I really wish we could stop using gender labels to describe interests, traits, and behaviors. It’s essentialist bullshit, and it denies the gender identity of people who don’t have certain specific traits/behaviors assigned to their gender, or who have them, but have a gender identity that’s different from the label.
I especially hate these terms being used in discussions of sexism and gender justice. If you’re defending wearing makeup or enjoying raising children, then say that in so many words. Don’t say that you’re defending “femininity.” When you use that word, you’re implying that a woman who doesn’t wear makeup or want to be a parent is somehow less of a woman than those who do. You’re also implying that a man who enjoys makeup or parenting is less of a man.
The gender labels on these things are entirely arbitrary, and in many cases exist as a way of propping up a sexist status quo. It shouldn’t be surprising that many consider economic self-sufficiency a “masculine” thing, for instance. It’s easier to keep women dependent on men if you imply that it’s unfeminine for them to earn their own way. Likewise, framing parenting as inherently feminine is a good way to keep men working long hours to line someone else’s pockets instead of developing relationships with their kids.
Everyone’s gender identity is a personal thing, and it shouldn’t be subject to bean-counting tallies of exactly how many boxes they check off in column M or column F, because those columns are bullshit to begin with. If a woman’s traits, behaviors, and interests fall almost entirely in column M, but she still identifies as a woman, then she’s a woman, and no less of one than someone with a lot of Fs.
When you think about it …
… it’s kind of horrible that a woman in her default, unadorned state—no makeup or jewelry, unshaven, in comfortable clothes and with a simple hairstyle—is often considered to be something other than a woman. We give her different names—butch or tomboy—or suggest that she might actually be a transman. We have so essentialized these artificial things as “feminine” that women who are disinterested in them or question their prescriptive nature—or worse, actively reject and challenge them—are actually called misogynist.
Personally, I identify as genderqueer because my sense of who I am treads further into the things my culture arbitrarily labels “masculne” than mere disinterest in being decorative as defined by the cosmetics and fashion industries. But women who identify as women shouldn’t be pressured into identifying otherwise—much less accused of being sexist!—just because they don’t groom and adorn themselves in artificial, commodified ways.
A woman who doesn’t want to play dress up has not ceased being a woman. And a man who does has not ceased being a man. Just as the presence or absence of a penis does not define gender identity, neither does the presence or absence of makeup or shaved legs.
Positing an OT3 as a healthier alternative to a love triangle? Aw, fandom’s already light-years ahead of you, OP.
(I will say, I’m seriously side-eyeing the whole ‘gender is solely performative’ bent of this article, but since I am not an Expert On Gender I’m’a let smarter folks handle that in any reblogging they might want to do.)
No time to go into this in depth, but:
1. Compulsory monogamy sucks, but not because polyamory is the only relationship structure that can allow for multiple expressions of performative gender.
First, it’s entirely possible to have a full range of gender expression and gendered relationship dynamics within a dyad (my marriage; let me show you it.) Second, it’s not necessary to have a romantic relationship to express sides of oneself—gender included—that one can’t do with a single romantic partner. No one person can be everything to anyone, no matter how well-matched a dyad (and if you expect this, expect to have a very unhappy love life.) Most people fill these gaps with friends and other family—say, a BFF who loves discussing old movies, when one’s partner is oblivious to that—but yes, they can be filled with other romantic partners, too, should that be desirable for all involved. When I’m writing my OT3s, there are different dynamics for each of the three dyad pairs involved, and each is crucial to the happiness of the people in them. This isn’t any different from close friendships, with the exception that sexual and other romantic-relationship aspects are involved.
Now, of course there are aspects of self expression (including gender) that can only happen within a sexual and/or romantic relationship, and if you’re not getting all of those from a dyad, and don’t expect to find one person who can do that for you, then yes, I can see how one might think multiple partners are the only solution for this. But that’s certainly not a given, and since polyamory can be daunting even in the best of circumstances, it’s not something that should be chosen just for that reason.
