He's a Great Lookin' Dame: A Feminist Account of Gender Performance at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

By Sarah Elizabeth Siegrist.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

At the turn of the twentieth century in the midst of the cries of race suicide, the essential castration of the old conceptions of manliness by the emerging “New Woman,” and the development of Eugene Sandow’s perfect male form, how did such seemingly deviant displays as female impersonation gain acceptance as forms of entertainment? To better understand this phenomenon, this essay explores the unique position that gender impersonation performance as entertainment played in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century using the female impersonator Julian Eltinge. The argument will present the concept of impersonation as a form of mimesis and consider the works of scholars Judith Butler and Elin Diamond who posit two different, but related, perspectives grounded in feminist theory. By applying the theories of Butler and Diamond, this essay constructs an explanation as to why female impersonation gained a level of cultural acceptance in its turn of the twentieth century form. It explores the career of Eltinge through the “lens” of Butler and Diamond, and most importantly, it gives agency to the spectator at such a performance.

Keywords: Gender, Performance, Feminism, Masculinity

The International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.119-126. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 509.526KB).

Sarah Elizabeth Siegrist

Doctoral Student, Art History, Indiana Univeristy, USA


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