What hope for women when the feminine ideal has a penis
Any day now I’m expecting to open the paper and see a man starring in a maternity shoot. The man, of course, would be the toast of Broadmeadows, 20 year-old Andrej Pejic, the it-boy model of the moment for whom so many international labels are clamouring.
This beautiful boy, whose androgyny is so convincing he could easily pass as a beautiful girl, has this week featured in another swimwear campaign; this time for Aussie designer Nathan Paul.
The well-liked model – who from all accounts is a lovely guy—pronounced the range ‘’very virgin-like’’.
You may recall that last year, as well as being voted by FHM readers to be the 98th sexiest woman in the world (creepy), he rocked a lingerie shoot, thanks to a Dutch company, and a lovely fitted wedding gown on the catwalks of Paris, care of Jean Paul Gaultier.
So, surely all that’s left to conquer is maternity, and no doubt the prosthetics experts are overcoming any annoying anatomical hurdles to that right now.
But while I’m as happy for the success of our latest hit Aussie export as anyone (especially given his ability to overcome early-childhood in a Serbian refugee camp) I have had enough of fashion’s obsession with putting Andrej Pejic – or any other bloke—in women’s clothes that are marketed to women.
And not just women’s clothes; women’s poses – in one of the shots released this week Pejic had one hand coyly placed on the top of his hip, just like the girl swimwear models do to disguise any tiny hint of an unflattering line. Though of course, in Pejic’s case there is most certainly no miniscule saddle-bag to hide.
The most obvious thing wrong with so many style tsars deeming the striking - but clearly male - Pejic to personify the perfect woman, is that quite apart from his attention-getting value they deem his hip, butt and breastless shape to be the feminine ideal.
Talk about taking us backwards, what, about a dozen years?
Just as pioneering editors such as Italian Vogue’s Franca Sozzani are seeing their ground-breaking campaign to fight the eating disorder epidemic taking hold – as their use of more realistic-shaped models on covers and in high fashion spreads is emulated around the world – the men controlling much of fashion are falling over to get Pejic.
It seems flat out ironic that in the same week Sports Illustrated used a fuller-figure model (voluptuous Kate Upton) for the first time on its famed bikini cover, the hoo haa over Pejic’s latest swimwear shoot projects such a woman-unfriendly ideal from its origins in the novelty-loving, artsy-couture scene into the high-street mainstream.
In the US, women are celebrating the fact that a more enlightened, healthier ideal finally makes it to the cover of one of the highest-profile blokey mags. But here, the average girl on the hunt for togs is being told that to be hot and oh-so-now she must strive to look like Andrej.
As if young women need one more reason to starve and carve themselves.
Sure, Pejic “does” the ladies with a heap of style, but he can never do them justice. He is not a sexy woman, he’s a sexy man; and one, to his credit, who has admitted he needs to battle to stay thin enough to carry the illusion off.
I am not anti-gender bending for experimentation, or for art. And I’d hope I get the fun and flamboyance of our many classy drag acts as much as anyone – when female impersonation is done respectfully it is hilarious.
And of course I am quite comfortable with trans-gender models featuring in campaigns for women’s clothes.
The problem, though, is that as men posing as women is normalized to the point where dressing up as freakish females is a standard party trick for everyone from footballers on Mad Monday to VCE boys on muck up, the line between female impersonation and grotesque, and sexist, parody becomes worryingly blurred. Sadly, campaigns like Pejic’s, while they may be witty, can only help promote this degrading stunt as fine.
Gender impersonation, though it’s been around for years, is also highly in (again). Last year the MTC riled some dedicated theatre goers when it gave the key female role of in its hero production, The Importance of Being Ernest—Lady Bracknell, one of the great stage roles for women over 50—to Geoffrey Rush.
At another of the city’s theatre hubs, the Malthouse, Paul Capsis played the great women’s dramatic cabaret role: Jenny in Three Penny Opera.
The cleverness of both performances was noted, but for mine, when men are cast in roles written for women (as dinstinct, say, from the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray – written for Divine and played superbly here by Trevor Astley), call me pedantic but I believe it is hard to avoid a whiff of mockery.
Seeing the gifted Capsis stumbling on stage as the prostitute Jenny, clutching her abdomen having apparently endured assault, felt more than a little weird.
To its credit, the MTC has this year cast Robyn Nevin as King Lear - reportedly in part to address the imbalance among the genders in lead roles. Whether the fashion forces pushing our Andrej as God’s gift to women’s bodies will keep at it is yet to be seen - hopefully not in maternity wear.
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