Disposable Women: Some Thoughts on Bowie, My Dad, and Sexualizing Young Girls

I remember walking through the mall with my dad (age 55) and he made some comment to me about a girl in short shorts. The girl must have been about 17 and yet my dad saw no problem with his leering at her legs (and making a sexual comment about them to me, his daughter [age 25]).

This kind of thing has happened before.

Going through a checkout at a Walmart with my dad, he and I both noticed the cashier. I noticed her because I remembered her from Vacation Bible School and grade 9 gym class; my dad noticed her because he thought she was attractive, etc. When we left the store I mentioned to my dad that we were in the same grade and he didn’t believe me. “That girl is older than you,” he told me, convinced.

The trouble with idealizing youth and sexualizing young girls is that it becomes normalized. Men who are attracted to, and prey on, young girls don’t see anything wrong with it — they don’t even truly know how young they are. My dad, for one, refused to believe that he was attracted to someone as young as (and younger than) his daughter. Classic sexism allowed him to dismiss what I was saying and twist reality into a world where he gets what he wants and doesn’t have to answer to anybody. In this magical world, to paraphrase Wooderson from Dazed and Confused, my dad keeps getting older but the women he thinks it’s appropriate to be attracted to stay the same age.

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The idealization of youth, the sexualization of young girls, and plain ol’ sexism allow men to live out this fantasy. A fantasy that translates to a nightmare for girls and women.

Sick with the flu, I fell asleep watching The First Wives Club on Netflix two nights ago, a 1996 film about three women who have all been left by their husbands for much younger women (one as young as 16). I woke to the news of David Bowie’s death and some subsequent online discussions about his — and many other rockstars of the era — sexual “relationships” with underage girls, relationships that can only be described as rape given the wide gaps in age and power. All of this points to the fact that my dad, while certainly a grade ‘A’ creep, is certainly not alone. And this poses some very real and very serious threats for women and girls. No matter how you look at it, women are considered disposable objects in a culture obsessed with youth: in The First Wives Club, this fetishization of youth translates to older women left depressed and devalued, with low self esteem and little money or stability. In the context of the 60s and 70s rockstars, the fetishization of youth meant young women were exploited, raped, and abused, a legacy that has not disappeared. My dad grew up idolizing rockstars of the 70s; it’s no wonder he perpetuates this behaviour.

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I’m afraid our generation is not much better; the rape apologism, silence on sexual assault, and victim-blaming woven into the dialogue surrounding Bowie’s death confirms this. We need to do better. We need to resist misogyny and sexism that dictates that women’s only value is their sexual appeal. We need to resist ageism that dictates only youth is beautiful. We need to protect young girls from exploitation by calling out the men who prey on them, and we need to value all women for something other than their bodies. We can start by refusing to idolize adult men who sleep with young girls, no matter what else they might contribute to our culture.

I Want a Comedy of Love: Yearning for Femme Healing, For a Soft Place to Rest

I’m tired of comedy that relies on making some specific person look stupid, gross, weird, other. I’m tired of your edgy, alienating sarcasm.

I’ve never much cared to have a friend that makes “good-natured” digs at me, that tries to get a laugh at my expense.

My sister once told me she hates watching The Big Bang Theory because the whole premise of the show is to laugh at the nerdy, awkwardness of the main characters.

As someone who navigates the world feeling anxious and alienated most of the time already, this type of comedy leaves me feeling pretty panicky. 

Why do we think it’s so funny to hate each other? To point out each other’s flaws, or marginality?

I am so very tired of being unable to sustain a casual conversation with my coworkers without some snarky interjection passed off as a joke. Of being called a “crazy cat lady” or being told I dance “like a baby.”

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Photo by Raven Murders

I’m yearning for gentleness. For smiles. For a friend. For connection. To be folded in, to be welcomed. To be appreciated, in all of my softness. To laugh out of joy, not out of bitterness. I want a comedy of love, not hate.

I’m tired of battling my way through daily interactions. I’m tired of being interrupted, of fighting for space, arguing for care. Of trying to keep up with your snark. I feel like a tennis player running around the court, trying to anticipate the direction of your hits and lobby them back with ease.

