This weekend, The Gendersaurus Rex will be traveling to Manchester to perform a work-in-progress of a new piece called The Clothes Show. It will be shown as part of HAPHAZARD, an all-ages afternoon of live art for the curious held in the Z-Arts building and run by Word of Warning.
A couple of weeks ago I tried out a short version of The Clothes Show at the Imaginate Scratch event at the Tron Theatre and it seemed to go down pretty well with an all-adult audience, so it will be interesting to see if children like it…
In this project I’ve been swinging between getting to grips with gender and queer theory, worrying about what you can and can’t say to children, and trying to work out if there is a way to approach all this through performance. For this piece I’m trying to keep it simple and look directly at clothes – something most of us have an intimate experience of – as a way of lightly tapping into these bigger issues.
When talking about gender issues and children, most people’s minds jump to examples of unnecessarily-gendered consumer goods, such as toys, books and clothes. These have been high-lighted by a range of high-profile campaigns:
Let Toys Be Toys – www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk – asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.
Let Clothes Be Clothes – www.letclothesbeclothes.uk – Allies of Let Toys Be Toys, we’re calling on retailers in the UK to support choice and end the use of gender stereotypes in the design and marketing of children’s clothes. Join us in asking, why not #makeitunisex
Pink Stinks – www.pinkstinks.co.uk – We believe that all children – girls and boys – are affected by the ‘pinkification’ of girlhood. Our aim is to challenge and reverse this growing trend. We also promote media literacy, self-esteem, positive body image and female role models for kids.
Just a quick glance at any of these sites reminds us how often these products are being gendered, seemingly for no good reason. Of course the reason is capitalism – that by splitting the options and aiming at two supposedly opposed market bases, the company will be able to sell more products. But these sites also suggest that making these distinctions between what girls and boys like is not only unfounded, but reductive and even harmful to all children. It’s not just a case of girls being given pink things and boys being given blue, but there’s a whole range of messages about gender being expressed through these clothes and toys that it’s impossible for the children wearing them not to be influenced.
So The Clothes Show is partly my way of having a bit of a rant and showing up these weird gender norms by taking on the role of a dinosaur who doesn’t really understand what clothes are for or why you would wear something that tries to tell you who to be. I’m hoping that this feels like a fairly safe subject, but that through a humourous set-up we can problemetise and undermine the gender norms presented by clothing.
I was also very influenced by the following video of the 80s TV show, The Clothes Show. In this episode, the wonderful and legendary Leigh Bowery models some of his own creations in Harrods Tea Room. I don’t think the Gendersaurus Rex is as fabulous as Bowery, but I find his approach to clothing very inspirational.