So, here's my thing: I tend to like "guy stuff."
& when I say "tend to," I mean strongly tend to: action movies, male authors/musicians, men's clothes, men as friends—to the point where a large part of my identity, at least through middle- & high-school, was "One of the boys! You can hang out with Anneliese, guys: she's just like a dude! Let's invite her to creepy (almost literal) circle-jerk parties where we talk about our favorite kinds of porn!" (True story. For all you girls who wondered what the boys did at their sleep-overs: just forget you ever asked.)
Throughout of all this, though, there has been the little inkling in the back of my brain—the kind that gets magnified to Posting Status by entries like this one on my favorite feminist blog—that calls out, "BOOOO! BOOOOO! BAD FEMINIST! YOU SHOULD LIKE WOMAN THINGS!" over & over on a loop, like that anxiety dream from The Princess Bride. I mean, I often just tell that inkling to sit back & recognize that I have a fucking favorite feminist blog in the first place, but today, for whatever reason, that's not enough. So, here goes: a reckoning with myself about what it means to be a feminist who prefers non-feminine things—&, ultimately, a reckoning with the Man about why all things designated as "feminine" kind of suck.
First off: having grown up with an active awareness of what it means to be transgender, I can say confidently that I feel no need to redefine my gender at its core: I am Woman. Yes, I like the man stuff (& the man clothes, a lot), but I also like dresses sometimes, & Feelings—& while I understand (of course) that those things in & of themselves do not a lady make (as I would hope more Manly Men could key into them, please—especially the dresses), I can assure you that I know, deep down in that little place you don't even have to look for, that I am female. Not even genderless or in between somehow: I have two X chromosomes & I invite you to hear them roar.
In fact, if we're being honest, I am particularly attracted to (both practicing & the people who practice) androgyny, drag—the kind of gender expression that knowingly adopts the stylings of its opposite on occasion without any actual wish to become. Here, for fun, are some pictures:
All of which is to say: this strength in my identification as Woman, even as I wear tailcoats & combat boots, makes it particularly difficult to convince myself that I am a legitimate, card-carrying feminist & not just some ship-jumping patriarchy-lover who, when the going gets tough, sides with the winning team.
I suppose my dormant insecurities were provoked somewhat by this comment on this Totally Brilliant feminist philosophy article that you should all read (& that I have no personal stake in, no siree...), in which a transman openly (admirably) discusses the automatic privilege that males (or, those perceived as male) are awarded in our society. It's eye-opening, to say the least, & though you could probably already imagine, it's important—& a little frightening—to hear it from someone who's actually seen both sides, like Tiresias championing the female orgasm.
Things complicate when it becomes clear that, not only does the Current State of Things want to reward me for any male qualities I might exhibit, but, in fact, tends to designate things as "for women" that I actually really hate. I rarely wear make-up; I loathe the very concept of designer labels; perfume gives me headaches; wedding dresses are hideous; facial masks remain a mystery, as do bath salts; & I do not identify in any way with that blonde girl from Grey's Anatomy, nor do I feel compelled to see movies with her in them (or, for that matter, Grey's Anatomy). Also, I think it goes without saying that I'm bothered by all people who are shallow, vain, overemotional, manipulative, shrill, & on & on—& though I've known more than a few men who fit that bill, for whatever reason, our society has decided that these qualities come standard with a vagina.
I mean, really: who in their right mind would want to be seen as delicate, vacuous, or easily grossed-out? & yet, according to the archetypal Woman our culture checks all us ladies against (e.g., "Hilary Clinton isn't womanly enough!"), it would seem that each female is unwittingly branded at birth with a list of these "feminine" qualities that she must cross out (or not) at her own behest. In my experience at least, you are Girly Until Proven Innocent (zing!), assumed unable to kill bugs or do math until you make a great big scene of yourself. As a young lady who who wants to make clear that she thinks stylized gun violence & electric guitars can be really fucking awesome—&, most importantly, that she has worthwhile opinions on both—it seems to be up to me to yell out, "I'M NOT ACTUALLY GIRLY, P.S." at the top of my lungs whenever possible. For example: after spending the year with a roommate who was stereotypically Feminine to the nth degree—including 24/7 make-up, tight-fitting, silky clothes, & a perfected Airhead Giggle that only surfaced around Y chromosomes—I found myself saying "dude" far more frequently, excluding entirely the occasional dress or skirt, even ironically putting up a poster of a badly photoshopped conventional Sexbomb. Looking back, I think this was my way of reminding those who came by the room—including, of course, myself—that I was not like that, okay?!?
Ay, so, here's the rub: is the way I comport myself born of my own true desires, or just some race to elude presumptive adjectives? Were it the latter, perhaps I would be worthy of the guilt I harbor, but honestly, I think the developmental threads are woven a bit too tight to tell, now that my Tabula is far from Rasa'd. All I know is that my affinity for button-downs & dude-books feels organic, & that's enough for me.
