I read your message of a few days back and agree that if a heavily made-up woman - stereotypically and retro-dolled for the male gaze - tottered in to school-reading corner, there'd be comment about the regressive stereotype she was modelling for the kids - both boys and girls.
Same if a white woman presented to school children in blackface - or dressed in parody of exaggerated male stereotype: she'd also be stripped seven ways from Sunday for appropriating gender and/or racial identity stereotypes.
Stereotypes challenged, or reinforced? Which doors are being broken down, which glass ceilings smashed?
The Guardian quotes someone in this article saying: "drag is a challenge to patriarchy" ...
If it's a challenge to patriarchy, who does patriarchy embrace it? Biden Admin recently appointed little-girl-dressed drag queen Sam Brinton to a senior position in office of nuclear energy, Department of Energy, for example.
Sam Brinton: gorgeous, but surely an undeniable part of the patriarchy, as they assume office in the nuclear section of USA Dept of Energy?
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Shows featuring drag queens reading to young children have proven increasingly popular - but they are also attracting angry protests. How have we reached a place where these joyful events are seen as a threat to infants?
Drag Queen Story Hour was established in San Francisco in 2015 - home of American "Identity Politics" discourse.
Drag is more diverse than the stereotype suggests, with non-binary performers showing how diverse gender can be
On Mumsnet, there are multiple threads calling for the end of Drag Queen Story Hour. The story has hit a nerve with some – but by no means all – gender-critical feminists, who believe some trans-rights issues are incompatible with women’s rights and have incorporated an anti-drag stance under that umbrella.
“Drag at its core is misogynistic,” wrote the pseudonymous Dr Em in the Critic magazine earlier this year. “It is men portraying women as sexually objectified caricatures. Drag performers frequently reduce women to hyper sexualised, big breasted, big haired bimbos.” The former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies took it further in 2019 when she tweeted: “Am I the only person fed up of drag shows? A parody of what a real woman is, like black face.”
But others dispute the idea. “That criticism is not new and relies on the idea of men dressed as women mimicking and exaggerating femininity,” says Leila Rupp, a professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But drag is far more diverse and complicated than that stereotype suggests, with non-binary and gender-fluid performers showing how diverse gender can be. Surely the lesson that people can express femininity or masculinity or anything in between is an important lesson for all children.”
The blackface comparison seems particularly wrongheaded. “It is completely unacceptable to compare drag with blackface,” says Nishant Upadhyay, an assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“Drag is an exploration of gender, while blackface is rooted in violent histories of anti-blackness. White and many non-black folks have used blackface to stereotype, ridicule and ostracise black communities, historically as well as currently. It is an assertion of racial power over black folks, whereas drag is a challenge to patriarchy. The comparison is ahistorical.”
Of course, drag has long played a role in British society, from Shakespeare’s time, when women were banned from the stage and men wore female costumes to play their parts, through to the pantomime dame. It has also helped gay men – in particular, gay men of colour – find a place for themselves in societies that reject homosexuality.
Politically speaking, drag queens and kings have been at the forefront of the LGBTQ+ movement for some time; Marsha P Johnson was one of the prominent figures during the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. Drag has long had a presence in mainstream UK pop culture, from Les Dawson to Lily Savage. It is not just about fabulous queens competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race; even Mr Tumble performs in drag on CBeebies. So, how have we reached a place where a man in a dress is automatically deemed to be a threat to children?
For six years, without incident, Matthew Cavan has been reading stories to children in Belfast as the drag queen Cherri Ontop. Then, last week, protesters appeared at his show. The morning I speak to him, he says he has just learned that a “paedophile hunter” group has been given his details and is on the lookout for him. “I’ve found this week incredibly difficult,” he says. “There’s been a lot of hatred and it’s really got to me. It’s heartbreaking that someone can take a gorgeous and special thing like this and tarnish it.”
His voice is full of emotion when we speak. “These are events for wee tiny kids. They shouldn’t have to hear fascists screaming: ‘Stop sexualising our kids’ … They don’t hear that inside.” Cavan says the protesters in Northern Ireland are largely people who “wrap themselves up in Christianity”, but are ultimately recycling homophobic tropes from previous eras: “‘Why would a gay man want to be around children?’ That kind of thing.”
Samuel says that he pays for a full DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check for any drag queens who want to perform under the Drag Queen Story Hour name. He also makes sure they are well prepared for awkward situations that might arise. “Basic stuff like: never to respond to a young fan on social media, or what to do if they pose certain questions,” he says. “Often, we’re asked if we are a boy or a girl. Rather than get into that, I say: ‘I am whatever you want me to be.’ That means I’ve been called a robot, a fairy and a caterpillar.”
The furore doesn’t look like it will die down any time soon. Last month, the Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted about taking her infant son to an event hosted by the drag queen Greta Tude, and faced a barrage of criticism online for doing so (as well as much support). Reading borough council was happy to defend its events, with a statement that noted: “We are pleased to say those who attended the performances have given positive feedback, saying that the content is both entertaining and age-appropriate.” But only this week, Rochdale borough council pulled its three planned Drag Queen Story Hour events for safety reasons relating to protests.
The inspirational rise of drag kings: ‘We are smashing down doors left, right and centre!’
Samuel and Cavan say they have a renewed sense of purpose and are determined to carry on reading to children. So far, the publicity has only made the events more popular.
“If anything, the negatives are just stoking the fire of: ‘#### you, I am going to do this bigger and better and prouder than I was before,’” says Cavan. “I’m now in a place I wasn’t expecting. It’s not just a lovely wee event any more, it’s become more political; so I will be in it for the long haul, to make this place a better place for everyone.”