Mina Button's blog

kink and feminism and stuff…formerly known as Absinthe Cocktail.

Femme

Before I moved to New York City, I thought I was into fashion.  I did a lot of costume design in school, which got me interested in fashion history, and I love sewing and making clothes.  I didn’t necessarily make a huge effort to be super dressed up and polished every day, but when I wanted to I figured I could put an outfit together.

Then I moved here, and instantly I felt like every time I left my apartment I was not skinny enough, I was incredibly underdressed, and all my clothes were six months out of style.  It was kind of awful.  And working in retail clothing stores only made it worse, making me feel like every other woman in New York understood some secret code that I had not unlocked.  A secret code that, when unlocked, would magically grant manicured nails, perfect hair, and designer jeans.

I’m still struggling with this all the damn time.  One of the things that bothered me most about the problems Roderick and I had  last October was that the other girl was one of those girls who, in my perception, has the code cracked.  Her hair was always perfectly straight, her clothes were cute and stylish without seeming like she was trying too hard, her makeup was always perfect.  The sort of girl who is always entirely, effortlessly feminine.  And it was thinking this way that had me spend at least a month feeling too repulsive to want to take my clothes off where I could see myself.

But the thing is, it’s not actually effortless for anyone.  No one wakes up every morning with their hair and makeup automatically, perfectly done.  It takes some amount of time and effort and skill, and it shouldn’t actually mean anything about anyone’s worth as a person.  Different people are willing and able to put in different amounts of time and effort to put on this femininity thing, and some people may not put it on at all, or may decide to put on something else instead.  And it took me forever to figure out that there’s actually nothing wrong with doing it differently or not doing it at all.  Like anything else, it should be a choice.

The marvelous thing for me, the magical idea of femme as opposed to feminine, is that the idea of being femme recognizes that this is a conscious choice, not a default.  Not every person who identifies as a woman needs to do any particular thing or look any particular way to do so, and that’s just as valid as anything else.  It can be a way to express yourself or a costume you put on or whatever else you want it to be, but it’s something you get to decide for yourself, not something that should be an assumed default.

I realized, while I was working in a somewhat fashion-oriented retail store, that I hate fashion.  Fashion is all about setting up seemingly arbitrary rules that people (especially women) are supposed to follow, and then shaming anyone who doesn’t follow them.  What I actually love is costuming–consciously choosing to put on something that expresses how I’m feeling on any given day, whether I want to be a pin-up or a goth girl or just lazy.  I feel like acknowledging that my own personal brand of femme is a costume I can put on or not, an active choice that I’m making and not a default, that I’m taking so much pressure off myself.

It’s still kind of a fraught issue, though.  I still feel like I’m playing catch-up a lot of the time with my femme skills, and I’m easily frustrated when I mess up my makeup or chip my nail polish, because it can still feel like a failure.  And I feel like being femme certainly doesn’t help with that whole perceived-heterosexuality thing that I’m often annoyed by, nor does it help the not-queer-enough thing.  And I have all this angst while taking what I feel like is kind of the easy way out, being a cis woman who chooses to be femme–a pretty easy to accept identity.

I kind of wish I could go back in time and articulate all this at the job I used to have where I got formally reprimanded for not wearing lip gloss.  But I also kind of wish I could take two or three more years to really figure this all out, because I feel like I’m really only just starting to unravel the tiniest corner of a really huge thing.

4 Responses to “Femme”

  1.   1.25 girls Says:

    Take the two or three years! I think this is a lifelong thing anyway.Also, I'm a million miles away from being perfect (I like playing the role! but on twitter, you can see the real me). But if you ever have a question for me, ask it! I had to figure everything out by myself, and it was an absolutely stupid duplication of time and effort. Maybe a year ago, I got a copy of Bobbi Brown's On Beauty. I had been hearing about it for a long time, and I was sure it was going to be a big key to that kind of perfection. But as I read through it, I realized that 99% of the book was…conclusions I had already come to on my own. I couldn't believe I had spent so damn much time, money, and effort to reinvent the wheel. If I'd just gotten a copy when I was 14, I would have saved hours and years and hundreds of dollars.I think in a some ways there's a reluctance to ask others what they do — like, if I ask her how she does her hair everyday, does that mean I'm acknowledging my hair is inferior? Does it make me a copycat? and on and on. But forget that — I'm all for sharing knowledge so we can all save time and effort!

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