Mar 16 2011

There’s not enough femininity on the internet, so I wrote this

It separates the men from the sex class. It’s the cornerstone of the megatheocorporatocratic oppression of women. It’s a global humanitarian crisis.

It’s femininity! It sure gets a lot of ink around here! We were just talking about it day before yesterday. At which point blamer Ashley raised a swell issue.

Short of wearing a clown suit and speaking through a mechanized voicebox, I can’t think of how one could avoid being perceived as performing either masculinity or femininity. The meaning of your performance is imposed by the audience.

This precise quandary has long plagued spinster aunts the world over. We do not advocate clown suits, however; polyester satin makes us perspire, and the bright colors seem to attract bees. Our solution? Flowing robes. Too biblical for ya? Well, then, grey sweats and Tom’s shoes for everyone! Who’s with me?

Continues Ashley:

Not to say that all performances are equally feminist, or that personal performance doesn’t matter at all. Just, doesn’t it make more sense to focus activism on institutional change and resource reallocation?

If Ashley is suggesting that that the onus is on us (the onus is on-us, the onus is on-us) to change the way women are perceived, I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I advocate personal repudiation of femininity on as broad a spectrum as possible. The less femininity there is to perceive, the better for all women everywhere.

But if I read it wrong, and Ashley is actually saying “enough with this anti-femininityism, already; there are more important feminist matters afoot,” I reply:

Fear not, Ashley, for feminist rage is not a finite substance. There’s enough for all the doomed rebellions.

In fact, it makes sense to challenge patriarchy at every level. If I haven’t made that clear by now I’m a crapulent failure as an Internet feminist. Harshin’ on femininity is just one aspect of the fight. At the annual Obstreperal Awards on Savage Death Island, they pin silver medals on everyone who focuses activism on institutional change and resource reallocation (you should come next year; the afterparties are awesome).

But they enjoin feminists to think small as well, because knocking it off already with the feminine wiles and beauty treatments and self-enstupefication are acts of resistance that anyone can do on her own, in the privacy of her own boudoir, boat, or den. It’s simple to do, and unlike big, slow institutional changes that take decades, ditching femininity can have an immediate impact. The anti-femininityite merely quits shaving her pits, or burns her 5″ platforms or whatever, and presto! Newly liberated from another shackle, she gets to snarl a gratifying “fuck you, Establishment!” at the Establishment, and to feel a little bit more like an actual sovereign entity.

But isn’t it hard? Blamer Claire K, who, in her preamble to an inspirational tale that she accurately describes as a “long anecdote about my own personal body hair. Really.”, has this to say to those who aren’t too sure about going native.

Many of the comments on [the most recent anti-femininity] thread seem to be about how difficult it is to stop performing femininity and how not everyone will be able to do it, as if the commentators are worried some radical feminists have it easy and need to be reminded of how hard it is for other people. I think, though, that everyone is already too aware that revolution is hard, and that we will get farther if we encourage each other instead of holding each other back by responding to every incitement to even the slightest revolutionary act with criticism of the inciter for not thinking of how hard it is, how some women won’t be able to do this, and so on.

She goes on to reveal the liberating effects she experienced by giving one little femininity dealio the heave-ho.

Awesomely, everyone she knows will get hit with some anti-femininity fallout, too. Women who resist are so rare, an anti-femininityist action is unlikely go unnoticed (or in some cases, unpunished) for long. Perhaps you’ll tolerate another personal anecdote, this time on the subject of the repercussions of resistance:

A pal of mine from the cancer trenches just had a double mastectomy. After agonizing about it for months, she decided not to undergo the painful and oppressor-appeasing “reconstruction” surgery.* She’s no radical feminist, either, she’s a straight, white, Republican country clubber, and she really liked having boobs. But ultimately she determined that she’d be sending the wrong message to her daughters if she capitulated to the patriarchal boobal mandate by having plastic funbags stapled to her chest. Her act of resistance cannot fail to ripple (ha ha, it rhymes with “nipple”!). Not just with her kids, but with her whole WASPy social circle. I pinned a gold medal on her.

So do you get kicked off the Island if you perform femininity? Dang, whaddya take me for, some kinda radical feminist? That would be messed up. I’m a spinster aunt, goddammit, and we fucking love everybody. I merely urge women to engage in the intellectual exercise of examining femininity: how much of the gottadoo** is really gotta, and how much is actually wanna. The femininity-bagging suggestion is not, as this blamer surmised, that women endanger the lives of their sick children by appearing so unfeminine that their boss fires them and they lose their health insurance.*** The suggestion is that women pause in their daily sashay through Mansworld to evaluate their feminine personae. You know, really give it the old analytical eye. Which appeasements really are literally necessary for literal survival, and which are maybe just gratuitous expressions of internalized misogyny? The idea is to ditch as much of it as is possible without getting anyone killed. That this might trespass a bit on your personal comfort is sort of the point. No pain, no gain. The revolution begins at home. Etc.

* Why do I put “reconstruction” in quotation marks? Because this surgery doesn’t actually re-construct a breast at all; the resulting appurtenance contains no breast tissue, cannot nurse a baby, and is in fact actually just a prop designed to alleviate societal anxiety over women who might not otherwise present as sufficiently sexual. To those who have had reconstructive surgery, I do not vilify you. À votre santé!

** Gottadoo: Savage Death Islandish for femininity performed under the heading “I gotta do what I gotta do to survive.”

*** Irish Up, we are so sorry for your daughter’s illness. As a sicko myself, I know how it fucking sucks.


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  1. hero

    Choirs of hermaphroditic and/or androgynous angels and/or other supernatural beings of indeterminate psychological origin are singing this in Harmony through the obstreposphere. The back-up ones are singing “Aaaaamyn, amyn, amyn.”

    It’s quite a sound.

  2. tinfoil hattie

    Irishup, I too am very sorry about your child’s illness. I invite you to fret not about whether your child’s treatments and government “entitlements” (ha-ha, haaa ha ha) are preventing someone else from receiving care. Certainly it is not YOUR fault that the system sucks, and should my chidren ever become in need of life-saving, years-long, risky medical treatment, I will dance naked on the head of a pin and munch on however many metaphorical funk-filled bratwursts it takes to secure said treatment.

    You have enough on your plate; let the rest go.

  3. speedbudget

    Irishup, this is why it’s a feminist sisterhood. You do what you gottado to survive, and those of us who can will eschew the patriarchal trappings so that they become less of a requirement and more of an accoutrement.

    I work in the legal field, which is very formal, very patriarchal. I don’t wear makeup. I rarely do anything with my hair beyond put some gunk in it to keep it from being a big frizzball. I certainly don’t wear nylons. It’s not a lot, but it’s HUGE in this field. I do it so that it becomes more normal, so people can see women can, in fact, do their jobs without all this junk on them, so that other people can maybe show up to work without makeup and nylons on so that one day in the near future ALL women can show up to work without makeup and nylons on. It’s a snowball effect.

  4. BeckyWS

    Really finding these feminity posts inspirational. Managed to chuck the shaving armpits chore in my late teens (hated the look of naked armpits, it’s like turkey skin), and gave the leg-shaving the heave-ho a couple of years later after realising my partner didn’t notice, and subsequently told me he preferred the hair anyway. Also stopped eyebrow plucking and routine make-up wearing years ago.
    But then I’m an archaeologist, and somehow that profession seems to be less concerned with performance of femininity, and more with one’s skill and intellect regardless of what you are wearing (although not to say there isn’t rampant sexism in some quarters too; massive male professorial egos etc.).
    Also, there really is something extra ridiculous and sad about watching female undergrads on excavations put their mascara on in the mornings, didn’t happen in my day.

  5. Cthandhs

    Don’t dress “like a woman” or “like a man”, dress like neither (if you can). Cognitive bias is easier to defeat when a person does not slip into an easy classification.

  6. Cat

    Jill (may I call you Jill?), your posts inevitably make my day.

    Short anecdote: Summer, Spain, bar. Bartender’s 9 year old daughter eyes me curiously for a while before pointing to my exposed armpits and asking “What’s that?”. She’s lived 9 years in a hot country, and has never seen armpit hair on a woman before.

    How’s she going to feel when she gets some of her own, if she’s never seen anyone comfortable with it?

    Small steps, small steps.

  7. minervaK

    i’ve been eschewing feminitiy for most of my life, without realizing that’s what i’ve been doing, which is blowing my mind right now. i mean, i score normal on most intelligence tests, but it just never occurred to me that much of my lifelong ‘strange’ behavior falls under the revolutionary androgynist rubric. christ in a sidecar.

    and you know what? i think that might be part of the reason i’ve historically had difficult relationships with other women. i’ve always just thought of myself as odd, not easy to get along with, shit like that. but looking back, i can see now that i really just am not interested in shopping, fashion, babies and all that other crap that seems to be part and parcel of the ‘feminine experience.’ holy motherfucking cow. i need to think about this some more.

  8. Bushfire

    Savage Death Islandish

    The linguistics nerd in me is SO excited that there is a name for the dialect here at Savage Death Island.

  9. Notorious Ph.D.

    Your final paragraph got me wondering: If it’s not too much of a contradiction in terms, perhaps we might all ease ourselves into revolutionary radicalism, the way that many people ease themselves into vegetarianism, by giving up one small femininity performance. Said sacrifice would (following your final paragraph) have to actually be discomfiting: I can say I’m giving up makeup, but since I never wear it anyway, that’s not a revolutionary move for me in the same way it might be for someone else. On the other hand, going natural below the belt would, for me, force me to push my psychological comfort zone.

