“Femme is radical,” says transwoman

A transwoman who calls himself a “lesbian” explains that “Femme is Radical, and Femme-Shaming Isn’t Feminist.”

The first time I read this article, I just thought it was a hilarious bit of liberal “feminism,” but then it was pointed out to me that this author is not female! Now it’s even better!

The author calls himself “femme,” so I have to say a quick word about that before I continue. The word “femme” is used in two different ways in the lesbian/gay community. An actual lesbian (meaning a female homosexual) who calls herself femme is referring to a lesbian-specific personality type where she has feminine traits and is attracted to butches. For us, “femme” does not refer to a specific clothing style or haircut, it refers to a personality, although we may also look feminine. The word ‘femme,’ or often ‘high femme,’ when used by gay men refers to a feminine presentation worn by a drag queen, and this has much more to do with hairstyle, clothing and makeup—it’s an exaggerated superficial femininity. This author, however, is attracted to women, so neither of these homo-specific terms describes him. He’s not a lesbian, because lesbians are female, and he’s not a gay man, because he’s attracted to women. He would be more accurately described as an autogynephile— a heterosexual male who “becomes what he loves.”

Pictures of him on social media present him as someone fully transitioned and looking very much like a woman. I’m guessing he probably passes for female around strangers until he speaks. His partner is a “queer” woman.

All right, here’s the article. Let the train wreck begin!

“I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m femme
Okay, so that’s not really all that shocking–I’m sitting here in a coffee shop, wearing a low-cut red sweater dress and knee-high boots. It should also, however, not come as a surprise that I am a feminist. The idea of a girl with straight-passing privilege who displays traits commonly associated with femininity, does not fit most people’s’ paper cut-out image of an iconic feminist. It’s 2016 and feminism is still conflated with bra-burning, hardline man-hating politics, and utilitarian fashion. I am none of the above.”

Only idiots are conflating feminism with bra-burning, because that never actually happened, and the people who claim it did are people who prefer to promote myths rather than understand the history of the women’s movement. Somehow I’m not surprised that a male autogynephile doesn’t want to be a part of a “hardline man-hating” movement. Ha! No kidding!

“I’ve always been the kind of girl who believes wholeheartedly in fighting the good fight, albeit without breaking a nail. I try to live by core tenets: promoting social equality, loving myself, defying oppressive gender norms, etc.”

LOLz! Of course he doesn’t want to break a nail in order to fight for women’s rights. What man would? And LOL again at the idea that one of the core tenets of feminism is “loving myself.” Feminism is a movement to liberate women from oppression, not a movement for men to paint their nails and love themselves. You’re confusing feminism with autogynephilia.

I also like how he’s “defying oppressive gender norms” by wearing the oppressive gender norms assigned to women. News flash: men fetishizing women’s oppression doesn’t challenge women’s oppression!

“Yet, despite all this, I’ve been shamed for being a “bad feminist” and reinforcing gender norms rather than defying them.”

Well, yeah, if you think feminism is about painting your nails and loving yourself, then you definitely are a bad feminist, since you don’t even know the first thing about feminism! However, since you are male, I would say you’re not a feminist at all. Men who are in favor of the liberation of women from oppression should be called “pro-feminist” or “feminist allies,” and men who have a fetish for women’s oppression should be called “MRAs.”

“There are some radical feminists who perceive being femme as sympathizing with the oppressors; a reinforcement of negative feminine stereotypes and not a legitimate feminist expression.”

Let me clarify a few things about this. Feminism is not about policing people’s personal choices, it’s about making the world safer for women by doing things like making it possible for women to control our own bodies and stopping violence against women. Whether or not a woman has makeup on while she’s doing this important work is irrelevant. When you eliminate sexist requirements in terms of appearance for women, you find that far fewer women want to wear makeup and high heels, because those weren’t things we wanted in the first place. For lots of us they are uncomfortable, unnecessary, costly and time-consuming. Feminists do want women to be able to be comfortable. However, if a woman enjoys wearing a dress and earrings while doing anti-violence work, no sane person would kick her out of feminism. I certainly wouldn’t! It’s not people’s clothing that’s important, it’s the content of their character. I only think that women are reinforcing negative stereotypes about women and complying with patriarchy when they’re artificially trying to look and act like men’s idea of a pornified woman. I know that some women do that, but I’m not in the business of scrutinizing women’s appearance and kicking them out of feminism for wearing the wrong thing. I am not interested in defining what is a “legitimate feminist expression” because feminism is not a movement for us to express ourselves through fashion choices.

“Femme-shaming is more than an abstract concept–for many women it is an all too tangible and traumatizing reality.”

