femme as gender play

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.

make-up love


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.

fun at our house!

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.

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Categories: Femme Theory, The Archives

9 Comments on “femme as gender play”

  1. April 10, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    Okay so I’m obsessed with your blog Jules! seriously.

    1) I love all the pictures in this post
    2) word up on the whole having fun with gender play thing – I love deciding what persona I want to exude when I get dressed in the morning and it’s so empowering for me to flit back and forth between androgyny and femininity

    • steph
      April 11, 2011 at 7:02 pm #

      Ditto what s said :) I am constantly checking your blog for updates and it is bookmarked on the top of my browser!!
      Also, I love the point you make in this post about how your confidence in your femme identity can be seen in your shift from viewing make-up as a necessity to something that is frivolous and enjoyable

      • April 11, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

        Aw you guys! Stop it, you’re making me blush!

        No but seriously, isn’t make-up just the best

  2. April 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    I want to know your thoughts on lipstick lesbians/femmes who only date femmes. But since I juuuust discovered this blog maybe if I go do some more perusing I will find what I seek!

    • April 11, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      Hey, thanks for your comment! I haven’t written on that topic yet but will definitely keep it in mind for a post.

      If you are asking for my thoughts on femmes who only date femmes in terms of gender play, I think that femme can still be performance for them as well. I think the feminine can be performance and play for anyone – straight, gay, male, or female.

      And because femmes who only date femmes are dating other women, their relationships are equally subversive and challenging to traditional roles. In fact, maybe even more so than, for example, my relationship with my partner because there is no masculine-presenting member of the relationship. And that’s really scary to the homophobes, because “Who is the man, you know?”

  3. April 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Best quote I’ve heard in awhile… “Asking who is the man and who is in the woman in a same-sex relationship is like going to a Chinese restaurant and asking which chopstick is the fork.”

  4. Jessica
    May 7, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Thank you for this post! I have just stumbled upon your blog, but I’m so glad that I did! I can’t wait to read more. :)

  5. sylphette
    July 1, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    I love this article! Only just found this blog, but totally loving it :)

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