When I was a teenager, into my early twenties, most of my friends were boys. I dismissed or stifled socially coded feminine interests like fashion, makeup, cooking, dancing, processing emotions, practicing self care. I was more interested in sex, and metalwork, and urban exploration, and fighting. Girls were too soft, and bitchy, and I felt alienated among them. I wanted to DO things, not talk about them.
Now, when I look back, I think about how much I missed out on because of my internalized misogyny. Most of the people I spend time with now are women- in fact, now I can count my masculine-of-center friends on one hand, while my femme friends are numerous. If anything, it’s a complete 180- most of the people I have close to me are femmes. I talk to my mother more often than my dad. I work with mostly femmes, I live with another woman, most of the groups on FB I interact with are femme-centric. Even my interest in metalwork is turning towards working with other women.
Sometimes I wonder what shifted. How did I go from being “one of the boys” to unapologetically femme focused?
I think it started when I started doing sex work activism. Being around a group of women doing activism to help marginalized women together was incredibly healing for me for a while. And then, I think it was underlined when I started doing consent activism, as I began to shy away from sex positivity into a more critical stance and began to unpack the various ways in which patriarchy affects consent, communication, and what we consider valuable. I began to realize all the unpaid emotional labour that I was expected to do, in order to cushion the lives of “well meaning”, “feminist” men, who felt so BAD about their privilege and wanted to be reassured that they were “nice guys”. I bristled every time a man spoke over me, or assumed I wanted to flirt with them, or that I was available to them.
And I started to notice just how often it happened.
Not just to me, though that was plenty overwhelming. It also happened to all the women I knew, whether it was a partner, a family member, a coworker, a friend. And I noticed how often any attempt to discuss how frustrating it was outside of a women-only space would be derailed into men protesting they weren’t like that, and anyway what could they possibly be expected to do about it, masculinity was a rough gig too after all, didn’t we feel for them?
This was particularly telling on Facebook. I can’t even explain how often I say something out of frustration to my friends/acquaintances (mostly women, anymore) about banning men, and suddenly a man, sometimes not even a friend but a friend of a friend, will pop by to pipe up with “not all men!”, like my declaring a ban on men on my Facebook wall will mean that all men will be summarily destroyed. Sadly, I don’t have that kind of goddesslike power. Sorry to disappoint, y’all.
When this happened, I’d glance at the guy’s timeline. So often, that man wasn’t using his own space to talk to other men about toxic masculinity. He wasn’t taking time out of his day to critique other men. Sometimes, even, he would defend his right to say “bitches are crazy” because he was a Good Feminist Guy and obviously it was a JOKE and geez why did everyone jump on him for expressing himself?
They never seemed to see the irony, that they were coming to MY playground, expecting me to engage in unpaid emotional labour on my own time for their Fee-Fees about masculinity, time they couldn’t be bothered to make on their own.
I’m just fed up with that, to be honest. Being on guard 24/7 is a tiring way to exist. Being on call to play therapist, mother, lover and teacher is exhausting and draining and thankless. I witness so many amazing women, and femmes in particular, being expected to take on that emotional toil on such a regular basis, expected to caretake and educate and be compassionate and kind and always available. I have found when it’s a community of femmes, it’s great (mostly, though there’s been issues about racism/classism/ableism/other isms in some groups). Ideally, we can all do that for each other, and have it done for us in turn. Talking to other femmes has been healing, validating, safe, comforting. I don’t feel like I have to be constantly wary for That Guy the way I feel I have to be on guard in the general population. It’s safer space.
The sad truth is, I cannot trust even the men I care about the most to necessarily be present for me emotionally the way I can trust the femmes in my life to be. It’s not entirely their fault, sure- they’re trained into having emotional voids and lack of self awareness. But this is a cold, cruel world, and we all need a lot of reassurance in it. I have found it’s my femme pack who is there for me in times of sobbing hysterics or heartbroken uncertainty- there is almost always someone who is able to hold my hand and talk me through this panic attack or that nightmare or this other relationship trauma. Men, even the best men, try, but it doesn’t occur to them to reach out or to comfort to the extent femmes can and will. As someone who gives a lot of that kind of love out, having people around me who return that love so readily is a precious resource.
The most difficult obstacle I’ve found myself coming against in the process of centering other femmes is the cultural training to see them as competition. I have been scared of other women, scared of feminine judgment of my body or my choices. But as I’ve been practicing reaching out, particularly to women I feel intimidated by, and expressing both ownership of what issues I bring to the table and my discomfort/impression, alongside a desire to get to know these women better rather than indulge these anxious feelings. And you know what? It’s been amazing. Rather than being caught up in my fantasies of how these women think of me and being avoidant, we both create space to be vulnerable and to hear each other out, and in doing so, dismantle that notion of competitiveness between us. Becoming friends with my boyfriend’s girlfriends/exes has been so incredibly healthy for me, as I unlearn some of my fear and jealousy to replace it with femme solidarity and support.
I’m finding more and more that my femme friends are my greatest allies. And that if eventually we do form a bunker banning all men… I think I could be pretty happy in there. Femme solidarity gives me life.
(Note- when I talk about femmes, I’m not just meaning cis women- some of the closest femmes to me are genderqueer. I differentiate sometimes between women and femmes, because they are not one and the same.And when I talk about men, or masculinity, I don’t just mean cis men, though often, yes.)
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