Thursday, September 27, 2007

Femme and femininity

Femme and femininity
WORLD WITHIN / Changing radiators - wearing heels

Ariel Troster / / Thursday, September 27, 2007

When I first came out as a lesbian, I wore "the uniform": khaki pants, short boy-cut hair, button-down shirts and combat boots. Like every dyke in Montreal, I tried to walk with a little bit more swagger, and desperately wished I was thinner through the hips, so men's clothes would hang out my curvy body with more panache. But after a few years, there was no hiding who I really was: a femme in disguise.

I came out as a feminist before I came out as a dyke. And it took almost 10 years to embrace the label of "femme." Because what's the first thing a thinking teenage girl does to rebel against societal expectations of beauty? She ditches the lipstick and the skirts, shoves her hair under a hat, and demands to be recognized for what she has to say, rather than how attractive she may be to men.

For some women, this represents their most comfortable state of being. But for those of us who covet the mascara and low-cut tops, it can also represent a different form of oppression — this one from our chosen community.

The lesbian feminist movement has a long history of valuing androgynous gender expressions over feminine ones. The demise of butch-femme culture in North America came at a time when feminism was burgeoning in the 1960s. In an effort to free women from sexism and the drudgery of housework, feminists ignored the women who wanted to smash the patriarchy without burning their bras. They assumed that women who wore lipstick were simply complying with the patriarchy, and hadn't been liberated yet. This trend continued for many years, and still touches women today.

As writer Julia Serano argues, "While femininity is in many ways influenced, shaped, and enforced by society, to say that it's entirely 'artificial' or merely a 'performance' is patronizing toward those for whom femininity simply feels right."

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