Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bic me

This entry (and 90% of my college papers) brought to you by Judith Butler's Gender Trouble and by Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning. Many thanks to Professor Susan Fraiman for introducing me to both.

This morning I was in the UVA bookstore and the April 2008 Esquire cover caught my eye.

As my sister, Caitlin, says this cover "seems less about hair and more about gender-play...the sexy woman in a man's button up shirt." (Sidenote: What is up with that? Why is it so sexy in a heterosexual paradigm for women to dress up in men's clothes?)

Esquire explains on their website that they are recreating another iconic Esquire cover image, "actress Virna Lisi caught mid-shave on the cover in March 1965."

As a woman who produces enough hair on my face that I feel the need to pluck those little black hairs off of my chin and jawline daily (and use Nair once a week), I saw this cover and felt mocked. Although it might at first glance seem like Esquire is revealing that women do, in fact, grow body/facial hair and go to great lengths to remove it, I think Caitlin's assessment of the cover is accurate. This cover doesn't reveal that women grow facial hair; it obscures that fact. In an excellent summation of my point here, the photographer for this cover says, "There is nothing masculine about Jessica. Even with a beard she couldn't be masculine." This cover is about emphasizing how not masculine Simpson is and the trope for masculinity is being able to grow a beard.

In my opinion, successful drag (and I do mean drag, here; the playful act of performing another gender---not cross-dressing or being transgendered, which is something completely different), plays with the tensions created by a gender binary system. Drag calls attention to gender as a performance, a shell game. Drag says, walk like this, talk like this, wear this; that is the essence of gender. Drag takes, "I am male therefore I shave my face" and makes it "I shave my face therefore I am male [at this moment]."

As a piece of drag, this cover fails (for me). This image of Jessica Simpson does not expose the act of shaving one's face a performance piece that creates masculinity; it reinforces the idea that men alone actually shave their face (and women can only pretend to).

Check out this link to some of Trish Morrissey's work Women with Facial Hair for an example of complex images that I think successfully explode the relationship between facial hair and masculinity. The article accompanying the images is also definitely worth the read.


Heath said...

Well said. As another woman who maintains a constant battle against facial hair this cover has sat uncomfortably with me since I first saw it. You articulated the words to my emotions. Thanks.

Justin said...

It fails as drag because it is not drag. It is (kitsch) irony.

secondhandsally said...

Hi Justin,

I realize it's suppose to be kitsch/camp. It can still be drag. Drag isn't limited to full-on impersonations, at least not in the Judith Butler sense.

Revista said...

it's interesting to juxtapose your comments about jessica and this cover's inability to be drag, yet gossip blogs all over the internet (like dlisted, laineygossip, and others--all with a wide audience) often refer to her as having "line-backer shoulders" and as a 'tranny' whenever kevin paves styles her. Even though you don't read her as masculine, she still gets criticized for her brand of femininity.

also, I too have a long-standing feud with my body hair. I just want to lose the battle already and not care anymore but alas...