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WOMENS WORDS

The Misogyny of Drag

The history of drag is not altogether clearcut, with BBC Bitesize, Sky History, New Face Fashion and others giving their own takes. Most agree that drag started in the theatre where men played the female parts because women were forbidden from performing by societal norms (as in ancient Greece and Rome) or by the church (for example in Shakespearian times). The societal misogyny that excluded women from everyday life restricting us to hearth and home is obvious.


But that was then – times have changed. Drag is not the same now, is it?

Drag Queen

RuPaul Charles is frequently cited as the reason for the current popularity of drag, and certainly “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has attracted large numbers of viewers for whom drag is now normalised.


RuPaul exploits the performative element of drag, tugging on those theatrical roots, and the contestants are expected to put on a show. They use “drag language” some of which is highly misogynistic. For example, a “fishy” drag queen is a man who looks like a woman at first glance because a woman’s vagina is said to smell like fish. And RuPaul frequently says that contestants need ‘Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent’.


This is obscene and based on a disgust of women and women’s bodies.

Dr Em writing in The Critic gives other examples of how women and women’s issues are used in drag:


“Celebrated men in drag have names that objectify, sexualise or make light of women’s issues. The SNP MP Mhairi Black “accompanied Nathan Mullen, a drag queen who performs under the name ‘FlowJob’, to Glencoats primary school” to read to children. “Anna Bortion” was listed as one of the funniest drag queen names by Pride alongside “Malestia Child”. Ginger Minj finished as a runner up on Ru Paul’s Drag Race.”


The “Drag Race” is positioned as entertainment, not real life, with the actors performing womanhood. A sexualised stereotype of womanhood that is burlesque and extreme, and frequently played for laughs. The dresses are sequinned, the heels are high and the make-up unreal – they are men playing out a sexualised fantasy of what other men think it means to be a woman.


We’re told that drag subverts gender norms, with claims that drag is gender bending, challenging gender norms and stereotypes. But what we see performed so enthusiastically embraces and exploits pornified stereotypes and takes them to another level. Drag queens act out the very stereotypes they claim to dismantle. The same stereotypes that, when displayed by a woman, mark her out as unsuitable to work with children.


We are expected to accept these men as children’s entertainers by day whilst overlooking the fact that drag queens are adult sex entertainers by night – and the objections of those who point this out are drowned out with cries of “killjoy” and “bigot”.


Why?


Because under a banner of “diversity and inclusion” anything and everything is good if it is different.

Women have been reading stories to our children forever – and that is so normal that, according to the new rules, it can’t be diverse and inclusive. No matter the stories, be they from different cultures, in different languages, or set in different countries, this will not be deemed “progressive”. Mothers reading to their children. Another stereotype, but oh so dull.


How much more progressive, how much more diverse and inclusive, to have men dressed as women reading to children, men doing womaning in an extreme and sexualised way. That’s what ticks those all-important diversity and inclusion boxes.


But women aren’t either boring mothers or pornified sex-objects. Yes, we’re the sex that bears children, the people who take on the bulk of caring responsibilities. We’re also accountants, teachers, firefighters and police officers. We come in all shapes and sizes and we can and do tick those inclusion and diversity boxes by explicitly refusing to appeal to stereotypes. And without appealing to sexualised presentations either.


If the aim is to help children to understand that men and women aren’t defined by stereotypes, show them men and women of all types.

Drag reinforces the idea that women are defined by clothes, hair and makeup, and some of the youngest children believe that the drag queen is a woman anyway, so what will their takeaway be?


Our children do not need people dressed as sex-workers reading to them, they need excellent stories. To gain a love of reading, children need stories that are engaging and meaningful. The best children’s stories help to develop empathy and expand children’s horizons and their imaginations, they improve language, concentration and develop a love of reading.


Let’s get back to focussing on the stories.

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