'Cartoon-like extremes': Wendler will not allow drag show on WT campus

Walter Wendler, the president of West Texas A&M University, criticized drag shows as an event that demeans and diminishes women while canceling an event on campus.

Wendler sent out an email to the school on Monday announcing that the college would not be hosting a planned drag show charity performance titled "A Fool’s Drag Race" on Mar. 31. The performance was originally meant to raise money for the transgender crisis management non-profit organization The Trevor Project.

While Wendler supported donating money to the organization itself, he denounced drag shows as demeaning to women under the subject headline "A Harmless Drag show? No Such Thing."

"Does a drag show preserve a single thread of human dignity? I think not. As a performance of exaggerating aspects of womanhood (sexuality, femininity, gender), drag shows stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood. Any event that diminishes an individual or group through representation is wrong," Wendler wrote.

He also compared the act of taking part in drag shows akin to "blackface" in terms of denigration.

"As a university president, I would not support 'blackface' performances on our campus, even if told the performance is a form of free speech or intended as humor. It is wrong. I do not support any show, performance or artistic expression which denigrates others—in this case, women—for any reason," he wrote. 

Wendler continued, "Forward-thinking women and men have worked together for nearly two centuries to eliminate sexism. Women have fought valiantly, seeking equality in the voting booth, marketplace and court of public opinion. No one should claim a right to contribute to women’s suffering via a slapstick sideshow that erodes the worth of women."

"Should I let rest misogynistic behavior portraying women as objects?" he asked.

Regarding school policy, Wendler stood by the promise that his university will stand by its policy to "provide fair opportunities" to individuals.

"WT intends to provide fair opportunities to all based on academic performance. Ideas, not ideology, are the coin of our realm. A university campus, charged by the state of Texas to treat each individual fairly, should elevate students based on achievement and capability, performance in a word, without regard to group membership—an implacable and exacting standard based on educational mission and service to all, sanctioned by the legislature, the governor and numerous elected and appointed officials," he wrote. "WT endeavors to treat all people equally. Drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the state intended. Such conduct runs counter to the purpose of WT."

Students criticized Wendler’s email and later set up a petition to have the event restored, attacking the comparison to blackface.

"Not only is this a gross and abhorrent comparison of two completely different topics, but it is also an extremely distorted and incorrect definition of drag as a culture and form of performance art," the petition read.

A protest was also held on campus with students planning to hold additional protests every day this week in support of transgender rights.

Critics also claimed that Wendler violated school policy. According to the petition, the university’s policy read, "The university may not take action against a student organization or deny the organization any benefit generally available to other student organizations at the university on the basis of a political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoint expressed by the organization or any expressive activities of the organization."

Wendler is the top voice on campus and those are his thoughts. He’s waded into a hot-button issue here. Drag shows in general are not as controversial as Wendler might think. The drag shows that send people into the streets to protest are the drag storybook hours that attempt to normalize the sexualization of very young children. Most adults are not opposed to drag shows for adult audiences. If it isn’t an adult’s cup of tea, that person doesn’t go. It’s a form of entertainment. But it is for adults. Children don’t understand why the man is playing dress-up and dancing around.

I understand how a college president might not want a drag show, even as a fundraiser, on campus. There are better venues off-campus, I would imagine. Wendler feels strongly about drag shows and doesn’t want to be in a position of looking as though he supports the event. The irony here is that he does support the fundraiser’s cause and encourages people to contribute to it. 

Wendler is focused on the misogyny angle. I can understand what he is saying. To play devil’s advocate, not all drag shows are mockery toward women. Some shows feature talented impersonators. Have you ever seen a talented Liza Minneli impersonator? Or maybe a Cher impersonator? I’m not trying to make the case that drag shows should be on college campuses but college students are of legal age. At least this one was a fundraiser, not just in a club down the street.

I’m sure legal challenges are being made as I write this. We’ll see how it all turns out.

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