The Big Sell-Out: Lesbian Femininity by Linda Strega

This guest post by Linda Strega is a revised version of her original article, which became Part 2 of Chaper 4 in our book, Dykes-Loving-Dykes.

The Big Sell-Out: Lesbian Femininity

Linda Strega

The original version of this article was published in the Fall 1985
issue of the journal Lesbian Ethics. I have not updated it, except for
one bracketed paragraph. Many thanks to Alix, my lover,
for helping me revise this article for clarity.

In the 1980’s, a decade of reactionary politics, femininity became an accepted value among many Lesbians. Even many politically radical Lesbians, who I would most expect to support Lesbian self-love and self-respect, who usually call male bullshit for what it is, began to openly admire feminine ways of dressing and acting. Femininity! A patriarchal hype if there ever was one—a phony ideal created by men, not by Lesbians—an ideal that almost all heterosexual women embody to please men.

Femininity is not an inborn aspect of femaleness. Our most innate qualities as females can never be developed through the restraining, artificial posing, game-playing and mirror-gazing that is femininity. Men have taught women what they want women to be—they call it “feminine” or “womanly.” As Lesbians, we need to be awake enough to realize that this male invention is masculine to the core, no matter what it’s named, no matter how many women go along with the lie. Femininity is not truly female; the similarity in the words is a lying male trick.

Lesbians’ acceptance of anything “feminine” is part of the weakening of Lesbian politics—a Lesbian parallel to the right-wing trend of het politics. The same is true of the popularity of sado-masochism among many Lesbians. In fact, S & M encourages the re-acceptance of femininity as a “positive” “erotic” style among otherwise radical Lesbians. I’ve heard shallow reasoning that if some Lesbians “enjoy” femininity and “can’t stop wanting it,” then it’s better to go ahead and accept it. That’s the kind of irresponsible, reactionary politics too often supported by psychotherapy. It’s the same liberalness that supports Lesbians going het, becoming bisexual, and having babies. It’s the same self-destructiveness that leads Lesbians to accept thinness as a standard, that calls the slow suicide of dieting “eating healthy” and the self-punishment of over-exercising “staying fit,” and that encourages Lesbians to worry about the effects of aging on their appearance. Those are all male, het values—feminine values. They all revolve around how men want women to act and look, and they all derive from male desires to control female behavior.

Those Lesbians who act out the feminine model and claim it’s a contribution to Lesbian culture, a flowering forth of their “real selves,” are of course Fems, and most often Fems who were once heterosexual. They haven’t gotten rid of old het values, which are now resurfacing in this reactionary time.

The het media is full of stories about the het feminist who “realizes that she doesn’t have to give up being a woman to be a success in life,” who “regrets having tried to be like a man,” and is now “rediscovering the excitement of feminine seductiveness, the fun of dressing up in high heels, make-up and skirts, and her deep need for the joys of motherhood.” Doesn’t sound too different from lots of Lesbian media, does it?

Fem Privilege—Who Pays for It?

During the past decade, I’ve read many articles and stories written by Fem Lesbians that celebrate Fem role-playing as positive, fun and erotic. It’s not just the writings that alarm me. I’ve encountered the same trend at Lesbian social and political events, even among otherwise radical Lesbians. By contrast, articles I’ve read about being Butch show conflict, self-questioning, self-criticism and pain. The same contrast occurs in most discussions I’ve had with other Dykes about Fem and Butch identity, and is one of the many indications that Butches are in an oppressed position relative to Fems.

I’ve been identifying myself openly as a Fem since 1979, when I joined in gradually developing a political analysis about Butch oppression and Fem privilege with a few close Dyke Separatist friends. I define myself as a Fem, not because I admire and enjoy femininity or want to develop my Fem qualities but because I recognize that, like most girls, I accepted feminine training as a small child. Why I didn’t resist, when Butch girls did, is now unknown to me, part of the forgotten past. (I do know it wasn’t because I was more oppressed or more heavily pressured than Butches I’ve met.) What’s important to me now is how that choice affects me and other Lesbians in the present.

Being accepted as a “real girl” by the het world, and therefore by my own self, has given me the bearing, manner, and lack of doubt about being a “real woman” that Fem privilege bestows (even though I don’t now identify as a “woman” but as a Lesbian or Dyke). I try to avoid oppressive Fem behavior, but I know that because of my history I will always be Fem. If I claimed to have become Butch because I now reject Fem clothing and behavior, that would be as untrue and offensive as a class-privileged Lesbian saying she’s poor or working-class now because she doesn’t have much money and rejects classist values.

Is it possible to be neither Butch nor Fem, as most Lesbian feminists claim about themselves? From my observations, no. (By Butch and Fem I mean the core self-identity chosen in girlhood– not role-playing, which is about acting out a part which may or may not be your core identity.) Every girl is faced with the choice of either submitting to feminization and being accepted, or resisting and being punished. The pressure on girls to feminize themselves is universal and unrelenting. It exists in every patriarchal culture, and I don’t know of any culture in the world today which isn’t patriarchal. The styles of femininity vary in quality and degree from culture to culture, but in every patriarchal culture “woman” is defined by her allegiance and orientation towards male values and desires.

Patriarchy’s idea of “woman” is not based on true female biology as men claim. “Woman” is actually an artificial, social definition invented by men. It defines what men want females to be—a submissive being who bonds emotionally, mentally, and physically only with men. According to this scheme, if you’re not a woman (namely, a male-identified female), then you’re some kind of deficient man, or trying to be a man; you’re “unnatural.” So, Lesbians, by choosing to bond with other females instead of with men, are defined by hets as being “like men.” (Notice that only Lesbians really give primary allegiance to other females. Het women and all men give primary allegiance to men. The comparison of Lesbians to men is inaccurate even regarding the choice of who we bond with.) Butch Lesbians, who not only bond solely with females but completely reject femininity, are even more viciously defined as being “unnatural” and “like a man.”

I believe that Butch and Fem roles are chosen at such an early age (they can be observed in four-year-old girls) that they have a profound effect on how we feel within ourselves, how we interact with each other, and how we’re treated by the het world, for the rest of our lives. A small girl is surrounded by only two models of gender behavior: she lives in a world that says and believes, “Women dress and act like this, and men dress and act like that.”

