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Sep 11 2009

Hugs, Twisty: The color of womanhood, plus I suck all the fun out of a Bette Davis classic

Staffers at Spinster HQ (namely, me and my secretary Phil) are always delighted when an incoming email is brief. We’re even more delighted when it does not contain some variation on the “your head is up your ass” theme. We’re even more delighted still when its author more or less desperately confides that s/he is in deep agony — and, indeed, will probably have to be hospitalized — unless my views on “Now, Voyager” are revealed at once.

Pinko Punko hits the trifecta with the following communiqué.

[Dear Jill,]

I feel like maybe [this site] had already come down the barf slide, but the floral utility knife was nice.

Also, I would love to add “Now, Voyager” to the list of classic films I’d like to see in the IBTP film guide.

I hope you aren’t being inundated with plastic army dudes.

PP

Dear PP,

Let us first address the website to which you link, LadiesToolsOnline. At this pinkinated shopping site, Ladies can purchase pink hammers, pink slip-joint pliers, and pink utility belts, as well as non-pink products that nevertheless preserve a lady’s surrendered-womanhood, such as the “Family Glue Gun and Stapler Set” or the “3-Piece Cutting Tool Kit-RED FLORAL” (which actually has 4 pieces, but you know, math is hard).

You may not know this, Pinko, but women — or, as LadiesToolsOnline calls us, “Diva’s” — are often physically and psychologically incapable of prolonged separation from the color pink. This is the main reason we get ourselves entangled with men and have babies. It’s so we can surround ourselves with mountains of pink laundry.

For centuries, power tools and utility knives have not been pink. This is the main reason women of yore traditionally spent all their time shopping and getting their nails done, instead of doing shit around the house with implements the non-pink color of which threatens their emotional health. Fortunately for today’s woman-on-the-go, whose sacred duty is to be empowerful and feminine at the same time, purse-sized 26-piece mini-tool sets now come in pink, for $6.99.

The LadiesToolsOnline FAQ explains why their website exists: like doing math, it’s hard “to pick the right hammer.” It is often better, they suggest, to do-it-yourself than to “cash in the spa vacation fund” to hire somebody who knows what they’re doing. But here’s a handy trick if you get in over your head: call the fire department and rescue is on the way! “Every firehouse seems to have a plumber, carpenter, painter, etc. ready to help on their days off.” Who knew?

That there is a whole section devoted to “security” on a hardware site might have baffled you. Allow me to splain. This is a site purveying pink tools of indeterminate manufacture to women who cannot choose a hammer on their own. It is common knowledge that women live in a perpetual state of fear, and that crap like hammers may be more easily sold to them when their fear is excited and exploited. Thus does LadiesToolsOnline suggest helpfully that women whose home security has been compromised should “call the police and hope they catch the bad guys.” Furthermore, the site devotes a whole paragraph to the heretofore nebulous concept that, for “piece-of-mind,” you should lock your house.

Sound advice for imbecilic ladies and people who may be visiting from some other planet where they don’t have doors! I just can’t understand, Pinko, why you find this site barf-worthy, when it’s just trying to preserve women’s spa vacation funds and keep us safely locked in our homes.

But “Now, Voyager“! Dude, you know I love Bette Davis like an old pair of jeans, but this flick is just a big fat advertisement for patriarchal pukeology. Not only is it profoundly anti-Spinster (the horror), it actually pathologizes non-compliance with the Feminine Beauty Mandate.* Charlotte, the Bette Davis character, is sent to the loony bin because she is having a psychotic break as a result of her frumpiness and lack of personality-sparkle. Other misogynist markers:

– Motherhood demonized: Charlotte’s villainous mother eats her own young; the kid Tina’s mother’s similar occupation is to prevent the happiness of her family at all costs.

– The ugly-duckling-into-swan/unattractiveness-as-mental-illness theme appears in a second iteration; the kid Tina, who wears glasses to signify that she is a horrific spinster-in-training, is a mini-Bette similarly in need of psychiatry. Incidentally, although it is of little patriarchy-blaming relevance, that mega-annoying kid character makes me want to tear my own face off.

