Feminist Femmes

During this past week’s transeruption on I Blame the Patriarchy, Twisty enumerated a few items from the Savage Death Island’s Constitution after her defense of transwomen’s access to women only spaces.  The first items she listed is this:

Femininity, the practice of femininity, and the fetishization of femininity degrades all women, regardless of the gender assignment of the practitioner or fetishizer.

While I appreciate the offer of transinclusion, I can’t help but feel that this is a dig at transwomen.  I think there’s a good deal of cissexism in Twisty’s take on the issue and she has a few blind-spots.

In the comments of this blog a comrade, irateandri, expressed the following:

I was initially a little concerned over what you were saying because I see so many expectations pushed onto transwomen. Be more feminine or you won’t pass and your identity as a woman will be further called into question; be less feminine or you’re just reinforcing Patriarchy. Be less masculine or you’re making women feel unsafe, be more masculine or you’re merely performing a pathetic caricature of femininity. There is no safe way to be a woman if you are trans, it is always poisoned by cissupremacy.

One of the factors that excludes many transwomen (at the very least, the ones who are feminine) from feminism is the rejection of femininity.  With all of the cissexist expectations put on her, how can a transwoman feel safe with people who insist that her gender expression is a contrived tool of her oppressor.

It takes a lot of cisprivilege to lecture transwomen on the ways they navigate society’s gender expectations.  At it’s heart, the rejection of femininity is a male-centred way of thinking.  The assumption that femininity is for attracting men.

I’ve heard it expressed by ciswomen that they have to moderate the way they express their gender because every random man on the street will assume her presentation is just for him rather than an expression of her own agency.  One woman who enjoys all sorts of femmie things; makeup, dresses, glitter, feels she can’t were low cut tops, not because she doesn’t like her cleavage, but because she doesn’t want every man on the street drooling down it.

To borrow a phrase from Julia Serano, let’s put the feminine back in feminism.   I’ll leave you with a few quotes of her’s from a 2007 Bitch Magazine interview,

I’m not attracted to men. [But] sometimes I like getting dressed up, but I know that when I do, men on the street will comment more, people are going to perceive me as dressing that way in order to gain attention. And that sucks, because that’s not what my motive is. But the other option is to repress my femininity or repress my desire to dress up when I feel the desire to do so. And that’s what I did most of my life as a male. And that sucks, too.


In feminism and in the queer community, there’s a strong anti-feminine attitude. If you look at the gay male community, masculinity is praised, femininity is suspect. If you look at the lesbian community, masculinity is praised, femininity is suspect. We have to get that out of our heads. Whenever I hear a feminist argue that women are subordinating themselves to men when they dress up, to me it sounds like a slightly toned-down version of “women who dress provocatively are asking for it.” It’s the same argument.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Twisty
    Mar 13, 2011 @ 07:48:18

    “The assumption that femininity is for attracting men.”

    That is not the assumption at all. Femininity is a set of behaviors, learned via patriarchal indoctrination, used to control, subjugate, and marginalize women. There is no expression of agency in the practice of femininity. Quite the opposite; “the enjoyment of femmie things” signifies the internalization of misogynist messages and compliance with the patriarchal mandate.


  2. Trackback: Only sub-human « I Blame The Patriarchy
  3. Trackback: On Femininity | Angry Marxists
  4. Nora
    Mar 14, 2011 @ 21:25:18

    My understanding of anti-femininity is that it’s sort of…circularly supported by patriarchy (as in: we hate femininity because it is linked to female-ness, and we enforce femininity for women because we hate them so goddamn much). Of course, a lot of “feminine” behaviors are actually a direct result of very obvious subjugation (being demure, for example).

    But can’t the external trappings of femininity be used to mitigate the backlash women experience whenever they forsake other aspects of femininity like being silent or doing all of the childcare? I think that’s a fair compromise, since a lot of femininity appears–and this might be entirely facile on my part–to be nothing more than just an arbitrary code by which women-folk identify themselves as such. Like, are we making a distinction between dressing femme-ishly and behaving like a sexbot?

    I also think that it might be useful to parse what actually constitutes as feminine clothing. I would contend that something like women’s jeans, flats, and a blouse would be decidedly feminine, but I also don’t think that’s the level of femininity Serano’s talking about. From my experience, it sounds more like she’s referring to a heels/miniskirt-type getup. At least, that’s always what used to get me sexually harassed. Dressing in an actual, legitimately non-feminine way almost always results in similar (but sometimes more malicious) harassment.


    • QueerCoup
      Mar 14, 2011 @ 23:56:40

      It seems like there’s a lot of value in exploring which things associated with femininity are perpetuating patriarchy and which ones are just things that are assigned feminine status. You already mentioned demureness, Dworkin breaks down the fairytale femininity archtypes in “Woman Hating”, inert, passive, innocent, victim, dead. Those aspects of femininity are clearly degrading. Other things like crying and child-care are just everyday things that are assigned to the feminine classification.


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