Really? I’m supposed to believe that there are all sorts of women who are going around traumatized because someone shamed their desire to paint their nails? Hogwash! This is gender-compliant behavior for women, so no one shames us for it. However, people do shame women for not being feminine enough. And people also shame men for being too feminine. This guy might have been shamed for his femininity and he might be traumatized by the shaming he’s received, because that would be gender noncompliant behavior for a man. He might have been able to say something useful here if he acknowledged that he received his so-called “femme-shaming” as a boy.

“Though it is often associated with radical feminist circles who regard femmes as not feminist enough,”

Nope. Feminists do not regard feminine women as “not feminist enough.” We just identify that the enforcement of artificial, male-defined constructions of femininity are a part of our oppression as women.

“the real roots of femme-shaming stem from centuries of misogyny. At the core of femme-shaming belies femmephobia, a fear of all things associated with women: their bodies, their sexuality, etc. It reinforces the patriarchal dogma that being male and/or masculine is superior, and being female, or feminine, is shameful and inferior.”

The fear of all things associated with women is called misogyny, not “femme-phobia.” This paragraph makes no sense when applied to women. Women aren’t shamed for being feminine, we are forced to be feminine, whether we like it or not. However, if you consider that the author is male, it makes more sense. The reason that he was shamed for being a feminine boy is because femininity is considered inferior and femininity gets beaten out of boys.

“Femme-shaming oppresses not only women, but any gender-variant person who doesn’t equate their personal empowerment to masculine presentation. This brutal way of thinking stratifies people into a kyriarchal caste system according to their biological sex, forcing them into corresponding boxes of gender norms; arbitrarily socializing people in ways that betray their authentic selves.”

Huh?

“To be clear, I am not femme because I am a woman, rather, I am femme because I am a feminist who is self-empowered to express herself and make choices according to her personal preferences, even if some of those preferences coincide with the patriarchy’s superficial notions of appropriate feminine behaviour. What is more feminist than standing up for the right for women to be and self-identify in ways that honour their authentic selves? Yes, I may like haute couture fashion, makeup, and ponies, however, I do so, not as a woman, but as my own self.”

Oh god, make it stop! Feminism is not a personal lifestyle choice that makes women feel “empowered” by their “choices!” That would be neo-liberal individualism.

“A few days ago I met with a good friend of mine, one hell of a badass lady whom I’ve always admired for her strength and punky attitude. She was lucky enough to come of age in the early 90s, at the peak of riot grrrl and third-wave feminism. We’ve always managed to have really great discussions on this subject; on this particular day, however, the conversation turned a bit sour. I’ve recently forayed into the wonderful world of long nails -1.25 inches long to be exact; however, despite my own excitement, my friend was less than enthusiastic. “You need new, stronger female role models”, she said. As if to suggest that my desire to have long nails is a concession to misogynistic socialization and a betrayal to respectable feminist values.”

The fact that you bring it up yourself tells me that you already know you are “conceding to misogynistic socialization” and “betraying feminist values.” For the record, if I met with a friend and she had long nails, I wouldn’t say a word about it. Who cares? I wouldn’t tell her she needs better role models based on her fingernails for fuck’s sake, how weird is that?

“I love my friend, and I know that her intention is not to be cruel, however, femme shaming, whether intentional or not, hurts. In fact it hurts everyone, not just those being directly shamed. Women challenging other women for being femme is rooted in the same misogynistic processes behind toxic masculinity and men policing one another’s behavior for signs of “effeminacy”. Why do feminists scoff at Kleenex for men but then bully one another for long nails or lipstick?”

Well, I would scoff at Kleenex for men because that sounds like a marketing gimmick to try to get men to buy a product that they consider to be for women, even though all of us have noses. Also, I wouldn’t bully someone for long nails or lipstick.

“For feminists to argue that women’s choices are the product of socialization, when they coincide with traditional femininity, suggests that such women are incapable of independent thought. A similar argument would suggest that my proclivity for spicy food is also a product of my having been socialized as Mexican. There may be some truth to this idea of socialization, but people are capable of making their own choices. My choice to wear long nails may be partly influenced by the way that I was socialized, and it may also coincide with misogynist expectations of women, however it is my choice which I made through thoughtful analysis of pros and cons. In this case I chose in favour of my own aesthetic preference, knowing full well that they can be impractical and invite unwanted attention from disapproving feminists and chauvinist trolls alike.”

You made a pro and con list before getting your nails done?

Socialization does encourage people to behave in certain ways. That doesn’t mean they’re incapable of thought, it just means they have been influenced to think a certain way.

“In 1973, Janice Raymond, wrote The Transsexual Empire. The name itself is heinous, let alone the transphobic rhetoric it espouses, which continues to this day among a small circle of radical feminists, TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). Much of TERF thinking circles the argument that trans women engage in mimicry of feminine behaviour and that they do so by reinforcing genderist attitudes that further marginalize cis-gender women. They also go so far as to say that trans women set back feminism by promoting an agenda of “colonizing womanhood.”