    That’s it: I’m going to contemplate what I’ll do here. It’ll be like the radfem version of Lent.

  10. Zoe

    I just want to point out that wearing stockings and heels, makeup, etc. is not intrinsically degrading. Louis XIV did all these things. The reason men in drag look ridiculous/humiliated is because nowadays, dresses/makeup/heels etc. are the sole province of women, the underclass. These trappings are shameful not intrinsically, but due to their (now) exclusive association with the underclass. If women had power and were not an underclass, a man would not look ridiculous in drag, any more than Marlene Dietrich looked ridiculous in a tuxedo. For this reason, I feel that stockings/makeup etc. are a trivial issue. However, feminine “behavior” (read: submission and helplessness) is another story and it is urgent that women stop playing that role.

  11. Ash

    This ties in with the issue of “marked women” that I’ve been grappling with recently, through my entry into the professional world. I was frustrated to find that there was no way I could dress as a professional female that didn’t say SOMETHING about me. Long hair is slutty, short hair is butch, red hair is too loud, black is too harsh, my natural blond hair… well, looks stupid on me. Easy on the jewelry; if you wear flats, you’re lazy; if you wear heels, you’re a hooker; “androgyny” means you’re trying to be a man… the list just drags on forever. There is no female “neutral”.

    And what do professional men wear? Get a sensible haircut, shave the beard, pick out a suit. Doesn’t matter which one. They are unmarked. They just look like men, with no other connotation.

    There is NO way to dress as a professional woman that doesn’t “reveal” something about our supposed character. It’s infuriating. I don’t want to make a statement with my wardrobe; I want to make a statement with my fucking mouth.

    I found an article about it months later, and while I was pleased to find that someone else had thought about it, I was also pissed that it was written 15 years ago and we’re still having the same issues: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/nyt062093.htm

    I am blaming the goddamn patriarchy. And it feels kind of good to get that all out.

  12. sharah

    This post reminds me of why I love you so much – you make me THINK.

  13. Kea

    The idea is to ditch as much of it as is possible without getting anyone killed.

    Ah, if only we knew all the consequences of our actions. Looking back on all the years of anti-femininity and accompanying ostracism, I see an endless line of random reactions in all shades of grey. Who knows which of those passing acquaintances has since died of a heart attack whilst vociferously mansplaining? Who knows which ones became enlightened, and then got killed by an earthquake on their way to their local pro choice gathering?

  14. buttercup

    Apologies in advance for a barrage of “I”s.

    But how does a blamer know if she wears accoutrement of femininity because she really wants to or because of internalized performance standards?

    I like skirts and dresses far better than pants. It’s a comfort thing for me. I also like colorful clothing and wild nail polish. No makeup other than a little brow pencil sometimes because I have invisible eyebrows and they bother me. I truly prefer the way my face looks with a little eyebrow. I wear Birkenstocks almost exclusively. When I’m not wearing Birkis, I’m wearing crocs or sneakers. I tend to wear colorful hand-knitted socks with my footwear, whatever it is, and whatever I’m wearing on the rest of me. Sometimes I wear colorful tights, especially when it’s cold out. No shaving. No depilation of any kind. No fuss on the hair, I’m going grey in a natural fashion.

    I do like a little jewelry, a pair of earrings now and again, a few necklaces I like, nothing expensive or overly flashy.

    The work environment is not tied to a dress standard. I can wear whatever I want, I’m in government social services and in a union shop, to boot.

    I’ve analyzed this over and over. I think I wear these things because I want to wear them. I also think if a person of the masculine persuasion, say, Lawrence Fishburne, wanted to wear colorful socks or wild nail polish or a comfy long skirt, he should be allowed to without social or professional repercussions. Reading the last couple of posts and the subsequent comment streams, though, I am beginning to doubt myself.

    Am I a hopelessly brainwashed tool of the patriarchy, or am I an eccentric old geezer?

  15. allhellsloose

    I see very few men performing masculinity but when they do, for example, when they unbutton their shirts to expose the carpets on their chest, most people’s reaction to this is not to oggle in admiration but to vomit into the waste paper basket behind said chad’s back (not waxed).

    I’ve no idea what some women are expecting they’ll TURN INTO, if they stop the performance artistery that’s femininity. Don’t they realise that Beauty and the Beast is a fairytale? What the heck did their parents read them when they were in kindergarden?

    How high can high heels go? Walking out in Covent Garden, London the other weekend my friend and I found it difficult to watch the women stumbling and hobbling around in the highest heels I’ve ever seen women wear. I really resisted the urge to throw them money for there were so many other performing artiste’s in the area.

    As for leaving the ‘reconstruction’ out and said reasons for doing so, I say to Spinster Aunt’s friend. Excellent.

    Irishup. Keep well, to keep your daughter well. All the very best to you. (I’d have jumped through hoops of fire to get my son the special needs education he now receives – did a lot of that metaphorically).

  16. IrishUp

    Thank you again, Twisty and others. The nuanced opinions and discussions here at Savage Death Island are a welcome break, and have played no small part in changing what I do and how I think. The day I am free to leave this job, I will walk in with my SDI approved pirate-beard-braids, rocking blood-red bows at the end of them.

    To clarify, my response on the linked thread sought to address a less nuanced opinion expressed, while linking it to the OP.

  17. mercurialsunshine

    buttercup- In my mind, skirts and dresses fall into the same category as care-taking. They’re traditionally coded as feminine, but they’re also very good things. All the good “feminine” things will still be around post-revolution, they’ll just be recategorized as human things.

  18. toad

    Unlurking because Buttercup raises the very question that always comes to mind when reading IBTP posts regarding femininity, and I will similarly have to apologize for the excessive “I”ing. My outward appearance is generally unisex/androgynous (short hair and no makeup, skirts, high heels, or dangly jewelry), but the fact that I don’t want to look feminine doesn’t mean that I don’t want to look nice: I do prefer that my belt match my shoes. Does the fact that the articles in question are usually associated with men make my desire to wear cuff links or a tie when I go out wholly unlike a femme-ier person’s desire to wear a skirt? Is it a matter of degree? Or is the entire practice of caring about one’s appearance complete bullshit, regardless of femininity?

  19. tinfoil hattie

    buttercup, just tell yourself your skirts and dresses are really “utilikilts,” and then they won’t be femmy! (ha ha ha)

  20. Astraia

    Thank you, Twisty, for yet another wonderfully thought-provoking post!

    Notorious Ph.D, I’m totally up for the idea of a radfem Lent. I did something similar as a novice blamer; I gave up makeup, entirely, for a year. It was difficult, because I was accustomed to wearing it every day, but it no longer fit with my feminist thought, and I do hate that sort of cognitive dissonance.

    Guess what? Turns out makeup is quite unessential to leading a contented life as a woman. (Yes, you all knew that. Teenage newbie-radfem Astraia didn’t.)

    Hmm…I’ve already got the hairy legs, comfortable shoes and other appearance-related markers of my noncompliance with the patriarchal paradigm. Let’s go for something else.

    I am going to admit when I think I’ve done something well at work, instead of my usual tendency to try very hard to appear non-competitive and thus non-threatening. I’m not an assertive or confident person. This will be hard. But what I’m doing probably reads to others like typical submissive-female behaviour, and that’s not so good for the revolution.

  21. tinfoil hattie

    Astraia, I always thought there was something wrong with me. I could not wear lipstick, even though I tried. I thought I was a failure as a girl and later, a woman. I agonized over the smallness of my breasts. My makeup always looked wrong. I did not know how to “do” femininity; my secret shame was that I really did not want to do or care about any so-called “girlie” things. Unfortunately, I then became scornful of women who did perform for the patriarchy, aligning myself with dudes because hey! I wasn’t one of those stupid eyelash-batting women. I was an honorary DUDE, dude!

    Through the years, I realized my only real allies, save Nigel and my mini Nigels, are the women in my life. At home & online.

  22. wondering

    @ buttercup: I vote for eccentric old geezer. Ask yourself, are these skirts and colourful socks pleasing to the male eye? Do you like them because you privately think they make you look hawt? If so, maybe there is some fem performance there. But it sure doesn’t sound like it. Go with your gut.

    As for me, I’m as fortunate as MinervaK. I rejected performing femininity a long time ago. (Het) people get uncomfortable when I describe myself as butch, but the moniker fits. My legs are hairy AND fat. Yes, I still have to steel myself to wear a bathing suit or bike shorts in public, so that is what I’m working on: being comfortable being blatantly fat and hairy at people. (Though oddly enough being nude at the tiny local nude beach doesn’t bother me a bit. That is one non-judgmental, non-asshole crowd, complete with nigels that wouldn’t dream of staring, leering, commenting, etc. I know, I know, you thought they didn’t exist.)

  23. Comrade Svilova

    Does it count as Radfem Lent if you’re giving up something that you actually want to give up but haven’t gotten up the nerve to? I guess I kind of answered my question. *Why* can’t I get up the courage to go with a buzz cut?

    Maybe I’ll do it. But will I have to cut my hair myself? Or will I be able to find a barber/hairdresser who will give me a nice buzz cut despite the Presence of Boobs on my Person?

