Queers, monsters, drag queens, and whiteness: unruly femininities in women's staged performances
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This dissertation investigates how women’s staged performances of “unruly femininities” potentially subvert normative understandings of gender and transform systems of representation. I define femininity as a complex, historically shifting, and heteronormative construct both reinforced and perpetuated by dominant discourses and resisted by different women in distinct ways. Thus, “unruly femininities” reflects critical re-stagings of femininity that ultimately break its internal “rules.” The performances examined here foreground a potentially scandalous use of the female voice and body to violate and/or parody heterosexual norms of femininity and masculinity. I focus on women’s self-representations within the public and often contentious realms of feminist theater and women’s performance. My field of study is limited to contemporary women’s performances on traditional theater stages, in popular music, and in the field of visual art in North America. Specifically, I analyze a production of Paula Vogel’s play Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, Lois Weaver’s performances both within Split Britches’s show Belle Reprieve and in her solo show Faith and Dancing: Mapping Femininity and Other Natural Disasters, Jacqueline Lawton’s solo performance series “Venus Stands Sublimely Nude,” Patty Chang’s photographic sculptures, Deborah Vasquez’s comic strip character “Citlali La Chicana Superhero,” and Leslie Mah’s performance within the queercore allfemale band “Tribe 8.” Reading Elin Diamond’s theory of feminist mimesis in relationship to Brechtian feminist performances of female spectacle and white heterofemininity, queer female-to-femme drag, and stagings of melancholic abjection and “macha femme” menace by women of color, I consider how these performances variously disrupt, deconstruct and transform representations of gender in feminist ways. Differences across race, class, sexuality, and age significantly shape performers’ strategies and issues of audience reception. I argue that while women who use their bodies and voices as vehicles of public protest are often at risk of being “punished” in various ways, they also demonstrate the disruptive power of the unruly woman within systems of representation.