But I think I've hit upon where the feminist bloggers—& feminists in general—are coming from: outrage at the general presumption that the Feminine has become something from which one must distance oneself in order to be taken seriously. Though the ways of this roommate (& the legions like her, as trained by Cosmo & Co.) are often silly, that doesn't mean that all people who prefer to smell like flowers are inherently superficial, that everyone in high heels is a de facto ditz. (Recognizing, of course, that a large number of women feel expected to smell like flowers & wear high heels. Hell, I feel expected to, I just choose not to—then doubt myself & end up writing meandering entries on the subject.)
Needless to say, it is endlessly fucking frustrating that men are still somehow regarded as superior in the World of Today, & one of the reasons, I would posit, is this relegation of Femininity to the Girly, to trivialities & fashion—& the ensuing conflation of this conventional female gender expression with the females themselves. (Even the word—"Girly"—implies something juvenile & not worth your time; the Platonic "Girl's Night Out" is often expensive, appearance-based, self-indulgent. Meanwhile, you would never call a man who expresses masculine qualities "Boyish," you would call him Manly; he & all of his Manly Man Pals would go on a Guy's Night Out—"Guy" being ambiguous in age & quality (e.g., "you guys" as referring to a mixed-gender group).)
Ultimately, in order to combat this, it becomes necessary to redefine what is Powerful as something other than what is Masculine, thereby divorcing what is Feminine from what is Weak & what it means to express Femininity from what is Shallow. Until that time, though, it's important to get people who are "Girly," especially highly visible people, to prove themselves as other stereotype-breaking things: levelheaded, intelligent, etc. One way to accomplish this, of course, is to promote (& promote the promotion of) female contribution to media; when an argument is made, in the blogosphere or otherwise, that feminists ought to appreciate books written by women or movies that prominently feature realistic females, I think that is exactly the verb intended: "appreciate." Not "obsess over," not "discard other things in favor of," but just that: appreciate. Make sure they're seen & heard. I couldn't agree more—& this, I think, is my potential saving grace.
Because, culture & roommates aside, the truth of the matter is that I genuinely happen to prefer—though not as a rule—literature & music that have been created by men. My favorite writers include Nabokov, Palahniuk, Poe, Auden, & though Woolf comes next, it remains an overwhelmingly male list—though not closed to new additions. As to music, I often describe my favorite genre as Boys With Guitars Playing Dirty, Dirty Rock—all the way from early Beatles to Bowie to Semi Precious Weapons—but that doesn't mean I'm not crazy about Patti Smith or Holly Brewer, Beth Ditto or Nellie McKay. I just find it difficult to cast a net for "women's music," because there is a hefty amount of it that's not quite my style; I actually think I'm guilty of having once uttered the words, "I just don't like women's voices as much"—the very statement that my favorite feminist blog (&, in fact, my favorite writer on that blog) spends a good amount of time ranting against. What rescues me from self-flagellation (&, hopefully, from her scorn), though, is that when I said "as much," I meant "as much," not "at all" by any stretch—that I support & praise women media-folk regularly. I believe wholeheartedly that there are & have been great artists of both genders—& that, as they're often marginalized, lady artists deserve a leg up—but still, I, personally, am more apt to like Pynchon than Austen, Joey Ramone than Janis Ian. & that's okay.
So, do I long for Brontë readings over an Enya soundtrack in a room of scented candles? No. Do I respect fluffy pink slumber parties & mani-pedis & silky tops? It depends. But do I champion their right to be respected? Absolutely. (Especially the scented candles.)
More than anything, though, do I wish the Powers That Be would stop equating femininity with stupid things it ought not be equated with? Yes, please.
Today's Headphone Fodder:
In honor of today's Deconstructing Femininity theme, I call upon a gender-bending icon for the ages, who's equally likely to appear in a mustache/suit combo as truly breathtaking drag, who famously opined "You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis & Kathie Lee; I don't care! Just as long as you call me." That's right, boys & girls:
There are many interesting points to debate about the role of male-to-female drag in the definition of femininity—or, for that matter, the role of gay men's fantasies of women in general—but for the moment, can we just say that RuPaul is fucking fabulous? Can we just get that out of the way? Not only is (s)he a pioneer for drag & LGBT rights across the board, but her message of acceptance transcends labels: "If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?" concludes every episode of Drag Race—which are words everyone needs to here, as often as possible, especially when growing paranoid that they somehow don't measure up.
So, please, even if you're skeptical, take a listen (or six). I mean, sure, the song is a wee bit ridiculous—but so very excellently so. Seriously, let Ru welcome you to her stratosphere; it's well worth it. You can't regret the candy that you never had, after all.