– Psychiatry (as practiced by wise white dudes who wield absolute power over the hysterical nutjobs) is portrayed as the One True Path to womanly fulfillment. Davis’ character is so fucked up that it takes Paul Henreid and Claude Rains — not one but two handsome, dudely, sympathetic leading men — to fix her. Aack!

– Charlotte can’t get a boyfriend until she loses weight, gets a makeover, slips into some haute couture, and sails into Rio, one of the most phallic ports on Earth.

– Her married lover Jerry is an asshole disguised as a romantic. He supposedly loves Charlotte but won’t divorce his wife; he abandons his kid, whom he also claims to love, in an asylum; and at the end he ditches’em both, leaving Charlotte stuck raising his goddam kid. But Charlotte’s practically giddy with selfless gratefulosity. And we’re supposed to like this chump Jerry?

– Famous line at the end makes no sense: “Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars!” What, their love is so cosmic that she doesn’t need happiness to be happy? Pah!

– Although Charlotte appears to be somewhat transformed and empowerful at the end, she remains emotionally tethered to Jerry, and we know that she will never have a life of her own, and that all she has found is the ability to wear designer clothes. To borrow a deeply satisfying quip from Shakesville: Fail!

The film’s only redeeming features are dapper little Claude Rains, who is just adorable in every film he ever did, and of course Davis herself, who easily mesmerizes even when stuck slurping out ghastly sentimental material like “Now, Voyager.”

Meanwhile, the plastic army man incursion appears to have abated entirely; a security sweep of Sectors 3 and 9 revealed no plastic paratrooping activity. Looks like the little fuckers have declared a ceasefire.

Hugs,
Twisty

(P.S. Twisty’s still on Opstreperon, but “Hugs, Jill” just doesn’t have the right ring.)

–––––––––––––––
*The Feminine Beauty Mandate states that all members of the sex class, i.e. all women, should endeavor to preserve themselves perpetually in a condition that the casual male ogler can easily describe as “fuckable.”

49 comments

  1. Notorious Ph.D.

    I cruised over to the site for pink tools (interpret that last two-word phrase any way you like). I think I have exclamation point poisoning.

  2. Pinko Punko

    Jill-

    When I was watching it, that is exactly what I thought you would say, and I was agreeing completely in real time. I was astounded at how good I thought Bette Davis was, but also how the film was slowly climbing the rungs of the deeply strange- not in Gilda territory- but moving up.

    One additional point- the deeply horrible niece’s behavior of traumatizing Charlotte is held up as entirely understandable, and when Charlotte stands up to her niece, it is her treating the niece in kind (calling her “roly poly”) as if the most natural state is women policing each others looks and behavior.

    Allow me to explain my secret hope for the IBTP book of capsule film reviews: they will all be similar pithy versions of the above where the scales are ripped from our eyes concerning the totally insane tropes presented to us as deeply natural. Let’s use a kid as a weird sexual pawn! Great idea!

    Some old movies are harder to pin down, but Now, Voyager seemed like a cosmic joke aimed directly at the bunkhouse. I guess the entire P that we B is that way too, but we’re all in the bunkhouse on that, whether we know it or not.

  3. BMS

    Gee that’s a swell hammer – if you’re tacking upholstery fabric.

    Personally I like my 24 oz waffle-pattern framing hammer with the fiberglass handle.

  4. Notorious Ph.D.

    I’m watching it online right now, and I’m also mortified at the treatment that the absent wife gets: her dog of a husband is off falling in love with a younger woman in some exotic locale, and a family friend trashes the wife for, among other things, trying to get an abortion because she didn’t want a second child.

  5. Stella

    This movie has always struck me as an extended treatment of the Donna-Reed-as-librarian-spinster alternate universe bit in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (another movie I continue to have distinctly mixed reactions to, as it somehow manages to be both a populist/socialist rallying cry and a vehicle for neatly stripping the ambitions from uppity Everymen – nevermind the virgin/whore stuff it’s got going on).

    For some reason, just like that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” that was intended to be deeply frightening, “Now, Voyager” just makes me laugh. I’m sure Bette Davis was in on the joke. Too bad she didn’t mature into her full abilities in the post-Steinem era, eh? Of course her unapologetically anacronistic personality is her main draw, don’t you agree?

