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Mandated Femininity

Apologies for lateness again. I made a super last minute decision to ditch the half-finished post I was working on and write on this topic instead. Also apologies for any typos or sloppiness. This was written in one-sitting one-draft. I’ll come back in and clean it up later, but right now I just want to put it up. Enjoy!

Cultural representations of trans women are painfully rare. Cultural representations of butch, or simply less-than-femme trans women, are functionally non-existent.

While cis people like Chloe Sevigny and Germaine Greer do continue to openly denigrate the “exaggerated femininity” or “gross caricature” presentation that “so many” trans women possess, and use that to mock us as nothing more than men playing dress up, a presentation that falls short of expected feminine norms will be used to outright strip a trans woman of even the claim to a “false” womanhood. You’re not even trying, dude.

Gatekeeping structures continue to break down piece by piece in certain locales and medical communities, but in others it continues to be demanded that you meet expectations of presenting as female as the practitioner understands it, rather than as the patient herself understands it. The consequences can be an obligation to play along with imposed standards of proper feminine womanhood until such a time as all needed or desired treatments have been accessed and put behind you. Then, and only then, do they get to wear jeans and sneakers.

While in some queer or feminist trans communities, spaces and dialogues, femininity has ceased to be considered a requisite aspect of a trans woman’s expression and presentation, and the dotey housewife image of what a proper trans woman is to be lingers mostly in older generations or transsexual separatist / HBS communities, for many more individuals, often living in isolation, one of the only ways to assert one’s womanhood and have it be perceived by others is through claiming totemic representations of it through that which is most aggressively culturally coded as feminine, girly, for her.

And, of course, trans women’s gender presentations are consistently scrutinized under a microscope by a cissexist gaze that constantly seeks to place us where they want us, somewhere as non-threatening as possible, and held to hopelessly strict standards of what is proper or “correct” for a woman to wear or do that would never, ever be applied to a cis woman. Not without being met with ridicule.

Tell me the last time you ever saw the validity of a cis woman’s gender called into question on the basis of dressing too casually or imperfectly feminine.

Where I’m going with this is that feminist and trans-feminist movements aside, and even leaving general cultural progress out of it, femininity and femme presentations continue to be aggressively mandated to trans women. We have an intensely narrow range of behaviours and presentations that are available to us that even have a chance of being read within the wider culture as valid. Granted, under many circumstances, that range narrows into non-existence through the catch-22 of overlapping “too feminine”/”improperly feminine” and “not feminine enough” criticisms, but as a general rule? The trans woman that is to be acceptable, palatable, comprehensible, and representable to cis perceptions and standards must be femme. Full stop.

The persistent fact of femininity being imposed on women as their proper or expected role and presentation is NOT, of course, restricted to trans women, only more aggressively forced on us. And it isn’t even remotely an issue that has been neglected by feminist discourse. In fact, the expected gender roles of women is perhaps the singular topic on which feminism has devoted the most time and attention. But I think the manner in which the issue is discussed frequently leaves out a whole lot of important things, approaches it from a disturbingly hetero/cisnormative angle (and nearly exclusively within hetero/cisnormative terms), and perhaps most destructively ignores or steamrolls right over a whole lot of people who are indeed affected by the issue, even if we’re rendered invisible by the most common theoretical frameworks for addressing it.

Like those of us who choose being femme. Who feel empowered by it.

The most immediately recognizable of these erasing, inadequate frameworks, and probably the one through which I can most easily communicate their failures, is the one that drove almost the entirety of second wave feminism and a considerable number of third wave branches, too, being the concept of femininity existing exclusively as an oppressive institution imposed on women by patriarchy. Within this concept, the only reason any woman ever dresses or behaves in a feminine way is because she’s been taught to, and that the purpose of this socialization is to help keep women in their secondary place within heirarchies of gender. This often went hand-in-hand with the Butlerian “gender is only a social construct” theory. I shouldn’t really have to spell out how insulting and invalidating this is for women who actually enjoy femininity and choose it as their gender expression, through which they feel genuine and empowered, or how it paints us as basically nothing more than silly, gullible dupes of the patriarchy. But more so the theory conceals an amazing degree of not only femmephobia (the idea that femininity is inherently weaker, less valid, less worthwhile, frivolous, pointless, artificial, etc. in contrast to masculinity, which is strong, natural, pragmatic, useful, “real”) but even misogyny, enacted through a normativity. Masculinormativity?