It just wouldn’t be a good libfem article without mentioning how evil the TERFs are! He actually seems to understand our position, cool! Yeah, trans women do engage in mimicry of feminine behavior in order to prop up their identities, and this does reinforce sexism. In fact, the author describes himself doing just that! The trans community really is good at proving our points for us.

“Transphobia is femmephobia. At the core of these concepts is a general prejudice against women veiled behind anti-patriarchy rhetoric. At the core of these concepts is a general prejudice against women veiled behind anti-patriarchy rhetoric. These attitudes hurt trans and cis-gender women alike, by invalidating our choices and delegitimizing us as women and feminists because of those choices. Policing women’s fashion and aesthetic choices to justify their womanliness, is not unlike suggesting that short skirts and high heels justify rape. Patriarchy is wrong, and shaming women under the guise of feminist dogma is also wrong. Furthermore, it only serves to foster stigmatization of feminism as extreme, which in turn repels women who might otherwise be drawn to it. We should all be rallying behind the real threats, those posed by centuries of misogyny and oppression: wage gaps, glass ceilings, rape culture, violence against women, etc.”

No, no, no. Understanding human reproductive anatomy doesn’t come from a “general prejudice against women.” This is a load of incoherent rubbish. Those people you label as TERFs are doing the exact opposite of “policing women’s fashion and aesthetic choices to justify their womanliness.” We are saying that all adult human females are women, regardless of their fashion choices. No one gets judged on their degree of womanliness, we’re all worthy of the title woman no matter our personalities or sense of style. Further, understanding human reproductive anatomy and wanting to liberate women from oppression is not ‘extreme,’ it’s quite reasonable. What is ‘extreme,’ though, is drastically modifying your body in order to pretend to be someone you’re not for the rest of your life.

“Dressing femininely, wearing long nails and makeup, and regularly updating my handbag wishlist board on pinterest is my way of expressing myself, not just as femme, but as a self-empowered feminist. I wear skirts like picket signs. My being femme, in a society that persistently marginalizes women, is my radical protest. Femme is my way of telling the world, “you may judge me, you may objectify me, and you may even take me less seriously as an intelligent person for the way that I look, but you will not determine my identity. You can keep your opinions and I will keep my style.”

Nah, sorry dude, but updating your Pinterest doesn’t bring you any sort of power, wearing clothes doesn’t dismantle systems of oppression, and feminism isn’t about “expressing yourself.”

“I know that wearing my hair long and my dresses short invites unwanted attention and catcalling, but I don’t allow those things to keep me from going out and being myself, though I do avoid the dark and empty streets. Why should I allow femme-shaming to define me anymore than I allow misogyny to do the same? I wear my style with intentionality, and I owe accountability to no one other than myself. In much the same way as we stand up to misogynists who dictate to us how we should look and behave, we must also stand up to femme-shamers who would have us think that being a good feminist means compromising our authenticity.

I’m proud to be femme, not because it’s better than any other form of gender expression, but because it is my true expression. I am also proud to see other women who blur society’s gender lines by redefining what it means to be feminine. After all, being a feminist isn’t about living up to a specific ideal of femininity, it’s about being able to define femininity personally and for ourselves – one size does not fit all. Whether femme, butch, tomboy, trans, cis, straight, queer, and anything around or in-between, we are strong and -we- are radical.”

Nope, feminism isn’t about “defining femininity personally for ourselves.” It’s a movement to liberate all people who are female from sex-based oppression. You have absolutely no idea what feminism is, and what you’re promoting is actually neo-liberalism: a political agenda that takes us away from class consciousness and away from a material analysis of structural oppression, and limits us to looking at individual “empowerment” and choices in a way that leaves systems of power intact and ultimately benefits capitalist patriarchy.

No thanks, dude!

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Femininity

Femininity is a multifaceted concept. We use this word often without always talking about what we mean by it, and sometimes this leads to misunderstandings. You can say the same thing about masculinity too, but here I’m going to explore the multiple meanings of femininity.

From the Critical Dictionary of Feminism and Postfeminism:

Female: In a literal context, a word which refers to an individual who possesses a particular set of biological characteristics, including the ability to give birth. It is this to be differentiated from ‘femininity,’ which describes a socially-constructed image of femaleness.

Femininity: One of Simone de Beauvoir’s most famous aphorisms is ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’ (The Second Sex.) It is an apt summary of the feminist claim that, while femaleness is a consequence of biology, femininity originates from within societal structures. Femininity is thus a set of rules governing female behavior and appearance, the ultimate aim of which is to make women conform to a male ideal of sexual attractiveness. Masquerading as ‘natural’ womanhood, it is actually something imposed upon the female subject, in spite of the fact that the pressure to conform to the culturally dominant feminine ideal is internalized to the extent that women effectively tailor themselves to fit it—hence the existence of an immensely profitable fashion and beauty industry.

