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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