Dear universe and would-be allies:
Source: the lovely femmesandfamily, whose blog I recommend you check out.
Femmephobia, a topic that is more often than not on my mind in some form, was brought up anew in a conversation with a friend a couple nights ago. We talked about wanting to wear overtly feminine clothes some of the time and more masculine ones at other times. Should be easy, right? But it’s not.
Getting Dressed: A How-To Guide for Femmes and Anyone Who Dips into Femininity Occasionally
- Find fly outfit (trying on five is normal–we can’t always get it right the first time)
- Put it on
- Contemplate accessories (flower? pocket watch? jewelry? picket sign? rock?)**
- Worry about people hassling you and/or making asshole comments about your appearance
- Tell yourself that you’re over-thinking things and that no one is going to give you a hard time about how you look
- Go out into the world, looking fly and feeling good
- Someone will invariably make an asshole comment about how you’re presenting yourself
I (and so many other friends I’ve spoken with) have noticed a trend in sectors of the queer community: the idealizing of the thin, white, androgynous hipster look. If this is your look and you wanna rock it, that’s great for you. But when the attention paid to people who embody this look far eclipses the focus on all other gender presentations, there’s a big problem.
What’s going on here?
- Patriarchal society prizes men and masculinity. Looking through all sorts of intersecting oppressions, the ideal person (according to US society) is a white, cisgender, able, upwardly-mobile, masculine man.
- In this patriarchal society, women are required to be feminine and then punished for doing so. Femininity is seen as compulsory (you must look/behave “like a lady”) and also weak and deserving of ridicule (“girly” stuff is routinely dismissed as useless, superfluous, a joke).
- We internalize misogyny; everyone is taught that femininity is not strong or powerful.
- Results: men are socialized to be masculine and hate on femininity (“Why do women spend so much time on their hair/makeup? What a waste of time!” and “A feminine man–shock, horror! I must distance myself from him!”). Women who don’t wanna fit into the socialized femininity are told that they can have an out by also hating on it (“I don’t get along with women–they’re so vain and catty. All my friends are guys.”). Everyone gets cool points for hating on femininity. Wow, how fucked up is that?
What about queer communities?
- Stereotypes: queer women are masculine, queer men are feminine. That totally describes everyone, right?? Ha no.
- Result: anyone who doesn’t fit this description is usually unseen/ignored. People who do fit it are stereotyped as the big dyke or the gay bff.
The Really Nasty Part that Started this Whole Post:
Rejecting femininity is seen as a cool and radical thing to do. Femme-ness is consequently labeled conformist and unimportant. According to this logic, femmes are eye candy, but we don’t really have anything interesting to say. In case there was any doubt about this, let me clarify: just because I wear makeup and heels does not mean I’m brainless, unaware of my actions, and unwittingly conforming to patriarchal expectations. I have not failed to deconstruct my internalized whatever-the-fuck. I am not waiting for you, oh great masculine-of-center queer person to save me by showing me the error of my ways.
If you describe yourself as a radical queer activist, but all you have to say about femmes is that we look hot, while simultaneously ignoring our contributions to discussions in favor of listening to masculine-of-center folks (who may well be saying the same damn things we said ten minutes ago), do not be surprised by the wall of skepticism that I will build between us.
If femmes/sometimes-feminine folks are talking about how it’s an achievement to wear what we want without worrying about it, do not look at us with blank stares, as though we’ve said the most obvious thing in the world. Do not roll your eyes when we affirm for one another that it is in fact okay to say “fuck you” to people’s expectations and present our genders differently every day. If you do, chances are you’re one of the people who makes us uncomfortable and fuels our preemptive worries to begin with. Do not be step #7 when we get dressed.
**Note on the accessories list: “Why did you include a rock?” I know people who carry rocks in their purses. This is not an issue of advocating violence; it is an issue of protecting oneself when you know that you’re at risk of being attacked as you walk down the street.