(Emphasis mine.)

Feminists also identify femininity as a set of behaviors that result from women’s oppression by men and that sometimes overlap with PTSD symptoms:

“Masculinity is simply a conglomeration of the personality traits necessary for the patriarchal soldier-rapist: physically strong, emotionally cauterized, rational, domineering, cruel. All of this is supposed to add up to “handsome” as well. Likewise femininity is ultimately a description of the personality that results from trauma and powerlessness: weak, passive, yielding, emotional, hyper-vigilant to the needs of the dominators and desperate for the dominator’s attention.” —Lierre Keith

If we look in the regular dictionary, we find more definitions, such as:

  • The quality or condition of being feminine.
  • A characteristic or trait traditionally held to be female.
  • The sum of all attributes that convey (or are perceived to convey) womanhood.
  • The quality or nature of the female sex; womanliness.
  • The trait of behaving in ways considered typical for women

The regular dictionary identifies that femininity can be socially constructed (“ways considered typical for women”) but also leaves room for femininity to mean traits that are intrinsic to females (“the quality or nature of the female sex”).

The ‘quality or nature of the female sex’ could be interpreted to mean such physical features as breasts and vaginas, things that women truly do have, in addition to cultural ideas about what women are like, which may be incorrect. According to this definition, we could call things like menstruation or XX chromosomes feminine. This isn’t the way that feminists use the word, but it is possible for an English speaker to use it this way.

Where femininity does mean socially-constructed ideas, what those ideas are can vary widely according to who is constructing them. Here I propose several different ideas of femininity constructed by different sources, and this is by no means an exhaustive list:

Religion/conservatives:
Femininity is motherhood and obedience to a husband, nurturing of children, soft-spoken, caring, and sensitive.

Sit-coms/advertising:
Femininity is an obsession with shoes, purses, and makeup, a love for inane conversation or gossip, being overly excited about silly things, being primarily concerned with physical appearance and being beautiful to men.

Porn:
Femininity is sexual submission, a love for being degraded and abused, a desire to be constantly used as a receptacle, and appearance-wise, is a set of physical attributes such as long hair, large breasts, a youthful appearance, no body hair and minimal labia.

Marketing/consumer products geared to youth:
Femininity is a love for all things cute and sparkly, the color pink, gentle and cooperative activities, dresses, bows, ribbons, princesses, and dolls.

Anti-feminism/male chauvinism:
Femininity is women being too weak, timid, and emotional to do serious jobs, being only suited for home and family life, being naturally better at taking care of children and doing housework, and existing to serve men in sexual and domestic duties.

The above are cultural ideas that were deliberately invented and promoted for specific purposes. For example, the idea that women are all obsessed with shoes and makeup is deliberately constructed by advertisers to sell shoes and makeup. The idea that women are too weak and emotional to work outside the home is deliberately constructed by men to keep women out of the workplace and financially dependent on men. But there are also aspects of femininity that are real human personality traits. These are the traits that have become associated with femininity because all women are assumed to have them and men are assumed not to have them. Personality traits such as gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, compassion, softness, and nurturing are assumed to be feminine traits. Truly, men and women could both have these traits, but boys are discouraged from displaying them while girls are encouraged to.

I have said before that I am not completely social constructionist; although I mostly am. There may be some truth to the idea that women are more likely to be caring and nurturing because we are the ones who give birth to babies. However, even if that is true, that doesn’t mean that all women are caring and nurturing and it doesn’t mean that men can’t be. Even if there is a high correlation between being one particular sex and having particular personality traits, that doesn’t mean we can generalize those traits across all people of that sex, and it doesn’t mean we should force them to act that way if they aren’t.

Sometimes when feminists talk about rejecting or abolishing femininity, other women feel insulted, confused or attacked because they believe we are trying to abolish their personalities or prevent them from wearing the clothes they want to wear. I think this is coming from a misunderstanding of what we mean by femininity. Feminists want to abolish harmful stereotypes, such as women being obsessed with shoes and makeup and being too emotional to work outside the home. We want to abolish the idea that some personality traits are only for women or for men. We also identify that the behaviors that result from being traumatized, as in the Lierre Keith quote above, will be gone when women are liberated from oppression. This does not mean that we want to forbid women from expressing their natural personality traits or to forbid women from wearing anything that is pink.

