Specifically, women dressing up as men to tear down the patriarchy from the inside.
Just kidding. They cross dress so they can pursue their dreams, because their gender and society (mostly society) restricts such dreams. You’ve got Deryn from Leviathan, Kit from Cue for Treason, and now Violet from All Men of Genius.
What I like about the cross-dressing trope is that, when done right, it opens up a really interesting discussion about gendered society, what is considered proper, and what is considered feminine or masculine.
And so far, Men of Genius is doing it right. To summarize: Violet is a mechanical genius,and her dream is to go to Illyria College, an all-male school for scientists, the finest in England. Knowing she could get in with her brilliance and engineering skill, she applies to Illyria as her twin brother, Ashton, who helps her in her subterfuge.
Granted, up to the part I’ve been reading, Violet hasn’t been crossdressing for long, (she only just got to the school) but the conversation has already started. There are discussions on her brother’s homosexuality, what is considered the feminine and masculine way of talking, about condescension and decency.
I particularly like the scene where Violet and her friend, Jack, move into their dorm room at Illyria. Jack is in on Violet’s plan, and for the sake of decency, he suggests putting up a sheet across the room so they don’t see each other change.
Violet in turn replies this is ridiculous since she can change in the bathroom, and then Jack admits he doesn’t want her to see his legs.
He doesn’t want her to see his legs.
I think that’s really funny, considering how in the Victorian era everyone was pretty conservative. But crossdressing situations bring into light the differences between male and female—and to be honest, it’s all pretty tangible.
Violet has to bind her chest, put on sideburns, wear different clothes, lower her voice. She even rolls up a stocking and shoves it down her pants. But these are all very literal transformations. (I can’t wait to see what happens when she gets her period.)
But the key is her personality is still the same. It isn’t what a person thinks that makes us think “feminine” or “masculine”—it’s physical things like mannerisms and appearance.
And that’s an interesting thing to read about.