Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Drag Show: A feminist interpretation

A few weeks ago I had occasion to go to a drag show for a bachelorette party of a dear friend. In addition to being raunchy and a lot of fun, watching men clothed as lounge singers get dollar bills shoved in their bras by a ravening horde of various bachelorette partiers made me wonder why the joint was filled with women and exactly what enjoyment we were getting out of the event.

The stereotypical bachelor party includes strippers. Bachelorette parties are a newer tradition (thank you women's lib), and it seems that a drag show is for women what a strip bar is for men. Except instead of seeing men strip, we watched transvestites strip, straddle bachelorettes, and get dollar bills put into their skirts, bras and mouths as they shimmied to Cher, the Supremes and Beyonce.

The dancers' dazzling appearances, with elaborate costumes and oodles of makeup made me feel like I was watching the constructed ideal of femininity gyrate on stage, femininity divorced from inborn biology, so constructed that it seemed like the ideal to which airbrushed magazine vixens aspire. Several of the transwomen were hotter than I could ever be, even if I went on an all ice water diet and hit the gym 8 hours a day.

As a feminist, I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of stripping, but I'm also uncomfortable passing judgment on women who choose to strip or are forced into stripping to get by.

Yet here we were, stalwart bachelorette partiers, rehashing the power dynamics of a strip club. Were we fetishizing a power dynamic that on its face, seemed sexist? Were our faces frozen in masks of delight because these women were doing the things we would not dare do ourselves, for fear of being labelled "slut"? Or were we enjoying being on the other side of a sex for money power dynamic that has traditionally penalized women?

In short, was this bawdy fun or a meta-feminist experience? I'm still not sure.

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