On this blog I have written many times about not being feminine and rejecting femininity, and I have been struggling to reconcile this against a growing certainty that I am a femme lesbian. What I finally figured out is that my natural personality traits are those traits considered feminine, and what I reject is the silly stereotypes about women that are presented in sit-coms and advertising. That is, I am caring and sensitive by nature, but I don’t obsess over my appearance or squeal over shoe sales.

I was just reading a post on Big Boo Butch asking whether it’s possible to be butch and gender critical. (She says yes—so do I.) I think the reason this is a question is that some gender critical feminists assume that butch is another “gender” or identity label belonging to identity politics and that it’s something along the same lines as calling yourself non-binary or genderqueer. This is why I think it’s different.

The idea of labelling yourself non-binary and getting people to call you “they” is rooted in a belief that your feelings about yourself, your personality, and your appearance make you inherently not female. However, females can have any sort of personality or appearance or feelings; any feelings felt by a woman are female feelings. The idea that certain personalities or appearances do not belong to women is not true and it’s sexism. In identity politics, the purpose of a gender identity is to deny biological sex and label the self as the opposite sex or neither sex based on internal feelings, personality, or appearance. I don’t agree with doing that, because it’s a denial of the reality of the body, but that doesn’t mean I disagree with identifying our personalities. People are welcome to label their personalities, using words such as masculine, feminine, or genderqueer; or other words such as introvert/extrovert, outgoing, shy, analytical, creative, or any number of things. These are just some of the things people say to describe who they are, and I’m certainly not trying to outlaw describing ourselves.

Where I disagree with the identity politics crowd is that they want other people to recognize and validate their chosen personality labels and use special language to refer to them. This is entirely unnecessary and can be downright narcissistic. I don’t care whether complete strangers feel that they are masculine or feminine any more than I care whether they feel they are analytical or creative. However, if I interact with someone on a regular basis, I will be able to tell what their personality is like, and if they are extroverted or genderqueer that will be obvious. There is no need for anyone to validate your personality—your personality is real and it comes through to people who interact with you, and they’ll be able to tell who you are even in the absence of a label. It’s not the label that’s important.

The reason I say I’m a femme lesbian is because I have the personality traits that are considered feminine, and I also have a particular fondness for butches—they have effects on me that other women, even other lesbians, don’t have. I think this is perfectly obvious (at least to other lesbians) and I don’t need anyone to validate it. If you know me then you know that I am compassionate and sensitive, and that I swoon over lesbians who are strong women and who don’t look or feel right in a dress. I don’t give a shit if people call me a femme or not, it’s not the label that is important, and there is no reason why complete strangers or even casual acquaintances need to know this or call me this.

Butch and femme are not ‘genders’ in the sense of labels meant to replace the person’s biological sex, they are just personality types. Both of these personality types belong to women, and we should just be referred to as women.

I think it’s wrong to deliberately perform a personality, behavior, or appearance that is not natural to you, which is why I don’t think women should try to adhere to stereotypes about women by performing artificial aspects of femininity. This goes both ways—women shouldn’t feel forced to perform aspects of femininity that don’t feel natural to them, and they also shouldn’t be forced to deliberately become more masculine through transition in an attempt to legitimate the masculine parts of their personalities. Either way they are not being themselves. Women should be able to express their personality traits and wear the clothing they like no matter where that happens to fall on the femininity–masculinity continuum, without having to call themselves anything other than women.

Sometimes I read complaints that I shouldn’t call women ‘masculine.’ If we define femininity as the ‘quality or nature of the female sex’ then anything a woman does is ‘feminine.’ So if a woman wears short hair and likes fixing cars, then that is feminine. I understand this line of thinking, because I too believe that anything a woman is interested in is a female interest and anything a woman wears is women’s clothing, and any feeling a woman has is a female feeling. However I think people who make this particular complaint are being pedantic, because it’s obvious that when I call a woman feminine or masculine I am situating her personality in relation to what society expects from women, and it’s obvious why I’m doing that—because my primary concern in writing this blog is to explore the differences between who women are and how women are treated and viewed by society. If I define femininity as anything any woman does, then I lose the language to talk about the difference between reality versus expectations when it comes to female appearance, behavior and mannerisms.

When I use the word femininity, you can usually assume that I’m talking about a set of cultural expectations placed on women that do not reflect the reality of who women are. If I am talking about real human personality traits that are considered feminine, I will specify that. If I call a woman masculine it’s not because I think her personality traits belong to men, it’s because that’s what society thinks, and it’s in our interest to point this out.

10 ways to feel like a girl

From Teen Vogue, 10 Things I Did to Feel Like a Girl When I Couldn’t Transition. A MtF transsexual explains how to feel like a girl before you’ve started taking hormones. Ha! This should be fun.

“I grew my hair!

