Posts Tagged ‘high femme’

Uncoupling consumerism and high femme.

December 14, 2008

Being an avid flea-market-treasure hunter and coupon-wielder myself, it’s taken me a while to realize that frugality alone doesn’t do much to combat consumerism. All those newly minted recessionistas are still spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need.

Nope, sorry: just because you don’t spend as much money on material goods doesn’t mean you’ve escaped the cycle of obsession and possession.

There’s a disturbing tendency in our culture to equate happiness and self worth with purchasing power. And while everyone is in danger of identifying too closely with the objects that allow them to feel comfort, confidence, and contentment, women have been the targets of particularly damaging and divisive marketing campaigns.

Magazines, billboards, and commercials conspire to make us believe we aren’t lovable or desirable without certain beauty products, clothing, accessories, and other items – and, as if that weren’t harmful enough, many ads propagate the myth that women must compete against one another to prove our value in the world. One of my dearest hopes is that women, and femmes, can work together to challenge and dismantle these frameworks over time.

High femme is not a synonym for high maintenance.

December 8, 2008

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.

Start at the beginning.

December 5, 2008

I was born bald, and I stayed that way for the first year of my life. After six months of strangers cooing, “What an adorable little boy!”, my parents pierced my ears. I imagine that cool needle gun cuddling up to my soft skull was my first direct encounter with the cultural constellation of behaviors, attitudes, and feelings commonly referred to as femininity.

After such a painful and confusing start (Ouch, mom! Why do you hate me?), you’d think I would have been turned off to the whole venture. Yet a review of the photographic evidence reveals that toddler me had quite a penchant for mixing my big brother’s hand-me-down striped tees with strands of pearls; tree climbing in various improvisations of princess garb; and, rather alarmingly, blowing out birthday candles while wearing a lace veiled ’40s hat (Thanks, mom: guess you don’t hate me, after all! Or do you…).

I spent all my free time ages 2.5 to 12 drawing, and the majority of my subjects were women — imaginary and real, tall and petite, thin and voluptuous — but always elaborately adorned. Ladies in saucy strapless dresses and earrings that dangled down past their shoulders. Girls with elbow gloves and prim purses wearing evening gowns with slits up the thigh. High heels. Red lips. And every shade of eye shadow imaginable.

My life since then has been a slow process of applying that same artistic instinct to my own clothes, face, and body — and daily presenting my work to the world. I dare you to assume I can’t change a tire, talk theory, or stoke the fires of the revolution just because I’m wearing jeweled fake eyelashes. Go ahead: try me. The fact that my fascination with and deep investment in femininity is misunderstood and maligned in mainstream culture and queer culture alike is beside the point. No, I take that back. I don’t want other people’s views to be a part of my feelings about femininity, but they are.

You can’t take the audience out of the performance, can you?

I use femininity to challenge assumptions and defy stereotypes. I perform femininity with an ear to farce. I narrate femininity in the first person, but experience it within the context of history, culture, and community. I stick with femininity because it is what holds my attention, keeps me guessing, keeps me real. It’s my hobby and my home.