Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pretty Ugly

I've been thinking lately about the high price of femme. I've always had a hard time defining exactly what it is that I'm talking about - what I'm meaning when I speak of femme. What is this word code for? When asked by an andro dyke I used to work in a parlour with, I described it as 'restraint as art form'. This still kinda works for me as a description of my own femme expression. I know that as a woman, I don't have to take up smaller space, use a more limited range of movement, but there is something very satisfying and sexy about occupying that limited range - and about achieving all you need to in that space, without having to throw tantrums. I don't feel particularly inadequate or fearful about presenting my unmadeup face to the world, but I feel most powerful and dominant in big lashes and cocksucker red lipstick.

On some level, the women in my family were always the strong ones - although more or less staying within traditional gender roles, they managed to go about their business, doing most of the work of creating homes, raising children and using their social skills to smooth over bumps and to create group cohesion. Compared to this, the men in the family went to work, sat in armchairs, were trained to piss sitting down so as not to make a mess, occasionally attempted to assert their masculinity and dominance to the amusement of all present, and then retreated within. (Please note, at no time will you hear me idealise my upbringing as an example of a healthy dynamic).

It's unsuprising then, that I never got the idea that women were the weaker sex, or that I needed a man to be big and brave and protect me. Also unsurprising that I've never associated femininity with passivity, only ever with power and sucess. However, I was raised believing that some of the really amazing things about woman is their ability to achieve despite restricted circumstances. All of this sounds very politically dodgy, as if I'm suggesting that women don't need equal rights, that second class citizenship is some kind of badge of honour - that actually isn't what I'm suggesting, just that I was raised with the consciousness that women did the significant work in society, so of course we are amazing and strong.

Which brings me to all of the ways I've done femme body modification - as a way of revelling in my body's femme strength and power - I've shortened my achilles tendon by constant wearing of heels since about the age of 15, it is now extremely uncomfortable to wear flats (or sensible shoes). My feet are also usually calloused and blistered as I often break in new shoes by going out on 2 hour walks in them, or wearing them out for a night of dancing. I can relate to ballerinas who produce such images of grace and beauty until you take off the pointe shoes. Wearing corsetry and the kind of bras that create the best cleavage will often mean I have callouses around my breasts or under my arms from the harsh rub of boning or underwire. My hair is so big and heavy as to sometimes give me headaches. Body hair removal has left me scarred from ingrown hairs, and makeup does horrible things to my poor skin..... What ends up being important for me in my gender performance is not flawlessness or perfection, but the warm inner glow of my arches being stretched in 6 inch heels, that feeling of tightness, of regulated movement from stern foundation garment and pencil skirts. Femme for me has always been a fetishistic expression of constraint and restriction - fierce rather than pretty. And as with most forms of fetish, it can certainly look ugly and/or incomprehensible to those that don't get it.

I get that femininity as defined by this culture ain't natural for anyone - as imposed on everyone with an F on their birth certificate, and denied to all those with an M it's a hideous form of social control. Femininity as a chosen tool and sex toy for femmes is so very much fun (at least as long as I can still walk in heels...)

*Please note - this post is all about my own ownership and expression of what femme means for me - I would never suggest that someone is not femme, or is less femme if they don't do the make up, heels, big hair or tight skirts. I think femme has the capacity for enormous fun and power, I want it to be available to anyone and everyone who wants to play - regardless of how they play it.

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