If a girl cannot and will not accept the artificial trappings and mannerisms of the feminine role, everyone around her begins telling her she’s doing something wrong and unnatural. As she gets older and still resists femininity, the accusations intensify. When her Butch (and possibly Lesbian) identity becomes obvious, she’s labeled a deviant, a freak of nature, a man in a woman’s body. She isn’t supposed to exist. She’s a threat to the Big Lie of “feminine woman,” and so men and their women collaborators make up all kinds of ridiculous, hateful fictions to explain away her existence. The pressure is meant to humiliate and bully her into accepting femininity, and it must put her through soul-shaking self-doubt, even if she knows other Butches. Because so few females totally reject femininity, she usually doesn’t meet other Butches for many years, but faces the onslaught alone, during the most vulnerable years of her life—her girlhood and adolescence. Sometimes Butch girls are partially accepted in their families and among friends, but as a kind of mascot or pet, not as an equal. After all, it’s helpful to have an outcast around, someone who’s at the bottom of the pecking order for those further up to feel superior to.

[Now in 201l, well-meaning liberal parents are being misguided into labeling daughters as young as four years old “transgender” if they resist femininity. These parents tell their daughters that they’re boys trapped in a girl’s body, and start them on a track towards hormone injections and surgery and, therefore, a lifetime of destroyed health. No alternatives are suggested. No one tells the girls that it’s natural for females to prefer the freedom and dignity of trousers instead of dresses, and to want active and adventurous play. No one tells them that Lesbianism is a possibility and a good way to live. The parents, and their social workers and medical supporters, think they are “liberal” when they name a girl “transgender,” but they are not “liberal” enough to accept her as a young Butch or a Lesbian. In fact, their destructive enforcing of gender roles is not liberal at all, but extremely reactionary.]

Meanwhile, girls who accept femininity—the vast majority, unfortunately—are accepted as “real girls” and encouraged to take pride in their feminine ways. There are degrees of femininity, of course. Some Fem girls accept the complete emaciated drag queen sex-object ideal while others take on just enough feminine identity to still be accepted as real girls. But, because of hets’ fanaticism about “real womanhood,” they do set a rigid line. Any girl who refuses to make at least some concession to feminine requirements is over that line—that is, she’s denied the right to be called normal. Not only is she “not really a woman,” she’s pushed outside the bounds of normal society, which judges that it owes her nothing and has the right to destroy her. She’s become a danger to male rule instead of a saleable item in the het marketplace.

Fem privilege is based on retaining a claim to that “normal” standing that Butches are completely denied. Even though Fem Lesbians are seriously oppressed as Lesbians, we’re still treated by hets as if we’re more like women than Butches are. Butches receive a more extreme version of hets’ insistence on seeing Lesbians as unnatural. When young Butch and Fem lovers are found out by angry het guardians, who gets the most blame and punishment? You can bet it’s not the Fem. The usual interpretation, as we all know, is, “That disgusting bulldagger shouldn’t be allowed around decent innocent girls.”

Because Fems, in varying degrees, fit more closely the male-created ideal of “real woman,” we’re more privileged than Butches, both in the het world and in Lesbian communities. Because Butches have rejected feminine conditioning more completely, they’re treated as being more  queer, more suspect, more “unnatural.” (Ex-het Fems get more “normal” privilege than never-het Fems, and ex-married Fems and mothers get even more privilege. An ex-het Butch and a never-het Fem are in a position to oppress each other, but when they’re both never-het or both ex-het, the Butch will be more oppressed than the Fem.) Hets don’t relate to Fem Lesbians with the same degree of vicious queer-hating. Even though we do get it, especially if we’re dressing and acting in a more Dyke-identified way, it’s never as bad as what a Butch gets. As is always the case with oppression, we’ve internalized these privileges and oppressions, so that Butches and Fems alike tend to treat Fems as if we are more “real women,” more deserving of care and attention. Meanwhile, Butches are viewed as being “male-identified.” What could be more insulting, untrue, and oppressive?

Feminine Lesbians Treat Butches As Imitation Men

Some of my understanding about Butch oppression comes from how I’ve been treated by het women, by more feminine Fems, and by anti-Separatist Fems who think of Separatists as being like the worst sort of men. At those times, I’m treated a little bit as if I were Butch, as if I were very queer and not quite female. Not a nice feeling. While it’s happening it’s made me feel, in weaker moments, as if there might really be something monstrous about me. The effects of being viewed as unnatural go deep, no matter how much I know they’re wrong, no matter how strong I am—and I am strong and politically aware. It’s insulting and objectifying to be seen as being like your worst enemy—men—and to have your female reality and individuality denied. That’s the kind of thing that’s done continuously to Butches.

Fems seriously injure Butches when they believe and act on Butch-hating stereotypes. Some of those stereotypes are obviously negative ones: that Butches are abusive, dominating and insensitive, like men; that they oppress females, like men do; that they don’t understand real females; that they don’t experience female oppression; that they are obsessed with sex, like men are. Other stereotypes are claimed to be positive, but are just as damaging: that Butches have special erotic power; that they are mysteriously physically stronger and emotionally invulnerable; that they enjoy doing hard physical tasks and protecting Fems from danger and from unpleasant experiences. Believing any of these stereotypes is not respectful—it’s objectifying.

Many Fems falsely assume that Lesbians value Butchness more highly than Femness. That’s similar to class-privileged Lesbians romanticizing poor and working-class Lesbians and feeling sorry for themselves because they’re “the wrong class.” If you pay attention to how Lesbians actually treat each other, it becomes obvious that Fems are treated more like “real people,” “real women,” while Butches are treated as more queer, more in need of Feminism.

Women’s Liberation feminism is concerned with making heterosexuality more comfortable for women. Why should any Lesbian want to support this heterosexist reformism which, of course, supports the male idea that femininity defines femaleness? Accepting that unquestioned male definition is why most ex-het Lesbians who came out in the WLM think that Butches are in a role, but that Fems are not. Like with other privileges, Femness is considered the norm. And of course it’s those with the privilege who have the power to define what the norm is. Butches, especially Old Dykes, are usually considered unfeminist by ex-het Women’s Liberation Fems and are accused of not being “woman-identified”—an indirect way of saying not “womanly.” This is insulting and oppressive, because they’re saying Butches are like our oppressors.

The fact is, Butches are more truly female-identified than the Fems who criticize them. It’s Butches’ rejection of femininity that offends these Fems. Never does it occur to such Fems that they themselves are the ones who need to become more female-identified, that is, more Lesbian-identified. The “womanliness” they value so much isn’t basic to female nature at all: Butches’ strength, directness and independence from male definitions is more truly female. Most ex-het Women’s Liberation Fems have been too arrogant, because of their het and Fem privilege and lesbophobia, to realize that it’s they who have something to learn from Butches who are lifelong Dykes.

