Glenn Close’s recent film, “Albert Nobbs,” introduces the concept that women in the Victorian Era would dress as men for greater work opportunities, as well as the social benefits that came with being perceived as male, thus assimilating themselves into the unspoken ruling class. This also served as insurance against rape and the degradation that commonly befell women of this period.
This theme is also present in “Tipping the Velvet, ” a book by Sarah Waters, later adapted for the small screen on BBC. The LGBT cult classic presents sapphic Victorian Culture as a sphere characterized by exaggerated gender presentation. This happens in a self-conscious manner–on stage before the public eye, where it is welcomed as a novelty–or in earnest, during homosexual affairs behind closed doors.
My question is how much of this based on fact? Close and Waters paint female-to-male crossdressing as a well-populated underworld of Victorian culture, in response to the era’s signature, hyper-stylized gender roles. Was this practice truly as rampant as these works would have us believe? Or did was it no more notorious than other instances of crossdressing throughout history, such as the onnagata (male-to-female kabuki actors) of Japan?
Albert Nobbs trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ini59bYhaUY):
Tipping the Velvet ending clip (http://youtu.be/RlJrccFvt6w):