I’m tired.

It’s exhausting moving through this world as a femme, as a queer, as a feminist. As someone whose daily (femme) labour means carrying other creatures with her. The world is ragged and is making me ragged, and I’m looking for a soft place to land.

I want a laugh that feels good, that I can feel good about. And I want to find some soft creatures like me that want to laugh at some softness, too. That want to put off hardness just another moment longer, and appreciate our softness together.

Resisting Pretty: A Hair Story

When I trim my bangs, I release my femme. There’s nothing that makes me feel more like myself, more powerful, and more femme than hacking off the overgrown fringe covering my forehead. I look back at photographs of myself as a little femme and see that I have always had the same hairdo as I do now: shoulder length wavy hair and bangs. The style of bangs has fluctuated a little, but for over a year (and on and off through my adolescence and young adulthood) I’ve been committed to super short, rounded out bangs a la Bettie Page. Every couple of weeks I trim them myself, leaning far over my bathIMG_0432room sink to evaluate their evenness in the mirror. And every couple of weeks I emerge from the bathroom a little more powerful.

I hold a lot of privileges, and they all affect whether or not I am perceived as beautiful. For the most part, I fit pretty seamlessly with normative beauty ideals: I’m white, thin, able bodied, and a femme cis woman. My bangs and my vertical labret piercing are not just leftover mementoes from my punky teenagehood, but my most visible queer markers. These things are queer not necessarily because they match a particular hip aesthetic, but because they “move toward the ugly.” My piercing slices through my lip and normative femininity simultaneously. It announces something odd, that I choose to look a little “ugly” when I could look “pretty.” My bangs function in the same way: too short and too blunt to look delicate, soft, or lovely.

Because of the privilege I carry, looking ugly is a choice. I could grow out my bangs and take out my lip ring and fade into a normalized femininity. This can be a privilege in many ways. But for some reason, I hold on to these things. By resisting the pretty, by cutting it out of my hair, I’m signaling my intentional alignment with the queer. As a white, thin, queer, cis femme, this is how I queer femininity; this is how I embrace the ugly. And something about that makes me feel real. 

Emotional Labour of the Femme

My favourite photograph of us isn’t one that garnered tons of notes on Tumblr, or one from our first vacation to Nova Scotia. My favourite photograph of us is one I took myself. I’m seated on the toilet lid, wrapped up in a fluffy purple towel aiming the camera at my feet. She’s kneeling there in jeans and sports bra, tweezers poised above my feet, red blood running down and around my pink toenails. I had smashed a glass jar of homemade body wash in the shower and my feet were spiked with tiny shards of glass. She had just come home from work and found me bleeding and spooked by the sight of blood, but still kind of laughing at my lack of foresight.

broken glassIt’s not a particularly flattering photo or even a well composed one. That’s not why I love it. I love it so much because it is so us. It’s so me, and it’s so her, and it’s so us. It’s so butch/femme. I look at that photo and I think about the emotional labour of being femme, and the physical labour of being butch, and how both are steeped in offerings of genuine care.

It’s easy to see how I was cared for in that relationship. My ex butch girlfriend cooked all my meals, did most of our laundry, cleaned the entire house, picked shards of glass out of my feet, filled my bike tires, and bloodied someone’s nose who groped my friend in a bar. We equally shared the task of outfit consultation and over the course of our relationship we shifted the majority of the financial burden based on who was most gainfully employed at the time, but I fronted most of the deposits and my name was on all the leases. I filled the role of provider even more when my insurance could cover trips to the dentist or prescriptions. I would cover for her when her Crohn’s was flaring, validate and try to assuage her anxiety, talk her through triggering trips home or news stories, confront our friends when they tried to make a joke out of her gender, and be her sounding board for those hard questions about gender identity.

