It’s sometimes said that the voices within a movement can be the movement’s worst enemy, and that certainly holds true of feminism, where there are all kinds of structural problems with the way that feminists, particularly prominent ones, engage (or rather don’t engage) with issues like disability, race, and class. There’s been an uptick of late in antifemininity in feminist spaces, and, people, I cannot even begin to comprehend why some people seem to think this is a good idea, let alone keep engaging in it.
Feminism has its roots in a lot of complicated things, and there seems to be a tendency among some feminists to prove themselves ‘one of the boys’ by making snide, nasty comments about expressions of femininity. Skirts, makeup, heels, all are verboten under this metric because they are ‘too girlie’ and it does not escape me that a lot of the language about how to be a good feminist involves telling people to act less feminine, like being feminine is a bad thing.
Feminist women who do things like wearing heels are told they are ‘choice feminists,’ in as derisive a way as possible. And while it’s true that claiming that every choice a feminist makes is feminist by default is flawed, it’s also true that attacking people on the grounds of behaving or dressing in a femme way is a really big problem. Feminism is, at its core, about equal rights for women, about a level playing field, about a society where women have the same chances and opportunities as someone else. It should not be about suppressing femininity like it is something dirty and wrong.
There are plenty of women who are not feminine. And I am glad that one of the things feminism has done for them is create a space where they do not experience pressure to behave in a feminine way, to create artificial personas to satisfy social demands. Some women aren’t interested in performing femininity and I think it is excellent and very important to have a world in which they are not constantly under attack for not doing what women are ‘supposed’ to do, for liking sports and not being shy about it, for not owning a single tube of lipstick, for not wearing skirts to work. Earlier generations of feminists pushed back against feminine roles and tried to create a world where women didn’t have to meet impossible and ridiculous appearance standards just to go to the mailbox. That was a good thing.
But somehow, there has been a shift from ‘women should not have to perform femininity if they do not want to’ to ‘femininity is bad, and people should be punished for behaving in a feminine way.’ Femme women are viewed as less-than and people say things like ‘I can’t take a woman in heels seriously because clearly her commitment to feminism is lacking.’ Several high profile feminist websites have dedicated multiple posts to shaming women who wear heels and suggesting that heel wearers should be drummed out of the movement because they are clearly capitulating to the patriarchy and their footwear is antifeminist.
I want to live in a world where little girls are not pinkified, but where little girls who like pink are not punished for it, either. We can certainly talk about the social pressures surrounding gender roles, and the concerns that people have when they see girls and young women who appear to be forced into performances of femininity by the society around them, but let’s stop acting like they have no agency and free will. Let’s stop acting like women who choose to be feminine are somehow colluders, betraying the movement, bamboozled into thinking that they want to be feminine. Let’s stop denying women their own autonomy by telling them that their expressions of femininity are bad and wrong.
Antifemininity is misogynist. What you are saying when you engage in this type of rhetoric is that you think things traditionally associated with women are wrong. Which is misogynist. By telling feminine women that they don’t belong in the feminist movement, you are reinforcing the idea that to be feminine and a woman is wrong, that women who want to be taken seriously need to be more masculine, because most people view gender presentation in binary ways. This rewards the ‘one of the boys’ type rhetoric I encounter all over the place from self-avowed feminists who seem to think that bashing on women is a good way to prove how serious they are when it comes to caring about women and bringing men into the feminist movement.
People talk about slutshaming and how it does not belong in feminism. They talk about victim blaming and how it does not belong in feminism. And then they turn around and penalise feminine women. When they happen to be people with high profiles who are respected and viewed as valuable sources of information, people take away the message that antifemininity is a feminist act, that telling women how to dress and behave is a good, appropriate, even revolutionary thing to do.
And that tells people with a femme orientation that they do not belong, and it contributes significantly to gender dysphoria for a lot of trans people who want to be part of the movement. Some trans women are femme, and experience conflicting pressures between being told by ‘feminists’ on the one hand that they can’t be feminine, and being informed by society that they must femme up in order to ‘pass,’ in addition to navigating their own relationship with their gender. Nonbinary people like me who are femme-leaning are constantly reminded that we can’t be femme if we want to be taken seriously, that we are fakers if our bodies don’t look sufficiently ‘neutral,’ by which people mean ‘masculine,’ enough.
People, I spent years convinced that I could not be genderqueer because I liked to wear skirts. And the antifemininity in feminism is directly responsible for that. Antifemininity has no place in this movement, and I’m tired of seeing people engaging in it and acting like they are doing something revolutionary when all they are doing is enforcing the status quo.