Sometimes, thoughts get under my skin like a splinter and I have to pull them out before they get infected. This is one of those times. I listen to different podcasts every day on my commute to work and it significantly lowers my urge to slip into spiraling hatred for the entire world around me as I am shoved into a subway. Today I listened to a back episode of Paul Gilmartin’s “Mental Illness Happy Hour” podcast featuring Cameron Esposito, a stand up comedian who happens to identify as a lesbian. Guests on the show discuss their personal mental health issues and it makes for pretty interesting stories. Towards the end of this particular episode Esposito was expressing how the male attention she receives differs in her current relationship where both she and her girlfriend are both more androgynous or masculine presenting versus her past relationship where she and her girlfriend appeared more feminine. Here’s what she said:
I mean guys were just being, yeah, flirty, weird, inappropriate. The thing is, I actually really love men as friends but I never want to sleep with any of my friends. I never ever have that moment of like ‘maybe…’ So if that’s happening for that guy it just makes the relationship a little bit tough, like there’s something going on that we can’t meet in the middle on. I have found that since I have been—not that I’m butch but I cut off half my hair and I wear clothes that make me feel comfortable, like T-shirts and jean jackets and things like that, and then I’m next to a woman who like I said is very —maybe more androgynous than masculine, but with a pompadour and a leather jacket on and guys actually think that we’re cool, like they don’t want to sleep with us, they want to talk to us. Which is really a relief, it feels awesome, I’m really excited about it actually. It’s been really interesting moving here and making a whole new circle of friends and having those people only ever see me with a woman that looks like that, as opposed to having seen me with different types of women, because yeah, everybody is like ‘Oh, we’re all just boys, we’re all just brothers, we’re all just hanging out. Who wants to come over and watch action movies?’ I’m like, ‘I do, I absolutely do! Thank you for finally knowing. – See more at: http://mentalpod.com/Cameron-Esposito-podcast#sthash.8nBc53zP.dpuf
I haven’t watched any of Esposito’s stand up performances so I can only speak to what she revealed in this interview, but that whole statement really stuck in my craw. The experience she describes is so common among queer women, it almost seems like a rite of passage. But when I really examine it and peel back the layers all I see is a creamy filling called misogyny.
In no way do I believe that feeling more comfortable dressing androgynous is a bad thing at all for queer women or anyone else for that matter. Gender expression, sexual expression, artistic expression and just plain old expression of personal style can be very empowering especially for marginalized people. But when a woman says that when she cut her hair and started wearing blazers she suddenly welcomed “bro time” with the same men that used to cat call her on the street I am a bit troubled by that.
Why is it so hard even for self-identified queer women to accept and embrace femininity as much as they embrace androgyny or masculinity? Why in the era of third wave feminism are queer women still under the impression that a bow tie and jeans mean self-respect while lipstick and high heels mean you are oppressing yourself and you should accept the fact that as long as you continue to dress in a feminine way, you will never have the respect of a man or any platonic male relationships?
Many queer women are obsessed with Beyoncé and her brazen sexuality and style. But take those same women and ask them what they think of industries like fashion and beauty and they will scoff and point out body shaming and consumerism and all that is wrong with Cosmopolitan magazine. It’s sad that even highly skilled fashion designers, stylists, makeup artists and all others that help create the femme aesthetic are dismissed when Beyoncé and other feminine feminists like her are trying so hard to reclaim and legitimize these forms of expression. I’m not sure what else feminine presenting people (men are definitely part of this since feminine men are very much attacked) are supposed to do to convey to others that not all of us dress this way or cross our legs or speak a little more softly because we are uneducated or because we have some deep-seated oppression or desire to cater to the dreaded male gaze.
Masculine presenting or androgynous women should know that when they enter male spaces under guise that, like Esposito said, “they don’t want to sleep with us, they want to talk to us” that is not the case. They most certainly do want to sleep with you if they are the same type of men that wanted to sleep with you when you wore dresses. It just might take them longer to figure out when you’re wearing men’s clothing that you have a vagina and therefore exist for their enjoyment and have nothing of value to contribute other than said vagina. Your swagger and crew cut do not make you immune to being looked down on by men that embrace these patriarchal rules.
I feel like I have an advantage as a feminine presenting person when it comes to making friends with masculine presenting men because I can immediately sense if they are spineless misogynistic dickbags or genuinely nice human beings. If you are a man who thinks he can talk over me because I am not particularly loud, dismiss my “stereotypically female” interests and profession, or assume my outfit equals an invitation for sexual comments I am done. Spineless misogynistic dickbags tend to reveal themselves pretty quickly to people in dresses and heels.
Femininity is not the enemy. When queer women are eager to join in with “the guys” only to gain power over feminine presenting people they are destroying our power from the inside out without even knowing it. Discovering one’s own identity is no easy task and most people have to wear a few different hats before they find the right fit, but it’s important to try and recognize that if your personal style gets you certain privileges that you are still respectful of those who choose to appear differently and do not enjoy the same privileges. There is nothing wrong with the way anyone dresses but there is definitely something wrong with the way people are judged by the way they dress. I’ll end with some words from a feminine style icon in his own right, Iggy Pop. Now go grab your Dior bag and let’s fight the patriarchy.