At the time we were just living. But as I reflect now I can see that the roles we occupied in that relationship disrupted gendered expectations. The tasks that often fell to my partner, the labour associated with running a home and a family, are often assumed to be feminine roles, even innate instincts in women, so it is ironic and subversive to my eye that my butch partner not only performed these tasks but enjoyed them. Butches aren’t supposed to make apple crisp! Right? She also enjoyed painting her fingernails bright colours and would explicitly challenge those who voiced confusion over her seemingly conflicting style.

While my butch partner tended to our home I was engrossed in the intellectual pursuit of graduate school, again turning expectations on their head. Femmes aren’t supposed to be smart, they’re supposed to be hot! Right? The other tasks that fell to me demanded a degree of stoic dependability that opposed the emotional or even hysterical image of feminized folks. In fact, my partner would tease me about how I never cried — I must have no feelings! After that relationship ended, the tears started flowing with surprising regularity. My emotional life was not absent, it was occupied. I realized that the way I cared for my partner was to lend her my emotional capacity and hold things for her that she could not, or perform the tasks that overwhelmed her. I didn’t always succeed; she often told me I didn’t take accountability when I should and was quick to freeze her out. That I had lost the ability to cry should have been a signal that I was taking my “job” too far, going too hard.

As I burned out from that relationship I realized I had to take care of myself. The emotional labour of the femme is not inexhaustible. How I choose to care for myself is letting someone else care for me. This brings me to another favourite photograph. Taken on Photobooth on my Macbook, the partner I’m with now and I are seated on my bed. I’m wearing a shit-eating grin and I’m nestled in between his legs. With a concentrated expression across his face, his hand is blurry as he runs the hairbrush through my hair. I remember this day. I was brushing my own hair but mocked whining about how difficult it was. He shot me a look and asked “Do you want me to brush your hair?” I nodded with the smile already starting and he said, “Sit down, princess.”

Though his queer masculinity isn’t butch, the way I want and ask to be cared for is, like me, still femme. The way I can and do reciprocate care is, like me, still femme. I know this every time he says, “Thanks for listening,” or the time he told me he’s been more confident in how he looks since we started dating. I know this every time he cooks me dinner, or fixes my shower head. I know this every time I look at my favourite photographs and see my femme style and femme self care frozen in time.

Can Straight Women Be Femme? Visibility and the Mainstreaming of Femme

Zooey Deschanel has been an unabashedly femme role model of mine for years.

Exhibit A: I ripped a page out of a magazine, framed it, and hung it on my wall because it was emblazoned with her quote: “I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”

Exhibit B: She tackled femmephobia on New Girl, the show she stars in and produces:

Exhibit C: This month as Cosmo’s cover girl, Zooey’s femmespirational quotes continue. When asked about the “Ask Her More” campaign, Zooey replied: “I’m all for people asking actresses more intelligent questions. Just because you’re wearing a nice dress doesn’t mean you don’t have any ideas. It’s a shame to reduce smart, talented women to clothes models. But you can be a feminist and femme. I don’t see how those things contradict each other.”

My heart skipped a beat. She used the word femme. I have never seen the word femme used in a mainstream publication or by a mainstream celebrity. What does this mean? Could this indicate the mainstreaming of femme? Is that a good thing?

Visibility is a tricky issue for femmes. Many of us don’t have it, but we want it. We want to be recognized as queer by both queer and straight communities, without giving up the ways of dressing and acting that make us feel powerful and authentic. We want our femininity to be recognized as queer and meaningful by those communities, too; we want them to know that it is chosen, that it is on purpose. Zooey is not queer-identified, but her insistence that femininity is valuable is in line with the politics associated with queer femininity.

Many femmes argue that femme is a strictly queer term, even a strictly lesbian term. And they have a point: the word “femme” signals butch/femme lesbian history.

Tumblr blogger prairiefemme says:

“Femme is, quite simply, about defiance. It’s about embracing traditional femininity but ignoring the male gaze.