Within the framework that femininity only ever existed as an imposed role for the purposes of subjugation places femininity as a marked category, subject to critique, but as in all normativities (like treating cis, straight, white, American, whatever as “default”, “normal”) it left masculinity completely invisible, unmarked, unquestioned, unexamined, unchallenged. Instead, masculinity was left as the assumed “natural” state that existed in the absence of an artificial femininity. Given how much of femininity is in absolutely no way reasonably value-loaded, simply existing along lines of preference (like, for instance, being aesthetically inclined, drawn towards beauty), is sometimes coded as such for what seem to be completely arbitrary reasons, and most of all, that femininity is by definition that which is culturally associated with women, the privileging of masculinity as a “natural” state onto which femininity must be unnaturally inscribed, as a reduction and subjugation, to produce a feminine individual is a heavily misogynistic line of thinking.

Many shades of the “cut your dick off” line of thinking in terms of the relationship between what is male and what is female. A woman, so this kind of reasoning not-so-subtly proposes, is produced by reducing or subjugating a man.

“Make you my bitch”

In retrospect, it seems very, very strange that a conceptualization of the relationship between femininity / masculinity that was so heavily misogynistic could be such a strong part of feminism for so long (even when it came at the cost of many would-be feminist women’s support, by way of their feeling devalued by feminism, or feeling that in order to be respected within feminist circles they’d have to sacrifice their femininity; which was, and still is, for many women a completely genuine, valued and even essential part of our identities). But the reason for this is likely connected to who the initial fighters for second-wave feminism were. As is pretty much always the case (and is something I’ll be writing about very soon in relation to the history of radical activism amongst trans people), those who are most hurt by status quo and present social dynamics are going to be the first to fight against it- those who have the most to gain from a revolution and the least to lose. The front-lines of feminism were as such those women who felt most abused, subjugated, oppressed, limited and caged by their enforced gender roles. In other words, those women for whom femininity did not feel natural and empowering. Those women for whom it felt like an unnatural, disempowering, oppressive set of expectations forced on them by society. For whom, in contrast, masculinity or androgyny felt liberating, genuine, natural and real. For them, the theoretical framework they established not only made sense, it was true. For them. But their mistake, one which is entirely too common to absolutely every social justice movement, was assuming that their experience of gender, gender roles and femininity was universal to all women.

This can lead us into another theoretical framework for understanding the imposition of femininity, which is in terms of gender binarism and oppositional sexism. If we expand our understanding from simply marking femininity as the imposed gender role to be critiqued and subject to scrutiny, and hold masculinity up to that same light, it becomes a relatively easy progression to conceptualizing the issue as being about society imposing certain given constraints on an individual based on their gender assignment. Here we’d advance our understanding to saying it’s not that femininity alone is an artificial subjugation that’s rejection is taboo, but rather that we’re all to remain in our boxes and it’s not acting in accordance with the expectations of your assigned gender that is taboo, evil, wrong, uppity, sinful, gross, ridiculous, invalid, etc.

This way of looking at things is common still today, and even occurs very frequently within queer-feminist and trans-feminist dialogues. After all, like the earlier feminist women who felt their feminine gender role was a prison and applied that experience as a universal on which to base their theory of gender dynamics as a whole, almost all trans people feel that our gender assignments were our prisons, and we feel the same temptation to advance those experiences as the universal truth of what gender and gender roles are. But we’re at exactly as much risk of making mistakes and overlooking not only crucial considerations, but overlooking human beings (who are, of course, always crucial).

So we might say that the reason trans women are expected to be femme in order to be comprehensible to cis standards is because femininity is culturally coded as the only valid means of being a woman. But we’re missing a piece of the puzzle again, which is the near omnipresence (to the point of invisibility) of femmephobia. Being femme is simply not regarded as valid (especially for AMAB people, for whom being feminine is perceived as not only a betrayal and threat, but the most pathetic, ridiculous, disgusting thing you can do, and is met with far more hatred and violence than AFAB people expressing as masculine or butch). Femininity is seen as weak, passive, disempowered, helpless, frivolous, artificial and useless. Thus the narrative here is not “femininity is the valid means of being a woman”. The narrative here is “femininity is weak, passive and invalid, and that’s what women are supposed to be”.