I’ve met many ex-het Fems who, because of their lesbophobic assumptions about roles, think Fems are oppressed by Butches. When I asked one ex-het, ex-married Lesbian mother what she meant by saying she, as a Fem, felt oppressed by Butches, she answered that it was “an extension of how I was oppressed as a heterosexual woman.” This Lesbian is unfortunately far from unique in thinking of a Butch as another sort of man, and she’d been a radical Lesbian for years when she said that. Het attitudes and het privilege don’t vanish upon coming out, even after years of being a political Lesbian: they have to be recognized, analyzed, and consciously resisted just like other oppressive beliefs and behaviors.

The same Fems who think of Butches as oppressive imitation men also often romanticize Butches as lovers: wanting to be pursued and swept off their feet, wanting to be the one who is made love to and not caring to focus the same attention on her lover; wanting to experience the Butch lover as Other, as some kind of opposite, as mysteriously more powerful, stronger, braver. The honest admiration and respect that a Butch could arouse in another Lesbian, Fem or Butch, gets distorted into a het-like power game—an addiction to inequality, with the Fem in the power position and pretending not to be. It’s not honest, it’s not respectful, and it sure isn’t love.

There are also degrading eroticized anti-Butch attitudes which are accepted unchallenged among Lesbians, as shown in the following description of a sex video advertised prominently in the May, 1985, issue of a local Lesbian/Gay newspaper:  “For the lesbian s/m connoisseur—butch is taught a few manners in femme worship.” Anyone having a hard time recognizing the hatred in this ad needs only to substitute the name of any other oppressed group for “butch” and the corresponding privileged group for “femme” and feel what your gut reaction is. (The depth of Lesbian oppression is such that it’s often easier for us to react emotionally to an issue which isn’t particularly and solely about Lesbians.)

It’s wrong to exploit Butches’ courage and risk-taking, letting them do most of the work of maintaining Lesbian visibility and take the worst punishment from the het world, while being used by Fems to celebrate the Fems’ “power to attract.” What about Fems trying to develop some of those Butch qualities they sometimes claim to admire? Many Fems have done that, but the trend toward femininity is eroding support for de-feminization and replacing it with strong pressure to feminize.

What about Fems recognizing our privileged and oppressive position? What about trying to stop the sexualizing of power imbalances? What about acknowledging that acting out of privilege is, of course, going to feel more comfortable, but that that doesn’t make it all right? That privilege is why many Fems are now saying “I enjoy being a Fem,” while Butches express more conflict, soul-searching, discomfort, self-criticism and pain about their role.

Fems Who Think They’re Butches

Discussions about Butch and Fem identity often become confused because many Fems think they are Butches. There are relatively few actual Butches, and there are many misconceptions about what true Butch identity is. So, many Fems are mistakenly assumed to be Butches, or believe themselves to be Butches, if they’re less feminine than other Fems. Some Fems who are also privileged in other ways, like looks, thinness and class, get positive attention from other Lesbians by playing at being Butch. They may be admired for managing to act “Butchy” without “going too far,” but they certainly don’t experience Butch oppression. There are also Fems who want to be like men and think that means they are Butches.

On the other hand, there are more oppressed Fems who get pressured into a Butch-like role and are objectified as sexual servicers by more privileged and more feminine Fems. When two Fems are lovers or friends, if one is more oppressed because of being darker, fatter, older, having less looks privilege, less ethnic or class privilege, less or no het experience, or being more Dyke Separatist, she’s likely to be considered the less feminine of the two, and therefore “the Butch.” This just adds to her existing oppressions. Her feelings won’t be considered to be as important or as sensitive as her lover’s, her lovemaking may not be reciprocated, and her lover may interpret everything she does through the distorted screen of lesbophobia, because “the Butch” in the couple is the one who’s considered more queer than her lover. She’s more likely to understand the nature of Butch oppression as a result of being treated like a Butch at times, although she’ll never experience as much Butch oppression as she would if she was actually Butch.

The Het Woman’s Uniform vs. Lesbian Identity

I’ve been criticized by Fem Lesbians who wear some form of Fem drag and want to know why I don’t “dress up,” why I “want to wear a uniform.” This offensive, militaristic male imagery is openly Lesbian-hating—they’re the ones wearing the male-approved feminine uniform. They complain about how terribly pressured they feel to wear Dyke clothes, yet in every case these Fems aggressively initiated talking about clothes. I don’t go around confronting Lesbians who dress feminine, nor does anyone else I know who feels the same as I do about this issue:  we’re usually too busy defending ourselves against attacks on our lack of femininity. Meanwhile, I often hear feminine Lesbians praised for their “courage” in displaying their femininity. Where’s the “courage” in perpetuating male and het values? One Fem, an ex-het, ex-married mother, gave me a lecture at my own kitchen table about how the “Dyke look” (Butch) is really a European-descent middle-class style. She claimed that racially oppressed Lesbians and poor and working-class Lesbians like to “dress up” Fem. (She herself is European-descent, working-class, protestant-raised.) For her, apparently, racially oppressed Butches and poor and working-class  Butches either don’t exist or don’t count. Not to mention myself, sitting in front of her, a working-class Fem who hates feminine clothes and rejects the idea that Fem drag is “dressing up” in any positive sense—I also didn’t count.

Why do our critics assume I and other Dykes don’t know what a “uniform” is? None of us want regimentation. And why are the ancient, universal cultural traditions we’ve developed as an oppressed people shown such disrespect? Many oppressed groups of people express their cultural identity and recognize each other through wearing traditional clothes unique to them, with individual variation according to taste. People who invade others’ lands and suppress their cultures forbid traditional clothing as one of the first steps of genocide. Reclaiming traditional clothes is often one of the first steps in resisting cultural destruction. They’re worn as a statement of pride. Dykes wear Dyke clothing for similar reasons. Yet the same liberal men and women and het-identified Lesbians who’d never dream of attacking other peoples’ cultural style don’t hesitate to attack us for ours.

The clothes I and other Dykes wear aren’t the kind men designate for women. They’re clothes that are cheaper, sturdier, warmer in cold weather, less constricting and more protective—the kind of clothing that men would like to reserve for themselves. Wearing them is not only more comfortable and functional, it also makes it more obvious to anyone who sees me, including other Dykes, that I’m a Dyke. They also make it easier for me to defend myself if a male attacks me. My Dyke clothes free my movements to be more natural to myself, because they don’t require the artificial constraints that feminine clothes do: the smaller steps, legs kept together, restricted shoulder movements, the fussing with hair, jewelry, and make-up that we’re used to seeing in women. (When I refer to restricted body movement, I’m not talking about inherent physical ability. Whatever one’s physical ability, clothing can either restrict or allow maximum use of one’s body.) My clothes aren’t “male” clothes, they’re Lesbian clothes.  They symbolize Dykes’ deep refusal to be men’s sex-toys. And because they’re forbidden to us, they also represent our refusal to follow men’s orders.