  24. Bushfire

    Comrade Svilova, my partner has been sporting a buzz cut for years, and she shaves it herself. If you’re feeling brave, just buy a razor and a mirror and go at it. The money she has saved over the years must be enormous- my nice femmy haircut costs $60 a pop.

    Once your head is shaved, people will call you “sir” and women will tell you you’re in the wrong bathroom, despite the Presence of Boobs on your Person. That is because people CAN’T COMPREHEND a woman without a hairdo. It’s unthinkable! It’s obscene! It’s revolutionary!

  25. logicbutton

    Ah, the advantages of long-term unemployment. Since I was no longer leaving the house every day, I stopped wearing makeup every day. Since I was no longer wearing makeup every day, my made-up face stopped being the default and started to feel unusual. A few weeks ago, I wore full makeup for the first time since June, and when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror when I got home I was horrified by how ridiculous I looked.

    Buttercup, maybe try the “desert island” test that awhirlinlondon mentioned the other day? (Or the “post-apocalyptic last human being on Earth test,” if you’re an asocial introvert like me). It’s not perfect, but it does help you figure out what you’re doing for you and what you’re doing for other people.

  26. minervaK

    Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait just a damned minute.

    “However, feminine “behavior” (read: submission and helplessness) is another story and it is urgent that women stop playing that role.”

    I understand that the poster is referring to the standard cultural association of submission and helplessness with women, but what if, in some situation, we ACTUALLY FEEL helplessness? Or decide that submission is the better part of valor? I’m not interested in simply putting on a different costume.

    My point (I’m writing this out so that I can understand myself) is that the concept of femininity is something laminated onto us from the outside. Laminating something else over it isn’t a fix. Swaggering around in chain mail isn’t going to cure the femininity virus. Being the genuine human beings that we are is.


  27. Asai

    Comrade Svilova, I have been considering the exact same thing. For AGES. I even had a plan that my parents couldn’t protest in high school, but our student council canceled our Relay for Life that year.

    I actually assist a friend who dislikes paying for haircuts by buzzing his head, do you have a male friend with an electric razor? There are attachments that come with many of them that add length, for a beard or a buzz. They are multi-functional. I don’t know the politics of your location, but if you are irritated by the idea of running about looking for an amenable barber, it is certainly an option. Though they have to be cleaned of stubble before being used on one’s head.

    Also, as I have been very open with this plan, I am fairly certain I know why it’s difficult to work up the nerve. Not wearing makeup, jewelry or uncomfortable clothing can be rationalized away by the world as laziness, or self-consciousness, or an acceptably feminine desire to fade into the background. Shaving your head is seen as outright rebellion, and I promise you that you will be the focus of some very impassioned, completely illogical responses. I didn’t even realize how explosive an issue *my hair* was until I nearly gave my mother a heart attack with my plans. Most people won’t even be able to give you a coherent reason for their objection.

    Additionally, if I could thank our resident Spinster Aunt for posting on this topic? My refusal to take part in the whole femininity-gender stereotype-sexism ridiculousness has recently been the source of enormous tension between myself and my otherwise-very-supportive family. I never comment here, but I drop by when I need a feminism pick-me-up, and when I do there’s a post on exactly the issue I refuse to fold on. Fortuitous timing means that everyone blaming here has supported me in a difficult time.

    Thank you (and apologies for the numerous appearances of “I” in this post).

  28. Cimorene

    This was a wonderful post.

    But may I ask a question, Twisty? I perform femininity all the time when I do things like wear sundresses. A sundress is decidedly feminine. But I also love sundresses more than any other hot-weather-wear. I don’t gotta wear sundresses (shorts and a tanktop work) but they’re so much more comfortable and less constricting than any other article of clothing. My ode to sundresses could go on (it’s like wearing pajamas!) but you get the point: my love for sundresses is, I’m quite sure, unrelated to any latent desire to perform femininity or adhere to some other code of appropriate Ladyness. In fact, hairy armpits and legs inevitably jar the femininity getting performed by my sundress.

    But is performing femininity by chance–because sundresses happen to signify femininity–at odds with the revolution? Is the negative effect of my unintentional adherence to femininity’s dress code balanced by the comfortableness and pleasure I take in sundresses–what with a lady’s happiness being anti-patriarchal? Does my armpit hair negate the femininityness of my sundress?

  29. Comrade PhysioProf

    Well, then, grey sweats and Tom’s shoes for everyone! Who’s with me?

    Make it Danskos, and I’m in!

  30. buttercup

    @wondering, no, I’ve got the superfecta of fat, old, disabled, and stank attitude. The only manly admiration I get is from them who know me well.

    You can stand over here with me, we’ll be blatantly fat and hairy at people together.

  31. Comrade Svilova

    Being the genuine human beings that we are is.

    Is it even possible to have a genuine self underneath all o the cultural and patriarchal baggage? Does the I exist?

    I’m being both serious and facetious, and not dismissing your question. I struggle with this myself, but I also suspect that there is no *true* Comrade S underneath everything else. Comrade S is what Comrade S does and has done and will do. Nothing more or less.

    And Bushfire, thanks for the encouragement. I’m unutterably fortunate that I live in an area in which one would have to go to extreme lengths of gender non-performity to get hassled, so I should really start taking advantage of this blessed situation.

    Class markers, on the other hand, are sacrosanct. I get praise for wearing a tie, my brother gets hassled for wearing very mild “goth” clothes.

  32. Ginjoint

    Aw jeez. I hate it when the subject of boob implants comes up around here. Despite your claims to the contrary, Jill, somehow I always end up feeling like a blamer failure.

    Boob cancer struck me the first time at age 37; the second time at 40. The second time was more dire, and due to extra risk factors I decided to have a double mastectomy with immediate “reconstruction.” I didn’t have the reconstruction to please any man (I’m lesbian), though of course I grok your point about the P at large exerting its influence on me. I did it more because I was angry. I was pissed off that this nebulous character cancer was changing my body without my permission. It felt as if, once again, some male was ignoring my boundaries and getting all in my face (and body). I liked my body before cancer, and fuck if I was going to let that asshole change a thing. I was in charge here! (Har! I know, right?) I know how ridiculous this sounds. But it helped me feel that I was giving cancer the finger, and at the time, that felt nice.

    Would I do it again? As much as I wanna say aw hell no, my feelings on that change by the hour. Anyway, I thought I’d throw this out here, that some of us who’ve had the big C get “plastic funbags stapled to our chests” for reasons more related to a struggle for autonomy in a time of great fear than anything else. Really.

  33. yttik

    Here’s the problem, Twisty, femininity is anything women do. Seriously, not long ago pink was the color of strength and little boys were put in it. Girls had to wear weak and washed out blue. Men used to wear tights and powdered wigs or tight pants and heels. Desirable women as commodities were once supposed to be quite plump. You cannot escape femininity because it is an ever evolving and changing thing. Sure, you can ditch your heels and lipstick, and probably should, but rejecting the feminine becomes a trap because the game is already rigged. If women were to suddenly dominate the construction industry, building would then be viewed as girly and stupid and people would live in ramshackle houses celebrating their masculinity. We’ve seen this happen before, women who clean are maids, men are respected as janitors. Women who cook are cooks, men are world known chefs. Girls gossip, men network.

    I’m sorry Twisty, but femininity does not separate men from the sex class. The patriarchy does that and it is rooted in the realities of reproduction and biology. If you don’t believe me, ask all of us lower class women who never had a dime to spend on femininity, who have spent our lives walking around in men’s hand me down pants and flannel shirts long before rejecting femininity became all the rage.

  34. Jill

    Anyway, I thought I’d throw this out here, that some of us who’ve had the big C get “plastic funbags stapled to our chests” for reasons more related to a struggle for autonomy in a time of great fear than anything else. Really.

    Point taken, and, as I’ve said before (although not on this post), people with cancer can do whatever the fuck they want. If you get it twice you get to do twice whatever the fuck you want. If my pal had gotten the funbags, I would’ve been all “good for you!” But I liked that she didn’t. Not that it was any of my beeswax.

  35. Jill

    Make it Danskos, and I’m in!

    What IS it with you and the flippin Danskos?

  36. Ayla

    minervaK, feeling helpless is part of the human condition. Acting helpless is part of of the gender performance known as femininity.

  37. Ayla

    Where acting means pretending, for clarification’s sake.

  38. TotallyDorkin

    Loved this post! Though it seems to be veering dangerously close to a postmodern philosophy. I think that challenging the dominant narrative for why we do things is incredibly important to feminism because it leads to seeing the world and it’s power structures for what they are (“I don’t wear makeup because it’s fun and makes me feel confident, I wear it because men think it’s sexy, and I’ve been told that being sexy is the number one imperative”).

    I love that you read your comments and really consider them. It is an admirable trait.

  39. Owly

    I also rejected femininity at an early age but in a really counterproductive way. I started taking out all the pent up frustration I had about being a woman on other women. I never was one of those straight girls who go to strip clubs to put other women in their place, but I was half-way there. I thought that people who performed femininity were shallow, stupid, spineless, brainwashed, etc.

    It didn’t help that I got lots of praise from hippie/liberal cool dudes about being “one of the guys,” “not like other girls,” “so progressive.” I thought that since the opposite of woman is man, being praised by men for being masculine was a sign that I was worthy of respect. Maybe that’s why funfeminism never felt right to me.