The thing is, femme is historically an identity for lesbians only. I would suggest reading a bit into lesbian history, because you’ll find that that is really the truth. If you identify as femme but you’re dating men, what’s to stop straight women from taking that label, too? What does femme become? Femme doesn’t simply mean “feminine”. Just because you’re a woman who wears mascara and heels, you’re not a femme. That’s just gender conformity. Women are conditioned to dress that way! Femme goes beyond personal style and becomes a firm statement of identity: I’m a lesbian, I don’t do anything for men. My clothes, my hair, my makeup – none of this is for men. This is for me, this is for other women. This is for my female partner.”

In the context of lesbian history, butch and femme identities did signal sexual dynamics — and it likely still does for many people — but this wasn’t its only meaning, nor is it femme’s only meaning today. What femme means is different for every femme, and there are several anthologies, blogs, and more that illustrate this point.

While I agree with prairiefemme that femme is about defiance, I disagree that femme style is for any partner, regardless of gender. I disagree that the only reason women, of any sexual orientation, wear makeup or heels is to conform to gender expectations or impress their partner. My understanding of femme has always been a political one; femme is about politicizing femininity. Femme means identifying and presenting as feminine in an intentional and deliberate way. It’s about knowing that choosing femininity in a misogynist and sexist world is inherently political, and it is harder than it looks. It means choosing femininity knowing full well you are going to face catcalls, sexism, invisibility, violence, and suspicion. It means knowing you deserve respect, to take up space, and to be yourself no matter how you dress or act — and demanding that others acknowledge this and act accordingly.

Following this definition, anyone can be femme. It is not an identity reserved for women or lesbians, or any other group of stakeholders. Any time femininity is taken up with a political awareness, that’s femme. And this is precisely what Zooey Deschanel does in Exhibits A through C.

Zooey Deschanel’s comments are extremely important because femme visibility is extremely important. She brings politicized femininity and the notion that femininity is not a natural state but rather a chosen one, into the mainstream. This is significant in a culture that covertly airbrushes and photoshops all manner of celebrities to meet the feminine ideal; talking about femininity as unnatural or a performance debunks the myths that these ideals are achievable, and that femininity is a natural and normal state. Zooey’s contributions are significant, too, because they suggest that femininity is more than a style or aesthetic. She tackles this specifically in the New Girl scene. This point has been taken up by many bloggers, and is critical to challenging sexist beauty standards, and the idea that women are only valuable based on their looks.

However, the most significant contribution Zooey makes is bringing these ideas into the mainstream world of Hollywood celebrities. She introduces this set of politics to many people who may have never considered how femininity and feminine people are treated in our society. This can go a long way in shifting mainstream perceptions of femininity, making a significant impact for feminine people. But, as is the risk when things go mainstream, we get a watered down, less nuanced version of these politics. Zooey is the only mainstream celebrity I’ve seen use this term and even talk about femininity in this socially and politically aware way. It is always dangerous when only voice out of many has a far-reaching platform. At best, Zooey can only represent one perspective on femme, and many of us won’t even consider Zooey a femme because she hasn’t identified as queer.

While I believe that heterosexual women like Zooey can be femme (even Autostraddle says she counts, and they’re like… experts), we do lose something when queerness is taken out of the conversation. When Zooey talks about femme, it doesn’t necessarily evoke the history of butch/femme: the role femmes played in caring for and protecting butch and masculine-of-centre folks and fighting for lesbian rights and recognition, the safety butch/femme style offered in a highly homophobic society, or the pain of fighting for a sexuality and gender that was fulfilling and authentic. Nor does it reflect the reality that our femininity often compromises our place in queer circles: that we are ignored, overlooked, taken less seriously, and continue to face violence and sexist treatment. These experiences aren’t far off from what all women and many other feminine people face on a daily basis, but it is important to recognize that queer femmes are doubly subjected to this treatment.

However, there is more to femme politics than (just?) sexism and homophobia. Any politic that interrogates beauty standards and ideals of femininity must necessarily take up gender, sexuality, and race, body size, ability, and class, too. Laura from Tutus and Tiny Hats writes about the intersections of fat and femme: “Femme is, for me, a form of resistance. It’s about being over-the-top in a society that would rather I be invisible. It’s about doing femininity on my own terms–not the impossible terms that the beauty industrial complex and the weight cycling industry want to sell me.”