Those who understand patriarchal dress codes are aware that the seemingly more reasonable feminine slacks and blouses that many Lesbians accept still conform to male dictates. For example, if they weren’t specifically for women, feminine shirts wouldn’t be called “blouses.” This isn’t a word game—clothes designated for women have fewer pockets, are less well-made, and often more expensive. Even “unisex” clothing reserves better quality, convenience, and comfort for the men’s and boys’ versions.

I call feminine clothes “drag” because they’re a game-playing het costume. Het women’s lives are based on lies that are repeated and acted out so often that the truths about themselves as females and potential Lesbians are deeply buried. Het women are dead to themselves as true females as long as they choose to remain het. They don’t know what the needs of a female soul are, or they wouldn’t be het; they wouldn’t be nurturing their very enemy. Then why are so many Lesbians imitating het women? Or in some cases, going back to values they had when they themselves were het?

Hets often assume that feminine-looking Lesbians are really bisexual or het. I don’t think that assumption is 100% het ignorance. Feminine clothing, hair styles, behavior, obsession with dieting and with male-approved appearance are all forms of social communication that say, “I’m willing to please men,” or at the very least, “I accept men’s dictates in dress and behavior. I’m not as queer as a Butch. I’m really rather normal.” Generally, Fems can pass as het more easily than Butches. But Fems who reject feminine values and try to be visibly out are treated as more queer than other Fems. We’re in a position to be oppressed by Fems who are selling out, and we’re more natural allies for Butches.

Some Fems enjoy the fact that men and/or het women like their Femness. Some ex-het Fems are still caught up with male approval, even if it takes the form of thinking, “You men like what you see, but you can’t have me any more.” I’ve actually read that written by a Fem in a “Dyke” publication, and I’ve heard Lesbians talk that way. Lesbians who play those sexual games with men are making both the games and the men more important to them than Lesbian identity and solidarity. Other Lesbians use feminine clothes and behavior simply to make themselves safer from queer oppression, trying to blend in more with het ways. Whatever the reasons, it’s all at the expense of Butches, who by being the most blatant and public resistance fighters against heterosexist values, by not catering to het approval at all, become the targets for the most intense punishment from the het world. After all, if even other Lesbians (Fems) are willing to play that part of the het game—are willing to dress and change their bodies (dieting, shaving, altering their hair) as men dictate—that supports the het pressure on Butches to do the same, not to mention the racism, ageism, looksism, and fat oppression involved in doing those things.

Femininity isn’t a harmless diversion or form of self-expression. It’s not creative, it’s not “freeing,” it’s not daring or sexy. It’s just the same phony heterosexist crap. It means spending time, energy and money on nail polish, perfume, hair-do’s, dresses, diets, body-shaping exercises, poses and games; fantasizing  yourself as the center of sexual attention, making everything into a sexual game, getting yourself further and further away from female reality, from real female Lesbian power. It means identifying more and more with het values and choosing to see yourself through men’s eyes. Shit, you could be that woman in the lipstick commercial: just substitute a Butch Lesbian for the man that’s panting after her. If your lover or friend doesn’t want to play that game, you’ll teach her how much “fun” it can be. How much time and interest does this leave for forming truly loving Lesbian relationships, building strong Lesbian communities and fighting patriarchy?

I don’t understand the pleasure some Fems claim to get from feminine drag, but I know it’s connected to heterosexist privilege—that is, it’s het-created, het-approved, het-rewarded and anti-Lesbian. I don’t know why most girls accept feminine training when it’s possible to resist it as Butch girls do, but I do know from experience that Fem Lesbians have the choice and ability to recognize the lie for what it is and to reprogram ourselves. Our politics change our feelings about a lot of things. Think of certain movies or books you enjoyed before you became more politically aware—ones that disgust you now, because your gut feelings respond to your present knowledge. I feel that way about the feminine clothes I admired as a little girl. I feel angry about the clownish, yet sexually suggestive crap pushed on unknowing little girls—miniature versions of what adult het women wear to advertise their availability to men to be fucked.

Feminine clothes and games aren’t something that can just be tacked onto a Lesbian’s otherwise-political life without affecting her and other Lesbians in deeply damaging ways. Those feminine things began as, and continue to be, male-oriented signals and symbols. They’re the results of female submission and collaboration. We can’t transcend or reclaim them. They’re in no way neutral, they’re loaded with meaning. They’re actually masculine in the extreme.  Any pleasure that’s gotten from femininity is enjoyed at the expense of Lesbians who are oppressed by it, especially Butches, who are made to feel like misfit minorities in their own communities. Fems reveling in femininity also oppresses Lesbians like me who’d feel miserable and degraded in feminine drag, and who’ve experienced the queer-baiting game-playing of extreme Fems. Fems who glorify femininity also make it harder for Lesbians like me to be understood and respected when we identify ourselves openly as Fem and discuss Fem privilege and Butch oppression. We’re less likely to be considered genuine Fems who know what we’re talking about. Not all Fems want to cultivate femininity. Many of us are resisting it wholeheartedly. We’re trying to strengthen our Lesbian identities, not weaken them.

Lesbians who dress and act feminine also make life harder and more dangerous for the rest of us in relation to the het world. They make blatant Lesbians an even smaller minority who are therefore easier to discriminate against, harass, scapegoat, and brutalize. It makes it harder for us to get and hold jobs, welfare or disability income, to be rented apartments, to attend schools, to get medical care, to go anywhere, to even just walk down the street. If all Lesbians were obvious Lesbians, we’d all be safer. There’s a hell of a lot of us, and we’d be a force to be reckoned with.

Most importantly, choosing to be an obvious Lesbian is about living with integrity. A Butch’s choice to resist femininity is the choice of a female who’s being true to herself, choosing to be as alive to her female self as possible, regardless of the punishments inflicted on her as a result. I find in that resistance a key to Dyke power, Dyke beauty and Dyke love.


This section is based on an article published in the Fall 1985 issue of Lesbian Ethics. Many thanks to Alix, my lover, for helping me revise it in 2011.

