So one thing that I’ve noticed is that cross-dressing tends to be both handled and looked at differently for the different genders. No one really thinks too much of a girl putting on pants, though I can think of a few movies or comics where the issue was brought up, but a guy putting on women’s clothes? That’s a whole different story. In fact, if movies, games, books, everything ever, is to be believed, men dressing up as women is funny.
I theorize that this may be because society still looks at men as being normal and at women as being something else. We see this a lot in media, and the same can be said for a lot of portrayals for the sexes. Even the whole idea of what constitutes a strong female character may be skewed to a portrayal of a woman who partakes in things that society considers inherently masculine. Of course, this may also be because most things are run and written by men.
One person, windupviolin, theorizes that this may also be because women are seen as less important than men, from society’s point of view. And because women are less important, our clothing choices are less important. But society has placed so much on the male role that it tends to stick out to us more. If you click the link at the start of this paragraph, you’ll find a bunch of pictures of men and women sharing each other’s clothes. Notice that your eye will more than likely be drawn to the man.
Whatever the case may be, however, it is still common for people to portray male characters dressing up in women’s clothes as humorous.
First of all, I should state that this is not true for all male characters who cross-dress at one point or another. Angel from Rent, for example, was never portrayed as comic relief in this regard. But this is not most cases. Often times, it is intended to come across as humor during what would otherwise be a serious situation. And not only can it be bad humor, it can also be dangerous humor.
To begin with, the idea that it’s okay for women to dress up like men but not the other way around—because dresses and ponytails and makeup are girly and therefore stupid and weird—is actually a little insulting. I don’t see the humor. Being a women and dressing like a woman is not funny to me, but it’s so odd that we’ll find male characters who for some reason or another—going undercover, tricking people—have so little understanding of the alien female attire that they practically hurt themselves while wrestling with the clothes. Furthermore, it doesn’t make much sense. Putting on tights should not be much harder than tugging up a pair of pants, and if the high heels are that hard to walk in, there are women’s flats.
And this is done just about every time. Even Cloud’s brief cross-dressing experience during FFVII starts with him in a changing room not knowing how to put on a dress.
Portraying cross-dressing as funny for this above situation is normally done with a male character who is both very masculine and heterosexual. It’s a way to get that character out of his comfort zone. But the clothes are not normally this:
They’re just regular women’s clothes. Yet, somehow the attire that many women wear daily is supposed to be funny because it’s now on someone with hairy legs and no breasts.
Unfortunately, it goes well past this. To add to the humor, our unfortunate cross-dressing, heterosexual male will sometimes then find himself on the receiving end of sexual advances from whatever man he’s trying to trick. This is dangerous humor for two reasons.
- It encourages homophobia.
- The cross-dressing male does not always want the sexual advances and it borders on harassment.
As for encouraging homophobia, the idea of two men touching each other being funny is just as dangerous as the idea of women’s clothing being inherently funny. It enforces the idea that male-male relations are also something different and not normal.
Additionally, when a character does cross-dress for whatever reason and another character mistakes him for being female, while that by itself is not a problem, it becomes a problem when the advancing character won’t back off. That’s not funny. That’s sexual harassment and it should be treated as such. But heterosexual male characters tend to be put off only if another man in the one harassing them, and even then the characters don’t even seem to see it as sexual harassment.
And since I’m on a Final Fantasy binge at the moment, let’s talk Cloud again. What Cloud goes through encompasses all three of these ideas: women’s things are not normal, homosexual relations are not normal, and unwanted advances are funny. At one point very early on in the game, in order to infiltrate a crime lord’s mansion, Cloud dresses up like a woman.
Getting him the dress and the wig and giving him problems putting those on, or even just having him be weirded out by women’s clothes, is not the worst thing FFVII does. The game makes this so humorous, that the player can go the extra step and get Cloud the “Sexy Cologne”. If you buy someone a 200 gil pair of panties from a vending machine, he’ll bestow Cloud with the “Diamond Tiara”. And during this adventure, if you take Cloud to the local brothel and pick the “Fuck Room” he’ll pass out and then wake up on a bed with a half-naked man leaning over him and slapping his face. And regardless of how much effort you put into Cloud’s outfit, no matter where he ends up in the mansion, I can only conclude that the men there were planning to rape him. The mansion has what I can only describe as being a sexual-torture chamber. And the impression that I got was that all of this was meant to be funny, when it could have been a great commentary on the kind of world the characters live in.
Just think of all the times you’ve seen a male character cross-dress, and then notice the mood. Even just think of all the times Jesse and James from Pokémon dress up. It’s not very funny when Jesse puts on a mustache, but James putting on a dress is supposed to be. Maybe here we could at least argue that the humor comes from the fact that since they were impersonating both men and women, neither of them actually needed to cross-dress. But the end result is the same. Cross-dressing is used as humor, and we’re told it’s weird. And we are taught that it’s something to be laughed at.
I still find this all very dangerous for the above reasons. Let me know what you guys think? Is cross-dressing an effective use of humor to you? Or do you think it’s bad humor?