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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Queer Femme Representation: Disrupting ‘Woman’

  • Author(s): Haller, Martinique
  • et al.

Minnie Bruce Pratt describes what femme means to her when she says “For me, femme is a place of resistance to [that] degradation, a place to divest femininity of limiting stereotypes, and a place to assert the power and dignity of femaleness” (Pratt 197). Femme has often been charged with reinforcing outdated and un-feminist stereotypes of women, especially when femme is paired with butch. A femme/butch pairing has been accused of imitating heterosexuality, or at best, heteronormativity. These ways of understanding femme are predicated on the idea of the femme as the butch’s other half, but femme exists on its own. Pratt, like many self-identified femmes, finds a queer femme identity to be empowering: “a place of resistance.” How, then does a woman who is performing femininity do this? To brush aside a queer femme as imitative of straight women, as ‘passing’ in order to access heterosexual privilege at the expense of a butch counterpart is overly simplistic. Furthermore, if we continue to locate the subversion of femininity on butch dykes or masculine lesbians, we reify the old category of ‘woman’ while holding up ‘woman’ as weak and a natural, fixed category. This occurs when we look at visibly butch lesbians and call their femininity subversive because it is not concerned with stereotypically feminine ways of being like submissiveness or weakness thus relegating traits like these to the category of woman. This way of thinking reproduces the patriarchal discourse that exists in the dominant culture within queer communities. It is problematic in that it leads to the devaluing of queer femmes as a result of reading feminine appearance without a critical eye through the lens of misogyny.

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