Recently a blog post hit the feminist Facebook groups, launching hand-wringing and finger-shaking like little else in recent memory. It would be funny, almost uproariously so, if so many feminists hadn’t latched onto this little piece of privilege. The topic: ‘femme oppression’ within feminism Yeah, right.
The first thing that came to mind is how similar this is, in essence, to light-skinned Blacks claiming persecution from their melanin-blessed peers for passing privilege. Except in all the years I’ve been following and reading, I’ve not seen Black folks fall for this oppression pretense.
The second thought to hit me is that this is, put more simply, a case of “You hate me because I’m beautiful” speak. Although I’ve known white women — and a few men — to pick this up and run with it, for the healthy-ego crowd, it’s always been just a joke. Simply a joke: a joke on privilege, and the entitlement that so often accompanies it. This dramatic level of pompous deservedness easily rings false. So why doesn’t ‘femme oppression’?
My answer to the question of why women — feminists! — cling to femininity is Lesbophobia, and more specifically, the terrible fear of the loss of privilege for any woman who is not overtly signaling her availability and loyalty to patriarchy, to men. Femininity is complicity, it’s passing privilege, it’s compliance to dualisms on a hierarchy, and male is always ‘more.’
The basic problem with the blog post is that it never moves beyond the dualisms. In, fact, it never even questions them, it simply breaks femininity into patriarchy’s version, and an imagined feminist version (bold in original):
One can even be a feminine [woman] and fight against enforced gender roles and stereotypes (shocking I know, but only if you’ve still internalized Patriarchal ideas about femininity). One can be feminine and a serious feminist. To say otherwise suggests that one cannot be feminine and serious and worthy of respect, which means that women who don’t ape the ways of men aren’t serious or worthy of respect, which means women aren’t serious or worthy of respect.
But there is more than this given duality. There is femininity, of course, the docile and decorative, emoting and immature, impulsive extreme, one end of the allowed line. And there is masculinity, the demanding and rugged, wear-worthy, stoic and mature, logical other end of the same line. Most of us fall in between, at least. Maybe it’s more apt to say that most of us form a sphere between the polar extremes, not unlike the Earth on its axis points, another of Nature’s realities. But if most people can be pegged as either somewhat-feminine and somewhat-masculine, there is another group that has the potential to take the line and make it a triangle by the addition of a third point. Call that point “Butch.” Because Butch is the distillation of what female human beings would be without the overlay of patriarchy. A female without the demand for perpetual adolescence and emotionality, without the decorations that render the wearers vulnerable and awkward and slow, without the unhesitating male-reverent loyalty to patriarchy’s elite … would be Butch. And Butch would be a celebrated, honored state of being.
I offer this all as food for thought. I wish no woman to face her own complicity, and feel shame or pain for it. I do wish, however, she could see Butches and realize she is looking at our legitimate sheroes, brave souls who wouldn’t or couldn’t comply and who have generally faced horrific cultural condemnation for it. That we, non-Butches, or femmes, have survived, is enough. And that needn’t take away from the tremendous gift that Butches share by their precious existence — we can evade the mandates, we can fight and not capitulate — and still survive. At least some can — some have. And, oh, what inspiration we should draw from those who fought back and remained true to themselves, true to what is legitimately female, what should really be the personification of ‘feminine.’ What should be, but never will be; patriarchy owns the dictionary and the printing presses, and before that, even, the power to name and define.
There is a sliver of truth to the blog post: that which is considered female and thus devalued needs reconsidered. So much that is not-masculine, like the abilities to nurture, to listen, to connect with another being, is valuable, even vital to a fulfilling life. Yes, women are inherently worthy of respect. And women who have fought to not capitulate to the mandates of patriarchy are especially worthy of respect, a warrior’s respect in this war against the female psyche, soul and body, too. Butches are the strongest, clearest survivors.