About Bev Jo

I’ve been a Lesbian from my earliest memories and am proud to be a Lesbian. Lesbians are my people and my blood. My life’s work has defending Lesbians and our culture and existence against those who oppress us. Working-class, ex-catholic, mostly European-descent (with some First Nations, probably Shawnee, ancestry), from poverty class culture. I’m a Lifelong Lesbian, born near Cincinnati, Ohio in 1950. I became lovers with my first lover in 1968, became part of a Lesbian community in 1970, and became a Dyke Separatist in 1972. I helped create Radical Lesbian Feminist and Separatist community and worked on some of the earliest Lesbian Feminist projects, such as the Lesbian Feminist Conference in Berkeley in 1972, the newspaper “Dykes and Gorgons” in 1973, the women’s bookstore, Lesbian coffeehouse, and taught self defense to women and girls for ten years. I’ve been published in journals and anthologies, including “For Lesbians Only,” “Finding the Lesbians,” “Lesbian Friendships,” “Amazones d’Hier, Lesbiennes Aujourd’hui,” “Mehr als das Herz Gebrochen,” the Journal for Lesbian Studies, Lesbian Ethics, Sinister Wisdom, Trivia, and Rain and Thunder. With Linda Strega and Ruston, I co-wrote our book, “Dykes-Loving-Dykes: Dyke Separatist Politics for Lesbians Only” in 1990. Our book and my more recent articles have been updated at my blog I’ve been disabled since 1981 with ME/CFIDS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) and MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.) I love nature and plants and animals — and especially the animals who are feared and hated and killed by people who don’t even know them, just as Lesbians are. I’ve learned to love rats especially, who I do not consider inferior to humans. I’m a spiritual atheist, but I’ve found out that there is definitely life after death because a little rat returned from the dead for three days to comfort us. These hated little animals are so kind and loving, and willing to die for someone they love. I say, in our fight to protect the earth — distrust all “truths” we are taught by patriarchy. The true truth is often the opposite.
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32 Responses to The Big Sell-Out: Lesbian Femininity by Linda Strega

  1. KatieS says:

    What a remarkable essay, Linda. Reading it, I thought about how two things go hand in hand. If young girls are socialized as Fem and the culture says Butch=Lesbian (and rare), it does not give a young Fem girl a chance to identify with Lesbians, to understand that she is a Lesbian, and to love other Lesbians. If we are looking at females as a class, it then makes more females available to males sexually. Thus we end up with many more ex-het Lesbians and ex-het ex-married Lesbian, and ex-het Lesbians who are ex-married mothers.

    Also, the power that images have over people in many cultures appears to be increasing exponentially. In the U.S., for instance, most people now rely on images, rather than the written word (not as soundbites), to convey information. Forty-two percent of college graduates never read a book after they graduate. Not to mention a high degree of illiteracy and semi-literacy. These folks are getting info via images. Giving images more power than ever, then skillfully manipulating those images has proved very effective as a way to control. These images were already there, but the power of them seems to be increasing, not only through porn, but through various trendy “styles” of presentation, especially Fem styles. Given this, it’s not a surprise that these styles are increasing. Plus, we now have young females, some of them Lesbians, taking male hormones, not even to transition, rather to change to a different “look.” They think they are “queering” the roles. Your essay made me realize that they are just supporting these toxic roles in a new way.

    A lot more to think about in this essay. Thank you for posting it, BevJo.


  2. jane hathaway says:

    Linda, it’s fantastic that you and Bev are getting this all online. There is literally no one else saying it. I was recently called misogynist by a very feminine Lesbian when we got to talking about femininity. This essay gets it across in such a Lesbian-loving way.
    Among the youngest Lesbians in my community, they are truly indistinguishable from hets. The only way I know for sure that they are not het is that I see them in Lesbian places, and many are visibly in love with other Lesbians. Insofar as the way they come across, though, you would never know except for the setting.
    I never wanted to be a crone lamenting “kids these days!” But here I am.


  3. jane hathaway says:

    I don’t want to invisiblize the young Butch Lesbians–sorry! They are there. But my gosh, so many Fem Lesbians are ultra-feminine (in drag, as you said)..


  4. jane hathaway says:

    Katie, all uf us were socialized to try to make us het and deminine. A few strong, courageous girls chose to swim against the tide. These Butch Lesbians chose their resistance as much as all the feminine girl children chose femininity and heterosexuality. So really, we did have the chance to be always Lesbian. Under tremendous pressure, granted.


  5. SheilaG says:

    This was an incredible article Linda. Thanks so much for writing it. I too am amazed at the degree to which butch and lifelong lesbian is denegrated and hated and attacked. I am amazed that ex-het lesbians have so much unearned power in the community, and how femininity is just reactionary conformity to male defined roles. Men control the fashion industry, and they design clothing for women to make huge profits. If we can get women hooked to the fashion industry, then we control women’s money as well.
    I am a proud lifelong lesbian. It means I did not conform to patriarchy from the earliest of ages. It means I chose not to have sex ever with men, and to be in solidarity with all lesbians throughout herstory. Women who conform are simply cowards who can’t face down an enemy and who willfully sell out lesbian nation every day of the week. They do it for frippery, for flattery, for social acceptance. Lesbian visibility is about lesbian nation being proud of womanness that is not male contructed or about supporting the male profit machine.


  6. KatieS says:

    Jane, this does not fit my experience. I did not understand anything about being Lesbian or Het at very young to young ages. I did not see a choice between two different things as a child. I saw a continuum of feminine behavior, but I saw no one I can say was totally non-compliant. All girls had to wear dresses to school back then, so it may be different now. I knew no girls at those young ages who got bullied for being Butch. I’m wondering if that happened more in working and middle class neighborhoods but not in mine (urban poor). I got bullied by girls for my hand-me-down clothes based on working/middle-class snobbery and did notice when someone else was getting bullied for another reason. I fully understand that someone who chose non-compliance may have suffered in silence or had covert bullying that I was not aware of. Invisibility is a form of oppression, too, I understand.

    For the girls I knew and for me, I think most of us responded inconsistently (we were called tomboys) to the ideas about feminity but it was never an either/or that I understood as a young girl. The clothes bullying made me feel hurt but it did not make me want feminine clothes, for instance. I felt sorry for the working/middle-class girls who were forced into feminine clothes and think I associated that with why they tormented me.

    I do not doubt that some girls did understand it as a choice not to comply, to resist. I can (and do) celebrate that. It is courageous. I can understand that they suffered for it and call that wrong in so many ways. I think it is wonderful that some girls resisted the Fem conditioning and that it did not penetrate as deeply as my own did.

    But what does not fit my experience is that I don’t see this as a choice for me as a young child. Choice implies that one has the information needed to make a choice, and the ability to perceive and make sense of that information, and even to see that a choice is possible based on that information. The information I needed or the ability to perceive certain information was just not there. It’s like trying to teach a child with little musical ability to play the violin. That child may not have the ability to discern notes. A child with a natural bent may pick it up right away. Is it a choice for the first child, to play off key? No, it is based on certain abilities to perceive. That’s what I’m saying about choice. Kids have limited information, experience, and abilities. The patriarchy takes advantage of that. It distorts/limits information about what it means to be female. It limits experience based on the distortions. Most very young or young children do not have the ability to sort that out in a way that enables them to make a choice.