This was the easiest and cheapest way to progress in my transition because it cost no money at all and I could do it without even thinking. (Of course, I realize that not every girl wants to grow out her hair, but this was something I wanted to do.) Caring for your hair with nourishing treatments and oils can help to make it grow, but the best part about this extra hair care is that I was able to give myself some self-care, too.”

I’ve had short hair for about 10 years. I’ve never nourished my hair with oils and I have no idea why I would. My partner shaves her head herself, and has been sporting a buzz cut since long before I knew her. I also know two other lesbians who shave their heads (I just counted you as a lesbian, FriendPilgrim! Welcome to the club 😉 ) Also, there are tons of straight women with short hair, if you look at the over-40 category. (Not that fashion magazines will ever look at the over-40 category—they simply don’t exist.) If “having long hair” makes you a woman, then lots of actual women aren’t women! And also, important public service announcement, men can have long hair!

“Body hair removal

On the topic of hair: As well as growing it, there may be hair you want to remove. Everyone has different preferences to body hair, but my body hair always made me feel dysphoric. So even though I wasn’t living full time, I’d still do things like shave my legs so I felt more feminine. If you want to also have your hair removed, you can consider laser hair removal on your face (and consider that it’s a process that can take time).”

I just went for about 8 months without shaving my legs, and it was great! I like when I can see my natural body hair—it means I’m not buying into bullshit ideas about what women are and I’m respecting my body as it is. Unfortunately, when the weather gets warm and I start wearing shorts, I usually cave in and shave once in a while. Not because that’s what I’m naturally inclined to do, but because I have a job and I’m expected to look professional at work. If women weren’t required to shave, we’d be seeing lots more female body hair around. If this guy wants to shave his legs, he can absolutely do that! There are actually men who shave their legs, like cyclists for example. That doesn’t make them women.

“Moisturizer is everything

I took time every day to moisturize my body from head to toe, and I don’t mean just slapping it on in a rush! I really took time to connect with myself — massaging it into my skin, showing my body some love. This really helped me battle my body dysmorphia and it improved my skin; win, win.”

I think it’s great if people with body dysphoria take some time to self-care and appreciate their bodies. That’s a really good strategy to deal with dissociation. However, moisturizer has nothing at all to do with being male or female.

“I painted my nails

Similarly to the moisturizing routine, this was a way of showing my body and myself some love. Looking down and seeing a feminine hand is a small but significant way I would affirm my gender to myself during this period where I wasn’t allowed or able to express it to the rest of the world. I wasn’t confident enough to go for a bold color during this period, so I’d just keep them filed and buffed with a coat of clear gloss, but this was enough to keep me feeling feminine during this hard time. Try it!”

Hmm, when was the last time I painted my nails? I have no idea. I absolutely hate nail polish. And I’ll tell you a story of when I got my fingernail assaulted while in a mall. So I was walking along and there was one of those booths in the center with beauty products, and there were ladies ambushing random passers-by with their beauty products. One of them grabbed me, and being only a teenager, I didn’t feel confident enough to say “back off and don’t grab me.” She demonstrated this nail thing where you polish the surface of the nail so it’s smooth instead of slightly ridged like usual. She showed me how smooth my nail was. I thought this was completely nonsensical and I had no idea why I would want to smooth the natural ridges on my nails. Also, I hadn’t consented to having my nail worked on and I honestly felt assaulted. I ran out of there as soon as she loosened her grip. When the writer of this article says he likes to look down and see a “feminine hand” that makes me feel queasy. I definitely don’t want “feminine hands” and I don’t want to ever modify my fingernails ever again.

“I practiced my voice

I began working on my voice. Sadly for us transgender girls, unlike transgender guys, hormones don’t do anything to our voices, so if you want a more feminine one (not everyone does!) you’ll have to train it yourself. There are loads of YouTube videos that will teach you how do this. It takes time and practice, though, so if this is something you want for yourself, get on with it as soon as possible. Alternatively, if this is something you don’t care about, good for you — that’s one less thing to worry about.”

Right. So you practice speaking in a silly falsetto voice that apparently you’re going to have to use for the rest of your life because you’re pretending to be a woman? Have fun with that.

“I practiced wearing makeup

Firstly, let me say that no, you don’t have to wear makeup to be a woman. But if makeup is something you want to use, it does take some practice! I’ve realized that this waiting time is the perfect opportunity to perfect the craft. One way to start learning the basics is to look up “morning routine” videos, where makeup artists show you their daily makeup routine.”

I have never “practiced wearing makeup” in my life. I have worn makeup a few times—although not very many times. When I was a teenager I wore blue lipstick for a while, and my parents said it made me look dead. I wasn’t a goth, but I still thought that was cool. I was a teenager, you know? I also used to wear cover-up for blemishes, but I stopped doing that when I got older. Now I just wear a bit of mascara whenever there’s a job interview or a wedding, which happens once every few years. There is absolutely no way I would ever have a “daily makeup routine.” What a waste of time and money!

