Hey peeps, let’s talk gender!
So, in heteronormative society (I promise that’s the heaviest gender-theory word I’m going to throw at you!) there is an assumption that being feminine is just sort of the default setting of women – that all the aspects of being traditionally “feminine” come naturally to them. Anyone can be guilty of this assumption because we have all been raised since childbirth that girls wear pink and have tea parties with their baby dolls, and then they grow up to be proper young ladies who wear skirts and pearls. That’s just what they do naturally!
But let me tell you, being feminine doesn’t feel so natural when I’m plucking my eyebrows, shaving my legs, styling my hair, putting on make-up and squeezing into high heels. No, presenting as femme takes time and effort; indeed it is gender performance.
When I get dolled up in eyeliner and blush, my hair curled just right, with earrings dangling down to my neck, I feel as though I am in costume. The right clothing helps actors to get into character, and when I am dressed to the nines, I can feel myself embodying my apparel in a way I don’t when I am, say, lounging in sweatpants and a t-shirt. I don’t feel as though I have to look a certain way every day. In fact, I can see the development of my confidence in my femme identity in the transition I have made from needing to put make-up on before I walked out the door in high school because I thought it was the only way I looked “presentable” to only wearing it when I want to, because make-up is fun. It’s performance, and I feel most powerful when I am at my most overtly feminine.
This is a personal choice, and I don’t mean to imply that all women feel strongest in make-up and heels. My point is not to prescribe a “correct” way for females to present, but rather to emphasize the fact that femme is gender play.
Beyond the performance of the feminine, there is a whole other level of gender play for femmes because we partner with women. So when, for example, I cook dinner in a dress, heels, and pin-up make-up for my workin’ woman, it’s extra-fun because it’s cheeky. The joy, humor, and gender play come from the incongruence of a lesbian couple with McCarthy-era imagery.
One night I surprised my boo with a candle-lit two-course homemade meal, meeting her at the door in a polka-dot dress and peep-toe heels.
“I’m a ’50s housewife!” I exclaimed with a laugh, as she planted a kiss on my cheek.
I see femme, not as an embodiment of anti-feminist stereotypes, but as a way of having fun with gender. And gender doesn’t have to be so serious all of the time. For me, femme is performance, and it’s play. And who doesn’t want more play in their lives?
This is precisely what makes femme so queer – femme is aware of gender construction, and isn’t afraid to use it for it’s own gleeful purposes.