2. Not to go all Judith Butler here, but: all gender is performative. Gender is a social construct: we slap M or F labels on traits and behavior that don’t actually come with those labels pre-installed, and when one has a preponderance of traits with one label or the other, that’s generally how that person identifies. Most cultures make life a giant pain in the ass unless you pick one of those boxes, so most people do so. This doesn’t mean that gender is not authentic or a deeply ingrained part of who a person is, and it most definitely does not mean that trans* folks are just playacting. Gender is culture, and though cultures are constructs, they’re still real. Just because humans make a building, instead of it growing on the spot like a tree, doesn’t mean it’s not a real thing.
Yes, but …
That thing going around about women’s greatest fear with men being violence is great, and I agree with all of it.
My only problem with this, and with many other anti-violence campaigns, is that they imply something very untrue: that because the greatest threat to women is men, that women are somehow safe when they are with each other.
And that is most definitely not true at all.
While men, of course, are socialized to see overt physical violence as an appropriate response to conflict, stress or just because they feel like it, women aren’t necessarily socialized differently. They are, generally, socialized not to abuse men (though female-on-male aggression does happen) but they are most definitely socialized to abuse other women and children. And they are socialized to do this abuse for the same reason: maintaining status quo power structures. Yes, many of the women who act out this way do so in reaction to abuse they themselves experience, but that doesn’t excuse the acts any more than racism or classism excuses acts of violence by men of color or working-class men.
It’s a dangerous myth that women are somehow inherently peaceable creatures. They are not. They are simply less powerful than men (in general) and thus, when they act abusively, it’s toward people they already feel they have power over. Additionally, the specific types of violence women do are rather different than the direct violence men tend toward. As the trope goes, poison is a woman’s weapon. But it still kills all the same.
Just because the abuse that women perpetuate looks different and has slightly different targets than the abuse perpetuated by men doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, nor that it doesn’t deserve serious attention. Millions of women commit horrible acts of abuse every day, and it’s almost never addressed because of the myth that women are non-violent. Speaking as someone who has been a victim of violence perpetuated by women, I’d really like that myth to go away.
It’s Coming Out Day, so …
For the 1.4 of you who didn’t already know: Hi! I’m queer and genderqueer/two-spirit.
For shorthand, practical purposes, when I can’t get into details, I’ll identify as bi/tomboy, but I do prefer the above concepts. A friend once called me “gendermeh,” which I think is very apt.
Gender-wise, I have female bits, but I’m slightly male-identified (to use my culture’s utterly arbitrary labeling.) If I had to pick a succinct gender identity, it’d be Alan Cumming. If I could turn into him overnight, I’d be utterly delighted, and would dress like an Edwardian dandy every day. Alas, not possible, and I don’t feel compelled to change my body or legal gender identity anyway. Mostly: I have boobs, but I generally dress and act like a 13-year-old gamer kid, and generally don’t identify with most other women in my culture. People expecting to relate to me as they would to other women are usually disappointed.
Orientation-wise, I’m not fussed about how someone’s body is configured, but I’m vaguely homosexual, in a strict sense of that word: I tend to be most attracted to people whose gender identity/presentation is somewhere in the same ballpark as mine: queer or otherwise non-masculine guys, tomboys, etc. Gentle men and strong women. There are a couple of varieties of femme I’m somewhat attracted to, and a rare few more-macho guys will turn my head, but generally, I find my culture’s butch/femme caricatures a big turnoff (not least because they’re tools of maintaining gender-divided power imbalance: one side encouraged to violent dominance, the other to dependent submission. Gross.)
Truly, I think my culture’s gender and sex labels are ridiculous. They don’t fit me, and they don’t fit how I conduct my social life. Hell, I’m not sure they really fit anyone. But we’re fearful little primates who desperately need to label people friend/foe/mate, so we stuff ourselves and everyone else into tidy little boxes for the sake of sorting our alliances. Politically and culturally speaking, since we live in a world in which people are abused for carrying certain traits or behaving in certain ways, it makes sense for the abuse-ees to form communities and alliances based on those things so we can have strength in numbers. Hence, things like feminist activism and Coming Out Day are relevant and important. But on a smaller scale, the alphabet-soup thing really is very limited, and I hope I live to see the day when we don’t need it anymore. I’d love it if we could see people as individuals made up of hundreds of different, unique things, and not just some sort of biological Ikea unit made up of prefab, pre-labeled parts.
