Nice (Girl) Clothes

13 04 2010

First, some points of clarification: I identify as a cis woman who usually presents low femme. By “low femme,” I mean that, while I do not typically take any steps to make myself appear more feminine, others usually read me as “female.” Every so often, I will indeed femme it up- skirts, heels, makeup, jewelry, etc. This is, strangely enough, usually on special occasions.

Aside: I’m going to try and focus on my own experience and behavior and how society affects that. As always, YMMV.

I presented high femme at prom, homecoming, and graduation (well, underneath the ugly white gown), formal dinners, weddings, funerals, important presentations, etc. Why? I’m sure there are formal clothes for low-femme presentation actually, I know there are. I have a lovely black pantsuit of which I am very fond. Why, whenever a formal occasion comes around, do I feel the need to ratchet up my femininity? Especially since I usually hate presenting high femme. It’s time-consuming, boring, and really, really hard to get right. So why?

First, femme can function as a bonding experience for women. My friends and I had pre-dance parties where we did our hair and makeup together. At prom time, I bonded over dress and shoe shopping with girls I hardly knew. Before my cousin’s wedding, all the women involved convened in one hotel room to prepare. Once, my friends even did my makeup before we went out. And you know what? It felt good. Not wearing the makeup or those godawfully painful heels, not the can’t-reach-the-zipper shimmy I did to fit into my dress, but the feeling of an exclusively female space where we weren’t accountable to anyone else. It’s just a damn shame that that experience had to happen while we were grooming ourselves for patriarchical acceptance.

Secondly- this is not completely clear in my mind, so I apologize if it comes out garbled or if I need to go back to 101- I think society frowns upon low femme as acceptable formal wear because it is a threat to the patriarchy. Stay with me here. What are formal occasions? They’re first and foremost times when we will be seen publically. (God damn, how did I get to this point? This was supposed to be about why I hate skirts. Never mind. Forward!) Society reserves the right to judge us when we appear publically. The patriarchal structure is offended by public women, but even more so by public women who do not display the coding and behavior of “good” women and instead usurp the coding and behavior of “good” men. Hence: pantsuits are more threatening than a skirt and blazer, which is more threatening than a sundress. It’s a method of enforcing gender norms and the binary: either high femme or high butch, nothing in-between. Low femme is someone the patriarchy reads as “woman” without much of the outward coding of “woman,” which transgresses the idea(l) of “woman.” Worse, when it’s done with a high visibility (i.e., in a formal situation), it is a public threat to the patriarchy. And that kind of thing cannot be encouraged, lest it expose the system as a lie.

None of this is condemning high femme or those who choose to present that way- if it’s more in line with your expression of your gender/sexuality, more power to you. But I wonder how many people would change from high to low femme or butch if all those choices were equal.




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