Ep 236: My Cross-Dressing Experience in La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage Aux FollesI was recently cast as “Albin” in the musical La Cage Aux Folles and it has given me the unique opportunity to have to learn how to act more effeminate and to cross dress. As a psychologist who obsesses about the “psychology of everyday life” you can imagine how I’ve been thinking about what there is to learn from this experience. The show goes up in less than a week but I wanted to share my experiences thus far and talk about issues such as gender roles and why I think the movie (La Cage Aux Folles or the American version which is called “The Birdcage“) and the musical have been so popular.

The fascination that many cultures have with men wearing women’s clothing has a long history, stretching back to when men portrayed women in Shakespeare’s plays (though this was due to women not being allowed o the stage at that time) to more modern movies: Monty Python. Some Like It Hot (and the musical which sprung from that movie – Sugar), Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and most recently on broadway, Kinky Boots.

Why is the movie and play so popular?

  • While the movie does have a gay couple in the lead roles, these men are in their 50s and we don’t typically think of “older people” (excuse me on that one) as engaging in sex
  • The gay couple can easily be fit into typical “male and female” gender roles. The “man” in the relatioship (Georges) is not too emotional and not too effeminate while the “woman” in the relationship (Albin) fulfills a more typical female stereotype – more emotional, more effeminate, more communicative, etc.
  • The two men have a son, but he is heterosexual (which is easier for many people to accept than if he were gay).
  • The key event in the show is the “meeting of the parents”: the son wants to marry a girl he met and so the parents from both families are meeting. This is a common cultural event that most people can identify with.
  • One of the key themes in the musical is that Albin just wants to be accepted as who he is (“I Am What I Am”). We can all identify with this need.

Gender Roles

  • Most western cultures don’t allow men too much leeway in their appearance so seeing a man dressed as a woman is a unique thing. It’s fascinating in part because it is a kind of optical illusion – you see what looks like a woman but you know it’s a man so you try to “find the man in the woman”.
  • How we communicate our gender: we socialize women to be expressive with their hands and fingers. Women will often put their hands over their hearts, and in general tend to keep their hands and arms close to their bodies so as not to take up too much space. They are taught to keep their legs together, which is partly because they are often wearing dresses and this is simply modesty, but keeping your legs together also accentuates one’s bodily curves (particularly true for female models). Men tend to try to take up a lot of space as a way to establish their territory (thus, “man spreading“).
  • When heterosexuals see a gay couple they sometimes ask themselves, “Which one of them is ‘the man'”? Jean Piaget might say that we are attempting to fit a new, unfamiliar experience into our more well understood schema (Assimilation) – in this case that a “couple” typically consists of a man ad a woman.
  • Thanks to Beth Benoit from Plymouth State University who pointed out that these days, gay couples tend to have a much more “playful” attitude toward gender and gender roles and for pointing to the research of Donald McCreary (Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology) who in 1994 stated that men who appear “effeminate” are more likely to be perceived as gay, while women who have masculine traits may be less likely to be seen as gay. This is another observation on the amount of “leeway” we give men and women in the expression of their gender.

Ep 233: White Policemen and Young Black Men – What’s Really Going on?

In the US, we’ve experienced a number of recent incidences of white policemen shooting black men. What’s going on? Are these more examples of prejudice and discrimination or unprovoked attacks on police? How do we know what really happened? In this episode of The Psych Files we look at how key social psychological theories are on display in these incidences: false memories, attribution biases, blaming the victim and social identity theory.

the criminal justice system that, flawed as it is, still insists that indictments be based on facts instead of emotions, which are fed by long-simmering prejudices and all the cognitive biases and memory distortions that come packaged in the human mind. – Michael Shermer, What Really Happened in Ferguson?

Resources for this Episode

Ep: 231: Multiple Personalities and Tips on Getting People to Help

Is there such a thing as a person having multiple personalities? What about Sybil and “All About Eve” – did they really have multiple personalities? The idea makes for great headlines and fascinating talk shows, but what’s the real story? I talk about that in this episode of The Psych Files along with giving tips on how to maximize the chances you’ll get help in an emergency and answer the question: is the new generation of teens lazy or is something wrong with the way we’re thinking about them? Another good example of Social Comparison theory.

Multiple Personalities

Social Comparison Theory

Bystander Intervention

Ep 221: The Facebook Experiment: Reaction from Psychologists

Facebook Experiment on Social ContagionYou may have heard that Facebook manipulated the content of user’s New Feeds during January of 2012 so that some users saw more positive posts than others, which other Facebook users saw more negative posts. They interpret this as an indication of Social Contagion on a massive scale (almost 700,000 Facebook users were part of the study). How did this affect these users? Did those who say negative posts become more negative and vice versa? The answer is that the research indicates that some of them – though a very, very few of them – did subsequently write posts that were similar to the ones that saw on their News Feed. How big of an effect is this? Is it unethical? Does agreeing to Facebook’s Terms of Use constitute “informed consent“. I examine these questions in this episode of The Psych Files.

Resources on the Facebook Study

Below is a map I put together with resources on the Facebook experiment. It’s a large map and if you want to view it in a larger size click here.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Again – here’s the link to the map that will open full screen.

Ep 219: Mental Health Professionals: Why So Liberal?

Surveys find that psychologists tend to align themselves with a liberal political orientation. Why is that? Are liberal-minded people drawn to human service professions or is there something about working in human services that causes people to become more liberal in their political views? In this episode I propose a few ideas that I think explains why mental health professionals tend to be on the liberal side of the political spectrum. I invite your constructive feedback on these suggestions.

Resources on Psychology and Politics

Polarized Psychology: Is Science Devalued in a Divided Society?

90.6 percent of social and personality psychologists describe themselves as liberal on social issues (compared with 3.9 percent who describe themselves as conservative), and 63.2 percent describe themselves as liberal on economic issues (compared with 10.3 percent who describe themselves as conservative). Overall, they found a liberal-to-conservative ratio of 14:1. – Polarized Psycholgy

Suggestions as to Why Mental Health Workers Tend to Have a Liberal Political Orientation

  • Mental health workers spend their days in direct contact with people who, because of their mental/emotional/situational challenges, are simply not able to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”. They need assistance, often in the form of social programs, to be able to do this.
  • Social programs often require government assistance, which often means increased taxes. Conservatives are typically in favor of lowering taxes and less government intervention.
  • The branch of psychology called Social Psychology focuses on external causes of behavior. Studies such as those by Stanley Milgram, Solomon Asch, Henri Tajfel, and Philip Zimbardo demonstrate that our behavior, thoughts and feelings are often strongly influenced by our surroundings. Conservatives tend to focus on the individual.
  • Another large branch of psychology – Behaviorism – also focuses on the influence of reinforcers in our environment and how they can make us behave, think and feel. Thus, to change people (from this perspective) requires changes in the environment (e.g., social programs).

I mentioned the “Filter Bubble” in this episode – the fact that the information we are exposed to from TV and from the web is often tailored only toward what organizations (particularly those that want to sell you something) think you would agree with. Thus, it is very hard to get an accurate picture of what is really happening in the world.

The Filter Bubble