Am I the only person who saw the irony in the revelation in episode 5 that a RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under contestant had performed blackface in the past? Mocking exaggerated racial stereotypes. Nasty. By someone who is mocking exaggerated female stereotypes. Also nasty surely. Or am I missing something?
I guess you could argue that all gender is performative and none more so than hyper femininity, the kind often modelled by certain social media stars, but not, I have to say, by any women I know. Maybe that’s just me. But then wasn’t performance one of the justifications for blackface or mocking any race that wasn’t mainstream? Chill kiddo. It’s just performance. Or satire. Or silly cartoonish fun. Whatever, that’s entertainment.
I dunno, womanface just feels so regressive. The towering confection of hair, the towering heels, the hyperbolic make-up, the shrieking, the bitchiness — a man’s idea of women at their worst. If it’s just fun or performance these drag artists are after why the need to appropriate extreme femininity as entertainment? Why not emulate, say, a 16th or 17th century French or English gentleman? The kind of fancy fellow who capered around town in massive powdered wigs, tights, velvet, lace, ribbons, petticoat breeches and ruffles. Upper class men of that era even wore heels as a sign of status since only the non-working wealthy could afford to totter around in such footwear.
Yep, I know there are drag kings, that is women who perform as caricatures of hyper-masculine men, but statisically they’re probably as rare as female sexual offenders.
Google tells me drag goes back to Shakespearean theatre when only men were permitted to tread the boards and thus male actors had to take on women’s roles. Great. So drag arose from the suppression of women. Apparently the word drag refers to the dragging of female clothing across the floor.
Wiki reports that in the US drag was embraced by blackface minstrel shows which eventually expanded their mockery of African-American men to include African-American women. Yikes. It then evolved into vaudeville and music, dance and comedy performances at nightclubs.
Some people say blackface is more offensive than womanface since blackface is always used to make fun of and ridicule black people. Womanface, on the other hand, pays homage to women, albeit a homage taken to extremes. It’s the difference in intent that matters. Hmmm maybe but drag isn’t always a champion of feminism. Too often drag can be shallow and sexist. The same contestant taken to task for blackface drag in their youth was also the contestant who thought it funny to call vaginas ‘beef curtains’ and ‘hairy clams.’ An apology for performing blackface was required and given. Will an apology be required for insulting women this way? I doubt it and not just because the contestant has left.
Although, while I’m in self-interrogation mode, I have to question my own reaction to female impersonators such as Brendan O’Carroll in Mrs Brown’s Boys. I’ve never been a fan, finding the character and the show puerile probably because the humour comes from the fact that we all know this woman is really a man. Kind of a sniggering Benny Hill-esque version of drag. But I do enjoy the ascerbic yet much more feminised Dame Edna Everage who, I would argue, is a distinctive character, not a caricature.
One of the main reasons I’m not really fond of drag is because I, and many women I know, have spent a lifetime attempting to liberate ourselves from the strictures of the kind of feminine performance drag embraces. All that frou-frou carry-on about make-up and hair etc irritates women like us, no matter who is wanging on about it. Could it be that drag is acting out a male nostalgia for a type of hyper feminine woman who is fading from view?
A friend asked me to consider the possibility that drag is not exploitative of women but, instead, plays with and disrupts gender norms. That might be true if drag artists messed with male and female stereotypes to confuse gender expectations but mostly all I see is exaggerated femininity. An endless parade of bitchin’ babes and bimbos.
Admittedly, eons ago, when just about everything not heteronormative and beige was regarded as transgressive, I did go to the occasional drag show in seedy nightclubs and thought them great fun, simply because they weren’t heteronormative and beige. Nowadays I just find them passē.
But everything changes. Even drag. One day we may find it unacceptable to portray women in this way. It’s also possible that the beginning of the end for drag is that we’re no longer shocked by these outrageous performances. We’re all so onboard with womanface that we’ve welcomed these shows into the nation’s living rooms in the guise of family entertainment. Acceptance. Surely the biggest drag of all.