History gives us many examples of women dressing as men to go fight or escape life AS a woman. Anne Bonny and Mary Read were famous women pirates who dressed as men many times in their lives. The famous colonial story of Thomas/Thomasine Hall who was examined by men and women who still were unable to decide definitively on a sex. In Shakespeare’s time only men were allowed to act, so they dressed as women for their parts in plays.
Many fictional tales feature a woman dressing as a man to follow their husband, or lover, into war. Since women tend to be smaller in stature they can pass as young boys, and so do the work of squires. Yet, women like Mary Read could be raised as boys. Mary went to war and managed to emulate a male sailor until her sex was revealed though her piracy trial. Of course, she had revealed her sex to Anne and Calico Jack, but remained a man to everyone else. The world was safer if you were a man. Yes, you could get in fights or brawls, but women always had to be afraid of rape.
Of course, the most known current version of gender bending is Disney’s Mulan. She goes in her crippled father’s stead to fight the Mongol horde. She has help from her horse, a little dragon, and a cricket (this is Disney after all). She is a young girl, so she is weak and was never trained to use weapons so the training song is a lot of images of her doing extremely poorly. Then she has a defining moment of choice and becomes the best of the group. She kinda has the hots for the leader of her troop, but does her best to maintain her “Ping” male persona. Mulan manages to save everyone with a well placed projectile that eliminates most of the invading horde. Her sex is discovered and she is turned out in disgrace. Predictibly, she sees that some bad guys survive and helps the hot leader save the Emperor and is publically acknowledged as a hero.
Now, cross dressing is used in another fashion, to show one’s sexual preference. “Dikes” and “Drag Queens” are male oriented lesbians and female acting gay men. By dressing this way these people are free to act in the fashion they feel is natural for them. There is still a danger associated with dressing out of the norm, but the increasing acceptance of different lifestyles the danger is less than in historical instances.
Women have fought to allowed into the worlds of men. Not just in working along side them, but in being able to wear slacks or even showing our ankles. “Clothing makes the man,” is a common saying. Now that women can wear the same type of clothing as men, they feel that their rights are closer to being equal.