Dylan Mulvaney (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)

The performance of a lifetime

Dylan Mulvaney’s mimicry of women is absurd

Artillery Row

If a man seeks to humiliate a woman he encounters, nothing is easier than reducing her appearance to a mere caricature. Men do this directly in front of the woman they are targeting: lifting their voice to a squeak, exaggerating hand gestures, pushing out pretend breasts, wiggling their bum, pouting and fiddling with their hair. Most of these men confine the taunt to the woman in front of them, and the woman often feels and displays a righteous rage. However, when it comes to Dylan Mulvaney, the Tik Tok user who has become famous for his grotesque parody of women, women are not supposed to react critically. They are seen as cruel or “transphobic” if they express annoyance at being so grossly insulted. 

In March 2022 Dylan Mulvaney saw a way to take his barely-concealed disdain for women up a level, with predictable success. After his career as a musical actor had stalled due to the Covid pandemic, with people finding solace daily on Tik Tok, wily Dylan invented a new role that guaranteed his future wealth and success. He announced he was embarking on a journey of “being a girl” and began a series of videos documenting this ludicrous notion. 

Women see this for the deliberately constructed misogyny it is

Shortly before this year-long, very public “transition”, Mulvaney performed a pilot video for his current lucrative act. In it he told the viewer that he “had trouble finding roles” so a friend had invented one for him, a “femme character”. His character wears a pink dress and pearls, white gloves and ankle socks. At this point Mulvaney must have been delighted to glimpse a potential new career path. It was a very savvy move for him to extend and develop this caricature of a 1950s woman. Now, just over a year later, Dylan Mulvaney has highly paid “partnerships” with a number of companies including Budweiser, Kate Spade and — during the past week, to great objection — the Sportwear giant Nike. 

In an inflammatory paid partnership video with Nike, an inanely grinning, barefoot Mulvaney wears a Nike sports bra and leggings. He performs a series of ridiculous moves including comedic side stretches, a theatrical run kicking his heels up nonsensically and failed chorus-line high kicks. He almost runs backwards into a hedge at one point and pulls a comedy expression of shock. It all looks ridiculous and slapstick. It mocks women by suggesting they exercise trivially and ineffectively, but smiling throughout. 

The media seems unwilling to focus on the actual reasons many women are angry about this. It has focused instead on stating that objections to the sponsorship are because Dylan is trans. This is not why women are outraged. When a man “performs woman” in front of women to such a humiliating degree, when he waggles and jiggles and implies that weakness and silliness are inherent to being a woman who plays sport, women appropriately see this for the deliberately constructed misogyny it is. Ria Chapman, a London PE teacher, told me why she finds this act so irritating and offensive:

Girls are still routinely bullied and mocked for being sporty and or breaking stereotypes, their achievements and ambitions not being celebrated and valued like those of their male peers. For a sports company the size of Nike to use a male performing a parody of what he believes women behave like during sport only adds to the ammunition that boys will use to put girls down.

Utilising female stereotypes is the foundation of Mulvaney’s role. On his “Day 1 of being a girl” video debut, he said:

I’ve already cried three times, written a scathing email I didn’t send, ordered dresses online that I couldn’t afford and when someone asked me how I was, I said “I’m fine” but I wasn’t fine. How did I do, ladies?

All of this encapsulates the stereotype of women as emotionally fragile, frivolous spendthrifts, imprudent around clothes and financially inept. In the stereotype Dylan performs, women routinely suppress our emotions and focus on being polite at all times. It is an archaic depiction of requisite female behaviour which was seared into women’s consciousness over decades in the past. This view of “girlhood” took further decades for feminist women to dismantle. Dylan Mulvaney is building it back up before our eyes and we refuse to stay quiet about it. 

In other videos Mulvaney is seen running feebly through a forest and falling down in high heels, the suggestion being that women are unstable, weak and pathetic characters frightened of flies. This barely disguised message pervades many of his videos. In another he is referring to his “boobies” as his “gal pals” and advertising the shea butter he will rub into them. He refers beneath this video to “taking care of my new girls this season”. This is all deeply offensive to women. Breasts are part of our sexed bodies, not a cute pet or an accessory like a new handbag. 