As folks who’ve been around me for more than five minutes know, I’m really not inclined toward femme. I’m tomboy bordering on genderqueer myself, and most of the women I’m attracted to are at least a little tomboyish, too. Really, the only flavors of femme I can stomach are the costumey sorts—punk, goth, period costume, general goddess-femme, etc. If it’s being play-acted, and not taken seriously, it’s just dress-up, and therefore fun. The serious stuff? Not so much. Most of the “normal” expressions of femme in the modern, Western world leave me cold, not just for what they represent in terms of sexism, but because they’re so screwy in and of themselves. I almost never find myself going weak-kneed over modern-femme women … with a few very, very rare exceptions, such the lovely creature pictured above (Primeval’s Lucy Brown, for those unfamiliar.)
I really don’t know what it is about Lucy’s femininity that works for me, but oh, it so does. She’s not just classically beautiful in an effortless way—though she is definitely that. She’s one of those rare women for whom femme fashion seems to have been made. She looks amazing in lush, pretty fabrics and jewelry. She can go classy or casual with equal ease. And—most importantly—it all seems completely natural for her.
I think the problem I have with so much of modern femme is that the women wearing it are clearly uncomfortable with it in some way. They’re trying too hard, or doing a flavor of it that just isn’t right for them. They do it because they have to, because their culture has taught them that they are useless and unlovable if they don’t buy into the ideals of their gender. They’re stuffing themselves into too-tight clothes, teetering on too-tall heels, wearing garish makeup or flashy bling. They’re plucked and waxed and fluffed and peeled and Botoxed and starved until they look like plastic dolls. Whether power suits or dainty dresses or haute couture or club wear, most of what passes for femme costuming is downright cartoonish, and the people wearing it therefore look like clowns to me—and uncomfortable ones, at that.
Lucy has none of those pitfalls. I’m sure she’s thoughtful about how she dresses and presents herself, but it doesn’t look like she’s trying, and that’s what makes it work. She knows what suits her and what she likes, and goes with it. She is confident in her own beauty, and in her own strength as a person, and therefore doesn’t have to prove anything with how she presents her gender.
I wish more women who are inclined toward femininity could take a few tips from her. Not in aping her style, but in finding a style that actually reflects who they are, rather than what they think their culture expects of them. I’m really quite tired of seeing femme women hurting themselves trying to look like someone they aren’t, when really, most of them would be so beautiful if only they let their real selves out to play.
One size—and one flavor of gender—has never fit all. Be who you are, not what a magazine or designer or even your friends say you should be. If you choose a gender presentation based on hating what you already are, you’re doing it wrong.
Singer of classical stuffs.
Shameless fanthing.Queer/Genderqueer. Feminist. Progressive. Gen X. Northwest snob. Journalist and media-deconstruction nerd. Happily married and an adoptive parent of a most excellent little boy. Endless pontificator on topics both sublime and ridiculous. Expect both breathless pop-culture squee and wordy rageflails about social justice.
My "home" fandom is Primeval, but these days I'm most heavily into Vikings, Game of Thrones and Arrow. Check my fandoms masterlist to see the other stuff I usually post about. If it has a kickass chick, a charming rogue, and/or an adorkable nerd in it, I probably like it.
I'm an incurable OT3 shipper, particularly of the alpha male/beta male/alpha female flavor, but I ship some pairs, too (het, slash and femslash.) See my ship list for details.
I don't have much time to make fanworks these days, but I have a few fics up on AO3 and some vids on YouTube (under Talea100.)
Fun fact: I had crushes on both C-3P0 and Data.