    I’m also not saying that there is not subsequent entitlement. I think there is. But I don’t think the choice is made consciously for children.


  7. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you all for responding. Linda doesn’t get onto her computer every day, but does want to answer as soon as she can. It might be more clear when we get the rest posted, plus an update that I’ve working on, about how things have changed in the last 20 plus years.

    I too was forced to wear dresses to be able to go to school, Katie, and I would change as soon as I got home. I hated it so much. That’s so awful about the classist bullying you got. It was more subtle for me, in terms of being excluded socially by class-privileged girls in grade school. For me, being Butch meant knowing I was different and not as acceptable. I did know one other older Butch girl who I was in love with. My mother insisted on putting me into extremely feminine clothes, which verged on slutty, and putting my hair into curlers to sleep in each night, which was painful. She wanted to show me off, particularly when she would bring me to bars. As soon as I was old enough to stop her, I did. I hated everything associated with being feminine, including dolls. I wasn’t conscious of making a choice, like I didn’t think, “I choose to fall in love with girls and I find boys repulsive.” I just did, but that is a choice anyway, because I knew if I acted differently and dressed differently, I would be treated better. I remember being criticized by another girl who was 5 because I didn’t play or act like a girl was expected to.



  8. KatieS says:

    Wow, BevJo, that’s terrible that your mother tried to make you into an object like that, especially the “verging on slutty” part. Really terrible. There were a couple of girls I remember whose mothers did that (not the slutty part), it really was like dressing them in drag. They dressed up even while at home and could not play ouside and get dirty. It was both classist and anti-female, a prison. They didn’t rebel like you did, though. They took it out on other girls, instead, by bullying other girls. These mothers thought that girls like my friends and I just ran wild. We were wild, as in more natural. We did run all over the city neighborhoods where we lived and had adventures, some dangerous. The heavy feminine programming was there everywhere, but we knew better back then. Wearing dresses and “acting like a lady”=a prison.

    After grade school, things changed. I did choose the Fem role, and dressed in drag. The worst time of my life, really. I do remember women who did not conform to feminity. I now realize how brave they were. I didn’t think of them as Butch, nor know if they were Lesbians, because there were no girls or women I or anyone knew who were Lesbians back then. Again, I remember being bullied, this time by boys. It was because my body shape did not fit the feminine stereotype. I finally fought back somewhat brutally(“unladylike”) and got it stopped. Another girl was horribly bullied/harrassed because she developed very large breasts at a young age. We became friends and she shared how painful it was. She also tried to fight back and partly won. I wonder if she’d be one of the first to have top surgery today. I see it as likely. This bullying is about the toxic male gaze being everywhere. It’s how women learn to police themselves. I have no doubt that women who did not conform got bullied and also got the silent treatment. I see the entitlement issue. I did not see bullying back based on feminity non-conforming then but it is clear that it happens. I also see that Butch women had a choice to conform and did not. Entitlement got carried into Lesbian communities, as you are pointing out.

    Something very different since back then is that there are people who are visible as Lesbians irl, some of whom are Butches. Also in the media, like “The L Word.” Those are women in roles as Lesbians who are Fem, extremely Fem. The male gaze is fetishizing Lesbians. The toxic male gaze is still present. Women still learn to police themselves via the male gaze. Butches still get get oppressed and now in even scarier ways since many are being destroyed physically/psychologically by hormones and surgery.


  9. Linda Strega says:

    Thank you, Katie, jane and Sheila, for your supportive and thoughtful posts. I can only reply briefly, because I have to limit my time online for health reasons. Frustrating, because I’d love to join you in discussing this issue as you are doing, sharing experiences, sparking each other’s thinking, and learning together. It’s great knowing you’re there and continuing the work.


  10. Bev Jo says:

    You’re really right about the “toxic male gaze,” Katie. It’s so upsetting that it’s still influencing Lesbians even when men aren’t there. And like in the “L Word” — not one Butch character. Not one.

    I did want to add about saying “kids,” though, for young Lesbians. It feels so patronizing and wrong. I know young Lesbian who have been out for years longer than some of the older Lesbians I know. In my bizarre community, I see so much femininity among the older Lesbians, including plastic surgery and those permanently altered eyebrows, makeup, etc. I know ageism is affecting us terribly, but still, I don’t see a lot of obviously out older Lesbians either. At a dance a few days ago, a Lesbian was annoyed that we would not be able to identify her as a Lesbian because she looks so feminine, but it’s risky for those of us who are obvious to make that guess. Anyway, I do see many younger Lesbians looking very Fem, but also always a number of Butches, as well as Dykey Fems. And certainly the radical politics are just as good.


  11. KatieS says:

    Linda, thank you for the care and love conveyed by your writing and your doing this despite health limitations. Bev Jo, thank you for the care and love conveyed by putting this online.


  12. SheilaG says:

    I knew a few butch girls when I was young, and had to wear dresses up until about 1970. Nut I hated dresses from the earliest of ages. I simply thought femininity was artifical and largely boring. Later I would be shocked at how much money women spent on make-up, clothing etc. etc. One straight woman I
    know had to move suddenly, and had so much clothing she had to rent a mini-storage just to house it, and put down $5,000 just to get into the storage unit. This woman continually complains about how little money she has, how she can barely make the rent, and what a struggle life is. All of this true, she really does struggle, and I like her very much. But she is a shop-a-holic, and refuses to set up even the smallest of retirement plans. So femininity is a way to rob women of money.
    I’ve often wondered what makes straight women so incredibly cowardly or clueless, what keeps lesbians so male gaze pandering. I really don’t get any woman’s willingness to marry a man, to have children, to put on all the face make-up…. women with that “fem drag’ look horrifying to me. And I firmly believe that if women have sex with men, it destroys something within them. The most powerful lesbians I’ve met are never het… we are rare, or so the world wants us to think. Even most feminist sites (radfem too) are shocked when I bring up the never het sex stuff. A whirlwind of hatred comes down on me for daring to say that never het is the noblest of lesbian nationalism, it is the most powerful, and the non-sell out position should be considered the very pinacle of lesbian revolution. We are stuck constantly dealing withg clueless women who “suddenly” discover they are lesbians at age 40 or 50, and I just get tired of the clueless. Surely there should be some place where they can get educated so that I don’t have to deal with the boredom of their past het slave lives, or the garbage of face painting that they bring into the lesbian community.


  13. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you so much too, Katie. You always write such good and thoughtful posts.

