In August, lecturer Cathy Boardman of the British and Irish Modern Music Institute in Manchester raised the provocative question of whether. if a white person wearing black make-up is racist, a drag performer or a “transitioning” male posing as a female should be regarded as similarly demeaning. “What about womanface?” she asked.
She was promptly fired, because she had, her employers said, upset transgender students. Boardman is unrepentant and is appealing the decision, but her question has taken on new relevance in the wake of the Bud Light decision to use a satiric trans “influencer” in its latest marketing campaign.
How did I miss the expression “womanface” for so long? It’s in the Urban Dictionary. The first high profile mention of the analogy with blackface came from pre-House, pre-Trump Derangement Mary Cheney, who is a lesbian, on her private Facebook page. After seeing a TV commercial for “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” she wrote,
“Why is it socially acceptable—as a form of entertainment—for men to put on dresses, make up and high heels and act out every offensive stereotype of women (bitchy, catty, dumb, slutty, etc.)—but it is not socially acceptable—as a form of entertainment—for a white person to put on blackface and act out offensive stereotypes of African Americans? Shouldn’t both be OK or neither? Why does society treat these activities differently?”
It was a flawed analogy, phrased like that. Blackface was a calculated means of racist social control, dehumanizing blacks after the end of slavery and presenting them to the public as absurd, unserious and inferior versions of human beings suitable only for entertainment. Drag has traditionally been a genre that exaggerates female stereotypes for allegedly humorous effect, but the humor arose as much from the grotesque inadequacy of the female impersonators to get past the spectacle of an obviously male body stuffed into a dress beneath a man’s face slathered in women’s make-up. Milton Berle looked so ridiculous in his various drag routines that I doubt that anyone even considered that his schtick was demeaning to women. Most women regarded the routines as men mocking themselves.
Blackface was also used as tool to allow white performers (like Al Jolson, above left) perform in the place of similarly skilled black performers, who were generally banned from white-owned entertainment venues. When Cheney wrote her post, nobody considered deliberately hiring men in drag (or trans women) to take modeling or performing jobs away from biological women. The rapidly exploding pro-trans movement materially alters the equation.
But there is hypocrisy here. Oprah Daily headlined two years ago, “These Photos Reimagine Vintage Cosmetics Ads with LGBTQIA Models.” Then along came Dylan Mulvaney. It is unknown whether the performer who was male as recently as 2021 is genuinely and sincerely “transitioned,” or whether he saw a “Tootsie”-like opportunity and exploited it brilliantly. But she, if she is a she, has, as a web “It Girl” for the trans age, made millions in product endorsements including fashion and beauty brands Kate Spade, Ulta Beauty, Haus Labs and CeraVe, as well as Crest and InstaCart.” Conservative blogger Don Surber calls Dylan“the Michael Jordan of chicks with dicks.”
That’s a bit harsh, but I can’t rebut it. After all, Nike now uses “them” as a spokeswoman, and, of course, so does Bud Light. That brings the blackface analogy back into relevance. Feminist and female athletics proponent Martina Navratilova, tweeted, “I guess Nike couldn’t find a female athlete to sell sports bras . . .”
Yeah, I can’t reconcile the wild hypocrisy. As recounted in the many “non-traditional casting” posts on Ethics Alarms, (most recently this one), Woke World insists that straight actors should not play gay characters (but it’s OK for gay actors to play straight ones), only Hispanic actors can play the Sharks in West Side Story, only actors with the same physical disability as their characters can play blind, deaf, paralyzed and cognitively challenged roles, but all a man has to do is “identify” as female, and the newly minted “she” can be a bikini-clad cheerleader in a beer ad the next day. As J.K. Rowling wrote, since she has so much money she can afford to be honest and courageous, “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.”
No, “womanface” isn’t exactly like blackface. The term, however, raises the issue of hypocrisy very effectively.
13 thoughts on ““What About Womanface?””
If blackface is racist then womanface is misogynistic.
Yes, I think that’s reasonably fair.
Seriously? “Hypocrisy” is a white supremacist construct and term used to oppress marginalized groups. Check your privilege. Only cis-gendered whites and TERFs care about anything as inconsequential as hypocrisy.
Good point on “South Pacific” or Milton Berle style cross dressing. In the movie, I think the guys are making fun of themselves as guys in an attempt to entertain and soften up the nurses.
Not long ago, there was an all-male comedic ballet company that had men wearing tu-tu’s and toe shoes, make-up…the whole nine yards. They were insanely popular with the ballet crowd.
Cannot remember the name of the company.
d_d! You’re back! Our Texas staff psychologist is back on call! Good!
One of the name partners at a law firm I clerked at came to a firm party in a tutu. The secretaries nearly died laughing.
I am going to try to comment more often.
Was beginning to fear you’d joined the faithful departed.
Well, I AM 77.
One thing I’ve never liked about the comparisons between drag and Uncle Miltie and his like (including Geraldine, Madea, Bugs Bunny, etc), is that they weren’t males that believed they were females or wished they were. The characters they dressed up as were female characters but there was never any doubt that the performers behind them were male and would say so wholeheartedly. The female characters were part of an act that included a number of other characters that were male, as well.
It’s close to drag but not quite. And it’s definitely nowhere even close to transgenderism.
Well stated. Bugs’ eyelashes certainly make the case.
And I doubt the guys working in the Warner Brothers drafting studios were progressives. Of course, progressives hardly existed then. There were Commies, but they were pretty hard core and stayed in their lane to overthrow capitalism.
It may be a serious matter, but all I could do was laugh at all of it. The picture was, perhaps unintentionally and only to me, hilarious.