Saturday, 15 December 2012

excessively feminine

exaggeratedly female

An interesting article on Huffington Post focuses on the implications of a line from a telly show, Husbands:  "I'm a man with an exotic femininity in a society that regards the feminine as a sign of weakness."

I found it particularly interesting because of my own, trans experience of that attitude. From an early e-mail from an old friend telling me that I wouldn't solve my problems by flouncing about like a pantomime dame (she hadn't seen me, she just naturally assumed that this is what trans women do, I guess) to a criticism of my behaviour by the Chief Engineer of the Pride of Bilbao, cited at an Employment Tribunal; "she acted in an exaggeratedly female manner", he said, though he didn't explain how I managed that.

He wasn't there in person; his 'statement' was read out by Sandra Ray, a personnel officer with P&O. "Has anyone ever accused you of acting in an exaggeratedly female manner?" I asked.

She seemed a little surprised by the question.

The surprise was, of course, due to the perception of my femininity as being purely performative; as they evidently saw me as a man, any feminine behaviour on my part was exaggerated (though I'm still not sure that I did anything that I would have described as characteristically gendered either way). But in a wider sense, femininity is seen as performative, whoever is performing it. Indeed, some people see all gender behaviour as a performance (in the sense of it being artificial), rather than simply performative (in the sense of being what we do); and some see femininity as a divergence from best practice, which is, by default, masculinity.

There's an element of this attitude in the uber-trans woman who insists that she never wears skirts, but lives in jeans, when others lower down the pecking order are enthusing about their new-found freedom to explore female clothes options. It's one-up-person-ship, of course, but still buys into the narrative.

Julia Serano is a useful read on this stuff, by the way, if you haven't encountered her "Whipping Girl:  A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity".

(a quick and imperfect post, shall review it later...)