Picture Credit: antanddec / Instagram

How drag degrades women

Sexism in a dress is still sexism

Artillery Row

On 19 February 2022 the Conservative MP Darren Henry was filmed receiving a lap-dance and simulated oral sex from a drag queen at a charity fundraiser for homeless youth.

Speaking of the evening’s unexpected turn, Mr Henry said: “I was very pleased to attend the charity drag night on Saturday at the invitation of Broxtowe’s Mayor. The event raised a lot of money for Broxtowe Youth Homelessness … I had no idea I would be asked on to the stage”, despite being the MP for the constituency.

Mr Henry claimed to be “slightly alarmed by what it entailed, but”, in case you had any misgivings, has “been assured by my lovely wife that it is part of the parcel of a drag show”.

A man dressing up as a woman and performing a lap-dance and simulated sex acts at a fundraiser for homeless youth is particularly distasteful as homeless women are recognised as incredibly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and being recruited into the sex trade. In 2017 Crisis, the homelessness charity, released research that indicated that nearly 1 in 4 female rough sleepers had been sexually assaulted in the past year.

Porchlight’s report “Seeing the Unseen” found that “91 per cent of women who experienced violence or sexual abuse while sleeping rough did not report it to the police, primarily because they did not feel they would be believed or were too afraid”. Women in “hidden homelessness”, those sleeping on sofas or in spare rooms fare no better. 

Drag at its core is misogynistic

Addressing the House of Lords in January 2022 Baroness Kennedy of Cradley highlighted how this was a long-standing and widespread issue. She cited how “back in 2016, Shelter found that 8 per cent of women had been offered a sexual arrangement. Two years later, its polling estimated that 250,000 women had been asked for sexual favours in exchange for free or discounted rent, and its more recent research showed that 30,000 women in the UK were propositioned with such an arrangement between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and January 2021”. Thus, I hope you will excuse me if I do not find men simulating sex acts for other men’s entertainment at a homelessness fundraiser funny.  

It is only this year that “Sex for rent” in the UK will finally be recognised as a specific offence. Previously, the victim had to identify herself as a prostitute in court to bring a case. Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who brought amendment 104E outlawing the practice, recognised how this discouraged victims from pressing charges.

He argued that: “The law itself has made it extremely difficult for sex-for-rent victims to seek justice. According to the law, victims must be legally defined as prostitutes, which is a huge deterrent in their access to justice”. Indeed, although offering accommodation in return for sexual services has been illegal for over a decade, only one person has ever been charged with an offence.  

This context reinforces how a drag night to raise funds for homeless youth was incredibly inappropriate. Drag at its core is misogynistic; it is men portraying women as sexually objectified caricatures. Drag performers frequently reduce women to hyper sexualised, big breasted, big haired bimbos. 

Celebrated men in drag have names that objectify, sexualise or make light of women’s issues. The SNP MP Mhairi Black “accompanied Nathan Mullen, a drag queen who performs under the name ‘FlowJob’, to Glencoats primary school” to read to children. Anna Bortion” was listed as one of the funniest drag queen names by Pride alongside “Malestia Child”. Ginger Minj finished as a runner up on Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

Or maybe you wish to hire “Felicity Suxwell” who we are informed “is a 23 year old Drag queen, she looks 12 and has the energy of a 3 year old … ready to steal your man, grandad, dad and all the D’s in your life”. For £250 you can enjoy the company of “miss Annie Rexic.

The language of drag is often no better as it is a highly sexualised genre of entertainment in which women are often the butt of the joke. The British Library promoted an event with children’s drag entertainer Alyssa Van Delle, calling Van Delle a “hot” performer who will “have you on the edge of your seat and gagging for more”. “Charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent” is a phrase repeated by RuPaul, simply because the words spell out C.U.N.T. Or how about the drag term “fish”, which is used to describe a very feminine drag queen or man that “passes”. It is a reference to the supposed smell of women’s genitals.

In what other circumstance is it acceptable to woop and clap when a member of the privileged group uses ridicule against an oppressed group? To rub salt in the wounds, these men build their careers off of the tools of female oppression — gender stereotypes and sexual objectification — and re-entrench them in performances where they are portrayed as just a laugh and a lark.

Lap dancing, a form of sexual exploitation of women, is a case in point: “Academic research has linked lap-dancing to trafficking, prostitution and an increase in male sexual violence against both the women who work in the clubs and those who live and work in their vicinity”. Speaking of her time working in a strip club, Elena described how “I was seen as an object, not a person”.

Making a joke out women forced by poverty to sexually service men and objectify themselves is cruel and anything but challenging the status quo. Aren’t we supposed to have agreed as a society that sexist banter wasn’t going to be getting a pass and that male sexual exploitation of women wasn’t funny? So why is male chauvinism ok just because it’s wearing drag?

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