    It wasn’t until my late teens that I realized there was a reason I felt inferior as a woman; it’s because I was*. I totally shifted gears and decided that I should be working to change the system, not my place within it. I’m a lot happier now, let me tell you.

    My new computer is an unfortunate shade of pink. I mean Komen Foundation bullshit pink. Being seen with this laptop is my version of giving up makeup, no joke.

    *You know what I mean.

  40. Jodie

    Ginjoint, I truly do not know what I would do in that situation. Sometimes you just want to replace as best you can what you’ve lost and sometimes you can just let it go (and I’m not just talking about boobs here — it’s any kind of loss). You needed the replacement. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all deal with losses in different ways.

  41. nails

    Had a run in with a dude bro recently who insulted my appearance for lacking in femininity. It is like they think my world would end if I found out they didn’t want to fuck me; its the worse insult any of them can seem to come up with. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. That mindset was so common as to be unremarkable until I decided to quit being feminine to the best of my ability. The stupid insulting flirty bullshit at jobs went away completely. I absolutely advocate ditching femininity.

  42. minervaK

    “Is it even possible to have a genuine self underneath all o the cultural and patriarchal baggage? Does the I exist?

    I’m being both serious and facetious, and not dismissing your question. I struggle with this myself, but I also suspect that there is no *true* Comrade S underneath everything else. Comrade S is what Comrade S does and has done and will do. Nothing more or less.”

    All right, if we’re going existential, let’s go all the way: If all we are is what we do and have done, and what we do and have done results from our cultural and patriarchal baggage, then what is it that is making the decision to rebel against performing stereotypical feminine behavior?

  43. minervaK

    minervaK, feeling helpless is part of the human condition. Acting helpless is part of of the gender performance known as femininity.

    OK, I read you. I don’t think I got the acting helpless gene, thus my trouble with the concept.

  44. nakedthoughts

    @Owly That is exactly how I had my loss of femininity. I kept going from butch to girly in extremes as I alternately wanted to be fuckable AND one of the guys.

    I’m so glad I was able to (eventually) recognize that. I was a raging misogynist.

  45. Zoe

    “If women were to suddenly dominate the construction industry, building would then be viewed as girly and stupid and people would live in ramshackle houses celebrating their masculinity.”

    “The patriarchy does that and it is rooted in the realities of reproduction and biology.”

    I agree completely, yttik. The bottom line is this: the average man can beat up the average woman. If she is pregnant, it is even easier to beat her up. So long as there are two classes of people, one of which has the advantage in violent altercations, there will be no equality. The only solution is radical technological interference. I suggest we create a new species, of hermaphrodite individuals who can both sire children and become pregnant. By the way, I’m not kidding.

  46. Astraia

    tinfoil hattie, you’re right about women being our allies. It’s very telling when you’re supposedly friends with a dude, and he says something horrifically misogynist only to follow it up with ‘I didn’t mean you, though. You’re not like other women.’

    As if that makes it less offensive, to be granted a special exemption from the general hatred.

    All my dearest and closest friends have been women that I’m proud to call my sisters, lipstick or not. We all have to make our compromises with the system in different ways. As long as women realize that not every choice they make (like wearing high heels, for example) is a feminist one just because they made that choice, then who am I to judge what they feel they have to do?

  47. Comrade PhysioProf

    What IS it with you and the flippin Danskos?

    Have you ever worn a well-broken-in pair of Danksos?

  48. Claire K.

    Twisty, I’m not sure if I’m happy or horrified that you actually read my comment and quoted it. How embarrassing.

    About the skirts/dresses/colorful stuff: it might not be worth worrying about whether you like something because of patriarchal indoctrination or for some other, uncontaminated reason. I’m with Comrade Svilova (as usual) on this one: how do we know who we would be had we grown up outside of patriarchy? But instead of performing femininity or masculinity we could think in terms of ‘performing humanity.’ The point would not be to express one’s essential self through one’s appearance but to express an ideal of liberation, which would often but not always coincide with what feels ‘natural’ or comfortable. A way of thinking oriented towards other women, with benefits for oneself a secondary but still important goal.

    Skirts and colorful clothes can be means of demonstrating that women should be able to put our own comfort ahead of male and mainstream-societal perceptions and that we don’t need to disappear into the background (it’s easier to use skirts and colorful clothes to this end if the skirts are unfashionable and the colors clash). A woman who appears comfortable in her clothes is making a feminist statement for other women regardless of whether those clothes are coded feminine or masculine. The trick to keep from falling into funfem-ism is to keep the effects on other women at the front of your mind. If you’re in an environment in which most women feel compelled to wear lipstick, for instance, choosing not to wear lipstick would help free up other women to make their own choices and choosing to wear lipstick would not, regardless of how deeply you feel that you only like lipstick because it’s bright and colorful and like facepaint, not for any patriarchal reasons. Demonstrating comfort and rejecting feminine-coded artifacts are two different (but often overlapping, since feminine-coded stuff is usually at least physically uncomfortable) ways of challenging restrictions on women, and it’s up to the individual feminist to decide in any given situation whether the skirt with hairy legs sticking out or the trousers make for a more powerful feminist performance. And of course there will also be times –maybe most of the time– when a feminist has more important things to worry about than the message her clothes send.

  49. Other Liz

    I’d just like to call out a thank-you to the feminists who came before me.

    Nobody in my workplace gives a flying about my lack of make-up or heels or skirts.

    Thank you, trailblazers. The path you made is comfortable.

  50. N/A

    I’d just like to second yttik’s comment, which I thought made a lot of sense.

    Femininity doesn’t privilege Man over Woman, it’s a SYMPTOM of the privilege Man is given at the cost of Woman. (And that is privilege based on biology, a physical reality that channels people into two main types of upbringing.)

    Class definitely plays a big role in this. Amongst many of the under-privileged where I live, “performing femininity” is considered vulgar (wearing makeup, jewelry, depilating etc). It’s partly a function of women being the “gatekeepers” of honour/sexuality and therefore they shouldn’t be attractive etc but that’s not the point.

    The point is there is no “femininity” so to speak. They are just under-privileged, poor women who are used and abused for their constant, uncompensated labour. The men are oppressed too of course (although they will always have the upper hand over the women here), but what separates them is biology. Not femininity.

    What separates them is the cultural script of Male-Over-Female. Which is based on what they’ve got between their legs. Which is, primarily, based on the unique vulnerability of the female body to the male body. (This is what’s exploited and, in the more privileged classes, fetishized.)

    So when Twisty writes “It’s the cornerstone of the megatheocorporatocratic oppression of women” I think it would be more accurate to put “Western/American/European” before the “women.”

    Or to rewrite that sentence entirely.

  51. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Fortunately, my advancing age is diminishing my femininity – the gray in my hair; my laugh lines; my ever-widening keester; my disinclination for wiry, scratchy underwear; the hair on my chinny-chin-chin. It’s a matter of not doing stuff, which is something I’ve always excelled at.

    Taking the clippers to my hair is something I’ve wanted to do since I was about 37, but lack the nerve. As usual, you gals have given me a lot to ponder and examine, including my own chickenshittedness.

  52. XtinaS

    Notorious PhD, that is a fantastic idea.  I already don’t do a lot of the things that women are “supposed” to do, like shave or wear makeup or do my hair or whatever.  So, my goal this year has been to not go out of my way to step aside for men on the sidewalk.

    It is amusing how surprised said men get when I don’t automatically move out of their way.  I’ve actually gotten shoulder-checked once or twice, because while I did stay on my side of the sidewalk, I didn’t push off to the edge while some dude swaggered on down.  It’s nerve-wracking sometimes, but what, are we gonna complace ourselves to a new world order?

    (Insofar as “complace” is a word.)

  53. Jill

    Quoth N/A: Femininity doesn’t privilege Man over Woman, it’s a SYMPTOM of the privilege Man is given at the cost of Woman. (And that is privilege based on biology, a physical reality that channels people into two main types of upbringing.)

    Class definitely plays a big role in this. Amongst many of the under-privileged where I live, “performing femininity” is considered vulgar (wearing makeup, jewelry, depilating etc). It’s partly a function of women being the “gatekeepers” of honour/sexuality and therefore they shouldn’t be attractive etc but that’s not the point.

    Femininity is not, as yttik points out, static. There are always cultural variations. Chadors, high heels, Brazilian waxes, hijab. Maybe the “under-privileged where [you] live” don’t shave their bikini lines, but if “different” — i.e. non-masculine — behavior is not enforced by the oppressing dude culture, there is nothing to demarcate women as members of the sex class. And as we know, there is no part of the universe where women are not demarcated as members of the sex class. So I’m sure the women to whom you allude practice the variation of femininity consistent with their dominant culture.

  54. EmilyBites

    Nails, it’s also pretty funny when they get it wrong and call a non-feminine-compliant woman a dyke. You can see what they’re trying to do, but still. No, dude, dyke means that *I* wouldn’t fuck *you*.’

  55. Jill

    “wiry, scratchy underwear”

    Girl, what the heck is that?

  56. buttercup

    “I’ve actually gotten shoulder-checked once or twice, because while I did stay on my side of the sidewalk, I didn’t push off to the edge while some dude swaggered on down.”