  6. rootlesscosmo

    all she has found is the ability to wear designer clothes.

    I haven’t seen “Now, Voyager” in years, but doesn’t she also find the ability to be a Mommy to the ghastly kid? (Not that she’ll live very long if Henreid keeps lighting two cigarettes in his mouth and then putting one of them into hers.)

    A lot of Rains’ characters do have that adorable (not to say twinkly) thing going, though not in “The Invisible Man” or “Obsession” (also with Davis and Henreid.) And he might be a little too adorable in “Caesar and Cleopatra,” though most of the blame falls on Shaw. His role has more complexity in Hitchcock’s howlingly misogynist “Notorious”–Rains is the main villain, yet also a helpless victim of his ruthless Nazi mom.

  7. birkwearingblamer

    I’ve got a circa 1940′s hammer that’s perfect for smashing the patriarchy. Back then, they made hammers heavy and strong. Doubles as a handy weapon. It’s worn and painted red at some point. I’ll show you a hammer, wussy hammer marketers.

  8. Pinko Punko

    I think Notorious has a current of anti-misogyny under its misogyny.

    I am still deeply impressed with Bette Davis.

  9. Jill

    I think Notorious has a current of anti-misogyny under its misogyny.

    That’s what everyone kept trying to tell me about “Dr Strangelove,” a film that contains only 1 female character, a pin-up model in a bikini.

    It is tempting to believe it about “Notorious,” too, but Cary Grant is really fucking mean to Ingrid Bergman in that movie on accounta she’s supposedly this loose woman sleeping with the enemy, and then we’re supposed to forgive him? Pah. I’ve said it before, but I never tire of it: if you remove “The Erstwhile Contents of Her Vagina” from the list of approved plot devices, you kill off the majority of the literary canon.

  10. yttik

    For 40 years I’ve been fighting against a well funded, massive conspiracy to keep tools out of my hands. I’ve tried purchasing some pink ones believing perhaps that fear of femininity would allow me to retain ownership of them. I’ve even resorted to stashing a pink screwdriver in an old kotex box for safe keeping.

    I don’t have any statistics or studies to prove this patriarchal tool prevention conspiracy, all I have is anecdotes and the ability to rewire my dashboard with a butter knife and piece of broken can opener.

  11. Jill

    OK, look, I have no more wish to rid the world of anecdotes than I have to rid it of sex, men, or babies. I merely point out that, in an argument scenario, anecdotes are accorded a different weight than is analysis. I point this out because often commenters mistake the one for the other. That is all.

  12. Pinko Punko

    CG was super mean to IB in Notorious, but I guess I felt that the audience was supposed to view that as a negative, that that was Devlin’s flaw, not Ingrid Bergman’s character’s behavior. I know, I know, I’m likely clinging to something.

    I prefer the neologism “anecdata” for arguments ab anecdote.

  13. Hedgepig

    LOL @ “anecdata”. Love it!

  14. Sniper

    The film’s only redeeming features are dapper little Claude Rains, who is just adorable in every film he ever did, and of course Davis herself, who easily mesmerizes even when stuck slurping out ghastly sentimental material like “Now, Voyager.”

    Hah! I almost never comment, but I also watched Now, Voyager and immediately thought of your take on it. Men know best! Even when they palm off their own children on strangers! Heavy eyebrows are a sign of madness!

    But yeah, Claude Rains and Bette Davis are great. I think that Claude Rains is one of the main reasons Notorious is so perverse. He outcharms Cary Grant while playing a wife-murdering Nazi. Hitchcock really, reallly didn’t like women.

  15. Jezebella

    Oh, rootlesscosmo, don’t be so silly! Back then, cigarettes were *good for you*.

  16. Suzan

    And no one wants that!

    Great dissection of “Now Voyager,” which I just saw (for the eleventy-seventh time) the other night.

    And thought exactly what you did, but it didn’t spoil it for me.

    Or the closing line.

    S

    I’ve said it before, but I never tire of it: if you remove “The Erstwhile Contents of Her Vagina” from the list of approved plot devices, you kill off the majority of the literary canon.