Through this we can almost come back around full circle to understanding femininity as a means of subjugating women, and an imposed set of standards and expectations that are meant to keep us weak and subservient, secondary to and dependent on those natural, real, pragmatic, useful men. But it’s not the imposition of femininity on women itself that plays this function. It’s a two-pronged attack. It’s the imposition of femininity coupled with the devaluation of femininity.

“All your stupid girly stuff is so stupid and girly and pointless! Oh, by the way, you’re only allowed your stupid, pointless, girly stuff.”

In this sense, I can’t help but wonder if the increased rigor with which femininity is enforced on trans women is due to an increased desire to keep us ghettoized within a set of roles that are so thoroughly devalued that even feminism doesn’t usually address it. That we’re more of a threat to gender’s status quo, and thus it’s more necessary to keep us somewhere “harmless”.

I’d like to present the idea that the appropriate response here might not just be to tell girls they don’t have to play along with expectations and be girly girls. I’d like to go further and suggest that the appropriate response might not even be to simply attack gender binaries and say that we shouldn’t be boxing people into particular roles. So long as femmephobia, the devaluation of femininity, remains in play (and let’s be honest, how these strategies play out in real life often reinforces that devaluation) then neither of these approaches will ever be adequate for addressing the problem and building a more universally empowering gender dynamic.

I’d like to present the idea that the appropriate response is a radical revision of how we perceive and conceptualize femininity. What it is, and what it can be. What worth it has, and who is permitted to access it. How it can be expressed, how it can be empowering, how it can be valid, how it can be radical, how it can be strong, and how it can be a weapon. I’d like us to revalue femininity as one of many possible gender expressions that, so long as they are sincere, can always be an expression of radical self-determination.

And I’d even say that not only is this a possible response, but it may even be the necessary one.

I am femme. Hear me rawr?

As a final note, I’d like to say that enforced femininity kind of sucks for those of us who choose it. It makes it pretty hard to assert it as a self-determination rather than simply an act of buckling under expectations.

But seriously, I’m not wearing make-up and a skirt for their sake.

Comments

  1. says

    A-fucking-men.

    I’ve said before that I refuse to be denigrated by feminists for being both femme and assertive. If there’s any “lingering male socialization”, it is the best parts: the parts that taught me to defend my rights and my body from anyone who would impose upon either. In other words, the lesson feminism of all waves has been trying to impart to women and girls of all ages.

    What I didn’t learn was how to be “a man” or how to be masculine. I can’t do it. I was sitting side by side with girls and boys during childhood and I internalized the messages that were directed at people like me: the girls.

    Tell me, is Project Runway any more frivolous than NFL football? No. They’re both competitions in which the spectator has no part but people still invest emotional energy into. Is valuing aesthetics any more impractical when it is applied to a home than when it is applied to a car? Of course not. (In fact, I would argue that because of its effect on mood and sense of calm, learning to surround one’s self by beautiful things(whatever one defines as beautiful) is a VERY practical skill.) Are empathy and compassion pointless? Never.

    What must be fought is the notion that the behaviors we call “feminine” are frivolous or impractical, not the behaviors themselves.

    • sc_b71eb3f202449d227aec94c046aaa961 says

      MY ANDROGYNY is political. My gonads & breasts are personal. No one gets to define or touch my body without my consent. Not theocrats who’d shove an ultrasound wand up my daughters’ vaginae nor brutal thugs who’d accuse me of being gay & shatter my skull with a fist & slam me down to a sidewalk splitting open my head. People are sexual as they see fit. It is only the business of their partners & healthcare providers. Who I kiss is my business not a Vatican gangster Nazi Pimp Pope Joe Ratzinger alias Benedick covering up the rapes of thousands of children by his priests nor the business of “style setters” or commentators. I sunbathe, I dress & I exist WHICH is more than I can say for theocrat alleged baby gods named Jeebush Jehobah & Ghost Holes. Get over it bigots. Marriage equality to replace the anti-Mormon polygamy laws of the 1800′s so than no male can own any number of females @AtheistVet @Greens926_1750

  2. says

    ‘Tell me the last time you ever saw the validity of a cis woman’s gender called into question on the basis of dressing too casually or imperfectly feminine.’
    I have seen this happen, if I’m understanding your statement correctly. Like the “Ann Coulter is a man” jokes. Or that horrible joke in the trailer to The Lorax “that’s a WOMAN?” I admit it’s more likely that such a woman would be called a lesbian than a not-woman, but it still happens.

