Gender and Class: The Body and Upper Class Privilege in She’s The Man

Amy Rae 1313322

Prof. Jocelyn Smith

CMST 2G03

13, March 2017

Gender and Class: The Body & Upper Class Privilege in She’s The Man

            In society, “everyday” gender and class identities are performed in various ways that introduces problems. I outline how both gender and class are constructed in She’s The Man (2006), looking at the issues it presents, as well as questioning how they affect the performance of both constructs. I argue that through analyzing the construction of gender in She’s The Man (2006), spectators are encouraged to challenge the standardization that evolves from the gender binary – through looking to its connection to the body and upper class privilege. This is demonstrated through Coyote and Halberstam’s work, allowing the spectator to question how gender and class are constructed in larger performances and look at how it is communicated to the audience. This is significant as it asks the spectator to evaluate, not simply how gender and class work together, but why.

She’s The Man is a teen movie that presents a specific performance of “everyday” gender. For purposes of length of this essay, one of the final scenes is to be analyzed. This scene depicts the protagonist Viola, proving to Duke (her love interest) that she is a girl who has just been in disguise as her brother. She does so by flashing her breasts in front of him and the entire stadium of people who are there to watch the soccer game (2006).

Ivan Coyote in “The Rest of My Chest” addresses the gender binary issue from a trans perspective; specifically speaking to the role sexual body parts play in determining one’s gender. Coyote explains having to see a psychologist in order for her to qualify to have her breasts removed (69). The psychologists asks if she ‘packs’, “[a]s in a dick. As in, in [her] pants” (Coyote 71), to which Coyote questions whether or not that influences her chance of getting the surgery covered under Canadian health benefits. The fact that the psychologist admits that is the case (Coyote 72), raises many questions regarding the body and how sexual body parts affect how one is seen as either a girl or a boy.

When looking to She’s The Man, one is able to see how Viola is ‘forced’ to perform her gender in a way that coincides with how Ivan Coyote was expected to perform masculinity in a certain way (i.e. taking hormones before the breast surgery and having male genitalia (71)). In attempt to prove she is in fact a woman, Viola takes off her wig that disguises her as her brother (Movieclips 2012). Her long hair only momentarily upholds her ‘womanhood’, before Duke blatantly calls her out saying; “just because you wear a wig doesn’t mean you’re a girl” (Movieclips 2012). Viola then responds with “okay then” and exposes her breasts to prove she is a woman (Movieclips 2012). This notion of proving one’s gender through having certain genitalia or breasts is problematic as it constructs gender in a way that is constricted by the bounds of the gender binary. It is important to question why Viola has to prove her womanhood by revealing a private body part for all to see. If she did not have breasts, would that make her any less of a woman? The way that her gender is being performed, explores how the constraints of the gender binary would not allow a woman with no breasts to perform her gender in a similar manner.

When looking at how “everyday” gender is performed, it is significant to look at its correlation to the class system. Jack Halberstam speaks to the performativity of the gender binary, while also focusing on its relation to class in “Whither Feminism? Gender and the New Normal”. Halberstam explores the divide between men and women looking at women who have outperformed men and further explains that the argument presented only applies because the study is limited to “mostly white, mostly middle-class” households (3). By acknowledging this fact, he points to the way in which gender and class are intertwined.

While gender is the most discernable performance in She’s The Man, class should not be overlooked. It is apparent that all of the characters in the movie are from an upper class, seen by how they are attending a private school. Viola further implies her upper class status, by switching from one private school to another when her gender stands in the way of her playing on a soccer team (Movieclips 2012). Near the end of the clip Viola says, “this isn’t how I wanted it to happen and I didn’t want to hurt you but I just wanted to prove that I was good enough” (Movieclips 2012). Here Viola communicates to the audience how her “everyday” performance of gender and class has led her to make the decisions she has made. Because she is an upper class girl, she finds herself manipulating her performance of her gender, in order to prove herself in the private school world. This is significant as it looks to how “one sector inevitably impact[s] shifts and changes across the whole spectrum” (Halberstam 4), speaking to how class and gender are inevitably connected. This challenges the spectators to question not only how class and gender are maintained in the performance but also why they work together in such a way.

Once having evaluated how gender and class are performed in She’s The Man, it is apparent that gender and class are constructed in very particular ways. It is through Coyote and Halberstam’s work, that the reader is able to make connections between the concepts discussed within a larger performance. While Coyote’s view on gender, works to discuss the ways in which one’s body is used to define Viola’s womanhood, Halberstam speaks to gender in relation to class – touching upon how class works alongside gender. This is significant as it asks the spectator to address crucial issues of gender and class in performances and critically question why these identities are constructed in such a way.

Works Cited

Coyote, I. “The rest of My Chest”. 2014. Print.

Halberstam, J. “Whither Feminism? Gender and the New Normal”. Los Angeles Review   of Books: 2012. Print.

“She’s the Man (8/8) Movie CLIP – I’m Viola (2006) HD”. YouTube, uploaded by          Movieclips, 21 May 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opCf3mp24dE

 

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