Great Expectations: Thoughts on Choosing Femme

Last week I had an amazing conversation with a lesbian friend of mine who presents a little more masculinely than me. (Hi, Socks!) We were talking about clothes and appearance and why we dress the way we do, and it got me thinking: how much does the way we present have to do with expectations – either meeting them or actively defying them?

All my life, whenever I have dressed up, with my hair done and make-up on, I have been told that I look nice that way (compared to, say, jeans, a t-shirt, and no make-up). Internally, I feel my best when I present myself to the world this way; I feel my strongest when I am at my most overtly feminine.

power heels

But the conversation I had with my friend got me wondering why exactly it is that I feel this way. Doubts began to slither into my mind about why I choose to be femme. What if I only feel strongest when I dress femininely because I am meeting the expectations of others? What if I feel the most powerful in heels because they give me a couple of inches, and taller people are more respected (and incidentally, earn more money) in our society? What if I feel better about myself when I have make-up on because people are more likely to think a traditionally attractive person is smart? Maybe I feel I am most powerful when I am most feminine because, in some ways, I am. By meeting the expectations of others, I can reap the benefits of fitting in and making others around me comfortable.

But then again, I know these reasons can’t be all there is to my choice to appear femme, because I still want to dress femininely even when it is not expected of me – even when it is discouraged. Say, at a lesbian bar. Even when showing up in a skirt and heels would make me stick out rather than blend in, I still choose to appear that way.

So I know that for me, femme isn’t just about appearing in a way that is traditionally expected of a woman. But the thing is though, I also enjoy defying expectations. I love the look of surprise that crosses the faces of new acquaintances when they learn that I am gay; sometimes it can be fun to walk around as a living challenge to homophobic stereotyping. I get a rush of adrenaline out of throwing people’s assumptions back in their face.

"You're a LESBIAN?"

So then I have to wonder: is actively barreling through the walls of expectation any more liberated than acquiescing to them? I’m still allowing external forces to influence my behavior.

After some serious soul-searching, I reached the following conclusion. Obviously, no one lives in a vacuum, and I wouldn’t want to. Maybe it’s impossible to completely divorce myself from the expectations of the world around me, but that doesn’t mean I am living for anyone else. I emerged from my thoughts (mostly) convinced that my choices – fashion and otherwise – are my own, and not the result of any sort of societal brainwashing. I know that I like being feminine because it fits me, and that I choose to embrace femme as a form of gender performance and play.

Meeting and defying expectations, depending on circumstance – well that’s just all part of the game.

What are your thoughts? Do you think expectations affect your choices, whether consciously or unconsciously?

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11 Comments on “Great Expectations: Thoughts on Choosing Femme”

  1. rebelrousher
    August 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    I always enjoy your posts Julia! This one is really interesting because I think all women can relate. When I was in middle school I was much more of a tom boy and wore the color blue A LOT, but when approaching high school I wanted to dress more like everyone else. The social pressure to wear pink ralph lauren shirts just to fit in forced me to evaluate my closet. My style has evolved over the years but it hasn’t been until the last 2 or so years that I have started dressing the way I want to dress. I like feminine dresses, but I also like masculine leather jackets. When I stepped back and evaluated how I personally wanted to look and accepted that it was ‘okay’ I felt really free. It was then that I stopped caring and did my own thing.

    PS: Love your power heels :)


    • August 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

      Glad you liked it! And we have totally similar fashion sense. I love to wear skirts/dresses with leather jackets. My ultimate fashion goal is to look tough and girlie at the same time. Which is sort of my personality, too ;)

  2. August 16, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    First off, I wanted to say that I just recently found your blog and am so incredibly glad I did. I have really been enjoying your posts, as your thinking is so often in the same line as my own. This particular post really resonated with me and the intersection of feminine expectations and my own femme identity is something I think a lot about (especially since I run a queer feminist beauty and fashion blog). But I think you hit the right mark when you mentioned moments when your femme identity defies expectations- I have had the same experience at lesbian bars, where I am often assumed to be a a straight bachelorotte intruding upon queer space. People get even more suspicious of me when it is discovered that I am currently dating a transgendered man, as if this erases my long history of same-sex relationships and queer activism, and is somehow evidence that my queerness is a sham and that I am really just a straight chick after all. Long tell all, but femme identity and expression, like you so eloquently discussed it, isn’t as simple as internalizing and performing conventional standards of feminine beauty. Although we often reap the benefits and privileges for doing so, it isn’t always a walk in the park: we are largely invisible in both straight and queer crowds, and are accused of being brainwashed perpetrators of patriarchy. Thanks for this thoughtful consideration- your certainly got my gears turning.

    • August 16, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

      Welcome Krystal! Thanks for reading – I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      I’ve also been checking out your blog and I love it! Feminism and femininity can coexist, amirite?

  3. August 16, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Thanks for checking out my blog. And oh yes lady, you are totally right :)

  4. August 17, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    I think when I was younger, I was certainly much more concerned with others’ perceptions and community approval with regards to my identity. But coming to femme was a way for me to be more true to myself, whether that be in heels or combat boots. Femme is definitely performative and we all have our own brand of femme but more importantly, femme is on the inside. We exude it.

  5. jen
    August 17, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Nice post! I enjoy reading the way you think through these issues. I think a lot of queer communities I’ve been in value female masculinity at the expense of femininity, which is misogynistic and just as damaging as straight people who are intolerant about butchness. Wearing a skirt and heels does not make me less fierce, less tough, less likely to change my own damn tire, or *any less gay*. The way I see it, if we change the way we dress because of people’s expectations of femininity, no one wins. The real fight is to stop people making assumptions about ANYTHING based on gender presentation.

    • August 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

      I couldn’t agree more. Female masculinity is the bomb (and sexy as hell, in my opinion) but it really bothers me when it is privileged over femininity, ESPECIALLY in queer circles. Because, come on, we’re supposed to be in this together!

  6. andryfemme
    August 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    My presentation of femininity has always been something I consciously “play” with. I wouldn’t be caught dead in heels, eyeshadow is like candy to me, and I utterly refuse to have anything but short hair. It’s all about what makes me feel the most like myself. Hmmm… “like myself” would be an interesting phrase to unpack. I try to express externally what I feel internally regarding gender.

    • August 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

      Yes! This SO much! (Well, except for the heels and eyeshadow part…I do love both of those but not all the time.) The great thing about femme is that it’s broad enough to make it your own and each of us have our own nuanced ways of performing femme. Femme is so much more than “Lipstick Lesbian.” (The latter is obviously easier for hetero folks to understand, though.)

  7. Holly
    August 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I’m a complete femme, however it’s certainly not something chosen or expected it’s just how I am – I love being girly!

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