First, let’s consider that there is no ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ gender identity. Instead, let’s consider gender as a parody, a mimic; gender as a performative, as Judith Butler convincingly suggests, “Gender is an impersonation . . . becoming gendered involves impersonating an ideal that nobody actually inhabits” (interview with Liz Kotz in Artforum). Thus, the practice of drag-often viewed as ‘taboo’ or ‘abnormal’-becomes the ideal example for attesting to the performative nature of masculine and feminine identity.
The parody of the drag performance enables 1) the recognition of the mimicry, which is evident in every form of identity and 2) the absence of any authentic source. Drag queens accentuate all things considered ‘feminine’ and ‘sexy’: flawless make-up, shining hair, long eyelashes, high-pitched voices, graceful gestures and elegant dress, which rely heavily on imitation and reenactment, lacking any original, essential truth. Thus, the drag queen exposes gender as a cultural code, a mimic of an original, which ceases to exist. Hence, Butler comes to the conclusion that we are all in drag. The idea of a ‘core’ gender is an illusion; what is deemed ‘natural’ has been naturalized by cultural and societal expectations. In reality, there is no such thing at all. We are all mimicking and reenacting a gender, an identity a style whether consciously or unconsciously. None of us are ‘normal’.
Rather than proposing some utopian vision, with no idea how we might get to such a state, I hope to prove that mainstream ideals of masculine and feminine identities are just as performed as those ‘outside of the box’. I propose that ‘normal’ and ‘ideal’ gender identities are not normal at all. Instead the sheer bombardments of these ‘ideals’ have forced us to take them on and view them as ‘normal’. But how are these ideals made visible and accessible to us? Why were these ideals created? How were they created? And more importantly, why have we as a society accepted them and taken them on so willingly?
I will now explore the representation of genders within visual contexts. I will explore the representation of women, men and others (this encompasses trans, drags, gays and so on, apologies for the word other that’s another debate). I will be asking what are the visual cues we strive to live up to? What ‘ideals’ are we buying into? And how have these or are these ‘ideals’ beginning to change? What if ‘normal’ really doesn’t exist? Will men in stockings and heels soon be the new businessman trend?
Case Studies and People of Interest
Sex Sirens: Marilyn Monroe
Skinny: Twiggy to Kate Moss to Isabelle Caro
Outside the Box: Del LaGrace