“I started my wardrobe

I started building up my female wardrobe, which helped me feel like I was progressing. If you’re tight on money, I suggest making a Pinterest board of clothes you want to (and will!) wear.”

Most of the women I interact with hate buying clothes. We’re not all the girls from Sex and the City, you know? Lots of us are fat or plain-looking and find clothes shopping a horrible chore. If I could, I would live in jeans and a T-shirt all the time.

“Started saving money early

I started saving my money. Transitioning can be expensive, especially if you want any surgery (though not everyone does, which is totally OK). But even the things like laser hair removal, makeup, and a new wardrobe add up. Saving money means you’re still progressing toward your goal and not staying stagnant during this period of waiting.”

Ever heard of the pay gap? If you want to feel like a woman, what you need is less money.

“I learned to love myself.

This is the hardest, but most important, tip on this list. You don’t have to be on hormones or living full-time to start learning to love yourself. All the tips on this list have focused on changing yourself physically, but if you don’t learn to love yourself first, you will keep changing yourself until you’ve lost yourself — and even then, you still won’t love yourself. Start from within. If you tell yourself you’ll only be able to start loving yourself once you’ve transitioned, that’s not truly loving yourself. To love yourself means to accept yourself, wholeheartedly, as you are. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you necessarily like everything about your body, but it means you wholeheartedly accept everything about your body, and there’s nothing more beautiful, powerful, or important than that.”

I think this guy should take his own advice and love himself unconditionally. That means acknowledging himself for who his is—a feminine man, and loving the process of moisturizing and shaving his male body without having to pretend it’s a female one. It’s okay to be a feminine man, you don’t have to be “really a woman” in order to do the things you want to do. Also, these ideas about what women are come from capitalist patriarchy, and don’t have anything to do with women’s real selves.

Video: Eleven gender non-conforming women

What a beautiful video by PeachYoghurt. Eleven women share their photos to show the possibilities for women who do not conform to society’s expectations. Women can dress any way we want. We can have any personalities we want. Having a personality that society understands as “masculine” does not mean we aren’t women. This is the way women are. And from a lesbian perspective, my are they ever sexy! Makes my heart flutter.

Neo-liberalism and sexualization

Neo-liberalism has brought many social evils and one of those is the increased commodification and sexualization of women’s bodies. In this post I will compare regular-looking photos of women with sexualized photos and discuss how free-market capitalism is playing a role in this increased sexualization.

To make sure we’re on the same page in terms of what neo-liberalism is, here is a quote from Neo-liberalism or Democracy by Arthur MacEwan:

The economic policy that became dominant in most of the world during the final decades of the twentieth century has given greater and greater rein to unregulated, private decision-making. The policy calls for reducing the economic roles of government in providing social welfare, in managing economic activity at the aggregate and sectoral levels, and in regulating international commerce. The ideas at the foundation of this policy are not new. They come directly from the classical economic liberalism that emerged in the nineteenth century and that proclaimed ‘the market’ as the proper guiding instrument by which people should organize their economic lives. As a new incarnation of these old ideas, this ascendant economic policy is generally called ‘neo-liberalism.’ P. 4

So, neo-liberalism is the economic system where the market is unregulated and the capitalists may do whatever they want with hardly any restrictions. This system is not just economic in nature, it is also the belief system that we apply to all areas of our lives. The individual has the right to do anything he wants to earn a living and whatever the individual chooses is what’s right for him; there is no class structure in society and we are all just individual agents choosing choices. What humans decide to produce is based on what sells and can generate profit; ethical or environmental issues are not considered. Because it is justifiable to sell anything that people will buy, and because we live in a patriarchy, it is acceptable to buy and sell female bodies. The buying and selling of female bodies takes its extreme form in pornography and prostitution, but milder forms include the use of female body parts to sell unrelated products in advertisements and the over-sexualization of women celebrities in order to sell entertainment products such as pop music, TV shows, films, and music videos.

There is no better example than the formation of the Spice Girls to illustrate how popular music is not a manifestation of culture or art but an entertainment product created by capitalists in order to generate profit. The Spice Girls were not a group of women who knew each other and who got together to sing. They are a product created by the company Heart Management, who saw room in the market for an all-girl band that would appeal to both girls and boys. (The bubbly pop tunes are supposed to appeal to girls and the sexualized appearance of the women is supposed to appeal to boys.) They auditioned women for the parts and they chose women who were young, feminine, and conventionally attractive. Theoretically, if what they were looking for was talent and musical skills, they would have chosen well-established musicians who were older and more experienced—but companies are looking for profits and what sells is women who are young, cute and only minimally talented at dancing and singing. After their rise to fame they became a brand name. All sorts of merchandise was sold with the Spice Girls logo and photos on it. Children were sold not just CDs and videos but Spice Girls toys, school supplies and other paraphernalia.

