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How are gender roles challenged in Billy Elliot?

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Billy Elliot is set in a mining community in the North East of England during the 1980s. The setting is significant, because it represents the last gasp of that industrial world: the men of this community are miners like their fathers before them, but their sons will not follow in...

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Billy Elliot is set in a mining community in the North East of England during the 1980s. The setting is significant, because it represents the last gasp of that industrial world: the men of this community are miners like their fathers before them, but their sons will not follow in their footsteps. The backdrop of the miners' strike represents the changing tide, and Billy and his friend Michael are examples of the new type of man that might emerge into this post-industrial landscape.

Billy's father is Scottish, and his black-and-white statement that "boys don't do ballet" resonates particularly in an accent which connotes dourness, masculinity, and moral uprightness—a more extreme form, as it were, of the North East English accent the others speak. He is the extreme of a man's man.

Meanwhile, Billy is up in the clouds, not part of this world—think of the opening scenes of him bouncing on his bed, light and trying to escape. His rejection of boxing in favor of dancing is construed by his father as a rejection of masculinity and the way things should be. His dancing teacher, Mrs Wilkinson, however, shepherds Billy towards his dreams, suggesting that she, too, would like to escape the strictures gender roles have placed upon her in this very working-class environment.

Michael is very literally transgressing gender in a way which demonstrates, in fact, true bravery on his part. It is often suggested that he is gay, but the way he is presented as an adult in particular makes it also seem likely that he is a transgender character. Billy represents the fact that boys certainly can and should "do ballet," but Michael goes beyond this to remind us that the gender we are assigned at birth does not necessarily dictate who we will become.

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Billy Elliot comes from a traditional working-class background in the North-East of England, a place where men are men are women are expected to do the housework. Gender roles in this neck of the woods aren't so much rigid as set in permafrost.

That being the case, it's considered nothing less than scandalous for a boy to express interest in becoming a ballet dancer. For many in this community, dancing is something that girls do or, failing that, gay men. And in an old mining community such as this, with its traditional understanding of masculinity, homosexuality is widely considered to be unacceptable.

Billy challenges these prevailing prejudices by his determination to make it as a ballet dancer. His friend Michael—who, unlike Billy, really is gay—also blurs traditional gender roles by bravely affirming his sexuality through clothing and make-up.

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First and foremost, Billy Elliot himself challenges gender norms by pursuing dance rather than boxing, against the wishes of his father and social pressure from men in the community. He joins a dance class of all girls and becomes interested in a decidedly "girly" vocation: ballet. This defiance of gender norms comes to its zenith when Billy dances ballet energetically and passionately in front of his father.

Meanwhile, Billy's best friend Michael experiments with the trappings of femininity. He wears makeup and tries on his sister's clothing. Michael explores his affinity for "girly" styles and means of self-expression, thereby confounding gender roles, not unlike his good friend Billy.

The main female characters also provide effective foils for the movie's take on gender conformity. Both Mrs. Wilkinson (Billy's dance instructor) and her daughter Debbie are proactive and opinionated. Mrs. Wilkinson is obviously the one keeping her own family unit together, and she confronts Billy's family on his behalf. She is determined to guide Billy toward success and is not intimidated by the men around them who disapprove of Billy's interest in dance. Her daughter Debbie is also outgoing, as she very bluntly flirts with Billy and speaks her mind openly and frequently. These two female characters are tenacious and at times aggressive, demonstrating some stereotypically masculine traits. In their own way, they also challenge gender stereotypes.

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Billy Elliot challenges gender roles in several ways, primarily through the male characters. It also reinforces gender stereotypes in order to make a point about challenging them.

Billy, the protagonist, lives in an English working-class town. The men in his family, as many others, are miners. His father embodies a stereotype of such working men, believing in rigid gender roles where men follow sports like football.

Billy falls in love with dance and decides he is good enough to pursue a vocation as a ballet dancer. At 12, he is already at the far edge of the age limit to begin serious training so he has to commit. His dad is not happy.

Billy's mom is also largely a stereotype of a nurturing mother. She supports him, which does mean opposing her husband, which might be considered nontraditional.

Billy is straight, which challenges the idea that artistic men are gay or vice versa. His best friend, Michael, who is gay, is not the one who wants to be a dancer.

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