It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m at a bar where a live performance event is being held. It’s not specifically a gay event but there are a lot of lesbians here. Without talking to anyone I can already see the butch/femme dynamic at play which seems to shape the lesbian community worldwide. Femmes in their dresses and butch’s in their black skinny jeans. When you enter the “scene” you are assigned or assign yourself to a category, butch or femme. This is the protocol you follow in the world of courtship. Butch makes the first move, buys the drink and opens the car door. Femme flirts with her body, falls in love harder and gets to play the victim. We mimic heteronormative constructs of gender and maybe that’s okay. But what is definitely not is that we have adopted heteronormative structures that are inherently misogynistic.
Back to the bar, I meet a girl. We are both feminine presenting. We start chatting and flirting a bit. In the middle of our conversation a masculine presenting girl walks up to us. This girl had introduced herself to me earlier on in the afternoon. And that was the extent of our conversation. She whispers into my companion’s ear, “stop pussy-blocking me” and then walks away. Me, I am left caught between outrage and a fit of laughter at how awkward the situation is. Nevertheless, “Stop pussy-blocking me” connotes a scary sense of entitlement to my body. The premise of her actions is that getting the “competition” to back off is more important than engaging with me and more important than the issue of my consent. And anyway, what does the issue of my consent matter if I am only a sex object to her? An object cannot give consent. The phrase is reductive. It reduces me from a person to a “pussy”,to an object, there to be claimed rather than engaged with.
Later on that same day I see a friend of mine in conversation with a masculine presenting girl. I go up to my friend and join the conversation. Her acquaintance, whom we shall call Sam, introduces herself to me. The conversation goes (more or less) as follows:
“Hi, I’m Sam.”
“Hi Sam it’s nice to meet you”
“Nice to meet you to, can I kiss you?”
“Umm…because I’m hooking up with someone else tonight.”
“Oh… but you can kiss me anyway.”
“Ok Sam, I actually just made that up. I don’t want to kiss you.”
“Because I’m not attracted to you”
Later on that night she came up to me with the same intention. After she was rejected once again, she turned to my friend and said, completely straight faced, “Ok, so will you kiss me?” My friend and I burst out laughing. You’ve gotta hand it to her in terms of sheer determination. I also loved my friend’s response,
“No, you can’t kiss us. We’re feminists.” (Yes, we’d all had a few drinks by this point)
Again there was that invasive sense of entitlement to our bodies, as well as the premise that we are exchangeable, commodities rather than people.
But, what also interests me was my initial response to Sam’s request. Without thinking I felt that she would respect that fact that I was with someone else, that I had already been “claimed”, more than she would my own declination. I played into the misogyny. And it didn’t work! Her extreme sense of entitlement gave me a second chance to assert myself on my own terms – how’s that for seeing the silver lining.
Another misogynistic structure that we have adopted is the slut/player double standard. Feminine presenting lesbians often seemed to be shamed for sleeping around or cheating while masculine presenting lesbians are praised. I remember a girl I had slept with telling me I was “easy”, meaning she had not had to try hard to sleep with me. I was so confused by this. Why was I expected to make it hard for her to sleep with me in order to be valued more? I was especially confused because we are both women and so I did not expect that paradigm to exist between us. It just didn’t make sense to me. Ironically, she is also a feminine presenting lesbian and was often called a slut behind her back within her clique. I remember there was another masculine presenting girl within the same clique who slept around a lot yet was never ever referred to as a slut.
The premise that women’s bodies are sex objects, there to be acted upon, has long since been established as misogynistic. The premise that female sexuality is shameful has long since been established as misogynistic. But here it is, rearing its ugly head in a community that is made up (biologically if not psychologically) entirely of women. As such we have all been on the receiving end of misogyny, we all know how shit it feels. Why are we replicating it in our community?
This is a difficult issue to tackle. Our community is filled with a range of gender identities, from cis to trans. Lesbians that are labelled/ label themselves as “butch” have a masculinity to them which they want to express and want to have recognised. The only hegemonic (most widely recognised) construct of masculinity that exists relies on the subjugation of the feminine. “Butch” lesbians adopt this form of masculinity, replicating what has been normalized in the greater culture. Misogyny is unacceptable to me but I have come to expect from men. I hate that I find myself confronted with it within the lesbian community which strives to be a safe place for wo/men of all gender identities. I honestly feel that we should know better than to perpetuate a system that causes us all harm. Being a gay woman is intrinsically subversive. We can be sexually fulfilled without the presence of a man. To the patriarchy this is a total mindfuck. We challenge the patriarchy simply by existing. We are inherently progressive beings and we certainly do not need to rely on its outdated courtship rituals. So, I challenge masculine presenting lesbians to be pioneers and create a masculinity that does not rely on the subjugation of the feminine and I challenge feminine presenting lesbians (myself included) to stop playing into or perpetuating misogyny from within our community