Throughout the novel, the idea of gender fluidity, specifically cross-dressing, is juxtaposed constantly with don Quixote’s rigid and traditional standards towards women. This contrast serves to emphasize don Quixote’s outdated behaviors and hint at his misogynistic nature.
In the novel, Cervantes attempts to blur the boundary between both genders with many instances of men and women cross-dressing. For example, the barber and priest consider dressing as ladies to lure don Quixote back home. Another example is the scene in which Dorothea removes her disguise as a farm boy and transforms into a beautiful woman: “The young man took off his cap, and as he shook his head, his hair—that the rays of the sun might envy—started to cascade and spread out. By this, the observers came to realize that the person who seemed to be a peasant man was really an exquisite woman, and the most beautiful one that the eyes of the priest and barber had ever seen” (252-253). Gender is used repeatedly to manipulate others with a false identity in order to achieve a goal. By employing the concept of gender this way, Cervantes relaxes the typical norms that surround societal notions of gender.
Thus, a stark contrast arises between this relaxed idea of gender norms and don Quixote’s rigid and old-fashioned customs towards women. This can be seen when Dorothea, “the afflicted damsel,” tries “very hard to kiss [don Quixote’s] hands, but don Quixote, ever courteous and considerate, would not allow it. Rather he made her stand up and embraced her warmly” (270). Don Quixote consistently puts women on a metaphorical pedestal and behaves in an overly courteous way, which he rarely applies to men.
In a way, his excessive respect for women is belittling. It does not allow for them to act independently, perpetuating the idea that they cannot do anything for themselves and are to be treated as delicate flowers. Other male characters in the novel act similarly at times, echoing don Quixote’s misogynistic attitude. For instance, when “the barber jumped from his mule and went over to take Dorothea in his arms, but she got off by herself with great self-assurance and went to kneel before don Quixote” (270). The validity of his attitude is questioned inadvertently by the self-sufficient way that Dorothea and other women in the novel act, as well as the blurring of gender norms that is encouraged by constant cross-dressing throughout the novel.