When the song Dude Looks Like a Lady was released in 1987, it gave Aerosmith’s ninth album Permanent Vacation its biggest hit of the year. It also clocked up hours of MTV airtime thanks to its cheeky video featuring a red-hot band performance and plenty of bare female flesh. Despite its success, the song has been controversial over the years because it has been perceived as making light of transvestites and promoting harmful stereotypes. Despite the controversy, Aerosmith has stood by the message of the song and has said that it was meant to be a celebration of those who do not conform to traditional gender norms.
The lyrics of the song tell the story of a man who is mistakenly misgendered because of his appearance. Throughout the lyrics, the person experiences a range of reactions from other people, including surprise and admiration. The song’s uplifting melody and catchy chorus contrast with the serious themes it explores, encouraging listeners to disregard external stereotypes and embrace diversity.
According to songwriter Desmond Child, the song’s inspiration was a real-life event. He says that Tyler and fellow singer Joe Perry saw Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil at a bar and thought he looked like a woman because of his long blonde hair. They began to joke about it and eventually the idea for the song came up. The song also inspired the character of Robin Williams’ cross-dressing cat in Mrs. Doubtfire, but the band has always denied that the song is about that incident.