Putting the “femme” in feminist

Hi everyone! How are you? Are you ready? Let’s talk feminism!

It’s gotten a bad reputation over the years; I know growing up in my family it was certainly a dirty word. Mainstream media tells us that there is no need for feminism anymore, that the battle for gender equality has now been won, men and women are equal, and that’s that. But really, you guys? It’s just not the case.

I mean, a lot people have (completely erroneously) said that racism against African American people is over because “look at Barrack Obama!” We have a black president so that must mean that there are equal opportunities for people of all races to succeed! (sarcasm)

But even by this highly-flawed standard, women in America have not reached the status of men. I heard some pretty devastating facts in the trailer for this awesome new documentary, Miss Representation, which talks about the limited portrayal of women in media. Did you know that women make up 51% of the U.S. population, but only 17% of Congress? That’s just staggering. Or that when you ask children at 7 years old what they want to be when they grow up, an equal number of boys and girls say they want to be president, but when you ask again at age 15, a huge gap emerges between the sexes? Somewhere the message for little girls that you can “be whatever you want to be” is getting limited.

I’m pretty sure I am preaching to the choir here, but all this is to say that the goal of feminism – which is simply equality for men and women, and not ALL MEN MUST DIE, contrary to popular belief – is still far from being realized.

So, I can proudly say that I am a feminist. Now the question is, how does my femme identity inform and relate to my feminist one?

The stereotypes about how feminists behave and appear (the short-haired, make-up free, comfortable-shoe-clad angry woman) are deeply exaggerated in popular culture. But on some level, these over-generalizations do have a basis in reality. In the early days of feminism there was a rejection of the contrived roles for women that were forced upon them; at the time, the only acceptable way to be a woman was to don the heels, curlers, and make-up. So early feminists fought back against these confines, expanding the ways that women were allowed to live, work, and appear. But now I must ask: Does “femme” reinforce the restrictive roles for women that pioneering feminists fought so strongly against?

I say no.

As I wrote about in this earlier post, I see femme as gender play and performance. Feminism works to allow all women the choice to present themselves to the world in the way that is most comfortable for them, and for me, that is femme. Rather than feeling as though I am perpetuating the belief that all women must be feminine, instead I feel as though I am redefining what feminine can look like and mean. I talk about this all the time, but it is worth reiterating: the feminine can be powerful. I find this power through femme.

Additionally, I think that for so long feminism has been afraid of sexy. But sexy can be so empowering in its own way! Just watch Dita von Teese and try to tell me that’s not a woman in control of her life (and her entire audience).


So do you consider yourself a feminist? Can femme and feminism coexist? Am I a bad feminist for liking my high heels? (please say no I don’t think I can give them up)

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7 Comments on “Putting the “femme” in feminist”

  1. May 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    I do NOT think you should be giving up your high heels! Just like you said, women have the power to portray themselves any way that makes them feel comfortable. We should be who we are and not confine ourselves to stereotypes. Sometimes when I watch tv I think about how women are portrayed in different roles: we are either a bitch, hot dumb girl, or plain smart girl. It is so annoying!

    I would consider myself a feminist and I am very proud to say so!! I think men are intimidated by our power as women and if we women could band together we could conquer the world. There was a ‘religious’ guy who told me that women shouldn’t be president because we are too emotional, needless to say I wanted to punch him. Like men don’t have emotions! Personally, I think that is our emotions that make us better fit than men. Not everything should be based on logic, perhaps there wouldn’t have been as many wars if roles were reversed. Queen Elizabeth I anyone??

    I just wish women as a whole would band together and support one another, instead we allow boundaries to grow up between us….

  2. May 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    I am a feminist. For a long time, this stopped me from identifying as femme. I fell prey to the anti-femme sentiment that is unfortunately still so prevalent within the feminist community. I felt like a bad feminist for being interested in fashion or makeup, for wearing heels. But then I realized, that’s their problem, not mine.

    Here’s a great blog post on antifemininity in the feminist movement: http://meloukhia.net/2011/03/get_your_antifemininity_out_of_my_feminism.html

    • May 19, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

      Oh wow, thank you for that link. The writer put into such beautiful language exactly what I was thinking.

  3. May 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    I cannot for the life of me remember where I read this, but I saw a quote that was something like: I perform femininity as a way of taking the hurt out of it. As in, femininity has so often been used as a weapon against women, but by taking control of it and playing with it, one can maybe subvert some of the pain of being a woman in society. I don’t know if I explained that well, and I wish I could find the original quote, but I love that concept.

  4. May 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    “Femme is any way of being a girl that doesn’t hurt”

    Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha at Femme Conference 2008

  5. Sheri
    September 6, 2012 at 5:02 am #

    I hope you realize that what you project about yourself and women and our ‘place’ in society when you go out the door says something to EVERYONE who sees you…the guy who is ogling you in the street, the foot and shoe fetishist who’s getting a hard-on looking at you, the men who want to see you as a sex object…and it has an effect upon ALL women and the struggles we are still enduring to find equality in this world. Young women today take for granted that they have equal status (which they DON’T have) while we old feminists die out and are seen as dogmatic and anti-feminine. Well..you will have to learn your own lessons. You are NOT as free and equal as you think, and stomping around in stilettos is NOT a sign of liberation..it’s a sign of capitulation to horrible stereotypes … you don’t understand yet, but maybe someday you will. Good luck…you will need it to survive the emotional pain and political suffering you are bringing down upon yourselves. And just in case you find yourself crippled and in constant pain from those shoes (which surely will happen) please enjoy your confinement. When walking one city block is more than you can manage because your feet are riddled with nerve damage, your back is aching with arthritis and scoliosis and your knee cartilage is all gone…remember the shoes … remember them and weep. They will have done all that and more to you. But the young never heed the advice of the old…you will have to repeat the same mistakes of each previous generation….I’m so sorry for you….

    • September 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

      Hey way to be a condescending, paternalistic jerk, Sheri! Nice job trying to mask it in faux concern too. Get bent.

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