    • says

      Yeah, I’ve seen it pretty frequently too.

      I think the difference is in the power behind it, in that when directed at a cis woman it can be deeply insulting, but it doesn’t call into question their sense of self because they are able to take their gender for granted.

    • Forbidden Snowflake says

      And I remembered this ugly incident.
      I think that as a man in the feminine (and therefore, frivolous)-coded field of fashion, he must’ve felt his masculinity threatened by a woman who doesn’t give a fuck about fashion. It fits into the scheme of the OP pretty well, really.

    • says

      Anne Coulter gets those insults on the basis of her morphology, not her attire. And being called a lesbian is not the same thing as being called a man. But point taken. Let me think for a moment.

    • Jeanette says

      I’m a cis woman who was made fun of in high school because of the way I dressed/acted, and for a long time “man” was my “nickname” and my friends would call me a man as a “joke”. I totally agree that that’s nowhere near the level of calling a trans woman a man because of how she dresses, but it did hurt me and leave me still to this day afraid to go to malls because they make me feel like less of a woman (whatever that means). So while I generally agree with your point, I wouldn’t say it never happens, just that the consequences are not as great when it happens to cis women.

  3. says

    I aam called a guy all the time by the job I choose to do. I am mostly not what many consider to be femme. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t wear dresses. I don’t carry a purse. Fuck I wore a tuxedo to one of my proms. But in other ways I am femme to the point that some people will probably say I am playing into gender roles. Fuck that. I do the things I like. When I do wear a skirt it is cause I want to feel the way I look in a skirt that day. (I only wear make up to show the world how much I shouldn’t wear makeup.) I don’t do it cause society tells me that I should look like my gender. I do it cause it feels good.

    I want that for people who are AMAB too. The freedom to say wearing skirts sometimes feels good. I want being a woman to not be so icky that you have to either prove you are a woman or not a woman to get through this world.

    • Laura-Ray says

      Okay, I was trying for like half an hour to figure out how to say what you said there in the second paragraph XD totally agree with that.

  4. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I like the post. I felt the same thing as The Nerd – if you clarified it as “questioned in earnest” that might be more true, but non-trans women are sometimes assumed to be trans which is almost synonymous with having one’s gender called into question.

    In this case, it likely wouldn’t be the imperfectly feminine dress that sparked it, though. So I had the same initial feeling as The Nerd, but your words were clear that it was having gender questioned for dressing with imperfect femininity, NOT as a way to harass or belittle people who do unpopular (or even genuinely awful) things, NOT because of a jaw-line or physical size. For dressing imperfectly feminine. This is not at all what motivates the horrific “Manne Coulter” lines.

    So I had a moment of reaction, but I think Natalie actually was pretty right on there.

    One thing I’ll just throw in, however, is that 2nd wave feminism is inherently existentialist (to the point where I define 2nd wave by its existentialism and call feminism that explicitly resisted existentialism during the 70s something else). Its foundational text was a work of existentialist philosophy by one of the founders and greatest minds of that school. Existentialism still has a large influence over feminism today.

    And a large part of existentialism is finding the universals. We aren’t merely at risk of overgeneralizing our experiences because of some normal human bias. We are *also* at risk of overgeneralizing our experiences when we engage in a quest for “universals”. After all, it can’t be a universal experience if we don’t experience it…and therefore starting with our own experience as a template for the universal makes logical sense. But it’s very hard (by definitions) to have good information about the exceptions and about people different from oneself. Thus we don’t ever really manage to whittle our assumptions down sufficiently far.

    Anyway, understanding existentialism goes a long way toward understanding some of the major mistakes of feminism over the last 50 years.

