I review such article as “Gender Flux: Transatlantic Influence on Fashioning the Cross-dresser in American Silent Cinema” by author Ricardo E. Zulueta. It has been published in the journal “The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture” in 2015.
It should be noted, that until now, there is no single view of the nature of gender. On the one hand, gender is associated with the models, which are developed for the scientific description of the problems associated with gender issues. On the other hand, gender may be considered as a social phenomenon, which is created by people in general, and in particular dress culture. When a child is born, he is determined not only by his biological sex, newborn is always assigned to one of two possible classes of sex. Each class is associated with certain characteristics and features. Child’s gender is only one of the reasons for attributing him to one of the socially important institutions. In many cultures, "masculine" historically identified with spirit, strength and rationality, and "female" - with matter, softness and emotional chaos. At the same time, a number of gender nuances really due only to culture: for example, “female” and “male” clothing color.
The second mechanism by which society establishes gender identity is ritualization. Communication would not be possible without a lot of everyday rituals, which is an integral part of gender. All participants in the communication process know common ritual rules. The last ones form the expectations of individuals, as well as determine their willingness to act in accordance with these expectations, which include the behavior of men and women, their appearance, clothes, hair, voice, and so on. In this case, the issue of gender flux becomes complicated enough. That’s why I have chosen the article of Zulueta for the investigation.
The main Zulueta’s claim is that the popularization of male and female impersonators can be considered as a transgressive force (especially during 1906-1934 years). The last one has facilitated “social tolerance” that is increased each year in modern life (Zulueta, 2015, 363). Author represents a characteristic of some films and its influence on gender social status of people. Each of analyzing films reveals a special link to a European traditions.
Cinema as a social institution includes a whole range of different social roles, including the viewer and the film's director, critic and producer, actor and screenwriter, television administration of movie studio and others. Cinema always plays an important role in the social structure of society as an established and regular social practices that are sanctioned and supported by social norms. It meets the needs of different social groups, and therefore is subject to the tastes of the audience. Thus, one can say that there are gender issues in that how audience perceive the movies.
As Zulueta mentions in his article, the turn of the century initiates the beginning quite dynamic and complicated era. The suffrage movement became stronger and establish itself as a great social force in the political arena. It initiated the debates between men and women. The author analyzed the main movies of those periods: “The Consequences of Feminism”, “A Busy Day” (that is also known as “The Militant Suffragette”), “A Woman”, “The Isle of Love” and some others.
Gender Issues and Dress Culture
Chosen article makes us think that throughout the twentieth century, there were a lot of examples of the cross-dressers in the films (as a silent film, and the first black-and-white film with sound). In this case, it should be noted that more men are becoming the object of the present stage of gender studies. This shift has its own intellectual and social/political preconditions.
It should be noted, that a huge variety of gender stereotypes creates extensive opportunities for their use and maintenance, reflecting in a cinema generally and comedy built on the dressing, in particular.
According to the article, the movies, the plot of which is built on that the hero is forced to portray a person of the opposite sex, using the specific behavioral and often speech model, are of particular interest. This kind of movie is called «drag», which is often used to refer to a man who dressed as a woman. In some films of this kind the actors able to achieve a high degree of plausibility, so that not only their film colleagues, but also the audience could hardly be suspected spoofing. The author noted that the movies with dressing were perceived as the usual farce in the era of silent cinema. Their main goal was to strengthen the comic discrepancy between the biological affiliation of the actor, his suit and verbal behavior.
The roles of this kind can be found in the career of Harold Lloyd (“Spitball Sadie”, 1915) and Charlie Chaplin (“The Masquerader”, 1914 and “The Perfect Lady”, 1915) (Zulueta, 2015, 377). The process of disguise had been strongly linked with a rough and low-brow humor in the early stages of comedy development.
For example, the specialist Zulueta analyzed the film “Officer Henderson”. It is a balanced film. It portrays the male/female parody as funny farce (Zulueta, 2015, 370). At the same time, scene with cross-dressing allude to homosexuality and possible gender fluidity. It should be noted, that costumes play a significant role in this film. Thus, dress culture start to play more important role in cinema as well as in real life.
Many silent movies are made with the actor Charlie Chaplin in a leading role. A lot of them include the process of dressing, when Charlie Chaplin plays the woman. American fashion could be considered as an adaptation of French and British styles at that time. It was traced in many films. For example, the movie “A Busy Day” is based on “opportunistic cross-gender disguise” (Zulueta, 2015, 377). More attention is given to the sophisticated wardrobe of the main hero. Charlie Chaplin continues use clothes that match the fashion trends of that time in the next his movies (for example, “The Masquerader”).
The increased number of closeups of Charlie Chaplin in movies with scenes of cross-dressing forced to think about the gender of the actors and their identity (Zulueta, 2015, 379). For example, an article in Motion Picture Magazine had such title as “He, She, or It?”. This article has been published in 1917. There were sixteen photos of male/female actors doing clothing of the opposite gender (Zulueta, 2015, 379). It was the article of specialist Gaddis, Pearl. He characterized such effects as exchange of identities. He noted that it became hard to know “who is who and what is what” in those days of active suffragette movement. Such trends as long-haired poets, lisping ladies and bifurcated skirts became more popular.
His citation has been cited in the article of Zulueta on the 379th page. There is a correct reference to this article at the end of Zulueta’s paper. Article of Gaddis and citation from it emphasize the narration of Zulueta. According to expert Gaddis, cross-dressing has actively entered the American society. Thus, Gaddis considered cross-dressing as “all the rage”.