  17. Pinko Punko

    Hitch treated women very poorly on his sets, but I found Ingrid Bergman’s character to be completely sympathetic in Notorious.

    Claude Rains was nice and oily in that one. Charming and civil, even when they drove poor Emil up to Petropolis. Also the kindly old Dr.- this was such a Hitch thing- he’s not sympathetic to Nazis, he just to be as perverse as possible.

    TCM also had Rains being hilarious as SATAN, old fire pants himself, with Paul Muni as a crazy mobster in Angel on My Shoulder.

  18. Unree

    Hitchcock was a trainwreck whose misogyny wasn’t the half of his awfulness. I read Donald Spoto’s biography of him twenty years ago and still heave when I hear his name. His movies don’t hold up too well, either.

  19. speedbudget

    Haven’t read comments yet. Just had to say:

    For fuck’s sake, Jill, that was some stellar blaming.

    And: I have never heard of this movie, but I almost puked my guts reading the Wikipedia entry. I mean, really? With this movie out there, having hit all the major points of the patriarchy AND gotten Academy Award nods, what need is there of the rest of the moronic drivel Hollywood churns out in order to keep us (the Ladydeez) aware of our proper place? I mean, the synopsis sounds like a goddamn patriarchy primer.

  20. Uppity

    My only acquiescence to my femininity in tool selection is a lighter weight model. Nigel`s hammer drill is a two-hander for me, makes for awkward construction attempts.

  21. Jill

    I just found out it’s Claude Rains Month on TCM! Having been distracted by other stuff, I haven’t watched in a while. Is this what prompted the Now Voyager remarks? Did they show it recently?

    Speedbudget, I must tell you, since you haven’t seen the film, that it’s iconic in all respects, and that you could sit down and enjoy it as well as, if not better than, any other film there is without thinking a thing about it. Hollywood is the global hub of western femininity; nothing has ever come out of there that wasn’t, as you say, a goddam patriarchy primer.

  22. Sniper

    Is this what prompted the Now Voyager remarks? Did they show it recently?

    Yes, exactly. They mentioned that Bette Davis loved working with Claude Rains, so they did a bunch of movies together. I watched Now Voyager for the first time, and I’m glad I did. It’s an “great movie” (blahblahblah) but it’s also a wonderful artifact to those of us interested in blaming and culture. Morally, it’s completely indefensible but yeah, we’re suppposed to think that Jerry is a great guy and that Charlotte’s problems are easily solved by a makeover and having a phantom man in her life.

    What’s interesting is that the Rains character, a psychiatrist, first bonds with Charlotte over her art. She crafts wonderful little boxes out of ivory and whatnot and actually gives him one that he genuinely seems to treasure. It’s obvious that she’s be happiest living alone in a little cottage somewhere where she could create in peace, but no, far better to force her to deal with the world on it’s terms. Sigh.

  23. Pinko Punko

    J-

    I am new to TCM- we’ve never had it before- they played Now, Voyager on Tuesday. They followed it with Deception (I was too tired), and they preceded it with Angel on My Shoulder (pretty funny the parts I saw) and another Here Comes Mr. Jordan (I missed it). I see that Star of the Month is Wednesdays. So there are three more Wednesdays filled with Claude.

    Leaving out the Rains as dudely savior in Now, Voyager, I also liked the part about her art- I felt the film was giving legitimacy to such a pursuit (not that films or dudes should be needed for choices to be legitimized), but it was one of the better parts. I also liked aspects of the Now, Voyager soundtrack, but it reminded me of something. I just checked and the composer, Max Steiner, also scored Casablanca and there are similar if not identical passages.

  24. yttik

    As to nothing has ever come out of Hollywood that wasn’t a patriarchy primer, it’s quite true. Some are worse than others. I recently enjoyed Marley and Me, not a great academy award winning film, but thought provoking anyway. Besides Owen Wilson, I liked the questions it brought up, who is more neurotic, the badly behaved dog or the traditional American family? Although it sells this message that family is all that matters, it doesn’t sugar coat it. The mother gives up her career to raise children and she’s flipping miserable. It’s the dog that makes life bearable, the dog they got in an attempt to avoid having children and becoming that traditional American family in the first place. No great feminist film for sure, but interesting none the less.