  5. J says

    It’s not just AMAB people – men who were assigned female at birth are also not allowed to express a feminine identity, even to say that wearing skirts feels good sometimes, without being “reduced” (how telling) to “really” being a woman all along. :S

    • says

      Oh, how true. The weird thing for me to realise about myself was how much more I enjoy wearing skirts and dresses once I allowed myself to acknowledge who I really am and started to come out to more and more people. I think that a lot more AFAB (aside – I just submitted that to the abbreviations and acronyms dictionary, because they already have AMAB but not AFAB) and cis-gendered males, gay and straight, would admit to liking skirts and other flowing garments if the last couple of centuries hadn’t made that taboo outside certain cultures. My husband loves his kilt (and will enthusiastically wear a dress, but only for fund-raising purposes, sadly).

      It is as Natalie says; it isn’t that femininity is wrong in and of itself in any way – quite the opposite – it’s that it, and anything to do with being of the female gender and/or sex, has been historically in many (most?) cultures assigned a low value in order that some people can feel intrinsically superior.

      We are steeped in our culture from an earlier and earlier age. A culture that says femininity is frivolous, weak, valueless, silly. We absorb the messages long before we recognise which gender we have been assigned and regardless of whether we feel we fit that gender. As women fight for, and gain, more and more concessions from the patriarchy, the more of a backlash there is. Witness the astonishing news coming from the US about restrictions on birth -control!

      Fashions change. What is now regarded as unacceptable because feminine and therefore inferior (as if…) was universal in earlier generations. My grandfather, like all babies and toddlers of his era and before, wore dresses until he was four; but today’s infants, a hundred or so years on, are gender-labelled from birth. As more of us who fail to fit the heterosexual, gender-binary ‘norms’ refuse to stay hidden, the more pressure is put on everybody to conform to stereotypes.

      It’s fear. People seem to think that there are only so many benefits to go around and fear that if they extend rights to people who don’t currently have them, they will lose theirs. It didn’t happen with votes for women, it didn’t happen with universal suffrage. It didn’t happen with inter-racial marriage, it didn’t happen with same-sex marriage (same gender marriage has always been legal, thanks to the patriarchy’s peculiar blindness. A gay man with a female body, I’ve been married since 1979). In every case, societies which have extended equal rights to everybody have found themselves stronger and healthier and all their members have benefitted. No-one has lost out.

      We need to bring the same pressure to bear on gender expression. Anyone, regardless, should be allowed to be as masculine or as feminine (or anywhere inbetween) as they please, as and when it suits them. No expression is inherently superior to any other.

  6. leftwingfox says

    That ran counter to my expectations; femmephobia is a great explanation for why women wearing men’s clothing is considered acceptable, but men wearing women’s clothing is considered deviant. I hadn’t realized that there is an enforced feminization happening towards MtF individuals.

    • says

      I’ve seen some pretty horrible things, even within the trans* community. Things like [trigger warning] “you need to start acting like women, some of you men aren’t even trying, wear nice dresses and put your legs together when you sit, you look like linebackers!” It’s even sadder when it’s presented as “just being honest! just trying to help you pass!”

      • says

        3/4 of the “advice” I get on passing from cis and trans women would backfire horribly. I find that the more androgynously I present myself, the more female I come off, whereas if I indulge in full-femme (which I would love to do) I end up highlighting my masculine features.

        I finally had to tell a bunch of people “If you see me doing something, or not doing something, assume it is by intent and not accident or ignorance.”

        • says

          I don’t ask for or accept clothing advice (I know what I think looks good, so why would I?), but if I did, I’d likely be screwed. A lot of people offering this advice are, as mentioned above, “trying to help you pass”. I don’t know… this strikes me as an odd thing to consider when deciding what to wear. Like, for me (and I assume most people), transition is about authenticity. If I were to dress in a certain way simply to pass, there’s a good chance I’d be entering into another act (perhaps not a deep and unpleasant as the “being a guy” act, but an act all the same)… And like you, I suspect if I were to try full-femme, I’d look more masculine than I do otherwise. In any event, there is only a certain degree to which I can do femme, beyond which it’s fake and uncomfortable. Which is why I’ll never be seen in heels and an evening dress. I just couldn’t do it.

        • No Light says

          I’m AFAB (but tentatively embracing a GQ identity ). Jeans, t-shirt and trainers, no make-up gets me perceived as my assigned sex 100& of the time.