Impact on society
The next step of this investigation must be the analysis of the movies, which appear later. After nearly a century of existence, similar films can be divided into several categories:
first, such films called to to reflect the lives of transgender people;
second, comedies, in which humor is based on the deliberately rough and bright mismatch between the gender of the character and his behavior;
third, situational comedies, the characters of which have to portray a person of the opposite sex accurately and reliably for various reasons (the best-known examples are «Some like it hot» in 1959, «Tootsie» in 1982, «Mrs. Doubtfire» in 1993). It is worth noting that the hero put in such a situation almost never chooses roles of the opposite sex, similar to them in age, territorial or social grounds.
A lot of European specialists started to talk and write about that the traditional masculine style of life, and psychological properties of a man does not correspond to modern social conditions, and that men have to pay too high a price for their dominant. However, the causes of this “crisis of masculinity” and possible ways to overcome it are treated differently and even opposite. Some authors see the problem is that men as a gender class or social group lag behind the demands of the time, their installation, operation and especially the group consciousness, ideas of how can and must be a man. Men as a gender class do not correspond to the changed social conditions and subject to radical change and restructuring. That is, men have to look and move forward within their psychological characteristics.
Other authors, on the contrary, see in social processes, loosens the male hegemony, the threat of everlasting “natural” foundations of human civilization and call men as the traditional defenders of stability and order to put an end to the degradation of society and return it back to the quiet and reliable past. These disputes are not unique. The men can be considered as the dominant force in society, at least - of its public sphere. In this case, the normative canon of masculinity and images of the “real man”, like all other fundamental values – “true friendship”, “eternal love” and others, is always idealized and projected into the past.
The emergence of organized and ideologically decorated women's movement is perceived by men as a threat, the intellectual challenge and a role model simultaneously. It makes men to protect their own group interests. But what are those interests and from whom they need to be protected? It is a great problem, that is highlighted in the article by the author. The next step is the need to clarify whether women are assigned to traditional male social privilege. The problem can be hidden in different wording;
women become like men and start to compete with them;
men have lost or are afraid to lose some valuable qualities;
men become cramped and uncomfortable in a familiar historical place.
The formulation of the question largely determines the possible responses.
The emphasis on individual qualities rather than on social stratification and gender order is a denial or underestimation of the actual male privileges and the reduction of the whole problem of such education, which would allow men combines the instrumental and expressive roles.
Thus, all above mentioned examples confirm that fact the creation of the successful and reliable image of opposite gender make the actors avoid identification with their own age, social or regional group and do not use real models, which are characteristic of women. The actors use a stereotypical set of parameters.
The perception of “masculinity” and “femininity”
Ritualization gender brings us to the issue of gender stereotypes, which can be briefly defined as a set of standard terms of some social groups or individuals that are part of these social groups. It is, not surprisingly, that stereotypes oversimplify the real situation. Nevertheless, they are firmly entrenched in the public consciousness, and usually do not tend to change. Thus, the stereotypes have an impact on the consciousness of every human.
Gender is not only a biological characteristic of the individual, it is exposed to institutionalization and ritualism. In this case, it seems logical to explore gender stereotypes and the ways in which they are presented in the dress culture. Each gender is associated with a set of mandatory rules and assessments that monitor gender behavior.
Concepts of masculinity and femininity can be reflected within the framework of any culture. The social roles of men and women are quite different. As a rule, they are governed by certain laws. The established order is subject to stereotyping, and the functions performed by individuals of both genders, evaluated by the society on a scale of “good / bad” and “right / wrong”. Gender stereotypes can be seen as a special form of stereotypes, by which we mean the cultural and social views and assumptions about the attributes and behavioral norms of both genders, and the way they are presented in the dress culture.
In conclusion one can say, that specialist Zulueta comprehensively describes the main issue in his article. A lot of arguments are represented within consideration the problem. As a whole, the article represents the сompleted research on gender issues and dress culture during 1906-1934 years. Gender issues, to which author addressed in the article, are still relevant in the modern society.
The dress culture is in the close relationship with gender social status. It is one of the consequences of the history of humanity. Division in clothes was one of the main signs of sexual division. It should be noted, that example of playing female roles by men is more common than opposite. Cross-dresser and performing female role by man and vice versa significantly impact on the whole dress culture. Another aspect is connected with the women’s movement for equal rights in comparison with men. It is one more reason why dress division become not so noticeable. At the same time, dress culture still important for cross-dressers. Current society is quite loyal for representatives of non-traditional orientation. It can be considered as a consistent consequence of dress culture, the impact of movies, women's struggle for equal rights with men and the loss unanimous domination by men exclusively by gender.
Nowadays the word “gender” means, first of all, the social and psychological aspects, which determine human behavior in the society and how this behavior is perceived. Gender studies put an important question: what exactly determines the sense of being a man, a woman or some hybrid version – the biological characteristics or cultural context and requirements of the society? Should a person meets the criteria of “male” and “female” behavior only because he/she was born with a certain set of sexual characteristics? What is “masculine” and “feminine” behavior? These questions can be the base for the further investigation.
Zulueta, R. (2015). Gender Flux: Transatlantic Influence on Fashioning the Cross-dresser in American Silent Cinema. The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture, 19(3), 363-396. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175174115x14223685749403