    Isn’t that amazing? It’s rather empowering, especially if you get a look of shame or a muttered apology out of said dude. Walking with a cane helps, too.

  57. Comrade Svilova

    Yes, it truly saddens the blamer’s soul to learn that Some Dude doesn’t want to get it on with her. Keep them zingers coming, Chad!

  58. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    It’s anything worn beneath one’s daily garments that includes wires (as in a hooter-boosting bra, corset or merry-widow thingie) or aggressive, irritating lace. It’s underclothing that is confining, compression-oriented, crack-crawling or in any way uncomfortable.

  59. CassieC

    Dear, dear denizens of Savage Death Island,

    you warm my heart and soul and bring me courage and laughter.

    On to the quibbles.

    Quibble 1: what if (a purely hypothetical) a Savage Death Islander, who despite the P has obtained a high degree in Hard Science and a tenured position in Saving the Planet-stry, wants to wear garments that display a sense of fun and success and being part of the decision-making classes? What is she to wear? Surely it is possible to be female and ostentatiously erudite and bossy in some garb which is not a biblical gown? No high heels or make-up required.

    Quibble 2: (overtly non-hypothetical). My boobs hurt like the dickens for half the month, and padded underwire boobwear relieves the pain by keeping them up and immobile. You’ll be taking my padded push-up underwire bras from my gratefully post-menopausal boobs in a couple of decades. That is all.

  60. Le Chat Noir

    “Maybe the under-privileged where [you] live’ don’t shave their binkini lines, but if ‘different’ — i.e. non-masculine — behavior is not enforced by the oppressing dude culture, there is nothing to demarcate women as members of the sex class.”

    This appears to imply that women should therefore not be different from men in their appearance. I think men generally look like a bunch of boring clones (ever look at a bunch of men in business suits – clones). I do not aspire to look like that (if someone else does, that’s fine it’s her option). Plus as has already been mentioned, if we were to suddenly all dress like men, men would adopt some other masculine appearance. The revolution will not come from blending in with men.

    I do agree that uncomfortable and unsafe shoes and other sadistic forms of “beauty” should be dropped and also, of course, that feminine dress should not be imposed upon or required of women.

    Also, women police other women’s appearance quite a lot from my experience. A friend of mine was telling me I should get rid of some tiny barely noticeable whiskers I sprouted (I remain whiskered, mostly because I can’t be bothered to care). Another time a woman on the beach muttered some comment about my body to someone else thinking I couldn’t hear it. A lesbian coworker once expressed disgust for a woman in the office who wore too much make-up and called her a skank while talking about her in an elevator with other co-workers.

    I think raising consciousness so that women aren’t attacking OTHER women’s appearance would be great because I think it has as much if not more influence than what dood culture thinks.

  61. AlienNumber

    Whenever some guy asks me ever so charmingly if I “ever thought of growing [my] hair long, because [he] thinks [I]’d look beautiful, not that [I] don’t already,” I asks him back, ever so charmingly, if he ever considered getting a nose job (boob job/new face, whatever), because I think he’d look so beautiful, not that he doesn’t already. It will make grown men cry.

  62. phio gistic

    I was reading a forum on not wearing bras the other day and was bummed out by the consensus that “the headlights look is tacky.” Yes, being a female mammal with nipples is universally considered tacky. I am resigned to tackiness because bras are the suck.

    Regarding the musings on whether x practices/clothes/shoes/etc. are pandering to the P, I tend to ask myself “does it hurt?” “does it impede me from moving/functioning?” “does it have pockets and are they big enough?” and then decide.

  63. yttik

    “-if “different” — i.e. non-masculine — behavior is not enforced by the oppressing dude culture, there is nothing to demarcate women as members of the sex class.”

    Here’s the problem, women, by virtue of their internal organs, biology and reproduction, and the fact that they don’t have a penis, are marked as the sex class. That is the bottom line. It doesn’t matter if you look masculine, it doesn’t matter if you’re a lesbian, it doesn’t matter if you’re pornified. The patriarchy could care less whether or not you’re clothed in a burka, or you wear 20 brass rings around your neck, or if you wax your bikini area. Those are simply small and amusing patriarchal entertainments, completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things. The patriarchy will even exploit and sexualize your dead corpse or your children or likely any female sheep you might have around.

    Someone wise once told me that if you walk around with three coats on looking like the Michelin tire guy, all you’re going to do is attract a different class of rapist. She was right. It’s a harsh reality to confront but for women there is no escape, not if we starve ourselves trying to become invisible and not if we pack on pounds. Not if we give up lipstick, not if we all conform and marry, and not if we all become lesbians and get our free toasters. That’s because patriarchy is dictated from the outside. It is patriarchy that has declared women the sex class and that is based on biology and reproduction, not on how we look or think or act or dress.

    You can see the two extremes between the ME and the West. Women in the ME are covered from head to toe and in the West we are encouraged to pornify ourselves, exercising our empowering “choice.” Neither option does a damn thing to spark revolution and neither does trying to walk around in some sort of genderless middle ground, hoping nobody will notice you’re female. What might help is if we ever figured out how to unite as a gender, how to practice solidarity, and how to exercise the power of sisterhood. Until we do, the brotherhood is going to be running things.

  64. sam

    “if he ever considered getting a nose job (boob job/new face, whatever)”

    I’ve learned that remarks about their hair are especially dick-shriveling. I once saw a man who was harassing a woman in a strip club parking lot visibly shrink and go silent at a dig on his very receded hairline.

    The stereotype that women are more vain than men is as much a reversal of the truth as the rest of men’s propaganda.

  65. io

    Love Radfem Lent! Will join. Does it start today?

    Since the comments are trending towards anecdoteland, will switch to first person.

    I have not shaved my legs for 2 weeks. My Nigel says he doesn’t care. (My Nigel is a goshdarn vegetarian anti-porn unicorn. Antiporn Unicorn!!) I have nonetheless apologized to him nearly every time we’re nekkid together about my unshaved legs. I am resisting shaving them, but it’s so hard to take him at his word: my ingrained sense of proper femininity is overriding even the male-opinion on the subject. IBTP

  66. io

    Oh, and phio gistic: if your breasts are small enough that you don’t need the support from bras, there are these silicone-pasty things you can stick over your nips. I have highly sensitive skin and get breakouts from bra straps rubbing on my shoulders but not breakouts from the silicone nip pasty-things (I usually wash them before and after wear with anti-bacterial soap). Anyway, it’s totally silly to “need” anything to cover the nips or that showing nipples is considered tacky, but that particular innovation is a more comfortable way of conforming.

  67. Jill

    “what if (a purely hypothetical) a Savage Death Islander, who despite the P has obtained a high degree in Hard Science and a tenured position in Saving the Planet-stry, wants to wear garments that display a sense of fun and success and being part of the decision-making classes? What is she to wear?

    A crown, sceptre, and ermine cape?

  68. Jill

    “if we were to suddenly all dress like men, men would adopt some other masculine appearance. The revolution will not come from blending in with men.”

    I have not made myself clear. The point is not to “blend in with men.” The point is to rebel. Against whatever feminine norm happens to be in place.

  69. Ashley

    if I read it wrong, and Ashley is actually saying “enough with this anti-femininityism, already; there are more important feminist matters afoot,”

    Nah, my blaming skills could certainly be better, but I’m advanced enough to be disinterested in ranking acts of resistance by supposed importance. Small acts are important. It is true that at a certain point, worrying too much about whether every aspect of personal presentation is adequately rebellious takes up as much time as performing femininity, and becomes counterproductive because it leaves no time for changing larger social institutions. But that’s not really my main concern.

    I’m mostly just thinking about how to build a cohesive movement. As others have laid out, figuring out how to present oneself in a non-patriarchal way is necessarily an imperfect and highly individualized science. As Le Chat Noir said, not performing femininity can create the issue of accepting male presentation as the default (when a lot of people of all genders would really look better in giant pink butterfly wings). And as Zoe points out, the audience, not the act, is often the problem. Wearing pigment on one’s lips is not inherently problematic. It will be a nice thing that anyone can do or not do, once the revolution comes. Then there’s the issue of the same act potentially having totally different meanings, depending on who does it. In general, if you are rewarded when you perform a “feminine” act, performing that act carries at least some patriarchal meaning. But if you are punished for performing a feminine act (for example, when a disabled fat woman insists on presenting herself as sexual), there’s a good chance you’re doing something the patriarchy doesn’t like, so it’s more complicated and potentially subversive.

    All that is to say, when it comes to prescriptive statements, I like to focus on institutional change because what personal performance means is so situation-dependent. It seems like in order to organize people, we have to give them a goal to band together around. Getting everyone in grey sweats is an unlikely unifying point, and, obviously, not what we want anyway. Plus, with all that great socialization that taught us to viciously judge everything about women’s presentation, it seems that the tendency to yell at other women about their eye makeup is dangerously close.

    But, I’m not an absolutist about anything, and generally agree with your point that evaluation of one’s own habits can be a useful feminist exercise. If something feels demeaning, it probably is. Chucking it would be fun, and other women would see how much fun you were having, which would inspire a nice domino effect. So, viva la revolucion de armpit hair.

  70. drsnacks

    Yes, being a female mammal with nipples is universally considered tacky. I am resigned to tackiness because bras are the suck.

    Considering the classicism and lack of general awareness inherent in the term “tacky”, any criticism based on it is nothing to consider (including to protest) at all.

