In a world where masculinity is assumed to represent strength and power, those who are butch are able to contemplate their identities within the relative safety of those connotations. In contrast, those of us who are femme are forced to define ourselves on our own terms and develop our own sense of self-worth. It takes guts, determination, and fearlessness for those of us who are femme to lift ourselves up out of the inferior meanings that are constantly being projected onto us. If you require any evidence that femininity can be more fierce and dangerous than masculinity, then all you need to do is simply ask the average man to hold your handbag or a bouquet of flowers for a minute, and watch how far away he holds it from his body. Or tell him you would like to put your lipstick on him and watch how fast he runs off in the other direction. In a world where masculinity is respected and femininity is regularly dismissed, it takes loads of strength and confidence for any person to embrace their femme-self.
Julia Serano, “Skirt Chasers: Why the Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in Skirts and Heels”
Heraclitus responded to Jill’s post thusly:
It’s true that male frivolous behavior isn’t considered as frivolous as female frivolous behavior; isn’t this in part because the male version is still bluff, straightforward, forthright, while the female version is largely about concealment and artifice (make-up, clothes, etc.)? Not to over-intellectualize Monday Night Football vs. bikini waxes, but doesn’t it reprise the reality vs. appearance distinction, with women inhabiting the realm of appearance, making them both less serious but also more threatening?
Nothing ritualized or artificial about a football game, no sir.
Coincidentally enough, Sly Civilian has a sort-of reply to this idea over at his blog:
So after reading these stories, the thing that struck me the most was when i caught myself casually applying a shiny yellow phallus to my body, not even thinking about it. A look in the mirror brought me back to the reality that everything I had done that morning had radically changed my gendered presentation, and i’d barely spent a moment since waking up not manufacturing my masculinity. And just hanging down the entire length of my chest is this metaphor, this dick.
The yellow tie that has to perfectly related to my waistline, the pants that sit just so and change how i connect to the ground, the collared Brooks Brother’s shirt that draws a new shape of my torso and brings the eye upwards, the padded shoulders in my jacket, the extra half inch in my dress shoes, the part of the hair i have, the absence of the hair i take off my face, the way my glasses frame my face…
Aggression is not the same as honesty, and artifice is frequently an offensive tactic. “Bluff” has two meanings. Its first is the one referenced by this post:
1. good-naturedly direct, blunt, or frank; heartily outspoken: a big, bluff, generous man.
But its second might be even more familiar:
1. to mislead by a display of strength, self-confidence, or the like: He bluffed me into believing that he was a doctor.
Or a man.
In a binary hierarchy, primary importance is given to maintaining distinctions. If we blurred together, God forbid, we wouldn’t be able to keep everything straight and narrow, black and white, and orderly. The most important thing about you is which side of the line you’re supposed to be on, and one of the things that determines your right to survive at all is your willingness to support that judgment and live within its constraints. While the punishments for transgression are usually worse for the group on the bottom, they exist for both sides.
Traditionally, the underclass bears the greater burden of maintaining that boundary; they become the exception that departs from the norm. This is true for women, and why we tend to read androgyny as male. Women wear makeup; men wear no makeup. Women wear heels; men wear shoes with no heels. Women grow their hair long and style it elaborately; men cut theirs short and style it simply. However, the top half has its own responsibilities, some of which sly lays out here. It is very important to make it absolutely clear that you are this and not the other. Sly did not walk out of the house in a dress, because that is simply not what men do. As he says, there are many more details that go into presenting a picture of this and not the other, from the length of your trouser cuffs to the way you brush your hair. Masculinity is a role, and men are taught to perform that role. One of the aspects of that role is keeping up a pretense of brash outspoken confidence.
Remember, though, that the goal is not merely separation but separation in the name of a hierarchy. This is why one set of behavioral cues gets coded as artificial and unnatural while the other is described as genuine and natural. (Of course, in other contexts, the former is base and animalistic when the other gets to be advanced; again, the only constant message is that one is better and the other worse.) This same veiled value judgment is also set on transsexuals: when Julia Serano wears a skirt, she is dressing up like a drag queen, aping real women; when I wear a suit and a tie, I am deceiving people. This has nothing to do with any inherently amenable aspect of any of these practices, nothing to do with ease or preference. In our case, it’s based on the premise that we do not have the right to certain signifiers, namely those that belong to real men and women; in the case of women, it is based on the idea that women do not have the right to be real people. Sly’s revelation upon reading Self-Organizing Men was that his masculinity and manhood are no more or less genuine, no more or less a matter of communication to others, than those of the ftm contributors. It’s worth pointing out that the rituals he observes are not unlike the ones Julia Serano describes as symbols of her simultaneous recognition as a trans woman and invalidation as a trans woman:
In virtually all depictions of trans women, whether real or fictional, “deceptive” or “pathetic”, the underlying assumption is that the trans woman wants to achieve a stereotypically feminine appearance and gender role. The possibility that trans women are even capable of making a distinction between identifying as female and wanting to cultivate a hyperfeminine image is never raised. In fact, the media often dwells on the specifics of the feminization process, showing trans women in the act of “putting on” their feminine exteriors. It’s telling that TV, film, and news producers tend not to be satisfied with merely showing trans women wearing feminine clothes and makeup. Rather, it is their intent to capture trans women in the act of putting on lipstick, dresses, and high heels, thereby making it clear to the audience that the trans woman’s femaleness is an artificial mask or costume.
And certainly not unlike some of the accessories Jill categorizes as feminine:
And yet I’m still a fan of hair straightening and pubic hair waxing and high heel wearing.
The point about “more threatening” is another manifestation of this hierarchy: the underclass bears the burden of suspicion; they are the scapegoats for anxiety about the failure of all of us to perfectly perform our roles. This is part of the conflict with, “Yes, these are survival mechanisms,” one which goes beyond the willingness to admit that one is a collaborator. Rejecting femininity can mean agreeing not merely with feminists but with the dominant culture that femininity in all its details is a frivolous, artificial, superficial thing and that feminine women are frivolous, artificial, and shallow.