Femme hate. It’s a thing. If you think it isn’t, look at the world around you, where femme hate manifests in a variety of ways. There’s the pop culture depiction of femme women as airheads with no ability to do anything other than buff their nails, shop, and giggle. There are the sneers from allegedly progressive communities about women who are ‘obsessed with their appearance’ and ‘cave to the patriarchy’ by wearing heels and lipstick. Femmes, including not just women but those of other genders, are buffeted from all sides by people who inform them that they’re worthless and failing the movement.
I don’t just have a problem with femme hate because I lean in a femmely direction, but because I dislike on face value the devaluation of an entire group of people based on their gender presentation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being femme, any more than there’s anything wrong with being butch, androgynous, or any number of other things. Femmes are awesome. I love femmes. (And you know what? When you have a hangnail at the feminist convention, the person most likely to have a set of clippers you can borrow? That femme you totally just slagged. And she’ll totally loan it to you with a polite smile and a proffer of a nail file when you’re done.)
One thing I see a lot in manifestation of femme hate is that femmes are ‘useless’ and can’t do anything, that things associated with a feminine gender presentation like skirts, ‘impractical shoes,’ and makeup render femmes incapable of doing anything other than sitting around looking pretty for the patriarchy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it’s time people learned that: femmes can be warriors, femmes can be activists, femmes can be powerful and amazing in addition to femmey, and you know what? Being femmey is pretty amazing all of itself: femmes don’t need to perform for you to justify their existence.
Femmes farm. Yes, you can wear a dress on a farm! You can care about your hair on a farm! Your nails might get a little trashed some of the time, but you’d be surprised by how much you can protect your nails if you want to. (And it’s totally worth it, because if you take care of your nails, you’ll have fewer problems with dry, cracked, painful skin on your hands and fingers as well as torn, ragged nails.)
Femmes fight. Yes, you can fight in skirts and dresses! Femmes practice martial arts, fencing, and a wide variety of other fighting sports, in a wide variety of gear. While you might think of a Bond girl with her skirt slit up her thigh and some sort of performance for the patriarchy, femmes fight because they love fighting, and they can be powerful women warriors. Both male and female Scots warriors fought in kilts and were greatly feared, which suggests that skirt-wearing doesn’t spell the end of your fighting career.
Femmes are involved in activism. Yes, you can march, speak, and organise in heels! Femmes participate in labour actions, rallies, and a wide variety of other activist events. Being a femme doesn’t mean you don’t care about the world around you, nor does it render you incapable of doing something about social issues. Femmes absolutely contribute to activist communities—even when they’re being told by those very communities that they need to shut up and go sit in the corner because they’re not presenting their gender satisfactorily.
Femmes contribute to the arts. Femmes are dancers, painters, musicians. Femmes are everywhere in the arts; one might even say that art and femmeness go together like peas in a pod (but not, of course, that you need to be femme in order to do art). Femme wheelchair dancers wear amazing shoes on opening night, while femme painters use their eye for colour, style, and composition to create amazing work. The presentation-focused aspect of femme identity makes femmes a natural fit with the arts and personal expression, and their art isn’t all fluffy bunnies and candied unicorns, either.
Femme-hate revolves specifically around femme presentation, ignoring the fact that for a lot of femmes, their identity goes much deeper than that. Yes, gender presentation is part of it, but it’s only a small part, and to be told that they can’t be warriors, activists, role models, leaders, is just plain offensive; it reduces them to little more than their appearance, which is supposedly what we are fighting against. If we truly believe that all women, and all people, have equal potential, then why are we shaming those who choose a femme presentation, and who may use it to explore gender and push it well beyond its normal limits?
Why are we convinced that trashing femmes is going to accomplish anything? Sure, it alienates femmes, but that’s about it. As I’ve said before, I want no part of any movement that excludes femmes, and no part of any social group that thinks it’s acceptable or even necessary to treat people like garbage because of their gender expression.
There’s a lot of room for discussion about femme identities, how femmes are treated in society at large (for example, a woman with a femme gender presentation is often more likely to successfully land a job after an in-person interview than a butch woman), and how to approach the social positioning of femmes. But these discussions can’t start with a unilateral declaration that femmes are bad people, and traitors to their movements and genders (as well as non-genders). To do is to attack someone’s personal identity, and to reduce someone to appearance alone with nary a thought to the complexity of that person’s gender, identity, and personal expression.