  71. Owly

    I was about to state that the kind of men who are intimidated or disgusted by unfeminine women aren’t worth having anyway and that the guys who stick around are the kind you should actually want around. Then I thought for half a second and realized that that’s a load of BS.

    My lack of femininity guarantees that I now attract hipsters instead of garden variety dudes. I’m still being objectified but now it’s by the kind of guys who find my “independent quirky feminism” to be super hot. Probably because of what it supposedly says about them as enlightened progressives.

    So, I guess you needn’t worry about losing your capacity to attract dudes if you give up the lady game. They’ll just be neoliberal jerks instead.

    Although it is fun to see how they head for the hills when you really lay down the radical feminism on them.

  72. TwissB

    @yttik “Here’s the problem, women, by virtue of their internal organs, biology and reproduction, and the fact that they don’t have a penis, are marked as the sex class. That is the bottom line.” etc.

    yttik says it all. Where the Men’s System” is concerned, nuance is irrelevant. The creation and invidious exploitation and enforcement of biological-reproductive related difference is essential, pervasive and relentless. We can note it, list its ways, try to sneak around it, try to negotiate with it or placate it or resist it, but we can’t ultimately beat it and must simply remember to take it into account as smartly as possible.

    And that, fellow female humans, is why I keep hammering on getting real about the sex politics of “Choice.”

  73. TwissB

    Inevitable after-edit:

    And that, fellow female humans, is why I keep hammering on getting real about the sex politics of “Choice,” prostitution, and pornography.

  74. yttik

    “The point is to rebel. Against whatever feminine norm happens to be in place.”

    Women have been doing that for thousands of years. Believe it or not, the vast majority of us have been so busy trying to survive we haven’t had time to comply with patriarchal feminine norms.

    Besides, rather than constantly responding to the dictates of the patriarchy and trying to rebel, we should be out defining what femininity is for ourselves.

    I really don’t understand why people believe that cutting your hair or throwing away your lipstick or going braless or wearing comfortable shoes are going to make one bit of difference to the power structure. By all means, get rid of those things if they’re uncomfortable, but rebellion?? Really? Is that the most radical idea we can come up with? Refuse to wear lipstick, that’ll teach ’em?

  75. XtinaS


    Here’s the problem, women, by virtue of their internal organs, biology and reproduction, and the fact that they don’t have a penis

    Do you even know how to drop a subject?

  76. Mortisha

    You know all this reminds me of something by Leunig;

    “To be on the safe side, I took out the fine tooth comb of retrospection to run it through my life –to comb out all the dark, dirty bits of my history; the silly, messy, naughty mistakes.After combing furiously for several hours, I had gotten rid of all the nasty little lumps. I had now turned myself into a piece of human confectionary. What a success! I had obtained marshmallowdom, the highest, most attractive and perfect state of being, and the epitome of getting it right. I was also stuck to the chair, but more about that later…”

  77. AllTheWorld'sACage

    So many layers of femininity, and some of them just won’t come off.

    I don’t wear uncomfortable clothing or porn-wear, I don’t paint my face etc. I don’t shave my legs/pubes, but I do shave my pits (I do physical work, don’t like deoderant and don’t like the smell- the shaving keeps it at bay). I wear wiry bras, too, also due to comfort during the working/moving part of my day – mine hurt more often than not.

    But, I’m young, conventionally pretty in my culutre and slim with boobs. Without resorting to things-i-don’t-want-to-do (surgery, eating more than i feel like, or fast forwarding time until my skin loosens), I’m always gonna be feminine to some extent.

    Many women suffer cos they don’t fit the stereotype, but we all suffer, and for me, its about FITTING the stereotype, even loosely. I look like porn, like ads for washing powder, like a character from a moralistic weepie movie, even without the heels, and with the wind blowing in my leg hair. But that’s just it – there’s a patriarchal box for all of us to be told to get back into.

    Stupid patriarchy with your anger inducing co-option of MY body for your purposes.

    At least this blog and the commenters here make me feel a little less alone in the slow shedding process. Cheers.

  78. Gayle

    Yttik, I agree with you. When women take over formerly male dominated professions the average salary of those professions drops (see Public Relations for a clear example).

    The reason is obvious: When a profession becomes a women’s profession it becomes less valuable— whether it is really valuable or not–simply because women are thought of as less important than men. I’m cool with dropping feminine trappings but I’m sure we need collective action to end our oppression. Women have to demand men stop treating us like shit and we have to do it in large numbers. It’s that difficult and that simple.

  79. Claire K.

    Yttik: it would be great to do something a bit more rebellious. I don’t think dropping the femininity stuff precludes that; for some women, figuring out that we can don’t need to mold ourselves to look like the patriarchal construction of a feminine woman might be a good starting point to develop the consciousness and the confidence that actual revolution requires.

  80. TwissB

    @ XtinasS to Yttik -“Do you even know how to drop a subject?”

    Comedian Bonnie Hunt says that everything is going fine at the family party until, around midnight, a voice is heard asking “What’s THAT supposed to mean??” And you know it’s fight time.

    But I have to ask you what’s that supposed to mean? Kindly explain.

  81. minervaK

    I’ve learned that remarks about their hair are especially dick-shriveling.

    I usually go straight for the dick, as in, “Have you thought about getting a penis enlargement? I hear you’ve got a tiny one.”

    I’m always amazed that more women don’t go there. The dick is usually at the center of whatever offensive thing dudes engage in; cutting right to the chase saves time.

  82. Asai

    yttik’s point is a difficult one to argue with, so from the point of view of someone who agrees: isn’t this rejection of feminine social mores one of the ways in which we can unite against the patriarchy?

    The fact that women police each others’ appearance is more damaging, in a way, than how that appearance is perceived by men. I don’t mean to say that femininity isn’t a unique issue on it’s own, but in a broader perspective, it’s only one of the tools that keeps us divided against one another. In order for feminism to succeed, all of those tools must be broken. So how do we destroy it? We stop judging other women by their appearance, and we refuse to be dictated to.

    If anyone else has some other method by which we can work towards equality until science frees us from biological imperatives, I’d love to modify this strategy. If the long game is all we’ve got, men had better hope feminism succeeds before we figure out how to induce parthenogenesis.

  83. minervaK

    Color me confused on this biology-difference argument. How does it necessarily follow that men, who physically dominated smaller females in the era before we developed higher brain function, are somehow destined therefore to always remain in the ‘superior’ position? The development of said higher brain function should certainly have wiped that out, with intelligence becoming the determining factor (i.e., the smarter you are, the better weapons you can make, the wilier you can be at survival tricks, etc. etc.). I’m particularly baffled by the extrapolation of male superior physical strength to the inevitability of men ‘owning’ the reproductive process. However, as I am but a junior blamer, it’s possible I’ve missed a great deal. Is there something I should read, somewhere?

  84. Ron Sullivan

    Lent, Schment, just to speak as a recovering Catholic. Here’s a notion: try giving up something annoying. Could be shoes (I won’t give up my Birks till you pry them from my cold dead toes!) (But they don’t work so well off pavement, dammit.) or eyeliner or plucking or shaving or Nigel or pantyhose or

    What the fucking fuck. Girdles. Girdles are back and they’re brandnamed “Spanx”! I mean, how the fuck could the intent be clearer? And where’s my Backo’mehandtoya implanted app? This is the 21st century! They LIED!!

    Smiling. There’s one to watch out for. Smiling’s great, laughing’s better; maybe training to substitute laughing for that reflexive smile that we realize a second too late is the appeasement gesture would be useful. One boring summer when I was about 12, I taught myself to twiddle my thumbs in opposite directions simultaneously because I read that it was impossible. I can still do it. It’s useless but I treasure it nevertheless. The Spockian raised eyebrow is good too. Much more fun than that upturned-face smile.

    We’re not doing penance here. We’re right. We can stop upbraiding ourselves right now. We can do what we really need to and remember that that’s why they call it work, and quit doing it every day as soon as that personal factory whistle blows.

    A crown, sceptre, and ermine cape?

    With the fur turned inside, if you please.

  85. N/A

    Right, right — so the manifestations of femininity differ wherever you go in the patriarchal world.

    Is it so hard to imagine a society where neither male nor female are oppressed per se but still have differing presentations? (Let’s take the Mosuo as a rough example of this.)

    Twisty seems to be suggesting that the “demarcation” itself is what causes the oppression when she says:

    “[Femininity] separates the men from the sex class. It’s the cornerstone of the megatheocorporatocratic oppression of women.”

    But we’ve already established femininity itself need not be degrading, when viewed objectively. It’s the fact that women are degraded, and femininity is associated with women (i.e. people with female bodies that are uniquely vulnerable to male bodies) that makes femininity degrading.

    Just thought I’d clear that up, inside my head and outside it :)

  86. Claire K.

    “Is it so hard to imagine a society where neither male nor female are oppressed per se but still have differing presentations?” Yes, ‘separate but equal’ is my idea of liberation.

  87. j

    I thought Jill and many others in these threads were advocating giving up femininity stuff which makes women more vulnerable, uncomfortable and restricted. Like acting needlessly pleasing and wearing shoes you can’t run in.

    Instead of bringing up if various articles of clothing is ok, just ask yourself: Is it comfortable and practical? Can I escape a disaster in it?