          However, for about ten years now, the more make-up I wear, the more ‘done’ my hair is, and the more trad-femme my clothes are, the more “sir” or “Son” is pinned on me. Then the blustery double-takes and red-faced apologies begin.

          What’s particularly odd to me though, is that I actually do feel more masculine in ‘drag’, and strongly feminine when I’m just lounging in pyjamas, bare-faced and tousle-headed. Maybe that’s gluiwg cues to strangers, who use that (rather than the chest melons) to gender me.

          • Happiestsadist says

            Also AFAB GQ, and have had the same experience. Every time I’ve been “sir”ed but one I was wearing a pretty dress, makeup and heels.

          • Dalillama says

            Huh. It’s interesting that people guess male more often when you’re dressed ‘female.’ I’m AMAB, and I usually get ma’amed when I’m wearing slacks and mens dress shirts. When I go out in a skirt or a dress, I usually have makeup and breastforms, and people call me miss (or other, less formal terms indicating that they believe me to be female). In either case, as soon as I open my mouth, the nervousness and bluster start.

    • says

      I always thought the most telling example of this is the fact that the DSM specifically states that “transvestic fetishism” can ONLY occur in AMAB people.

      • leftwingfox says

        Yes, Exactly.

        It just strips the gears of my brain to think that the same people fighting for the rights of women and breaking out of the pink ghetto would also be trying to constrain AMAB trans folks to that very stifling definition of femininity. Maddening…

        On a purely selfish note, I might be mostly cis straight male, but dammit, all the cool thigh-length fantasy fashion boots are for women. I’d happily kick gender stereotypes for boots like that, but Men’s size 13 is even harder to find in women’s sizes. I has a small sad

        • says

          Some of them have studied the damaging effects of gatekeeping. But they figure they can counterbalance it somewhat by discouraging transitioners and by adding feminist gatekeeping to the patriarchal gatekeeping. Some of them are quite critical of feminist therapy in other contexts, but I suppose they support it in a context where it transfers money from trans folks and keeps us from transition.

  7. says

    Yep. I remember one time when my (useless gatekeeper) therapist asked why I wasn’t (or said I should start?) wearing women’s pants. Confused, I told her I was- they were just baggy jeans. But not feminine enough, I guess!

    I’m still not remotely femme, I almost never wear makeup and usually go with jeans + a top. (I abhor fashion, generally, but to each their own.)

    The stereotypical prescriptivism I got from the gatekeepers was pretty ridiculous. The whole process is bullshit.

  8. Jack Skellington says

    “Being femme is simply not regarded as valid (especially for AMAB people, for whom being feminine is perceived as not only a betrayal and threat, but the most pathetic, ridiculous, disgusting thing you can do, and is met with far more hatred and violence than AFAB people expressing as masculine or butch).”

    SO MUCH THIS! Being an AMAB femme-spectrum genderqueer it’s insane how much crap I get on a near daily basis for going femme. Most of the time it seems like, outside my little circle of friends, the only people who seem to understand is my local trans* community (sometimes not even them).

  9. Laura-Ray says

    Speaking from a cis perspective, this makes me think of girls wearing makeup. Specifically, how women without makeup are met with derision for not caring about their appearance, being slovenly or trying to be men, and women with makeup are pitied for having to follow gender norms, and told they look fine without makeup, as though all women who wear makeup only do it because they spend 2 hours every morning staring at themselves in the mirror and shouting vitriolic curse words at how ugly they are. It’s treating the makeup wearer as innately out of control over whether or not they wear makeup, and so wearing makeup to present as particularly femme comes off as weak and not empowering.

    Because of this I’ve started wearing red lipstick. Because that doesn’t say I’m just trying to pass as femme. It’s hard to describe. Like a big middle finger to people who say I should be ashamed of my lady parts and should try to dress em up as manbits- or that I should be acting like a good girl and wearing low key, natural looking makeup. Femininity isn’t something to be ashamed of. I’ve been thinking of it like a drag queen. It’s something glorious, regal, something big and loud and something to aspire to, something with grace and style.

    I feel very strongly that pride should be loud. Personal victories over those who tell you to feel bad about yourself should be celebrated. It sucks that it can’t always be that way though /:

    • says

      Ever heard of “Bio Queens”? An awkward name, to be sure, but it’s basically cis women dressing up in extreme caricatures of femininity, to the point where it basically satirizes the concept itself.

