🎭👗 Cross-Dressing and the Theatre / Perhaps I’m Too Woke

Today, I started playing in the new musical Tootsie from my unplayed list on the iPod. This got me thinking about men dressing up as women in the theatre, and how it is increasingly problematic for woke audiences. Yes, it was traditional in Shakespeare’s day for men to dress as women, because women weren’t allowed on the stage. But I think about the two shows I recently have seen, Irma Vep and Baskerville, and how they had men dressing up as women. I think about shows like Sugar or Hairspray. I think about new musicals like Mrs. Doubtfire, and I have to ask myself: why are still still using this trope.

Think about it: Why do we dress up men as women. There seem to be many messages being sent.

First, that it is funny for a man to dress as a woman, likely because it is viewed as demeaning to do so. Today, that’s just wrong. People can wear whatever they want to wear. We shouldn’t find humor in that. I can see absolutely no reason, other than “traditional”, why Edna Turnblad couldn’t be played by a large woman. The humor in that character is in her size, not her genitals. This, I think, is also the reason for the cross dressing in shows like Vep or Baskerville.

Next, it is because with the man dressed as a woman, they are able to get jobs they were not able to get on their merits as men, and so they take a job away from a woman. TootsieDoubtfire, and Sugar are examples of that. Is it right for men to steal jobs from women by pretending to be women?

There’s also the trope that, as a woman, they are able to say things they weren’t able to say as men. In other words, they dress as women to avoid mansplaining.

Lastly, there’s the bit about dressing as a woman so as to deceive someone to have a relationship with them.

All of these are wrong. Now let’s look at the fewer times that a woman dresses as a man. I can think of three: Victor VictoriaTwo Gentlemen of Verona, and anything based on Twelfth Night. In all these cases, the women is dressing as the man to get some rights or privilege they couldn’t get a woman.

Think about what this says about our society.

I know of only one musical where the show gets cross-dressing right: Kinky Boots. But that’s because it is intentional drag. Priscilla: Queen of the Desert might also get it right for the same reason.

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2 Replies to “🎭👗 Cross-Dressing and the Theatre / Perhaps I’m Too Woke”

  1. My biggest complaint about cross-dressing casting is (no pun intended) that large women get played by men in shows like Matilda and Hairspray. Is it really that impossible to find a woman of size to play these roles? Is a man more acceptable than a fat woman on stage? Are the roles just too good to let women have? I’m all for blind casting, but only if it’s actually blind and women get to be in stereotypical male roles too.

    1. Which also brings up the whole issue of fat shaming: Why are large women on stage, with perhaps the exception of Tracy Turnblad and the lead character in Head over Heels, the focus of the humor. Why do we so rarely see someone of size just as another character?

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