Monday, April 21, 2014

Gender Bending Without Apologizing - What We've Forgotten

We often seem to think of gender bending as something modern. Cases where it we can reference it back further, such as movies like Tootsie, we find it acceptable because it was a means to an end. In the movie, Dustin Hoffman takes on the personification of Tootsie both to work and become closer to the girl he is interested in. 

However, in forms of entertainment we can look back and recognize that in early theater women were never participants and young boys would take on the female roles. This was of course an "acceptable" form of blurring gender lines because at the time it was how theater worked. It was not acceptable for women to act and even many men of nobility were shunned away from these sorts of activities.

The idea of cross-dressing in movies is hardly a novelty anymore. We often see the trope of the girl disguised as the boy in order to blend in and keep herself safe. We also see men used as a comic diversion in many movies dressed as women. It is rarely something that is seriously discussed or an incident without prompt. 

All those styles have one thing in common, they are playing with gender lines as a means to an end. It is with the motivation of gaining something else that they are participating. 

While the movie Morocco (1930) is no different in motivation, Marlene Dietrich carries herself with no apologies and seems to have fun with this experience. Dressed in a tux, she shuns the male attention that treats her like a female, embraces the male attention that treats her like one of the guys, and flirts away a kiss and a flower from a pretty girl. It is by no means something modern (in regards to Hollywood), but I find it so much more unapologetic than modern day representations. 

She plays with masculinity and her own role as a female dressed (somewhat) like a man. It is more than her clothes and husky voice however. Her movements, gestures, and even the social interactions she chooses to participate in all play with her role as a female. Even as she's portraying this masculinity, she never stops being a woman or catching the eye of her love interest in the film. She is not threatened by this, and surprisingly, neither is he. 

I can't imagine the good movies and television could do if they took a note from this moment and stopped trying to fit anything considered socially divergent into a box of either conformity or excuses. 

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