      • Laura-Ray says

        I’ve never heard the term, but I can think of a few of my friends who that term describes perfectly XD That’s another reason I wear red lipstick- one of those people is a self proclaimed “lipstick lesbian” with some really cool philosophies about strutting one’s stuff :)

  10. genuinely curious says

    This article was very interesting and enlightening but I’d like to see more of this in context of our origins of the concept of ‘feminimity’

    I wouldn’t go so far to say that ‘femininity as it is percieved is entirely cultural/biological’ but a lot of things that have been described to me as ‘feminine’ I’ve considered gender neutral.

    Pragmatism, for instance- I don’t know why this is, maybe it’s just the culture I’ve been brought up in but there’s a undercurrent of “oh those silly men” in media and advertising- BT commecials in particular play on this.

    Appreciation of beutiful or elagant things- I wouldn’t call explicitly feminine either- I can’t clearly in my head nail down what I would personally consider a ‘real femininity’ that I could Identify and point to as “yup that’s femme/m,asculine”.

    well- aside from cultural caricatures like barbie or action man- and even then, we have ken and lara croft (who obviously have lesser cultural impact, but still).

    What I mean to say is how does this article look if we don’t take the definition of ‘femme’ for granted- but as a mishmash of cultural expectations and expression of particular neurobiological traits.

    I suppose it doesn’t change *too* much- the underpinning points seem to be that femmephobia and gender binary intersect in fucked ways?

  11. Catharine says

    I don’t quite have anything to add to the discussion. I just wanted to subscribe to your blog and it appears this is the only way to do so without subscribing to the entire freethoughblogs site.

  12. Sinéad says

    I hate “well intentioned” unsolicited advice on being feminine (or how not to look like a dude in a dress) from cis women, specifically straight cis women. I’m a hard femme, my patronus is Siouxsie Sioux. As I lay here recovering from 3 days of food poisoning, I’m wearing my Docs with a black skirt and a t-shirt (that I’ve cut the sleeves off of) from Think Geek that says “Fluorine&Uranium&Carbon&Potassium” hehe, and my teal and violet hair and old school Goth make up.

    Besides Siouxsie, my other role models were and still are Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde.

  13. Louis says

    When I was younger I firmly believed that femininity and the concept of gender as a whole were artificial social constructs, without any biological reality. Then I got older and a bit wiser, and I realised that in fact it was just that those things didn’t work for me.

    Nowadays I get pretty embarrassed when I look back at my previous views on the topic.

  14. Rawnaeris says

    I’m a mostly cis asexual female. I like to vary between androgynous and femme. My build is such that the androgyny works. Men’s pants actually fit better, but shirts don’t tend to come small enough.

    I’ve always hated the enforcement of femme as it was particularly strong in the church I was raised in. As such femme has always been an intentional act for me.

    I still only wear makeup to hide a breakout. And then it becomes a tool.

  15. Megan from NZ says

    I’d like to say that enforced femininity kind of sucks for those of us who choose it.

    Amen. I actually find myself apologising to other trans* people for being such a girly girl. Sure I ride a motorbike but if they made helmets in floral print, I’d so buy one.

  16. Dev Null says

    I would read more of your mostly excellent stuff if it were half as long. Save the verbiage for your book.

  17. rowanvt says

    I was often told, by other children, “Stop acting like a boy! Go sit and play dolls with the girls!” Relatives begged me to act more feminine. I never understood. I was born in a female body. I self-identify as female. Thus, whatever I did was ‘feminine’, right? Plus dolls were boring. It was much more fun to catch frogs.

    My ‘feminine’ is not going to be the same as someone else’s. I can’t stand makeup, don’t know how to apply it. I’ve only recently begun to develop an appreciation for long skirts so long as they are very loose (I love how they swing around my ankles… my relatives would be thrilled to see me acting like a ‘proper girl’ for once). But massive kudos to anyone who loves to wear makeup, or do up their hair, or wear really elegant clothing. So long as they’re happy with how they look and who they are.

  18. says

    A few years ago when I started working at Google, I noticed a gender-related clothing choice that caught my eye for reasons very much related to the topic of this post.