    Women’s clothing is often not made which such questions in mind. Much of the femininity stuff was invented by men in order to make women more handicapped in society. Giant dresses, bound feet, always acting nice and not assertive…it’s of course this stuff we need to rebel against, not the good things associated (empathy etc) with women – does this even need to be said?

  88. N/A

    Claire K were you being sarcastic? I couldn’t tell. I’m a separatist and would love nothing more than for all “fully male” people to be marked out clearly and obviously in their daily presentation so I could avoid them entirely, in this future liberequalotopia.

    Also, I agree with j and some of the other commenters above – comfort and practicality above all in matters of presentation (wherever and whenever possible). It won’t overthrow the patriarchy but at least we’ll be more comfortable while calling out the MCT for what it is!

  89. phio gistic

    One action I have been trying to implement in my own mind is to stop judging (and comparing myself to) other people I see. Particularly women. It’s a horrible unfeminist habit but for a while I thought “I can’t help it.” Now instead of snap judgements, I try to think of some positive quality about every person I see. It keeps the little judge voice quiet and I tend to smile more. But I have to be careful – I almost yelled “Emma Peel!” at someone out a car window the other day.

  90. mcnorman

    The 1998 Federal Mandate on Breast Reconstruction was designed to help women. Absence of the “fun bags” also cause great pain to the back once you have asymmetry because of a mastectomy. If you are a double D on one side and nothing on the other side, imagine what your body must do to compensate. Other parts of the body are taxed. Not everything is about “fun bags.” Whether one decides on reconstruction or not depends on them. Perhaps they have defined themselves all of their lives by their breasts? Perhaps, they are in physical pain? It is an individual choice to reconstruct.
    PS You can still nurse a child with a “fun bag” in place. It all depends on the defect and how it is reconstructed.

  91. Claire K.

    N/A: yes, I was being sarcastic. I misunderstood where you were coming from –thought you were doing the “Femininity and masculinity aren’t inherently harmful. They can be fun!” thing– and was therefore harsher than I should have been.

  92. Jill

    yttik:”Really? Is that the most radical idea we can come up with? Refuse to wear lipstick, that’ll teach ‘em?”

    You are drastically oversimplifying and obfuscating my argument, and I cannot understand why (unless you just enjoy being obnoxious). The rejection of femininity is the rejection of patriarchal mores, and in no way precludes — as I state, in English, in the fucking post — engaging in other forms of activism. Please note that this is not called “The All We Advocate Is Refusing to Wear Lipstick Blog.” What is your fucking problem, anyway? Aside from the transphobia and the anti-sciencism?

  93. Shopstewardess

    I have contemplated the potential lopsidedness issue, and decided that if it comes to that (no signs of it yet, thank whatever) I’ll take the other one off rather than try to put anything back. I have a friend who has had both sides reconstructed at different times and I wouldn’t criticise her for it. She told me that they took muscle from her back to make the reconstructions, though, and I like my back muscles where they are, doing the work they were intended for.

    A colleague of mine who has severe burn scars to face and hands wears the brightest lipsticks available and looks amazing in them. In an imperfect world among imperfect human beings, a rigorously logical approach doesn’t seem possible.

  94. yttik

    “What is your fucking problem, anyway?”

    I’d like to see actual revolution, not another half century of bra burning, which you know perfectly well was simply another patriarchal myth. Look at all the cute little women throwing out their bras in protest! It never actually happened, but 40 yrs later we all seem to believe that setting our breasts free is some great act of revolution.

    Anti-science? I’ve been trying desperately to introduce some biology, some reproductive realities into the definition of femaleness, but apparently science will have to wait because even stating the obvious fact that women don’t have penises is offensive to some people.

    As to being obnoxious, you say that like it’s a bad thing. Revolution is going to require obnoxious, a great deal of it.

  95. Jill

    I went uniboob for about 6 months. It was weird enough that I wasn’t all that bummed when it turned out the other one had to go, too.

  96. julybirthday

    Try explaining leg-shaving to a 3 year-old boy. “What are you doing, mommy?” I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my answer: “it’s just a silly thing that some women do.”

  97. Miranda

    While worrying about whether or not to wear lipstick is clearly not on the same level as, say, forced child marriage, I don’t agree that individual actions are irrelevant to changing the system. To illustrate, I hope you will forgive a personal anecdote:

    I stopped shaving my armpits a few years back – I had always kind of liked armpit hair, so it wasn’t a big issue. I could then justify to myself shaving my legs – that was just because I ‘liked’ hairless legs better.

    But a year or so ago my then 4-year-old daughter saw me shaving and asked about it. I carefully tried to explain that I was just shaving my legs because I liked my legs better that way, that it was ok to feel differently etc etc.

    She paused for barely a second and then said: “When I’m grown up I want to shave my legs too.”

    I haven’t shaved my legs since.

    My point is that, as other commentators have noted, demonstrating to others that opting out of perceived gender norms is a powerful action in itself. Just by having hairless legs, I was teaching my daughter and other girls that that is the way women should be.

    If my daughter and her friends (male and female) can see a woman with hairy legs, they will have at least one concrete example of what women really look like. Other women, perhaps wanting to stop shaving but afraid to so, may be emboldened by seeing that it is possible.

    Ok, so I’m not delusional enough to imagine that my one action will have a domino effect that will spread across the world, liberating women from tiresome and oppressive hair removal as it goes (if only).

    But the more physical reminders we have of what real women look like, hairy legs, flabby stomachs at the beach and all, the easier it becomes to fight against those forces that teach us and our daughters that we must fit into a preconceived image of womanhood at all costs.

  98. goblinbee

    I love comfy clothes! I love all my daytime clothes to be comfortable enough to sleep in (my underwire fits the bill–so comfortable!). And, I wish I had more hair, not less. I would love to look like my cat. Humans have very little hair compared to most of our lucky mammalian cousins.

    A good friend of mine–young, queer, male–says he likes being a little uncomfortable (and sexy) in his clothes. All I can think is…yikes!

    My mom–another comfort lover–had a masectomy 24 years ago, and has just had the one boob ever since (she’s 86 and going strong). She never mentioned reconstruction, but she did say she wished they’d cut them both off, for comfort’s sake.

  99. damequixote

    XtinaS: The part where you refuse to move over for men on sidewalks and have even been “bodychecked” by a few made me laugh. Good for you! As a short, heavy woman not performing femininity I am often overlooked or ignored by men. Or disdained. They too ‘bodycheck’ me as they try to show who is boss. And more important. Unfortunately, they seem to judge books by covers waay too much for their own good. As they barrel towards me they have no idea what they are about to hit. My max in the benchpress is over 300 lb.s, my squat is way over 500 lb.s and I curl 70 lb. dumbells. It’s funny when they sprawl out on the street, esp. if said sprawl involves a briefcase. Truly it amuses. This is best finished by admonishing them in a matronly tone that implies Motherly concern. God how they run.

  100. tinfoil hattie

    Thank god. Someone just mansplained to me that there is no such thing as patriarchy – we live in a CORPORATOCRACY and the people who are exploited are the WORKERS. Women are not the sex class! Also, he wonders if I think it is healthy to be raising two boys in a household that is teaching that all women are victims of all men.

    Leapt straight from “patriarchy? what patriarchy?” to “what about the men?” (in my household)

    Also could not define femininity, when pressed. Femininity, he asserted, was created by women, in a vacuum. But he could not define it.

  101. Kea

    A matronly tone? Oh, I must try that next time. Your anecdote reminds me of the time that one young dude came flying down a flight of stairs on his bike, running straight into the back of me. There was plenty of room for him to go around me, so it may even have been deliberate. But I didn’t fall over. My foot unintentionally but neatly trapped the front wheel, and he went flying off his bike, after which I abused him for being the moron he obviously was.

  102. Zuzu Petals

    Thanks for this.

  103. janna

    I’m pretty lazy so if I forget to wear makeup, that’s a normal day and I almost never shave my legs anymore. What is the hardest “feminine” practice for me to give up is the submission. It’s so ingrained that I often don’t notice while I’m doing it, and then afterward I think “Ugh! Why do you always have to smile? That wasn’t funny, it was uncomfortable/embarrassing/annoying!” I don’t know how to shake the automatic behavior compliance short of getting someone to follow me around with a dog training clicker and a baggie of cheese.

  104. j

    Yes janna, the submission training we have been given since day one is definitely an enormous and difficult problem. Perhaps THE problem. There are a lot of “self-confidence for women” self-help books and such but I’d like some sort of mandatory non-bullshit course on how the handle everyday situations in patriarchy without being reduced to a shrinking, smiling violet. We have all learnt to feel fear, more or less. Fear of aggression/being outcast if we’re not submissive enough.

  105. speedbudget

    tinfoil, don’t you feel relieved? I know I do. It’s good to know the Patriarchy isn’t the problem!

    janna, I hear you. But it’s no help in some situations to eschew the smile-and-nod response. I was innocently putting money in a parking meter when two troglodytes walked past and started (it turned out) talking to me. I had no idea they were talking to me, since why would they? I don’t know them, and they were passing by on a public sidewalk. Turns out they were, since when I didn’t give the proper conciliatory response to their knuckle-dragging odes, they started getting downright saucy. I was completely bewildered, then I just got mad. That didn’t help the situation. They continued yelling their expletives and insults at me. I hadn’t said a word, just looked confused and then pissed at them.

