Today, if you don't already know, has the auspicious distinction of being International Femme Appreciation Day. You might be saying to yourself, what is a femme, and just why should I appreciate them? Or possibly querying (queerying?): isn't that just buying into traditional notions of femininity which have saddled women with all kinds of, you know, oppression-y badness, for years and years? Aren't those women just capitulating to heterosexist notions of beauty and gender? To the first question I say, read on. And to the second I say, not so much and I don't think so. And that, in my not so humble opinion, is an overly simplistic reading of what inhabiting 'femme' means for and to a lotta folks.
For starters - for those not steeped in queerspeak already - it's important to say that not all lezzies identify in terms of butch or femme, not all butches dates femmes and vice versa and etc. etc. Moreover, it is both tiresome and misleading to speak about femme-ness as the binary to butch-ness. Femme-ness is not the natural match to butch-ness any more than woman is the natural match to man. You see where I'm going with this? And further to this - femme is not just an identity inhabited by women. Many men, gay and straight and tranny and not, also identity within the spaces of femme.
Inasmuch as femme can be described, we are difficult (and more than likely worth the effort) to pin down (and I do mean that figuratively and literally, in case you were wondering), a few general trends do emerge.
1. Femme is queer. Intrinsically. Always. 2. Femme rejects traditional culturally enforced notions of femininity. 3. Femme insists upon sexual autonomy. 4. Femme is complicated and muddied in all kinds of ways by social locations of class, race, ability, gender, body size etc. All of these impact the particular ways in which feminine bodies are inscribed with meaning and read in our culture(s) at large. (Fatness and body size has certainly has an enormous impact on my own experiences of femme, and how my femme-ness and body get read)
And to explain further, I will turn to turn to some of the brilliant femme minds of "Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity", edited by Chloe Brushwood Rose and Anna Camilleri. In snippets. Just snippets. Because femme is shifty. Slippery. Ambiguous. We like it like that. It's part of the mystique ;). And also because it's really quite challenging to blog on one's iPhone in one's car on a roadtrip with children in the backseat. I do what I can...
Chloe Brushwood Rose and Anna Camilleri offer this:
[F]emme might be described as "femininity gone wrong"- bitch, slut, nag, whore, cougar, dyke or brazen hussy. Femme is the trappings of femininity gone awry, gone to town, gone to the dogs. Femininity is a demand placed on female bodies and femme is the danger of a body read female or inappropriately feminine. We are not good girls - perhaps we are not girls at all (13).
Kathryn Payne describes:
Femme is the position that deliberate feminine sexual agency often occupies in queer girl subcultures (49).
And one of my favorite descriptions, which answers to concerns (criticisms?) about the gender performance(s) of femmes, is brought to you by Lisa Duggan and Kathleen McHugh. They argue:
And now, in the postmodern reign of The Queer, the fem(me) reappears, signifier of another kind of gender trouble. Not a performer of legible gender transgression, like the butch and his sister the drag queen, but a betrayer of legibility itself. Seemingly "normal". She responds to "normal" expectations with a sucker punch - she occupies normality abnormally (167).
And last but not least, another gem from Duggan and McHugh:
Rejecting Girl-By-Nature, the fem(me) is Girl-By-Choice. Finding in androgyny...too much loss, too little pleasure, and ugly shoes, the fem(me) takes from the feminine a wardrobe, a walk, a wink, then moves on to sound the death knell of an abject sexuality contorted and subjected to moral concerns (166).
Sufficiently confused now? Good. Then all is as it should be. Remember - shifty. Slippery. Hard, (but not impossible), to pin down.
So - to the badass, the gorgeous, the sassy, the sexy, the saucy, the tough-as-nails, the fancy and the fabulous femme-tastic girls and boys out there - I appreciate you - your femme-y ways, femme-y wiles and femme-y wickedness.
And I send you all a great big air kiss with lips resplendent in my shiny and fabulous pink 'revolution' lipstick...
Excerpts taken from: Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity. (eds). Chloe rushwood Rose and Anna Camilleri. Arsenal Pulp Press: Vancouver, 2002.
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