    Sheila, I know so much of what you mean. Too many Lesbians have accepted male standards of normal, so it’s like they’ve brought the male gaze into our besieged community and there is no escape. Once, there were politics and ideas that fought it all, or at least questioned it. Now, it’s like a nightmare. Often, the most someone will do is to question why “beauty” is so important and how we shouldn’t care if someone is “beautiful” or not. Well, yes, but what to they mean by “beauty?” They don’t go further to reflect on what men think is beautiful (complete artifice and falseness in women, from their breasts implanted with toxic materials to horrifying-looking faces and expressions.) To me, that mainstream, male “beauty” is ugly.

    I’m single and it’s daunting to see how het and male-identified feminine most Lesbians look. A friend actually asked me, “Would you accept someone pretty?” By that, she was criticizing my thinking that Butches are attractive.

    I’m supportive of and love my ex-het friends, but they are rare in fighting their privilege. Most brag endlessly about their past men, including in pornographic detail, but yes, Sheila, I also experience shock and rage if I say I’ve never been het. I think there is jealously deep down in some of the very het-identified Lesbians. I’ve been told I’m “lucky,” as if I haven’t made a choice. But then, I’m also told I’m “lucky” for other ways that I’m oppressed, including being poor.


  14. SheilaG says:

    Yeah I hear you on women calling me “lucky” for being lesbian or lifelong lesbian. I made a solid choice, and I take my woman promoting and malestream resisting politics very seriously. Lesbians continue to sell out massively in malestream and trans colonizing society. We are under constant attacks for saying our way of life even exists. And I agree that “beauty” in women as defined by men is the fake pasted over faces, the false breasts, the face lifts, the fake looking face and looks. Just seeing women with make-up plastered all over their faces is repulsive to me. I hate the high fem fashion, the coiffed hair–it’s just sickening patriarchal nonsense. That lesbians seem so unaware of this, and so out to lunch on a radical lesbian feminist past seems shocking, and well, intellectually lazy. And what nut case would call you “lucky” for being poor Bev? I can’t think of a more cruel or clueless statement. If we had our politics tightly organized, and our lesbian nation strong and well developed, and we stopped pandering to every group of but our own, we wouldn’t have the massive lesbian poverty so pervasive in women over 50. But no, “trans’ rights trump lesbian freedom, ex-het fem norms invade our longtime lesbians’ activist places, and camp trans continues to be tolerated at Michigan. If we can’t defend our culture against gynocydal erasure and stand firm in this, what the heck are we wasting our time with women who chose men, racked in money through men, and then have the nerve to say we don’t know what true beauty and truth really is?
    Fem women are repulsive to me… they are like barbie dolls… fake. Why would I ever have women intimately in my life in that fake vacant plastered face way? A sell out is a sell out, and most women, being unwilling to stand up for freedom are willing to prostitute their bodies to men and male beauty standards, and then they come out late in life to waste our time with their endless discussions of ex-husbands etc. Time wasting idiots who sold out, then come out, then time waste.


  15. Bev Jo says:

    The calling us “lucky” comes from envy, and yet, they too could be “lucky.” The Lesbian who said it recently is being workied to death, yet she is proud of her career and seems to spend way more than she can on fancy remodeling of her house. I made the Lesbian community and movement my “career,” and so chose to be poor, but free. She too, could do that.

    Yes, it’s quite strange, how many Lesbians choose to look. A variety of styles to fit in to male standards, from trendy to dowdy. I think a lot of it is to not be visibly Lesbian. Looking like a Dyke is always so attractive.


  16. Pingback: The Effects of Confusing Sex and Gender | Forest Green Feminism

  17. JJ says:

    I’m a young (late twenties) asexual and lifelong celibate who is just getting into radical feminism and I really enjoyed this article. It is making me question what I have been taught, better understand things that previously confused me, and it is making me see the world how it truly is. Again, thank you so much for all of your hard work and wisdom.


  18. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you so much! I’ll send this on to Linda. We have some Radical Feminist groups on facebook, if you’re interested. We’re updating our entire book to be at my blog and are almost finished.


  19. Lizzy Shaw says:

    Good post. From what I’ve seen, it is considered misogynistic to remotely question femininity, even though in the end there is nothing inherently female about it. I think it just goes to show how worthless mainstream/sell-out feminism is when I’ve had a lot of women tell me that high heels are empowering. The popular idea is that femininity is a neutral choice, yet I know if I dress a certain way I will be treated better and not just by men, but by the, “shoes that cripple my feet are empowering” crowd.

    I completely agree with SheilaG that femininity is a way to separate women from their money. It is also a good controlling tool and a good way to destroy women and girl’s self-esteem. The fact that we now have photoshop doesn’t help. Women also make most of the purchasing decisions in households (I think about 80%) so of course making sure women pay attention to your products is important.

    I know an alarming amount of women my age with shopping addictions, including two who were so bad that they needed someone to come to the store with them to talk them into only buying the things they needed. I also had a co-worker who told me she had an alarming amount of credit card debt from shopping.

    There are better things to spend your money on.


    • Bev Jo says:

      It’s enough to make us feel hopeless. The high heel propaganda is horrific. Almost every “strong” woman character in the media minces in them, and in one film, the heroine made a point of proving they were safe, which is ridiculous in real life.

      If we bring up these collaborating choices, fake “radfems” tell us that women in some parts of the world are prisoners. Even more reason where we have such freedom, to not obey male rules for status.


      • Lizzy Shaw says:

        LOL, they really are trying too hard with the “safety” lecture. But the sad thing is, a lot of women believe it. I think that the trying too hard thing shows how artificial it is. I usually wear jeans, a T-shit, and sneakers (because I work in a lab) or shorts, a T-shirt, and sandals when I’m not in lab but I don’t go screeching about how empowering my comfortable shoes are or how empowering my clothes that follow the dress code at work are. I also don’t like makeup and only wear it for stuff like Halloween costumes.

        Yet, I have seen posts on tumblr, that are completely serious, by mainstream feminists about empowering wearing blood-red lipstick and nailpolish is because it represents all the men they hate/will kill. Actually, what in means is that you’re a prostitute who is willing to give blowjobs and handjobs. (Furthermore, most of the mainstream “I killz all men; misandry ftw” types are the same women who have no problem showing off their exceptional man and being a housewife or housegirlfriend for him.)

        Yes, it is really bad how much of a reversal it is. It’s ridiculous how many women take criticizing beauty practices as a personal attack on them, yet they are often the ones telling other girls/women that they would look so much better with high heels and/or makeup. Also, radical feminism is about group analysis, not superficial individual analysis anyway. They even don’t like it when you point out the chronic effects of wearing high heels too often. (Tendon damage is one example. I read a book that went into rather graphic detail about that.) I have some slight tendon damage on one of my knees due to a childhood injury, so why would I want to add foot damage to that?

