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Bitches and drag queens: femininity and reality TV

The queen isn’t dead, writes Lucy Watson

ROLASKATOX

ROLASKATOX

When Janis Ian tried to bring down Regina George in Mean Girls, she identified three main criteria of the mean girl: the “high-status man candy,” an “ignorant band of loyal followers,” and, of course, the “technically good physique.” It is through these sage words that we can best analyse the performance of femininity in the classics of reality TV. A type of performance where in order to be the best, you have to look the best, and hate the rest.

Like all brands of masculinity and femininity, the mean girl is a performance. Femininity, according to USYD gender studies lecturer Dr Jessica Cadwallader, is often thought of as “artificial in some way, but it’s also supposedly something that women are predisposed to.”

She describes a hierarchy of femininity, with girlishness at the top: “the tendency towards skirts…hairlessness on the body, long shiny hair, and a tendency toward makeup, an easy laugh, and a not too critical way of approaching the world.”

According to Cadwallader, femininity is a performance because “it involves the use of external technologies.” That is, the most feminine person needs a razor, a hairdresser, makeup, and clothing before they can become their feminine self.

Reality television is all about the competition. So, I ask, who has the best make up? Who is the best mean girl? The models of America’s Next Top Model (ANTM), or the drag queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race (RPDR)? According to Cadwallader, both are a “deliberate artifice” of hyperbolic femininity, so there is certainly “some crossover,” making this competition all the more heated. To judge this battle, I’ll use Janis’ three criteria.

First: the candy. Mean girls love their men. The ‘pit crew’, RuPaul’s minions, are always present on RPDR, scantily clad and fully stuffed (if you know what I mean), just waiting for the queens to show off their girlish flirting abilities. And one need only watch the first Jamaica episode of ANTM cycle 19 to see girlish flirting in full force there. Kiara, the most athletic model – and therefore most masculine – overperforms this element of femininity by flirting excessively with the male models, causing her arch-enemy Kristin to become even meaner.

Next: the ignorant band of loyal followers, a.k.a the Army of Skanks. In cycle 19, “for the first time EVER!” one model was voted back by her fans on Facebook, and the models’ social media score and feedback counted toward their final mark. The fans constantly propped up the most successful models: in their eyes, Laura and Leila could do no wrong.

Fans are less involved in RPDR, but armies of skanks are apparent no less. The queens form cliques, displaying what Cadwallader describes as “the intense intimacy of female friendships,” and the most successful girls always tend to be part of the clique: see the Heathers in season three, and RoLaskaTox of season five.

Lastly, the technically good physique, or “Hot Body.” This is absolutely essential. These shows are built around who has the best body. Models are winners if they are hot “H2T” (head to toe) models, who can “smize” (smile with your eyes) and “tooch” (stick your butt out) the best. In cycle 18, self-described “androgynous” model, AzMarie, refused to pad her bum and learn the art of the tooch with Tyra, and was sent home as a result.

Queens, however, are required to be more well-rounded, needing Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent (C.U.N.T) to win. Most of this is judged on how well they work the runway, their style, and how well they’ve constructed their lady-body through padding and shading. Queens are often either “fishy” (realistically feminine) or “camp” (over the top), but either way, it’s all about the body.

Both the queens and the models are fixated on having the hottest body, the best friends, and the best flirting in order to be the meanest. It’s almost too hard to judge who makes the best mean girl, though, to their credit, the queens do seem to have more C.U.N.T.