Along with these grotesque parodies of womanhood, he promotes products with zero shame, grifting whilst gurning and gaslighting women. Shortly before he began this career-saving venture of “being a girl”, Mulvaney can be found mocking a female cheerleader in a sketch where he pretends to break his leg. He has honed and perfected these earlier attempts to portray women as weak and stupid, and he deflected attention from them by declaring himself a woman. Gender identity is once again the smokescreen for misogyny, and negative criticism leads to an award-worthy performance of his being hurt and bullied. Mulvaney simply reverses the victim and offender. Women are bullies, he is the target. Many women recognise this pattern from relationships with abusive men. 

Mulvaney breezes through his videos with a permanent rictus grin

The insult for women comes not from the fact that Mulvaney is given vast sums of money or attention, but that he is given it whilst performing an insulting version of what a woman is or how she experiences the world from birth. Mulvaney has avoided the many perils of “being a girl”, because he was safely behind the shield of being a boy — and a wealthy one at that. Mulvaney has a very privileged background of successful financier male ancestors. Nothing says patriarchy more clearly than a man being offered huge sums of money by companies to pretend to be a woman, whilst actual women sit at home fretting how to feed their children during an economic crisis. A man “womanning” is feted, whilst a woman at times barely survives the experience. 

As the final part of his “365 days of girlhood”, Mulvaney undergoes very expensive facial feminisation surgery. This is suggested as the very epitome of ensuring he is seen as female. Conveniently little mention is made of the penis he retains. Shaved forehead bones might whisper and suggest “woman” more effectively, but a penis roars “man” at a deafening pitch. 

The elaborate “reveal” video is highly produced, and none of the earlier amateur style is evident. Dylan really has come a long way in a year. Whilst he is still no further towards being a woman, I don’t believe that was really the aim. On the contrary, the heights he sought were to become famous, powerful and wealthy. He has had chats with the President, and Drew Barrymore knelt at his feet and cooed adoringly. Wearing “woman” as a costume works for him in a way it works for few women for whom it is a reality. 

By contrast women having plastic surgery often do it in the knowledge that without it they would be invisible and, past a certain age, ignored and dismissed. Women don’t seek to become, but to remain women when they undertake anti-ageing procedures. Victoria Smith writes succinctly in her new book Hags:

You are not hated because you are an older woman — for that would be wrong and regressive — but because you have failed to remain a young one.

One of the most galling aspects of Mulvaney’s act is the passive-aggressive suggestion in some videos that women are hateful, spite-filled creatures who simply won’t allow him to be the woman he claims he is. When women objected to a potential sponsorship with Tampax, Mulvaney claimed he was the victim of women bullying him:

It feels like high school and feels like you want me to endure the pain and trauma you had as a girl.

In a sinister ending to this video, Mulvaney says he is “nervous for you” and suggests ominously that women will be punished in the future for their “transphobia”. It is an emotionally manipulative attempt to protect lucrative sponsorship and secure his brand from appropriate scrutiny. 

Mulvaney breezes through his videos with a permanent rictus grin. The subconscious irritation women feel at this stems from the very real experience of our female socialisation. From the time we are commanded to smile as toddlers and for the million times afterwards, women are aware that our “smile” is an expectation, a command and a danger. If we forget to smile, men who are complete strangers will remind us. If we refuse, we may regret it. If a woman stops smiling, she can be accused of having “resting bitch face”, and she has failed in her duty to please and humour men. When Mulvaney performs this forced joy apparently emanating from “being a girl”, women feel the lie through to our bones, because we have lived with the reality. 

Women aren’t any of this performed “girlhood” of Mulvaney’s. We don’t like being reduced to it. We object when large companies pay hefty sums of money to the man treading on our heads to tell them what it’s like to be a woman. 

Dylan Mulvaney is an actor and a competent manipulator of the media. Large companies should take note that women will not be mocked by a man or the companies that support him. Learn who we are, or learn how to cope without our cash. 

Just don’t do it. 

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