Okay, here we go!
I’m not even sure how to start with this one. This is me, folks, not talking about sex and still unsure how to begin. Scary!
A while back, while DK was studying gender and femme and butch and all that for her degree, she sent me this study. IT WAS AWESOME. As awesome as my chocolate graham goldfish, which are pretty damn awesome. It’s 15 pages, and I’m not going to post it because someone worked really hard and that seems rude. But if you give me your email address, I’ll send it. (Shuddup, there’s totally a difference.)
I think what I’ll do is just start reading, and tell you all my reactions. ;-D It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten most of it, to be honest… Except, well, it was just like me.
It is “The Misunderstood Gender: A Model of Modern Femme Identity” by Heidi M. Levitt, Elisabeth A. Gerrish, and Katherine R. Hiestand.
Here’s a snip of the abstract (what it’s about):
Femme identity remains a highly controversial topic. It has been maligned in both heterosexual and queer contexts, and is rarely represented in empirical literature. In this study we examined how femme women experience their own gender identity. Interviews were conducted with femme-identiﬁed lesbians. [...] The core category in this model “Maintaining integrity: Upholding beliefs about sexual desire and gender representation” reﬂects the need [for femmes] to uphold their sense of integrity across a variety of contexts by confronting stereotypes about both women and lesbians.
I found that last bit interesting to start with — the idea that upholding the sense of femme identity is done, in part, by confronting stereotypes. Hmm.
It starts out with a brief history of butch-femme, where it came from (within the US), what it meant, why it took those forms. One of the near things in the study is that it gives femmes power even from the start: it acknowledges that butch women changed what it meant to be a woman and publicised lesbianism, but that femme women did the same. That by being hyper-feminine they were just as much to credit for stretching the roles of ‘women’ in culture at that time. Hee!
By orienting their sexuality toward a butch woman
instead of a man, the femme women made lesbian
desire public and challenged notions of female
I love seeing credit for my femme ancestors.
Some intersting history tidbits that I hadn’t heard, but make sense, say that the reason the femme-butch dynamic was so more equal right off the bat (than the hetrosexual relationships they were supposedly emulating, according to the outside world) is because femme women were seen as brave and courageous, putting themselves in view with butch partners, being caught in bar raids and all the rest. In addition, femme women often ended up supporting their butch partners financially, because butch women had a harder time getting or keeping work. This put them on a far more equal footing than if they’d been in relationships with men.
It’s really the courageous thing that I latch onto, though. Today, I often feel like I’m seen as the less impressive because the whole world can’t see my sexuality. I’m not obvious; I can hide. It really grates. So to hear that at some point, femme women were seen as courageous for sexualizing femininity and standing with their partners, makes me happy.
The central focus of sexual relations was the femme partner’s pleasure, as often a butch partner would not expect nor wish reciprocity and would receive satisfaction from the act of pleasuring.
Actually, I find this is still the case. It’s pretty wild, having come from hetro relationships. I’m still not quite used to it, I have to admit, but I do find myself strutting a lot more. *laughs* (I should note that everything to this point has been referring to the 40′s and 50′s.)
There’s also this repetitive use of the word ‘rebellious.’ Femme women were rebellious. Hee hee hee.
In the 80′s, butch-femme came back after their near-abolishment during the feminist movement, and for the first time became something people claimed not because they had to be one or the other like was in the case in the 40′s and 50′s, but because it was an identity.
There’s a bit on femme literature, and basically the lack thereof. It’s kind of painful to read, including bits about the fight to have femme seen as equal to any other gender presentation, and it makes me wince more when I know that at the same time, butch was getting attention in gender studies and becoming more and more an ‘acceptable’ gender. I can tell things are changing now, but I definitely still feel this leaning. (Not you guys. You guys are awesome. ;-D)
But! Interesting and good things: femme women realized their sexual orientation at a much later date than butch women (22 to the butch 15), and most lesbians now say that femme and butch are good for lesbian culture as a whole. Woot! Less discrimination. And it’s SO NICE to see that I’m normal, at least for a femme, not having figured out my own sexual orientation until later! I realized I was bi around 20, and the jury’s still out on whether I’m bi or lesbian. (It will probably forever be out, because I do think I’m mostly lesbian with a bi leaning. ;-D)
Next was a bunch of technical stuff about how they did the study. To sum: Yup, looks official. Yup, looks good.
Um. And now I’m tuckered out. I’ll have to pick this up another day, again.
But it’s so nice to see, even in the beginning, that there are other people like me! And I know they get into defining femmes (by interviewing TONS of them and pulling out the similarities), and I remember being wowed at how continuously I fit the gender — down to realizing my sexual orientation later.
Ohhh, it makes me happy.