        For the last one, they might as well go join the trans cult in whining about how much biology hurts their feelings.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. Bev Jo says:

    You are so right about the women who play tough feminists while doing exactly what men want and advertising themselves that way also.

    Very good point that the same who are outraged at criticisms of male-identified femininity are the women policing girls and women. And the rest of what you say too. The combo of playing victim while getting as much privilege as possible is beyond annoying….

    And then there are the Hard Fem Lesbians who complain that they don’t get het privilege. Of course they do! At our expense.


    • Lizzy Shaw says:

      Yes, that combination is very annoying. I am not attacking anyone personally by saying that women shouldn’t have to wear crippling shoes and a sludge mask (aka makeup) to get a job/be considered for a better job/go out in public. Yet, especially when I was an undergrad, I would get a lot of feminine women offering to teach me how to do makeup. I haven’t had that problem as much anymore, partly because there are a lot of foreigners where I live who are from countries where women do not wear as much makeup as in the US, so a lot of my co-workers don’t wear makeup.

      Not to mention, it greatly annoys me how it seems to be impossible to have a female hero character who doesn’t pay lip-service to heterosexual or hyper-femininity or both. Or if she’s a lesbian, she’s hyper-feminine and often obsessed with getting pregnant. But feminine women are sooo oppressed.

      I think it is good to question who these victimization narratives really help. It’s usually the women with more privilege.


  21. Bev Jo says:

    Love “sludge mask!” I’ve been saying “clown face.” Interesting how some women from countries assumed to be more oppressed than here will not do some demeaning things that some women here happily do. Yes, “victim feminism” is killing our movement….


  22. Ainara says:

    Hi Linda,

    I recently found a copy of the original 1985 issue of the journal Lesbian Ethics containing this essay. I found it extremely interesting and relevant, still today. I am about to start a new publication and would love to talk to you. What’s the best way to reach you? Please e-mail me at

    Bev Jo: Thank you for publishing this great blog. Really enjoying browsing through it. If you know how to best reach Linda, I would highly appreciate you dropping me an e-mail. I saw she said she isn’t online much, and I suspect you are more on top of this messaging board than she is.

    Thank you very much!



    • Bev Jo says:

      Hi Ainara,

      Thank you too. Linda’s in the next room, but I’ll forward your email. Her article because a piece of our chapter, but I posted it to stand on it’s own also.



  23. gretagretae says:

    Dear Linda,
    I really like your article. It disturbs me how many posts by supposed feminists I see supporting femininity. Wearing heels is not feminist or “empowering”. I don’t get how people think this. I, personally, feel more confident when wearing shoes I can walk in.
    I especially do not care for the posts about “femme invisibility”. Every group of people throughout history has had unique ways of dressing to identify one another! If you dress like a het woman, people will think you are one. I don’t see how else it could work. These women also confuse me, because being unfeminine is obviously more comfortable and more practical. Ooh, look at me, wearing jeans I can easily put on and move in with deep pockets! I must have internalized femmephobia.


    • Bev Jo says:

      I’ll pass your letter on to Linda. Her article/chapter is as timely as ever. I so agree about the complaining about Fem invisibility when they are choosing to pass.

      Thank you for your great comment!



    • k.jane says:

      YES! The high heels are empowering mem is something I just do not get. Well, okay I can understand when it’s men saying it and non-feminist women, but women who are supposed to be feminists? Then again, most feminism is extremely watered down and is all about the man-worship these days. I feel more comfortable wearing clothing that fits me and shoes I can walk in too. Depending on the weather, I prefer pants and shorts with deep pockets so I can carry my stuff; though that has been increasingly hard to find. I think the reason the “high heels and makeup are empowering” madness mantra even exists is because anyone with a half-way decent bullshit detector knows it’s a lie.

      I don’t get lesbians who try to dress more feminine to “avoid looking like a stereotype” (aka to avoid looking to much like butches). The way I figure it, they’re just dressing up like a stereotypical heterosexual woman instead.

      By the way, has anyone noticed how most lesbians in the media are portrayed as ridiculously feminine when we get shown at all? There is a reason for that! (It’s to attract the male gaze and package lesbianism as something less threatening to men.) I really think that as lesbians, we should disobey as many male rules as we can.


      • Bev Jo says:

        I agree completely. I actually have a friend who is permanently disabled from falling in high heels. It’s a betrayal on so many levels since women wearing them are helping the men re-instate old dress codes for work, and I worry, for schools.

        Most upsetting is how the women with real power as beloved performers are all going along with it. I’ve seen Jennifer Lopez tell a girl singer contestant on American Idol that she should put her high heels back on (she’d taken them off.) The man judge started to question why should she, and Jennifer told him there are classes to learn to walk in high heels. The damage even without falling must be excruciating.

        Meanwhile, seeing the television singing contests are glaring, where the men can strut around the stage and jump and otherwise show off, while the girls and women are hobbled, constricted, mincing, ungrounded and uncentered and in pain, which has to affect their singing and power. So of course, no matter how good they are, the men often win. Recently on the Voice, there was an amazing 17 year old girl who sang possibly better than anyone I’ve ever heard, with such power. She started out wearing bow ties and suits and real shoes, but week after week, they feminized her, with makeup, showing some of her chest, then the heels started, higher each week. She still was way better than the man who won (he was white, she’s Black), but it was like they made sure she was demeaned in the entire process. Enraging.

        I agree about disobeying all the male rules.


  24. jcrawley1 says:

    Just want to say I am so grateful that your blog is here. As I evolve as a radical feminist lesbian, I have felt a growing need to connect with other woman-identified lesbians. Most if not all of the feminists I’ve met ignore or decenter the unique needs and values of lesbians. I really don’t consider their feminism to be feminism at all anymore. Just more male identification and a watered down form of activism which involves bargaining with the master. I am making a point to intentionally build relationships with lesbian-identified lesbians from now on because all the other forms of women-connecting-to-women have left me sensing that there is something inauthentic (more specifically, male-centered) at the core of the community.


    • Bev Jo says:

      Thank you so much. I agree! I see too many Lesbians saying they don’t want to identify as feminists or Radical Feminists any more because they see RF saying and doing things that are not feminist. I respond that just as we do not let the men appropriate our identity, we must not let women appropriate feminism in the name of anti-feminism that is on a continuum from liberal to right wing.

      We define who we are, who our movement is, and we will not give it away or give up.


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