Laura also quotes Janine deManda’s take on working class femmes: “In case you haven’t put these concepts together before, queer women are not the only women who have ever been told they aren’t really women and who have labored to reclaim themselves from misogynist, femininity despising overcultural norms. The women I grew up around were poor, rural, working class women, some of whom were mixed bloods and/or gimps, too, who were told by almost every overcultural message that they were not real women because they didn’t qualify for the incredibly narrow, absurdly constrained category of “appropriately feminine”.

Femme doesn’t belong to one group of people because femininity isn’t used to oppress only one group of people. This is what I mean when I say femme is about defiance. Femme is the word we have for reclaiming femininity, challenging beauty standards and the ideals of womanhood. Femme is the word we have for remixing femininity and womanhood and reshaping these things so it can hold all of our sexualities, genders, races, cultures, abilities, and bodies. Femme is the word we have for defying expectations and making femininity our own. This work is done by many people using many different approaches. Straight celebrities challenging the devaluation of femininity in mainstream publications and culture is one approach among many.

The mainstreaming of femme politics is valuable in many ways. I nearly screamed for joy when I saw the word “femme” in Cosmo. Every time Zooey Deschanel confronts the critics of her feminine or “girly” style, I think YESSSSSS and share it any way I can. It feels so damn good to see some semblance of myself reflected and defended in mainstream society and in pop culture. I just hope this dialogue keeps going and that more people join in. I will never stop admiring Zooey Deschanel for spearheading this conversation in the mainstream, but it would be, you know, nice if queer femmes had as much reach as she does, or even if other feminine folks would use their own platforms to similarly talk about sexism and femmephobia. Dare I say, I might even want to hear a little something more about the power, joy, and freedom people find in femininity.

Story of a Femme Hatchling: My Journey to “Femme”

I can’t remember when I first used the word femme, but I remember it being the first identity or label that actually felt like it fit. I was dating my first girlfriend and quickly figured out that using the word “bisexual” meant being dismissed, and using “lesbian” or “gay” and even “queer” made me feel like an impostor. Previously, I had said I didn’t identify at all, but never corrected anyone who assumed I was straight. I don’t remember how I found femme, but I did.

Some people say they were born gay, and I think I was born femme. For me, that means I was always attracted to the traditional feminine trappings: makeup, dresses, florals, lace, bows… The list goes on. I mean, look:
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When I heard the term “woman-identified-woman,” it also made a ton of sense to me. I had always been primarily interested in women and girls. I loved Disney princesses and Barbies (I think Princess Jasmine was my first femme hero. Or girl crush. Either way.), I thought the male figure skater in pairs’ competitions was redundant, and even as a child I had always had a close-knit group of female friends. As I got older, I listened to mostly female musicians or female-fronted bands, read books by and about women and girls (The Babysitters’ Club books were my jam), and eventually became a feminist. Being a girl and having female friends were always really important to me, but I never had to think about it until I started thinking about being queer.

When I started dating my first girlfriend I still loved dresses, florals, and even still wore bows in my hair. Hanging out with queer women for the first time, I started noticing comments like “I’m so glad I just have to roll out of bed,” with a shake of the head at my accessories. Or friends putting on my clothes or accessories and saying, “Look, I’m so femme!” followed by hysterical laughter. Or a stranger scoffing, “What, is it femme night?” when I walked into the lesbian bar. Or that my new friends would only say I looked “so gay” when I wore jeans and a button-up or t-shirt. I also started to notice that these comments made me uncomfortable and a little angry, but I wasn’t entirely sure why.

These girls were starting to figure out their own butch and queer identities, but it often came at the expense of my own. I started identifying as “femme” to resist the comments and jokes being made about me and assert my own queerness. “Femme” gave me a language to challenge what my friends were saying: that being masculine was the only way for girls to be queer, that my femininity was excessive, that being femme was a joke. For me, femme wasn’t about being attracted to butches or looking into the mirror while applying mascara. Femme has always been about defiance and resistance.

