I learned the art of femme from my mother's mother.
Though she was not one to make a fuss about it, she started each day by doing her hair and her make up and getting dressed. Even after she retired, on those days when she had no plans requiring venturing out of the house, she started each day the same way. Never far from her red lipstick or something to blot her face during our withering Sacramento summers. Always a friendly word and never a raised voice (so I maybe missed a lesson, sue me).
My family was never one to push those things so often labelled as pandering to the dominant patriarchy. I wasn't pushed to wear make up, remove "unwanted" hair, wear skirts or particularly girlie shoes. There was never a time I remember when something was pushed on me with the sole rationale of being female (excepting, of course, those two years in parochial school and the physical requirements of being female).
I come from a long line of powerful women, women who defined themselves as separate from and equal to men. My grandmother's mother worked for a living long before it was common for married women to work. She worked as an operator at the state capitol (yes, our family has been civil servants for, quite literally, generations). When she retired, the guest book left out at her retirement party read like a who's-who of California politics. The governor, legislators, anyone who was anyone attended that party.
My grandmother also worked for the state, and worked for many years as the manager of her unit before retiring in 1986. While I don't have any kind of statistics, I imagine that, even in civil service, female managers were probably fairly rare during her tenure. She was a fierce letter writer and had no problems expressing her opinion to whomever she felt was most in a position to affect change. I can't imagine that there wasn't a senator or two who didn't phone their mothers and apologize after reading one of her letters. She just had this way of writing them.
Whenever I feel like I need some help getting through the day, like I need to pack with me a little extra badassery to remind me to stand up, to speak out, to make myself heard, it's her that I channel. I mimic her makeup, her style of dress, and I put my shoulders back and my chin up and look my challenges in the eye, with one eyebrow cocked.
It is in femme that I am strong. Femme is (among so many other things) my touchstone to the strong, intelligent, capable, beautiful women that make up my history and my heritage. Women who wrapped that perfect shade of lipstick around the voices they would not quiet, around the opinions they would not silence.
Femme, in our queer community, has been welcomed and ostracised in turns. Often seen as pandering to the dominant paradigm (particularly when coupled with butch) or as trying to pass for straight or just plain being straight. Femme is overlooked, undervalued and misunderstood.
Femme is, all too often, invisibility. "Passing" in our heteronormative society, we are just as likely to be unseen within our queer society.
Femme Invisibility - an oft-lamented condition of this particular branch of queer culture.
Enter Visible: A Femmethology - A two volume anthology dedicated to the fine art of femme - in all its varied forms.
It was amazing reading so many personal journeys into, away from, through femme. The ways in which we fight it, embrace it, find ourselves ashamed of it, and learn to grow into and with it. Even among femmes, that there is so much misunderstanding and misinterpretation of what femme is, what it represents, of why anyone would choose to embody stereotypical representations of femininity.
It is an amazing and powerful thing to read so many stories that look so much like your own, and to read stories that are nothing like your own.
Femmethology's importance is not just in its validation of femme, it's in opening conversations about femme, facilitating understanding of femme, and, hopefully, a wider acceptance and visibility for femme in culture.
I cannot thank Jennifer Clarke Burke, Maria See, and Homofactus Press enough for helping bring this to us.
This post has been brought to you by the Femmethology Virtual Book Tour. I had the distinct misfortune of following this excellent post. Dawn's such a jerk. If you haven't been following the tour, please take some time and read through some of the other posts. If you have been following the tour, you know there are only three more days left! What the heck are we all going to blog about in May?