Month: January 2016

Glamour and Femme-inism

“Exploring the role of glamour in history shows that it has often served to express a sense of aspiration and entitlement for women as well as a dream of escape from hardship and the everyday. Glamorous women have often expressed an attitude of self-possession and assertiveness in conflict with traditional models of femininity rather than in conformity with them. Glamour has often been perceived as transgressive. There was no shortage of observers in the 1930s prepared to dismiss it as artificial and self-regarding, in the 1950s as vulgar and lacking in class, in the 1960s and 1970s as lacking in youth and innocence, in the 1980s as associated with ambition and an unfeminine materialism.”

(Carol Dyhouse in Glamour: Women, History, Feminism, p. 167)

This book is one of my very favourites. Dyhouse details the changing connotations of glamour throughout the 20th century in the west, and explores the relationship between this sartorial style, its media representation and feminism. She argues that feminism and glamour are historical bedfellows, which is always handy when discussing femme-inism.

Glamour as a femme-inist concept confronts the widespread cultural disdain for femininity that in my belief serves as the bedrock for hetero-capitalist patriarchy. It represents ultra femininity, which is the farthest point from machismo one can get on a binary spectrum of gender expression.

Radical lesbian feminism of the 1970s argued exactly the opposite: that partaking in feminine dress was to oppress oneself because ultra femininity is the embodiment of patriarchal oppression – to concede defeat under patriarchy, and accept your submission. The flaw in this theory (which by the way is perpetuated in queer feminist discourses to this day) is that it assumes masculinity to be neutral, and femininity to be excess – exactly as gender is constructed in the first place. This theory does not disrupt the cultural notion that man is first, woman second, an add-on, an accessory. Nor does it acknowledge that masculinity is as contrived as femininity. In an effort to disrupt the trope of the self-loathing woman, this strand of radical feminism in fact promotes it.

Femme-inism celebrates empowered femininity. It believes there is such a thing. And that is important to my identity as a queer, feminist woman. In general, it is counter-intuitive to fight the oppression of women by hating femininity.

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Smoking Hot Dykes

(Excerpted from paper published for MA Thesis, SFU 2013)

I am interested in the role of the cigarette as a fashion accessory that carries deeply rooted social, historical and political meanings. The cigarette plays a symbolic role in shaping the aesthetics of identity for queer and lesbian smokers. The narrative history of the cigarette as illustrated in mainstream and alternative media reveals critical sartorial implications for understanding the construction of gender identity in the 20th century. The relationship between fashion, gender and smoking has important associations with queer identities and cultures that are evident in media discourses dating from the introduction of representations of the New Woman in the early 1900s. Has a distinctly queer dimension of smoking been woven into our cultural repertoire?

The social acceptability of smoking for women aligns historically with the emergence of fashionable masculinity. The sartorial aesthetic of the New Woman introduced women to smoking and the social meanings with which it was accompanied. The image of the New Woman was a modern manifestation of femininity that equated progress and emancipation with womanhood. “In ‘Young in the Twenties’ Ethel Mannin recalls how all the “ladies” who attended her parties “smoked, conscientiously, as the outward and visible sign of sex equality.” By the late 1920s, newspapers and magazines frequently featured images of women smoking, including on rare occasions, a pipe.

Following World War II, the rigidity of the McCarthy era in the United States influenced the organization of queer subcultures. Aggressive policing of non-normative expressions of gender and sexuality found institutional support, and the spaces in which queer communities gathered were limited to underground bars that underwent routine police raids.10

The bar cultures are a critical element in this investigation of queer women smokers because for most of the 20th century, bars were the only spaces within which LGBT people could find a sense of community. Thus, smoking, drinking and other forms of substance use became defining behaviours in identifying as gay or lesbian. In a series written for Slate.com about the history and future of gay bars, June Thomas reflects on her own experience coming of age at the gay bar,

I rarely go to gay bars anymore… But I feel bad about abandoning them. I still remember the terrifying, giddy excitement of my first forays into gay pubs and clubs, the thrill of discovering other lesbians and gay men in all their beautiful, dreary, fabulous, sleazy variety… Gay bars are my cultural patrimony and my political heritage. 11

Sources:

10 Davis M, Kennedy EL (eds.): Boots of leather, slippers of gold: The history of a lesbian community. New York: Routledge, 1993, pp. 67-90.

Faderman L: Odd girls and twilight lovers : a history of lesbian life in twentieth-century America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991, pp. 159-167.

11 Slate [Internet]. The Slate Group, a Graham Holdings Company; 2011. The Gay Bar: Is It Dying?; 2011 Jun 27 [cited 2014 Dec 9]; [2 screens]. Available from: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_gay_bar/2011/06/the_gay_bar_6.html