That’s when I started getting really into lipstick and hairstyles. (This was also a time when I got really into Tumblr, which I don’t think is incidental.) My lipstick was always bright red and refused to let anyone ignore my femininity. It insisted that my femininity was intentional. My hairstyles got bolder and more lopsided, making you take a second look. Announcing, “Yeah, actually, I am queer.” They insisted that my femininity and my queerness can’t be separated. My evolving style gave me a platform to use the new language I had about femme, femininity, femmephobia, and femme invisibility. Just as my femininity and queerness couldn’t be separated, neither could my politics and my aesthetics. It was all connected, and it was all on purpose.

                                         Photo on 2012-07-27 at 12.38 #3 Photo on 2012-04-06 at 11.58 #2  

                                         Photo on 2012-04-10 at 14.30 #2 Photo on 2012-06-23 at 17.00

Femme was the word that made me think about sexism, my femininity, my childhood, and my queerness all at once. Because femininity isn’t understood as a queer expression, no one, not even myself, had ever questioned my attraction to girls and women. Now that I had “femme,” I looked back through my life and had a lot of “a-ha!” moments. Femme, unlike some popular feminisms I learned about in school, let me embrace femininity, challenge sexism and the assumption that femininity is weak and stupid, making my critiques even more powerful. Femme also made my queerness make sense. I wasn’t like the other queer girls I knew, at first, until I started finding my best femmes. I didn’t have the same tomboy story as they did, but I did have Princess Jasmine.

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Femme made everything make sense. Femme made it okay that I was weird, didn’t always want to shave my armpits, was a feminist, but still wanted to wear dresses and put bows in my hair. Femme made me feel beautiful and powerful. Femme made me feel full. Femme made me feel real.

These experiences were so powerful I went to grad school so I could talk about femme even more, which is what I do now. I don’t wear lipstick as often as I used to and my hairdos are becoming less of a priority, but I am still femme. My eyes are better at spotting femmephobia and sexism, and I have more confidence and language to bust it up with. I still dress how I want to no matter how often I’m ignored, laughed at, or catcalled. I’m still quiet, shy, and emotionally supportive. I’m still myself. I’m still femme, and I learn more about what that means all the time.

Ho, Ho, Ho… Misogyny is Always in Season

…or “That’s Right, Even the Flu Does Not Get You A “Pass” on Sexism

During the winter holidays, like many of us, I had fallen ill. Because my fridge most often contains only salad dressing, barbecue sauce, and cat food, I dragged my snotty, sleepy body out of bed and schlepped up to a cafe to feed my cold. And, let’s be honest, use the Wi-Fi.

I sat in the window, miserably spooning chili into my mouth and pointlessly sipping honey-lemon tea. A man whom I had never seen before in my life stopped in front of the window where I sat and started waving to me. He waved, I stared. He kept waving, I kept staring. Still spooning chili into my mouth, and probably even dribbling some on my chin. Eventually, he made his way into the coffee shop. I probably continued to stare out the window. I heard someone calling “Miss! Miss!” I knew it was directed at me, but I ignored it, hoping it would eventually stop. It didn’t. Finally, I looked up and, yes, it was the man from the window. I stared at him once again.

“Are you enjoying your chili?” he asked. I said, “Yes.”

“Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” he said. I said, “Thank you.”

“I was indicating to you before, didn’t you see me?” he asked. And then he went back and stood on the other side of the window and reenacted his waving. I reenacted my staring. He was still trying to talk to me but, obviously, with him being on the other side of the glass, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Nor did I care. So I said out loud — more for the other patrons and myself than for this strange man: “I don’t know you. I don’t have to talk to you.”

Now, listen. I’ve taken some shit for this before. “Oh, this guy is just trying to be friendly.” Or, “some people are too ignorant to take a compliment.” Or, like, “why are you hissing at every man that passes by?” Blah, blah, blah. Listen. No. I don’t have to be friendly. Just because some strange man wants to mime “Merry Christmas!” at me through a coffee shop window doesn’t mean I have to like it or be nice. I had the flu. I was trying to eat my terrible-tasting soup in solitary misery. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be nice because I didn’t feel so nice. This stranger had no consideration for how I might be feeling, what I might be going through, what I might be doing, etc., and yet I’m expected to consider his feelings and respond in the way that he wants me to? Nah, bro.

