Femininity in my culture is too often understood in contrast with masculinity or as a means of attracting men. It’s also seen as a performance, something you do or wear, not who you are.
Femininity is culturally defined by physical appearance markers – long hair, makeup, dresses – and behaviors – baking, childcare, spa days. Traits like intelligence, leadership, and organization are not included, though sometimes “shallow” and “frivolous” are ascribed to us.
Being a lipstick lesbian means being told my gender expression is about attracting the kind of partner I don’t want. The world around me is so focused on the male gaze, I’ve had people insist even after learning my orientation that I dress my face the way I do for men. I cannot be trusted to recognize my own agency in femininity, because femininity is falsely believed to mean submission to males.
I wear makeup first and foremost for myself. If it happens to please a partner or prospective partner (to wit, a woman), that’s a happy bonus. I love the art and science of makeup, the color theory and chemistry. I love the history, of kohl liner from Egypt, rouge and blush from France, perfumed skin creams from China. Few daily exercises let my mind draw connections across disciplines as well as doing my makeup.
For me, femininity is about embracing my connection to other women – femme and butch, trans amd cis. It’s about not being a Chill Girl who thinks she’s too good to be associated with anything girly. It’s a way of staking my claim, my personal experience of womanhood. And it comes after years of trying to earn male praise and approval by being as unfeminine as I could manage.
I have tried to please men, and it didn’t look like this. For me, it looked like short hair, boys clothes, greasy food, and belches. It looked like letting them paw at me despite my clear efforts to be “one of the guys”.
Femininity is very personal for me, and personally revolutionary. A world determined to see pleasing men in everything I do cannot see the truth: that I don’t seek their approval now. When I wear pink, I do so knowing men hate pink because they associate it with femininity. When I don heavy contouring makeup, I am well aware men would rather see me in a “natural” look. Men aren’t the point of femininity.