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Baby, You're My Religion

Viewing 1950's Butch Femme Sexual Practice

Thomas Demand. Room (Zimmer). 1996

The Butch Woman Inside James Dean or ‘What Kind of Person Do You Think a Girl Wants?’

Abstract This article suggests that because during the Second World War, legions of women, for the first time, could legitimately be employed, this economic freedom facilitated a freedom to create a new kind of masculinity – that of the butch. These butches dated femmes, a new kind of woman. This type of coupling was apparent in urban culture, but was not presented on film. This article explores the idea that James Dean, an admitted homosexual, acted in Rebel Without a Cause, as a butch woman, cloaked in the guise of his fictional heterosexuality. This gave heterosexual men the permission to learn the new masculinity that had been created during the war – by butch women. Dean is the perfect butch for Judy (played by Natalie Wood), except he is male – or is he? Is it a coincidence that Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning role in Boys Don’t Cry was frequently compared to ‘a young James Dean?’ What are the implications of Dean’s genderbending? Was Dean – a new kind of man – or woman?

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Copyright 2005 Marie Cartier. All rights reserved.