Men do this to women all the time: they interrupt our day and they hijack our time. I could tell you about a million stories of this exact thing happening. For example, my friend was once trying to grade her students’ pIMG_5982apers in a coffee shop and some strange man she had never seen before decided to interrupt her and go on and on for hours (probably) about God-knows-what. You know what this says? That my time is not important. That what I am doing is not important. That I am not important. That you are more important than me. That I should drop everything and listen up because A Man has given me the greatest gift of all — his attention. And let me tell you, there is no polite way to get out of it. Even if you say, “Listen, sir, I’m really just here marking these papers and I have them return to my students tomorrow so I can’t listen to an impromptu lecture on science right now” or “Listen, sir, I have the god damn flu and I just want to eat this food I can’t even taste in peace so I don’t die” you’re always the bitch (and if it’s “the holidays,” you’re also The Grinch) because whoa, lady this guy is just trying to be nice, and what’s your problem anyway, bitch, can’t you learn to take a compliment? 

Here’s the thing: Women Don’t Owe You Shit. Not time, not niceness, not prettiness, not acknowledgement, not gratitude — nothing. You impose on my time and hijack my day, and then try to make me feel bad when I don’t drop everything and validate your manhood feelings? Just think about how ridiculous that is.

It all comes back to this simple rule: women do not exist for you. I didn’t come to a cafe, or wear lipstick, or order a beer, or generally exist in the world so you could talk to me and mansplain the proper way to grade papers, or tell me how pretty I am or otherwise give your opinion about my general existence. I did it for approximately one million other reasons that have nothing to do with you (how could it when I have never seen you before in my life?). Believe it or not, I don’t care if you think I’m pretty. I don’t care that you also find it cold outside. I don’t care that you really, really like Christmas. In short, I don’t care about you at all. I mean sure, if you had a heart attack or had just been stabbed I would probably care, but anything short of that does not warrant interrupting me. I am busy, and I am important. I’m not just some glittery thing flitting around the universe for you catch and put in a jar that you will then proceed to stare at and flick and poke and shake. I am a real person, doing real things. Women are real people, doing real things. Women do not exist for you, women do not exist for your amusement. And for the record, neither do fireflies. Please don’t put them in jars, either. They got glitzy things to do (probably). 

womendontoweyoushit

If you are the kind of person who thinks that women moving around in public are fair game to impose on, then you’re probably also the kind of person who says shit like “she was asking for it” when women are sexually assaulted while wearing short skirts or drinking alcohol, and you should be avoided by all costs, even by your own self. I don’t know that is possible but, seriously, please consider figuring it out. It will be worth it. The rest of us are avoiding you and find it highly enjoyable. 

And hey, don’t be mad at me for not wanting to talk to you. It’s not my fault that I have to carefully navigate every interaction I have with a man because it feels heavy with the possibility of harassment, assault, or death. And, if that weren’t enough, it also comes with the very real possibility if any of these things happen it will often be considered “my fault.” Women are harassed, assaulted, and killed by strangers, brothers, boyfriends, fathers, teachers, friends, uncles, grandfathers, employers, and co-workers, when they are infants, children, young girls, grown-ass women, and old ladies. That’s the reality of the world we live in, and something you should keep in mind every time you interact with a woman, because it is undoubtedly already on her mind. Instead of being mad at some individual woman for not laughing at your joke or graciously accepting your compliment, be mad at yourself and the other dudes that have created this monstrous world. What are you doing to help? How about you begin by not assuming women’s time is less important than yours, and just shutting the hell up.