In the following image I have juxtaposed two images of women in musical groups. The first group is a folk group called The Rankin Family and the second group is The Spice Girls.

Rankin Spice

Photo credits: Rankin Family photo from here and Spice Girls photo from here.

I know that I’m comparing apples to oranges here, but that’s the point. The folk group is there for the purpose of making music. They look like regular people and they are dressed as themselves, not as characters. The Spice Girls are wearing skimpy outfits; two of them have skirts so short their underwear is deliberately showing, one of them has an open shirt to reveal most of her bra. They are not dressed in normal clothes; they are wearing stage costumes and they are in character. The sexualization here is evident—in order to sell lots of records and concert tickets, women have to wear costumes inspired by soft core porn so that while they are performing, men can be titillated and imagine having sex with them. Although female fans are not expected to be turned on by these costumes, we are expected to accept that this is the way attractive women must look. These outfits were reproduced on Spice Girls merchandise and sold to fans who were mostly children and teen girls. In this way, popular culture succeeded in selling soft-core pornography to children. I remember a joke we told in middle school when the Spice Girls were popular: “What is the difference between a Spice Girls video and a porn video?” Answer: “The porn video has better music.” The fact that soft core porn was being sold to us was evident to us even as pre-teens.

Here is a juxtaposition of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and pop entertainer Lady Gaga.

Joni Gaga

Photo credits: Joni Mitchell photo from here and Lady Gaga photo from here.

In the image of Joni Mitchell we simply see an ordinary woman playing a guitar. In the image of Lady Gaga we see a porn outfit consisting of high heels, stockings, and stylized lingerie, with tons of makeup to create a Bardie-doll face. Mitchell could easily walk into a grocery store or a library or a school and look like any other person. Gaga could easily walk into a strip club or a brothel and she would be already dressed for a role as an escort.

Here is a juxtaposition of activist/musician Miriam Makeba and pop entertainer Beyoncé.

Miriam Beyonce

Photo credits: Miriam Makeba photo from here and Beyoncé photo from here.

Makeba is fully dressed and appears as an ordinary woman singing a song. Beyoncé is wearing a stage outfit that mimics lingerie including bodysuit and stockings. The back of the bodysuit, which is shown in another photo at the above link, reveals about half of her bottocks. As in the previous pair of photos, the first woman looks like she could walk right into a classroom and start teaching, and the second looks like she would fit right in at a strip club.

Gail Dines names this over-sexualization as ‘porn culture’ and talks about how women can either be fuckable or invisible. As feminists we do not blame individual women for choosing sexualized outfits, we criticize the culture that makes sexualized outfits an imperative. Both Gaga and Beyoncé have musical talents and performance skills, and should be able to sell records and concert tickets even while looking like regular people, but in order to break through the pack and become famous they must market themselves as a product. This is what people have to do to succeed in a free market economy. When women market themselves as a product, if they want to be successful, the product that they must sell is a pornified image of themselves. Over the last few decades, and particularly with the creation of the Internet, pornography has gone mainstream and is now everywhere we look. Soft core porn is sold to children on a regular basis. Just take a look at the Bratz dolls.

bratz dolls

 

Photo credit: Tree Change Dolls Tumblr.

Not only has neo-liberalism facilitated the buying and selling of women’s bodies and the over-sexualization of women and girls, it has made it much harder for us to talk about these issues. In the West we have lost the ability to consider our class interests as women or as working class people and to think critically about our culture. We all believe in the idea of the individual who chooses choices and the mainstream “feminist” discourse is all about preventing anyone from challenging any choice any woman makes.  But we do not make choices in a vacuum, we make choices in a neo-liberal capitalist patriarchy and the options we have to choose from are decided upon by those in positions of power: rich white men who govern corporations and government. Women only have so many choices available to us and the menu of choices gets smaller and smaller as you add multiple oppressions such as race, class, disability and sexual orientation. When women critique sexualization we are told by neo-liberals that we are ‘slut-shaming.’ This is a position that assumes that women decide on their own to dress in pornographic outfits or to enter the sex industry and that it has nothing to do with the culture that has ensured that we are poor and powerless and that we are either fuckable or invisible. The idea of ‘slut-shaming’ places blame on feminists with a critique of capitalist patriarchy and takes blame away from the men whose power and money are dictating what women can do with our lives.

There are lots of women who appear to “choose” sexualization and pornification but we are choosing this within a system where sexualization has been normalized and promoted during our whole lives and where we have not been taught to question it. Lots of us are choosing it only because that is what we must do to survive in this world.