High femme is not a synonym for high maintenance.

To clarify:

Performing femininity can be effortless, or it can be an ambitious creative undertaking, a project to which a person chooses to devote thought, energy, analysis, and emotion. The body, like it or not, becomes a billboard for social and societal messages the instant we set foot (or stilettoed heel) outside our homes. For me, part of the joy and the challenge of being high femme is to play with public perceptions through how I adorn my body and how I behave — and, more to the point, the interplay between the two.

I’ve frequently seen the phrase high maintenance used to dismiss or demean the physical and psychical work that goes into crafting some of the visual aspects of femininity. In writing this post, I initially felt tempted to provide actual figures on the amount of time I spend applying makeup, selecting an outfit, et cetera. But I’m afraid that anything I could say would play into existing judgments. Would you take me more seriously if I said I spend 15 minutes getting ready in the morning as opposed to two hours?

Well, I think that’s fucked up.

If I were an artist making murals to draw attention to gender inequities and social wrongs, would you slam me for spending too much time on a given project? More or less high-maintenance-womens-tshirt-pinktime — it shouldn’t matter. What matters is who I am and what I want to say. My femininity is art I create, wear, and perform daily, and I’d rather be critiqued on how successfully that art challenges gender expectations than how long it takes me to pose the challenge.

There is, of course, such a thing as vanity, but we should be careful to distinguish it from the considered and inventive work that people do to display and play with femininity. Vanity is excessive pride in one’s attractiveness or achievements, and it is focused on the idolization of the self. As a queer high femme, my gender work is focused on creating more accurate, flexible, and nuanced social understandings of femininity, both for my personal comfort in the world as well as for the good of other women and feminine-performing people.

It’s closer to advocacy than to vanity.

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One Response to “High femme is not a synonym for high maintenance.”

  1. undercoverpunk Says:

    High maintenance is always an insult.

    Nevertheless, I RECLAIM it. Not because of my love for femininity, but because I *AM* emotionally high-maintenance. Yeah, I got high expectations and I’m not embarrassed about it! My partner isn’t particularly masculine, but I wear the skirts, you know? And she takes waaay longer on her hair and shit than I do. My sister was living with 3 lesbians and the “butch”-est one had the MOST products of self-creation! She was totally taking over the bathroom. That always amused me.

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