It’s Hard Out Here For a Femme

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Illustration from Scarlet Tentacle

Some of us cringe when we use qualifiers to explain our femme identity, or cringe when we try to drop the qualifier, knowing how it sounds to most other people. I know saying “I’m femme, but…” or using labels like “hard femme” or “aggressive femme” feels good for some femmes, but for me it always just sounds like placating to the standard definition of femininity that tells us to be feminine means to be weak and to be passive, and that these are necessarily bad things. I’ve seen some femmes resist the term “hard femme” because they insist that all femmes are hard femmes.

Urban Dictionary tells us a “hard femme” is not like your typical femme: she’s queer, she’s political, and she can kick some ass when prompted. But, any time we take on a femme identity, we are queer, we are political and we are kicking ass. It is inherently political to choose, embrace, and celebrate femininity in a misogynist world; it is undeniably radical to choose to be ourselves, to love ourselves, and to find sexual pleasure in a sexist, racist, and queerphobic world; it is unequivocally powerful to make choices about our own lives, including how we look, who (and how) we fuck, and what we believe in. All femmes are hard femmes, in the sense that it is difficult and in the sense that we are badass.

But, I’m only a hard femme ’cause I gotta be.

I wish I didn’t have to be brave and aggressive enough to give you the finger, but until you stop shouting HEY SNOW WHITE and VERY NICE and CAN I GET A SMILE from your car, I gotta.

I wish I didn’t have to be bold and assertive enough to call you out and argue with you, but until you stop trying to butchsplain gender to me (ooh, you’re so much more radical than me), or until you stop saying I look “so gay” when you really mean I look butch/masculine/androgynous, I gotta.

I wish I didn’t have to defend myself and my femininity from sexism, misogyny, and femmephobia, but I gotta. I wish I could be gentle and quiet, but I can’t. I wish I never had to worry about my voice shaking or being too afraid to speak up, but I can’t.

It’s hard out here for a femme, so you gotta be hard if you wanna be a femme.

This Misogynist Moment I: She’s a Cool Girl

This Misogynist Moment (So Different and So New): A Collection of Moments When I Realized Men in My Life Are Misogynist

notmycomrades
Illustration by Suzy X. Click image to see more!

One.

I was at my friend’s house hanging out with a mixed-gender group of friends. Another friend was on their way over to join our rowdy game of cards and drinking, and my (cis male) friend said, “She’s a cool girl. No offense, but she’s a really cool girl.”

BOOM.

How did I know he was a misogynist? He obviously held the assumption that men and boys are by default superior to women close to his heart, and believed it enough to say it out loud in front of young women. That hit me like a sheet of glass crashing down around me. That silence you heard when you said, “No offense, but she’s a really cool girl” was the sound of me realizing I could never trust you. It was the sound of me realizing I was not around friends, but enemies. At the time I didn’t have the words to articulate why what he said was so messed up, and why it made me feel so deeply shitty, but I did have the good sense to know he wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. After all, I wasn’t a cool girl, so what did I matter?

Don’t trust anyone who says “she’s cool for a girl.” Don’t take “you’re cool, for a girl” as a compliment. It is misogyny. All girls are cool girls. And we don’t need you to reassure us of that.

Two.

Later on that weekend (or possibly the same night) the same rowdy crew was headed out to find the shortest line to get into a bar and out of the blustery cold autumn night. We watched crowds of other young people surge by, stumbling and laughing, some girls wearing short dresses, bare legs, and high heels despite the chilly air. The same friend turned to his (then) girlfriend and said, “I’m so happy you’re not any one of those girls.”

BOOM.

How did I know he was misogynist? There he was, judging and criticizing the young women who were simply obeying the rules of femininity and trying to enjoy a night out. Short skirts, dresses, heels, and bare legs is what makes women women, right? It’s what makes us sexy, right? It’s what keeps us from getting called “dyke” on the street, right? Even if it means we get called “slut” instead. Even if it means we get blamed for our own harassment and assault. But wait, who made up these rules of femininity? Who calls us a dyke or a slut? Who harasses us and assaults us? Right.

Don’t think for one second that this has nothing to do with you. Don’t forget for one second that you benefit everyday from sexism. But go ahead, blame women when the shitty world you made doesn’t make you happy anymore.