My Commonplace Book (a diary of excerpts copied from printed books, with comments added by the reader.)

By Dorothy Bryant
Monday July 18, 2011 - 11:09:00 AM

“You’re born naked, and the rest is drag.” 

Ru Paul, drag queen
Although I retain a life-long aversion to the male drag queen—a misogynist parody of the female as invented by (some) men—I credit Ru Paul with a profound insight.

As the only furless, featherless animals—not assigned species-specific clothing by nature—we have, throughout history, created body coverings, not only to keep us warm, but to express status, rank, power, function, pretensions, impostures—and sexual allure often combined with oppression, like foot-binding in ancient China. The western equivalent, 4-inch-spike-heeled shoes (toes crammed into a point bearing total tipped body weight) still come in and out of fashion, despite common knowledge that high heels cripple, hamper—even endanger—movement, deform foot and ankle bones, and even vertebrae. Remember the female disguises of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in “Some Like It Hot”? All you have to do to get a cheap laugh is to put “sexy” female garb on males, then enjoy (?) how funny—oppressive and demeaning—it is. Never mind that it might be “chosen freely” by a woman. Such a complicated social choice is never free. 

So, a drag queen might be making a statement that is more complicated than the giggling/ogling audience realizes. 

If high heels were meant to be a limitation posing as a beauty enhancement, pants have been traditionally the badge of male authority, denied to western feminists who began agitating for them in the late 1800s. (“Try climbing a flight of stairs, carrying a baby, and wearing a proper, ankle-length dress,” they argued, unsuccessfully.) 

As late as 1966 I drove my daughter and her girlfriends to an East Bay movie matinee. They were refused admittance because two of them were wearing pants. About 1970, having won tenure at Contra Costa College, I showed up to teach wearing dressy black pants with a demure white turtle-neck. Someone must have called the dean, who dashed the half- mile across campus and showed up in my classroom, aghast at my “improper” attire. When I asked him why my pants seemed less “proper” than the mini-skirts fashionable at that time, he caved in and retreated. The next day a dozen more women teachers—obviously just waiting for someone to break the unwritten female faculty dress code—showed up in pants. (I’m not bragging, and I’m not advocating tasteless rebellion: you don’t wear a bathing suit to a funeral.) 

Today’s women may actually have more freedom than men in choosing attire. (Guys, try showing up to work in a skirt on a hot day, and you’ll see what I mean.) 

(Send the Berkeley Daily Planet a page from your own Commonplace Book)