Pantomimes are an English Christmas tradition that involves the audience more than any other type of entertainment. ‘Pantos’, as they are often affectionately referred to, frequently incorporate dramatic irony, cross-dressing, and other factors to create these comedies.
Our school puts on an annual Christmas pantomime, run by the year 13s, and it is a greatly anticipated event every year. Last year my headteacher commented on the cross-dressing in the panto and how pantomimes could not be what they are without it. It certainly struck a chord with many of the students as this outdated term was not even familiar to the younger pupils. While our headteacher’s comment was not vulgar or offensive, it began the conversation of the validity of what cross-dressing is to pantomimes and the appropriateness of such a thing.
Cross-dressing in theatre began as a way of incorporating female characters into the story, as women were not permitted to act in theatres. This certainly allowed for a misogynistic portrayal of women. Cross-dressing actors on stage were not accused of homosexuality or persecuted for it, as other people would have been had they been caught ‘cross-dressing’ in public. The concept of ‘cross-dressing’ relies on gender stereotypes and expectations, which are no longer prevalent in today’s society. A woman wearing trousers would be considered cross-dressing, just as a man wearing a skirt would also be considered as such, but clothes are no longer widely recognised as being gendered – just as many other objects are no longer being seen as unnecessarily gendered. Therefore, cross-dressing cannot exist in this contemporary world.
As women now act in theatres, cross-dressing is no longer a tool to get female characters on stage, but rather an act of comedy. This suggests that wearing clothes that are gender non-conforming is something that should be mocked and can be used to entertain an audience. There are traces of transphobia in this message as it implies that transgender individuals are comedic attributes to society, and it invalidates their true experiences and struggles.
Traditions are always near and dear to people’s hearts, but should traditions continue at the expense of an expanding and progressing society? Cross-dressing is outdated and unnecessary to an enjoyable Christmas pantomime and should not be a main attribute.
GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings