why we need to examine our lives

August 30, 2007  |  essays

I went back and re-read the article Lina posted, and I’m pleased to say, it didn’t frustrate me nearly as much as it did the first time I read it. I have various responses at the ready and I feel like I could easily defend my position & claim.I would like to go through it and actually write out those responses, actually, but I just don’t have the time this week. Maybe soon.

During this gender discussion we’ve been having, I was reminded of this quote:

Nothing can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.
- Sidney J. Harris

… and I think it is fitting in this situation for various reasons. This argument of “butch/femme as reproductions of the patriarchal compulsory gender roles” et cetera is old, nearly forty years old at least. It strikes me as ignorant and arrogant and young to go around spouting opinions about things which one knows very little. These are old ideas, they are not radical, they are recycled, get your facts straight.On the other hand: there is much value in observation. And there are many, many butches and femmes who – I believe – to fully pass judgement here – are NOT using these identities as subversive tools, but rather ARE reproducing the heteronormative paradigm (gasp! I said it!).

Mostly, I feel like I have no ability or right to draw conclusions about how other people occupy and use their gender. However, occasionally I get the chance to actually converse with someone about it, and I am often shocked at the ignorance and thoughtlessness.

So, here’s what I haven’t said during this gender rant exploration yet:

Sometimes, butch/femme is a reproduction, a mimicry. And honestly, I disapprove of that. I believe that because of the grand amount of gender injustice that happens, because of the prevalence and acceptance of misogyn, because of the objectification and damage done by compulsory gender rules, we must – MUST – do some deep searching and analysis as to how institutionalized oppressive structures function and effect our lives. Especially the big ones: race, class, gender, sexuality. It is life-altering to understand how they work. I honestly think feminism and women studies played a huge role in my dealing with my depression, and the shock of becoming an adult woman in this culture.

But I digress.

This help that gender analysis and theory offers is where feminism comes in. And 1907s US lesbian-feminism – also closely related to what I tend to call “white western feminism,” WWF – was limited in its view at times, dismissing all butch/femme representations as hetero or all hetero sex as rape (coughDworkincough). Obviously there are some issues with these limitations.

BUT!

Though this may be a mainstream understanding of What Feminists Think, it is not the only understandings of sex that feminists hold. And to dismiss feminism as only viewing things this way is also limiting.

So. In summary: sometimes butch/femme is a reproduction of the compulsory misogynistic heteronormative gender roles. This is why we must examine the hierarchical structures in which we operate and make conscious choices about how we participate or resist.

And, not everyone’s participation or resistance looks the same. That’s why I try to talk to people about this stuff. Ask questions, listen, be aware. I feel like that’s all I can do, is attempt to understand the wild and precious ways we all live our lives.

 

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2 Comments


  1. I think this conflict is about personal agency. People attempting to pull pertinent symbolic material into their self-narratives so that they can challenge a lot of the hegemonic symbolic material pushed on them. This is the function of blogs, which are nothing but specialized communities in which to articulate those alternative narratives. Sure, the images are conflicted and often at odds with one another, but opportunities exist for an agency beyond the hetero patriarchal agenda. The conversations are happening! Much like learning the theory once helped you, having these frank discussions may be the impetus needed to push us into the next phase.

  2. Mmm. I have a hard time with parts of this post because, being in a straight relationship, I sometimes forget that we, being my very-non-misogynistic boyfriend and I, are not what constitutes the hetero-normative paradigm to which you are referring. I see nothing wrong, personally, with a butch/femme couple reproducing the hetero pattern in which I live…but that pattern is very much free of the oppression and misogyny that seem to characterize the paradigm you're speaking of. I do not think it's necessary, or that they *should* do it…but I don't see it as wrong. Of course, on second thought, I think my perceptions of what "butch/femme reproducing the heteronormative" looks like are closer dealing with transsexual issues – the butch really genuinely wanting to assume the male *sex*, without the patriarchal attitudes.See Joy ramble.

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