Gender Dress and Power: Transvestite heroines in the Post-War Western

This source preferred by Christa Van Raalte

Authors: Van Raalte, C.

Start date: 23 June 2011

Journal: The London Film and Media Reader 2

Volume: 1

Issue: 2

Pages: 165-175

Place of Publication: London

The post-war Western is explicitly concerned with frontiers, making it a productive context for exploring gendered differences and transgressions. It is a genre, moreover, wherein costume is an important indicator of character, status (social, moral or structural0, emotional state and narrative progression. Indeed, clothes frequently surpass their functional role within he cinematic narrative to offer an alternative discourse. Thus while cross-dressing by heroines of films such as Johnny Guitar , Yellow Sky and Calamity Jane may be explained diegetically in terms of expediency, nevertheless on some level it is always about status. To adopt masculine dress is both to usurp male power, n to denaturalize gender. The presence of the transvestite heroine, moreover, often indicates what Marjorie Garber has described as a ‘category crisis’, with repercussions beyond the issue of gender alignment. Thus where boundaries of gender are blurred in such films, those associated with race, ethnicity, morality and sexuality are rarely left intact. This paper explores the representation of the cross dressed, gun-toting heroine in Johnny Guitar, and in particular the narrative and representational function of costume in the film.

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