I wrote recently about how powerlifting makes me feel femme as fuck. It was first attempt at putting into words what I hope to expand on more in this post. It’s about using femininity as a source of power, not just as an armor to deflect, but as a power to actively propel me and my self-confidence through the world.
I went to Woodhull this year, and it was amazing. My favorite session, by far, was called Femme As Fuck: The Devaluation of Femininity Within the Feminist Movement.
I was semi-aware of the feeling of condescension towards stereotypically feminine aesthetics and ideals, but didn’t really have the wherewithal (or vocabulary) to be able to put it into words. But I felt like this panel gave me a better understanding of the issue, and a better way to put it into words. Essentially, it comes down to some folks in the feminist movement seeing traditional femininity (such as presenting especially femme, staying home with children, cleaning the house regularly, etc.) as a non-feminist action/presentation/agenda. Which, like, it isn’t, but words are hard and sometimes it’s difficult to articulate why. This panel helped. The speakers were @amusedcolva, @thefriskyfairy, and @dirtylola. (I may or may not have developed a giant crush on @amusedcolva as a result of this panel. You’ll see lots of quotes from her.)
“To have a feminism that looks down on normative feminine practice speaks to a deep seated misogyny.” -@amusedcolva
Femme Is Not Unintelligent
There’s this pervasive idea that if you spend time on your hair and makeup, that’s all you have time for, and that you don’t have the hours in the day to devote to your job or your studies. The “dumb blonde” trope is a good example: Beautiful blonde woman doesn’t get simple jokes. It doesn’t seem harmless, but it doesn’t seem incredibly violent either. It can easily be passed off as joke in most circles. But it’s exclusionary, to the point where it can begin to affect a woman’s career.
“Frequently, in academia, people look at me & say ‘No one can take you seriously’.”-@amusedcolva
Remember that time that guy got inexplicably terrible treatment at work, and then realized he has been signing his coworker’s name, Nicole? It’s a problem for women, but it’s especially a problem for ultra-femme women. It can be assumed that those who put effort into their appearance are vapid or shallow. Although arguably, women who choose not to wear dresses and lots of makeup face scrutiny for “not putting the effort in”, as well. It’s a lose-lose.
Femme has been even further complicated for trans women. You have to be able to pass, but not wear so much makeup that you’re “tricking” cis men. You need the feminism that says it’s ok to wear some makeup in order to stay safe in the world, but feminism is inherently dangerous because it looks down on that performative femininity that is required to stay safe. (And don’t even get me started on trans-exclusionary “feminists”. That’s for another post.) You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
“Femme… It’s a trap!” -@dirtylola
Femme Is Progressive
Just because I like to wear dresses my partner likes doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. I’ve gone through the decision-making process of wearing a dress, and giving a woman the right to make her own decisions IS feminism, people! And yet… I’m judged for it. It’s like people assume that my male partner is calling the shots and telling me what to do and how to dress, since obviously women can’t make their own decisions. Ever.
“It’s so disheartening to be in a feminist space that doesn’t want me to perform traditional femininity.” -@thefriskyfairy
“If you ‘girl’ really hard, no matter how progressive you are, you’re constantly under interrogation.” -@amusedcolva
Your priorities are questioned. Your alliance to the feminist movement is challenged. Your intelligence is undermined. There can even be this unspoken assumption of your allegiance to men, when things get heavy. There’s this feeling of “Oh honey, one day you’ll understand that to be a feminist, you don’t need makeup. You’ll get there, sweetie.” and it’s never not patronizing. It even seeps into BDSM and other power-exchange relationships.
“Many times, those of us who choose to be submissive are told we can’t be part of the feminist movement.” -@dirtylola
I’ve been told, straight to my face, that I’m automatically not a feminist because I’m a submissive. And honestly, nothing could be further from the truth. I own myself, I own my power, and my choice– my decision– to give it to someone else for a short time does not take away my feminist card. It gives me the ability to be able to choose what I want, when I want it, and have the power to stop it whenever I like. I can’t stop the patriarchy with the snap of a finger, but I can stop a scene. Choosing to get on my knees is different than being forced down.
Femme Is Not Evil
“The ‘mean girls’ in media are often very femme. Literally. In Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan gets meaner as she femmes up.” –@HermioneDangr
When I was little, I got the flu. As I watched The Little Mermaid under a blanket on my parents’ green couch, I sucked my thumb miserably and only removed it to command my mother, “again”. Ursula put on lots of makeup, turned into a beautiful woman to marry the prince, and threatened Ariel’s love. She was evil, and she was femme.
When I was in middle school, I gathered around a small TV set with my friends in the choir room to watch Mean Girls. The endlessly quotable classic became part of our vernacular. Stop trying to make fetch happen, Gretchen. I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom. She doesn’t even go here. We cackled and quoted and didn’t realize that as Lindsay Lohan’s character Cady got more and more entrenched in the Plastics group, she femmed up. We didn’t realize that we were being further trained to associate femininity– makeup, dresses, dating cute boys– with being the bad guy of the story. Once she “found herself” again, she toned it back down to her pre-ultrafemme ways. She was evil, and she was femme.
“Performing femininity is taught to us as girls, and then as feminists were told it’s the patriarchy… but what if we enjoy it?” -@dirtylola
Femme Is Not The Enemy
Femme is not evil. Femme is not the opposite of strong, or intelligent, or professional. I like fighting stereotypes and untrue beliefs by being super femme and lifting, or being smart in my workplace while wearing sparkly pink jewelry, or being an expert on something feminine in my family, like makeup or cooking. It gives me confidence because I can say yes I am cute and I am smart and I am professional and those things are not mutually exclusive.
My femme gives me power because I know there’s a belief that nah, the girl in pink leggings and bright blue shoes can’t deadlift 225 lbs. That gives me one more reason to do it. My femme gives me power because I know at work, sometimes people think ah, there’s this girl I can push around, because she’s wearing a pastel dress to go with her sunshine smile, so she’s obviously a doormat dummy. That gives me more strength to stand up for the ideas that I know are good, and pursue more opportunities.
My femme is not the enemy. My femme lets me channel the aspects of myself that I love the most into one big pink sunbeam. My femme is my confidence booster, my ego inflator. My femme is my power.