BY ANDY FELTON
I was recently made aware of the Los Alamos County Library’s Drag Story Hour, featuring plans to host “Lil Miss Hot Mess” and the reading of If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It. The event is sponsored by the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism, a so-called feminist organization that “expose[s] the danger of misogynist ideology and mobilization.”
In the spirit of exposing misogyny, we should first recall what the term means. Misogyny derives from the Greek terms Misos, meaning “hatred,” and gunē, meaning “woman.” Therefore, the functional definition would be a contempt toward women—acts of despising women, or lacking respect for them.
It is interesting, however, that an organization intent on combatting contempt toward women would do so in such a peculiar manner. A drag queen is, by definition, a man who imitates and exaggerates femininity for entertainment purposes, often singing and dancing for the sake of self-expression. But everyone who has seen drag understands that the practice is no genuine attempt at expressing femininity, but rather men dressing as cartoon versions women, or caricatures for the gratification of men. At the same time, drag culture implies that womanhood is a mask that a man can wear just as well, if not better than a woman—that the essence of womanhood is nothing unique, but something a man can simply “put on” with pounds of makeup and a wig. Is this not a prime example of contempt toward women, otherwise known as misogyny?
It would be unfortunate if, by embracing drag, the institute was simply ineffective in achieving its stated goal of combatting misogyny, but ineffectiveness becomes outright immorality when the audience is small children. Some may insist that condemning this show runs afoul of freedom of speech protections for drag performers, and there may even be a case to be made for the inclusion of drag in adult entertainment, but the context is what matters in this case. Not all areas of public life are “free speech zones,” and the most obvious among these excluded areas are places where children are raised. Schools and other public education centers are not places where all opinions should be expressed, because children don’t have the requisite moral foundations to process them. The purpose of education is to curate appropriate content in the spirit of developing this foundation.
But now the question becomes, “what type of content should this be, and where is the line for what children should be exposed to?” No reasonable person would disagree with the idea that a line exists, as we have no problem barring children from bars and strip clubs. Yet, instead of defining this line precisely, it may be easier to use a comparison that we all agree is beyond it. Would the library proudly feature a children’s minstrel show? Would it be okay for a white person to appropriate blackness for the youngsters, wearing blackface and acting in stereotypical and humiliating manner? Of course, we all agree that such a show would be despicable and inappropriate for a child’s education, let alone society at large, because it is racist and hateful. So, the line is certainly short of that, but is drag any different? When we consider that drag involves men dressed in “womanface” acting out a mockery of femininity, it becomes apparent that the only practical difference between the two is the object of belittlement, whether intended or not.
I have two small children and could easily shield them from content like this while tolerating other parents who choose the opposite for their children. Live and let live, right? There are certainly areas of life in which it is appropriate to let people decide for themselves, but the preservation of children isn’t one of them. There is no such thing as a society that doesn’t impose and enforce limits based on what it considers right behavior, because we all experience the results of society’s moral enrichment or decline. The real question is what those limits are and who decides them. We can decide what type of polity we wish to live in, and I would suggest that drag for kiddies isn’t a part of it.