  25. Susan M.

    @Sniper, When she gives him her delicately crafted precious ivory box that he treasures you might see it as an alternative for her as an artisan. I see it as a metaphor for her giving him her precious and preserved virginity. Once she’s sexualized and made over she doesn’t need to externalize her vagina in the box-making hobby anymore because it’s fulfilling it’s real function. Not as bric-a-brac but as man toy.

    About the tools, I have long wished for a line of tools designed for women, by which I do not mean pink, but a little bit lighter weight and a little bit shorter. Your normal rake, for example, is just a bit too big and heavy for someone my size. I’m as puked-out by this website as y’all are but the idea of tools for women is not in itself gross.

  26. Jodie

    One of my aunts committed suicide as a young woman (no one is really sure exactly why as she left no note). My mom inherited most of her books, and I read them when I was tiny (voracious early reader); the novel “Now Voyager” was among them. I read it about age 7 and was horrified by how little Charlotte was willing to settle for. I never was able to bring myself to watch the movie.

    When I was a young adult (and reread it to see if it was just as awful as it had been when I was a kid), I wondered if my aunt thought her life was going to be just as bleak; apparently she had a married lover as well, who wouldn’t divorce because he was Catholic.

  27. rootlesscosmo

    A couple of other Bette Davis classics, these with major motherhood themes: “Beyond the Forest” and “the Great Lie.” In “Forest” Bette is a discontented small-town wife who terminates her pregnancy by driving her car off a mountain road; in “Lie” she paces the porch of a remote desert cabin, dressed in jeans and plaid shirt with hands in back pockets (cf. Dylan’s “Desolation Row”) smoking and tense, while inside Mary Astor gives birth to a baby which (by prior agreement) Davis, now all frills and femininity, will adopt and pass off as her own. (“Lie” also has an unbearable sequence of happy, singing Black folk on a Virginia plantation. In the 1930′s.) As Twisty memorably observed a while back, all old movies suck; some manage to illustrate different versions of patriarchal ideology, so if you can suppress your revulsion and watch them with a clinical eye, they may be worth your attention.

  28. Jill

    “Max Steiner, also scored Casablanca and there are similar if not identical passages.”

    Max Steiner churned out near-identical scores for hundreds of Hollywood movies. Overwrought and melodramatic.

    I see TCM is doing a tribute to Bernard Hermann, though. Now there’s a composer.”Psycho,” “Cape Fear,” “Citizen Kane.”

  29. Pinko Punko

    Vertigo, North by Northwest and Kane are my favorite of Hermann’s (of the ones I have heard). The opening credits of the two former are indelible and for Vertigo, the synthesis of the images with the score there is wonderful.

    Steiner is obtrusive in much of Now, Voyager I definitely admit, but the passages that go to the well, I like. I would musically quote it here to illustrate the exact passage, but I have not yet those powers.

  30. Jezebella

    Susan M., why must smaller, lighter-weight tools be “for women”? Women are not universally small, and men are not universally large. It would be convenient, I agree, if tools came in small, medium, and large, but there’s no need to give them a gender designation.

  31. Pinko Punko

    Hermann’s score for The Wrong Man was also memorable. Nicely dark that film, and worhthy of IBTP capsule action as Vera Miles’ character [spoiler] because of anxiety of being a deficient wife. Henry Fonda is a lifeless zombie but it fits the film. I’d call it one of Hitchcock’s most restrained and as far as I know, one of the few or only based on a true story.

  32. Susan M.

    Jezebella, you’re totally right.

  33. Sniper

    I see it as a metaphor for her giving him her precious and preserved virginity.

    Gahh! You’re probably right, which is horrifying.

  34. Helen

    Encomium on the masthead of the pink tools (HUR) website: I’ve been looking for this kind of stuff everywhere and could never find it! Thanks for providing a much-needed product …

    Couldn’t she have just bought ordinary tools and painted or stenciled them, if she found them so necessary?

