, you are right on point--straight men dressing up as women is often called cross-dressing (particularly in queer communities), which generally has at least sexist overtones. Drag reffers to the practice of a gay male or female dressing up as and performing the opposite sex--I'm not sure if there is a such thing as straight drag. Costumes are an example of female impersonation, one tries to personify a certain version of femininity (hetero-patriarchal femininity), whereas drag is far more concerned with gender roles--hence the creation of not only a look but a character that might be thought of as a vehicle through which a group of (gay/lesbian) people can explore gender/sexuality itself (through performance--I know, so over-used these days, poor Judy).
    Bardiac, I have been reading your blog for some time now and I really do like it; but this post makes me very uncomfortable, the faintly homophobic undertone is so depressingly second-wave...equivocating drag with cross-dressing really is offensive in a number of ways...

  6. I think as everyone here has said in one way or another: context is key. In this case, it depends on the guy, the dress, and the performance. And it also depends on the audience and the occasion of the performance.

    But, of course, even the most sexist (or racist, etc.) stereotypes can be reappropriated and redeployed by the audience or the performer.

    Anywho, if this guy is anything like the guy *I* know who cross-dresses for Halloween (routinely), but mistakenly calls it drag, even as he hits on every woman in sight (using the cross-dressing as a false kind of safe zone), then, yeah, you're guy's definitely sexist. My guy's the kind of guy who would also say, "I can't be sexist--I wear a dress!"

    Jane Dark hits it on the head I think. It's a bit like "I can't be racist -- I have a black friend!"

  7. I'm with anon on this one, though I know Bardiac did not mean to be offensive. Most of the straight world knows little about the meanings of identity and dress, which is one of the things that can work to make gender-bending dress subversive at the same time it is means of exploration.

    Getting back to the main point, a man who slaps on a dress once a year, on a day when everybody else is dressing up as something they are not, does not impress me as somebody who would know the realities of male privilege and how to de-center himself from them.

  8. Someone above said context is all.

    Many years ago I bought a blonde wig of the hairstyle that a stereotypical Minneosta woman of Swedish exraction would wear. That, together with a mechanics outfit, I used to dress as "Mrs. Goodwrench."

    Another Halloween, while working in the Traffic Control Materials division of the Mining, I went as a stop sign.

    Context IS all.

    Mr. B.

    ps. I am neither a misogynist or a gay man, not that there would be anything terrible about the second option.

  9. Roaringgrrl and Anonymous are right that I should distinguish more carefully between drag as a performative act and halloween style cross-dressing. I'm sort of period bound sometimes, and so the term "cross-dressing" for me is about early modern theatrical practice. But I should recognize that most people alive today don't obsess about early modern theater and think in the 21st century.

    Pilgrim/Heretic, yes! it does indeed remind me of carnival type practices, especially in the ways halloween costuming tends to mock women.

    Flavia, interesting point; I think the halloween thing is really different from someone preferring clothing stereotypically assigned to another gender, or indeed, someone identifying with another gender.

    Jane, right! But the man wasn't actually in the conversation. I barely know him; another woman was merely asserting that his halloween costuming meant he wasn't sexist.

    Dr. V, indeed, context!

    Chaser, your point about recognizing male privilege is important, I think, in the halloween issue and elsewhere. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

    Mr B, context makes all the difference. And in most humor, there's an element of aggression, no?