    The patriarchy finds many ways to beat you down, and fear is the major one. I just don’t know how to work around that shit.

  106. A Ginva

    Hey Twisty,
    thank you for this post. It’s so nice to hear women who openly criticise femininity, in all its aspects. It’s not about demonizing women who do comply to feminine practices, but encouraging them to be critical about them and understand them as a political issue. Women usually get defensive whenever I mention “beauty practices” as harmful, it’s difficult to talk about it in a way that women won’t take it as a personal attack.

  107. Jill

    yttik: “I’d like to see actual revolution […] As to being obnoxious, you say that like it’s a bad thing. Revolution is going to require obnoxious, a great deal of it.”

    Savage Death Island formally releases you from the tedious and time-consuming office of Gadfly so that you may devote all of your obnoxiousness to the “actual revolution.”

  108. Fictional Queen

    It’s just so DAMN uncomfortable,performing femininity! Painting your face,doing your hair,nails or whatever it is you’re supposed to do,it takes time,money,it’s uncomfortable,painful and really can limit your movements.Which I think is one of the reasons you have to do all that crap,for me at least it doesn’t let me move around comfortably and be myself,it’s really a drag,you perform this certain character when you wear femininity,a character that as Valerie Solanas said is the opposite of what a male should be,so they feel good about their precious masculinity.

  109. Triste

    An excellent post.

    I find myself regularly frustrated by the extent to which friends – even feminist friends – perform femininity, I have to confess. I truly do believe that the blame for this falls on the shoulders of the Patriarchy, but I struggle to understand, at times, what it is that drives them to engage in this insanity consciously. It isn’t even just behaviors like refusing to complain when wronged or subconscious shit which is hard to shake. It’s things like, actively going out and purchasing a bunch of expensive makeup and foot-killing shoes that just makes me what to say, what are you /doing/?

    I try not to be judgmental because I know that I can do these things because I am lucky enough not to have any sexual attraction to males, and for my close male family members to be pretty uniformly unperturbed by the extent to which I eschew feminine crap. But god, a lot of this crap (not all, but a lot) seem like it is mostly there in order to be acceptable enough to heterosexual dudes to attract one as a mate, and to that I want to say: holy shit, that’s a lot of work to get laid! I can understand that a lot of women need to perform a certain amount in order to get by in the workplace, but it’s difficult for me to comprehend why so many women feel that their lives are incomplete if they don’t have the social approval of dudes (and other ladies) who are dumb enough to give a shit. I don’t feel like my life is missing anything because dudes don’t want to have sex with me, but maybe I am just clueless.

    As for some people inquiring about whether or not it is okay to perform X feminine behavior, I would say that I don’t believe revolution precludes not cutting off your nose to spite your face. In terms of the physical trappings of masculinity vs. femininity, I generally make a point of just figuring out which product (the male or female version) is a better value, and go with that. This results in my looking pretty manly a lot of the time, because clothing for dudes tends to be both cheaper and sturdier, especially shoes but also shirts and jeans. In the middle of the summer there is nothing better for heat management than one of those little spaghetti strap things and a skirt, though, so I have a few. Deodorant made for men is cheaper and does more to stop sweating, which is important since I am a pretty big girl. On the other hand, soap and shampoo made for women is only marginally more expensive and smells a hell of a lot nicer (especially that fruity shit, hell yes) in addition to not making my goddamn hands crack and bleed in the winter – I try to get it whenever I have the cash, though when strapped I will suppress my love of fruity smelling shit (mango pomegranate crap makes me want to lick my skin after washing) in favor of gross-smelling dude soap.

    I don’t think it’s anti-feminist or anti-revolution to make decisions in favor of the feminine product when the feminine product is a better value. This isn’t the case all that often since the people selling these things are actively looking to drain money out of women, but on occasion ladythings really are superior for whatever reason, usually because enduring certain kinds of suffering (extreme heat, having dry skin that cracks and forms into callouses) is considered macho. I think that the most important thing that women can do for the revolution is just to aspire not to make decisions that are stupid. Wearing high heels every night because they make your ass look nice while destroying your walking ability? Stupid decision! Wearing giant man boots instead of those light-and-breezy slip-on girly mocassin thingies (not sure what they are called) in the middle of a sweaty, godawful summer day? Stupid decision! There are smart men and women who make these stupid decisions all the time, because they feel like they are required to. Making smart decisions because they are smart is what breaks down these gender norms.

  110. Bushfire

    I don’t feel like my life is missing anything because dudes don’t want to have sex with me, but maybe I am just clueless.

    For goddess’ sake, YES! You are not the least bit clueless.

  111. tinfoil hattie

    Swooning over lunching with yet another FABULOUS IBTP-er – Procrastinatrix! Wow, lunching with blamers is a balm to the soul.

  112. Jill

    “Wow, lunching with blamers is a balm to the soul.”

    I bet it is. I’ve never done it, personally. Ironic.

  113. Fictional Queen

    I have a question!
    Do you think gender is entirely a sociap concept?Femininity and masculinity….?
    Do estrogens and testosterones make men and women act differently? I don’t mean in a patriarchal sense,or a men and women are completely different sense,but I wonder if there is some (to wildly varying degress) inherent difference in the way men and women think and act because of their hormones,regardless of culture and society?

  114. Triste

    Never, Twisty?

    I thought Phil-the-Secretary was a blamer. Or do you mean blamer as in capital-B Blamer, as in specifically one who peruses this blog? As opposed to one who just in general blames the patriarchy.

  115. tinfoil hattie

    Well, Jill, if you’re ever in the DC area, I can rustle up quite a posse of Twistafarians for you.


  116. Jill

    Fictional Queen: I wonder if there is some (to wildly varying degress) inherent difference in the way men and women think and act because of their hormones,regardless of culture and society?

    Ask an evolutionary psychologist! According to them, patriarchal oppression is hardwired into human brains.

    Nature vs nurture arguments can never be settled, because you can never completely remove one or the other to see what happens.

  117. Jill

    Triste, I meant I have never successfully pulled off a meetup lunch with an Internetian blamer. Although I once bumped into blamer KMTBerry at Jo’s. She pegged me because (chagrinningly) I couldn’t stop waving around the 1st-gen iPhone I’d been blathering on about on the blog.

  118. Fictional Queen

    Jill,thank you so much for the answer.
    Also,Happy Persian New Year everybody!

  119. Lu

    Triste, I take your point, but consider that the fact that you are not attracted to males is the very thing that makes women’s—even feminist women’s—efforts to appear attractive to men ridiculous to you. Yes, it is cuckoo, but it’s kind of what we do in the patriarchy. One can argue that it’s silly, dumb, ridiculous, or too much effort “to get laid,” but I’d like to see less blaming of the women and more blaming of the patriarchy for it.

    I don’t excuse it, least of all in myself, and I agree that the performance of elaborate grooming rituals and application of makeup, etc., is counterrevolutionary. I’m just making the point that it’s easy enough to look on in judgment if you have no horse in the race, so to speak.

  120. Lu

    Also, Phil the secretary is surely a mere useful fiction, no?

  121. Anna

    Lu’s comment has left me speechless. If this is the kind of stuff that comes from commenters on supposedly radfem blogs, what hope is there for any kind of revolution?

    This place has truly turned into Feministing.

  122. Claire K.

    Just a note: women who are not attracted to men sometimes preen ourselves to attract mates too. It’s not always true that we have no horse in the race. Not that it should really matter either way.

  123. Sargassosea

    “What is your fucking problem, anyway?”

    Hey, that’s a really good question. What the fuck is YOUR problem, Jill? Or was it just that yttik had you dead-to-rights?

    This is IBTP on Trans Activism. It burns.

  124. cin17

    Crickey, Lu, I’m a straight woman and the period in my life when I most aggressively performed femininity was for women. I wanted the approval and acceptance of women, not men. It has been my experience that women need to do very little to attract male attention. You’re gonna get it if you want it or not.

  125. Lu

    My comment seems to have been misunderstood. My point was not to make the sort of gross unfeminist analysis (“Ladies need to wear makeup to attract men!”) that you seem to be attributing to me regarding the performance of feminine grooming rituals. It was more personally addressed to the disbelieving kind of superiority I sensed from Triste’s comment. Perhaps I was trying to explain it to myself. Triste, as someone who said she wasn’t attracted to men, expressed that her heterosexual female friends were kind of whacked out for the attention they paid to their appearance in the attempt to attract men, as stated by Triste herself. The assessment of that motive did not come from my lips, so to speak; it came from Triste. My point was meant to be that it doesn’t seem too friendly to judge your friends for what they feel they have to do to get the sexual attention they want–not to argue that the performance of these rituals is not whacked out in the first place.

  126. Lu

    Yes, cin17, many women experience a lot of unwanted attention (to say the least) from men. Still, bear in mind that some women don’t get wanted attention from men and so they try the methods strongly suggested by the patriarchy in order to get it. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

  127. Kate

    Dear Twisty, did you look at Google on International Women’s Day March 8th 2011. NO International Womens Day banner. This is from a company that shows St Patrick’s Day, Rachmaninov’s birthday and Einsteins 200 th birthday or whatever, but this important date for 50% of the planet was not marked.
    Did anyone else notice or am I wrong?

  1. Celebrating International Women’s Day 2014. | perry street palace

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