When I was a young, naive college student, I took one Intro to Feminism class and I did what a lot of new feminists do: I completely misunderstood the ideas behind it.
I decided to reject being "feminine" entirely. I stopped wearing skirts and dresses, wore band shirts (they only came in men's sizes back then) and combat boots exclusively, and thought of makeup as a tool of the patriarchy. Yeah, go ahead and roll your eyes.
I took a job at the library, and was pleased to realize that one of my childhood friends, Jeff, worked there too. We'd lost touch over the years, and in that time, Jeff had transformed from a quiet, sci-fi obsessed boy into an outgoing gay man. Not only that, but he'd gained a new passion beyond Ray Bradbury: drag. (Imagine being a drag performer in the tiny gay clubs of North Carolina, if you will.)
We fell back into our childhood friendship comfortably. We had been hanging out for a few weeks when Jeff finally turned to me and mused how weird it was that we were both trying so hard to project an idea of the other's gender.
"That's what I don't get about you ladies," he said. "You have these amazing natural abilities, and you spend all of your time trying to figure out how you can bury them so you can be taken seriously. So stupid."
Just think about that for a minute. That statement alone set off a series of explosions in my brain that continued, thankfully into my wardrobe.
I took his words to heart that day, and try to remind myself of those words every single day. Jeff and I don't see each other that often anymore, which is why I turn to RuPaul to help remind me of the importance of being a lady. So now I present to you the best lessons that women can take away from "RuPaul's Drag Race."
Being a lady should be fun.
For lord's sake, let us get this tattooed on our foreheads, backward, so we can read it in the mirror every day. There may be some drawbacks, in some people's eyes, to being a woman, but holy shit are there advantages. We get to wear fun, weird clothes in a million varieties that can convey who we are, who we aren't, and everything else. We get to show boobs or not, show our legs or not, or stay completely covered and still look adorable or gorgeous or terrifying. We get to wear sequins and striped tights and motorcycle boots and men's polyester suits and tell people it's laundry day when they ask why we're so dressed up! We get to create personas when we go out at night, live them, and then take them off at the end of the night. Drag queens put up with a lot of hate and disgust to have this kind of fun, and we get it automatically.
It's fine to be catty here and there, but underdogs need to band together.
"RuPaul's Drag Race," despite being chock-full of gay men, is not as bitchy as you think it's going to be. Sure, the queens will snip at each other, but often it's done just before they lean in to help each other with eye makeup. They realize something we ladies often don't -- there is strength in numbers. They all want to win the contest, but ultimately, they want their lifestyles, their passions, and their talents recognized by the world at large, so they know better than to hack each other to shreds. RuPaul has done a fantastic job in fostering this idea in the drag community.
Looking good isn't just about "snagging a man."
This is old hat for most of you, but if you're young, or a man, or just haven't figured this out -- we don't actually dress to impress the people we want to bed. We dress up, whatever dressing up means to you, because it makes us feel good, and often, to be appreciated by other women. Drag queens get this. They put on shows for each other, they revel in each other's creativity, they wear clothes that are physically impossible to have sex in. The idea that the person you're interested in, man or woman, will be more or less attracted to you based on the drape of your shirt or the opaqueness of your tights is insane.
The feminity we sometimes shun is also an important tool.
This was the ultimate lesson for me to learn, and I love that it took a gay man to teach me. I'm not saying it's the "correct" opinion, but I eventually realized, while reading papers about how women should be taken seriously for their ideas and not just their looks, that discounting femininity was part of The Patriarchy too. What else to blame, other than the patriarchy, for the fact that one of the biggest things we have that sets us apart from men is deemed to be "off limits" for use? I have feminine wiles, and they are what help me network with clients, become memorable to potential investors, and soothe angry patrons at the theater I run. Ru and her drag queens realize this -- they've built an entire mode of entertainment based around it, and damn is it gorgeous.
These lessons are why I watch "RuPaul's Drag Race" every week. Drag queens have helped me embrace my own womanhood and take it to another level, and I am forever grateful to Jeff, to Ru, and to every boy who ever put on a wig and contouring makeup. And finally, in the words of RuPaul, if you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else. Can I get an amen?