  35. speedbudget

    Helen: No, because the other tools were not pink either, and therefore utterly non-usable to those with lady bits.

  36. sallpal

    If I see a url “ladytools” I fully expect it to be a supplier of vibrators and other such tools.

  37. sallpal

    “unattractiveness-as-mental-illness theme” I want to see more writing about this. Am I the only one who cringes when these talk shows make a pathology out of “rebelous” young women who don’t dress “femininely.” The makeover shows love to force-feminize some unlucky soul, and if they are a minor, I think it is abuse. The last thing said “now, don’t you feel better about yourself?”

  38. Jezebella

    I, too, cringe at those shows. My mother once threatened me with psychotherapy because I had quit shaving my legs. She interpreted this as a sign of my declining mental health, this lack of attention to my “basic hygeine”. I was old enough by then, fortunately, to tell her to put a sock in it. She would have *loved* to take me to a makeover show in my teens, back in my punk rock youth. LOVED. IT.

    I saw a faked makeover show just yesterday in which a young be-spiked and pierced teenaged mom said “I like to dress to get attention, I’m an attention-seeker, I like to dress so people will stare at me, so I can yell at them for staring at me.” And then they made over the lil’ faux gutter-punk and she was *thrilled* with her new Debutante Debbie hairdo & twin-set, and delighted that her mother was now willing to be seen in public with her. I call bullshit. It was a total set-up: faux reality makeover, I mean, WTF, right?

  39. sallpal

    The “unfem” pathology is a deep issue with me. I had a mom who had endometriosis who was told in the seventies that her pain was due to her being at conflict with her feminine role. For real, she was told this. Now you have tools like Dr. Phil who do makeover shows to hold a rebel teenage girl down and make her “a girl who doesn’t hate being a girl.” Everyone is happy at the mental transformation to acceptability. It’s like a pony they broke. I root for the rebel.

    Now, I’m at conflict with some of this. Men who want to be women who dress like women who say they want to be “that” – yet can’t they dress like women and be who they are without surgery? I think they ought to do what they want, but the identification of being a woman with frills…I wonder if we’d have less surgeries if men were really free to live in drag. Do you get what I’m saying? I don’t hate transgendered, but I wonder why being a woman means drag so often.

    Is being a woman all about the “drag?” Is being a woman wanting to dress like a woman? People will report “I feel like a woman” when in drag fetish wear. Women do Brazilian waxes and so forth to be, they report, “womanly.”

    On the other hand, I think there is art and expression. If you tatoo your body, it’s your business. If you color your hair and you like it, to me, it’s like picking a color for your couch. We can change it, and why not if you want? Enjoy life, use all the palettes if you want.

    But I have an issue about acceptability. Why can’t I legally be sexually attractive at size above 4 or 6? Why do I have to alter my body (beyond healthy grooming) to be seen as a woman who is sexual? Is being feminine just drag? Is being a “woman” just drag?

  40. Simone

    “*The Feminine Beauty Mandate states that all members of the sex class, i.e. all women, should endeavor to preserve themselves perpetually in a condition that the casual male ogler can easily describe as “fuckable.””

    You just made my evening! Thank you.

  41. Kelsey B.

    Jezebella, your comment made me smile because one of my greatest fears as an adolescent was being kidnapped and forced to go on one of those “Goth to Glamour!” -type shows. It sounds so silly, but this fear only subsided in my late teens, when I realized that they were pretty much all fake, and my mother couldn’t legally drag me onto national TV and forcibly apply bleach to my eyebrows. That being said, we still engage in shouting matches about how I’m “not taking care of myself,” i.e., wearing lipstick.

  42. nails

    sallpal- I think Ru Paul said “You’re born naked, everything else is drag”.

    I have known a few trans people, and without growing up with all the practice most women get at looking beauty 2K compliant they kinda just gotta take a stab at it. It is what most people think of when they think of “woman”- someone with long hair, lots of make up, skirts, etc. I don’t know if I can blame them for the image of womanhood everyone expects, it is especially dangerous for them to be ambiguous in that regard. Trans people get murdered just for existing. Awhile back a guy went on a date with a trans woman, and when he found out he killed her, the defense was that her transgenderedness was provocation and that the charges should be reduced. There are numerous cases of stuff like that.

