Saturday, November 6, 2010

Butler, Drag, and America's Next Top Model

I found Judith Butler's article on "Gender Trouble" both complex and interesting. Butler discusses the fluidity in the meaning of "female," the woman as a "mystery" to men, and the sex/gender distinction. After exploring gender as a social construct, Butler concludes that genders can be "neither true nor false, neither real nor apparent" but "thoroughly and radically incredible."

Butler frequently touches on the impersonation of women through drag: "Is drag the imitation of gender, or does it dramatize the signifying gestures through which gender itself is established. Does being female constitute a 'natural fact' or a cultural performance...?" Drag, as well as roles of transgender and other non-heterosexualities, transcend the male/female binary opposite by creating a sort of in-between, undefined role.

Butler cites Esther Newton to expand her assertion that gender is "neither true nor false:"
"Drag is a double inversion....Drag says my 'outside' appearance is feminine, but my essence 'inside' is masculine. At the same time it symbolizes the opposite inversion; my appearance 'outside' is masculine but my essence 'inside' is feminine."

Butler's discussion on drag/imitations of gender and gender identity caused me to think of J Alexander, more commonly known as "Miss J," of Tyra Banks's America's Next Top Model. As Newton states, Miss J's appearance is an "illusion." By dressing in drag, Miss J's outside appearance is feminine. Despite this, his inside/body remains masculine. Further, his outside/gender is masculine, but his inside/"essence" is feminine. Therefore, he doesn't "imitate" gender, but rather defies gender norms. This "double inversion" is visible on the show.

Miss J is the runway coach for the aspiring models. He wears female clothes and models/walks like a woman. His feminine exterior (clothes), however, cannot hide his true masculine body. I think that one of the most interesting parts of Miss Jay, is that he also dresses in masculine clothes and at times, seems to talk like a man. He also has a non-biological son, further defying the male/female binary.


  1. When I read this post, I immediately remembered an instance where, while looking at some pictures of men in drag, a friend of mine said, "Wow. That guy looks prettier than me."

    While it was a pretty amusing instance, I just think it's interesting the ways people can bend our conceptions of gender just by changing their clothes. I also think that there is a new aesthetic when it comes to male models; many of the ones I've seen lately tend to be on the slender, skinny side, as opposed to being the brawny, muscular type. Society seems to be promoting a kind of androgyny when it comes to fashion.

  2. Absolutely, androgyny in both males and females. Female models with androgynous looks are often favored over females who look too "commercial" or cheesy/feminine.

    Likewise for males. I find that male models in advertisements are beginning to look more and more like women.

    There also seems to be sort of reversal in male/female gender roles. Female models appear more masculine. Maybe a change in the objectification of women? In the ad, the female's breasts are diminished, and it is the male model who seems more sexualized.