    The fashion choice I found fascinating was skinny jeans with the legs tucked into mid-calf boots. It seems to be waning in popularity, but at it’s peak, it seemed like somewhere from 3-5% of female employees on any given day were wearing jeans tucked into boots, and 0.0% of the male employees.

    I just thought it was interesting that, in Northern California geek fashion terms, here’s a clothing choice that is completely coded as female, yet its components are not in any way coded as feminine. Quite the opposite, actually. But it’s just something that would never ever occur to a man, straight or gay, masculine or feminine, to wear to work at a software company, or at least I never noticed it.

    And I have an example of a different fashion choice, one that I personally don’t find very flattering, that is roughly equally popular, that I have only ever seen worn by men, which is those Vibram five-fingers shoes that look like gloves for your feet. Again, it seems to be something that I really think just would not ever occur for a woman to wear to work at a software company.

    It just seems to be one of those really subtle things that society imposes on itself as to what is coded male or female, gay or straight, masculine or feminine, and that those categories seem to be on completely separate axes. It presents quite a problem for those dullard radfem transphobes whose worldviews can’t encompass more than WOMYN GOOD MAN UGH.

    • Sarah says

      Arghh….I wasn’t going to touch any of today’s topic, but I just can’t let this slide: as winter has finally lifted here, I’ve been wearing some blue five fingers pretty regularly, on the job, at a software company… Paired with a nice top and a blue pleated skirt that hits just above the knee, the look is as cute and femme as gets – give it a bit, and no doubt all the google girls will be be sporting five fingers soon….

  19. says

    Why is femininity automatically associated with the Vogue ad corporate sales image.

    A hippie woman with her thrift store clothes garden, chickens, slave gig she works to pay the rent can be just as feminine as some one who spends thousands of dollars to buy the trappings of femininity.

    So can the punk, the goth or lesbian/bisexual woman and still be feminine.

    Julia Serano is right femininity gets a bad rap.

    Also feminine lesbians get treated in really misogynistic ways by butcher lesbians.

    Just like sissies get bullied in school.

    Maybe the world would be a better place if soft gentle feminine people were treated with more respect.

  20. amhovgaard says

    I guess I’m a lot like those early feminists – or would be, if I’d grown up in a different time/place/with different parents who put more pressure on me to be a proper girl. Androgynous/”neutral” (straight-cut jeans/T-shirt/no make up, a more or less even mix of “girl” and “boy” traits, interests etc.)feels natural to me; being clearly masculine or feminine feels equally contrived, like an act. I can do it, and I think it’s fun, but if I wear make-up AND a pretty dress AND high heels, I feel like I’m in drag as much as if I wear a suit and tie. If I only look at myself and my own experience, it seems obvious that all that feminine/masculine stuff is pure socialization and cultural expectations. I’m struggling to accept that there are actually people out there who are so different from me that they wear pink floral dresses all the time because they like it, and not to match up to some ideal of what a woman should look like…

    • says

      I’ve always wondered why femininity is equated with expensive clothes and high heels.

      It is sort of bullshit to think that the woman who wears sport shoes shorts and a tank top isn’t just as feminine if not more so than the woman wearing hundreds of dollars worth of clothes and make-up.

      Femininity had nothing to do with expensive clothes and make-up. When I think of feminine, I think nurturing and caring, having compassion and empathy, concern for those around you instead of egomaniacal greed and spending a fortune on adornment.

      The woman who runs animal rescue centers, the food bank, cares for people in the hospital those are real feminine values not goint to an expensive store and spending enough money on clothes to feed a dozen people for a month.

      • Bia says

        I’m a little late to the discussion but since no one else mentioned this in reply to your comment I’d like to point out that:

        “Femininity had nothing to do with expensive clothes and make-up. When I think of feminine, I think nurturing and caring, having compassion and empathy, concern for those around you instead of egomaniacal greed and spending a fortune on adornment.”

        Is a little sexist and implies that it’s not masculine to have those qualities. A lot of men and butch individuals would disagree. In fact the entire problem with gender, gender roles, and qualification of “what is feminine / masculine” is that individuals and sociey et all seems to assign rather rigid classifications.

        Human beings are just far too complex for these notions to ever be perfect, and usually they’re more damaging than they are helpful.

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