    The surgery is the only thing that brings relief to the vast majority MTF transgender people. They have to do hormones and talk with a specialized therapist for a year before the surgery is approved, in addition to living day to day as a woman. If a lot of them felt ok without it then I am sure they would try to avoid it. A lot of families reject their children when they transition, and often it takes multiple painful surgeries for everything to be done with. It is a really hard life, there is not any job protection for people who are transitioning either.

  43. sallpal

    I agree 100% with that quote of Ru Paul. And he has been through it, hasn’t he? He is proud of drag as art, and doesn’t identify as wanting to change to being a woman (although accepts “she” in drag). He’s turned his life around after really making his own success, then suffering through a downturn. There are podcasts that are very interesting. I wonder, though, about the whole idea of drag. Some think it is an art and theatrics. Some don’t recognize it. They just think drag is what “natural” women do. Women even mention it as being “feminine” and defy the feminists to take away their ability to “be a girl.” When I think they are a girl without being “made-over.” It’s drag. Enjoy it. Whatever. But call it what it is instead of a sex-linked trait.

    And then there is this whole pathology thing that women have to put up with. And the requirements (stated or unstated) at work to be appropriately feminine looking at many jobs. And then as you point out, people changing sexes or men dressing like women face discrimination. It seems to all have the same patriarchy at its root where we have to have the signs and signals displayed to indicated who is in what class. And don’t dare get out of your assigned caste.

  44. Jezebella

    Drag has come to mean to me something like blackface – only with stereotypical femininity instead of a stereotype of “blackness”. I look at it and see a mockery and exaggeration of the aspects of the practice of femininity I am rejecting as hard as I possibly can without losing my place in the world and my paycheck. To see men embracing stilettos and hours-long make-up and giant hair and corsets and stockings – it just makes me feel like, god, here I am wishing and praying and working so hard to be FREE of all of that crap, and these guys’ use of drag reinforces the cultural image of “femininity”. It feels like mockery to me, making fun of the stuff we *have* to do to survive, some of us. I used to love a drag show, but these days, I don’t like it. It makes me queasy.

  45. Hedgepig

    I’m with you, Jezebella. It’s like men hiring a bondage mistress for an hour: it’s exciting because they don’t have to be vulnerable to abuse by a sexual partner in their real lives. And when the session’s over, they can still go home and smack the little woman around. And yet women are expected to think men “playing” at feminine behaviours is harmless. We’re even expected to share our pronouns with them for the length of time they choose to impersonate us. And then they can de-drag and go back to being in the highest caste again.

  46. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Thanks for putting that into words, Jezebella. You’ve just captured how I’ve felt about drag for years.

  47. agasaya

    Can we try to avoid the oppression Olympics here? Some trans and ‘drag’ wearing individuals I have met wore traditional American female garb to communicate a strong rejection of maleness, rather than to embrace or endorse non-feminist womanhood. Their pain and oppression by the patriarchy is real also. They aren’t considered ‘men’ even if they are biologically male because of sociological (okay, socio-pathological) issues in gender identification. The rate of violent crime against them is very high.

    It just isn’t empowering to denigrate their problems. Particularly when we don’t really grasp the full extent of the issues each faces as an individual. I don’t think there is a particular one-size-fits- all explanation either.

    The question of what is a woman is far more interesting to discuss.

  48. Jezebella

    I hope that’s not directed at me, Agasaya. My intention was not even remotely “oppression Olympics”. It was, instead, my personal response – a woman’s response – to a practice engaged in by men. “What about the men (in drag)?,” seems to be your question. Well, what about the women forced to wear drag every single day, I ask you? It’s not a competition, but it’s also unreasonable to demand silence from those of us who are made uncomfortable by certain aspects of drag performance. Your post felt like a demand for silence, and I resent that.

  49. Isa

    “Susan M., why must smaller, lighter-weight tools be “for women”? Women are not universally small, and men are not universally large.”

    True that. Also, I am a tiny lady but I can sure as hell use regular tools, generally speaking.

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