Gender Studies II
EN2012 – Winter 2011 – Terry Goldie
Reading – ‘The Fem(me)inist Manifesto’ by Duggan and McHugh – Jan 31
The Fem(me) Identity
- A proposal or working proposition: fem(me) is the je ne sais quoi of desiring
difference prior to any determination of sexual preference or gender identity.
Fem(me) is put on, a put-on, fetish production at the hands of subject becoming
object, becoming fetish, while always retaining a sense of the performance,
always amused yet (here is the challenge, the gauntlet she throws down)
possibly bored by its effects.
- Femme is the performativity, the insincerity, the mockery, the derision for foreplay
– the bet, the dare, the bringing to attention of the suitor, the one who would
provide (her) pleasure.
- The performer who demands performance in return, the player who brings
pleasure into play.
- Femme is neither an ideal nor a category.
- She steals the show (she is the show) of difference, but she cannot be fixed as a
certain effect ‘in itself.’
- Femme is always inter-actionable, never onanistic or narcissistic.
- Mirrors are not the pool in which she drowns; they are the instrument or
metaphor of her essential irony.
- Her perspective is always partially extrasensory – Berger’s ‘women watch
themselves being watched’.
- In her doubled gaze, virility risks itself utterly (Nietzsche understood this risk well)
– the lover, the suitor, the watcher watched, assessed, mocked, calculated.
- Double-sighted, however well intentioned, she will only ever speak one truth at
the expense of an other.
- In her inscription – femme – we find the enclosure of an ego (‘me’), a
fundamental challenge to the category, the slot, the ideal of the feminine.
- Refusing the fate of Girl-by-Nature, the femme is a Girl-by-Choice.
- Finding in androgyny (the rejection of all femininity) too much loss, too little
pleasure, and ugly shoes, the femme takes from the feminine a wardrobe, a
walk, a wink, then moves on to sound the death knell of an abject sexuality
contorted and subjected to moral concerns.
Historicizing the Fem(me)
- The butch-femme couple share a trajectory from the nineteenth century to the
- The butch, according to this account, has been unfairly centered; the femme’s
parallel tale remains untold.
- As Stephen Gordon’s Mary, she alternately signifies both victory and defeat.
o In The Butch’s Tale her agency, her choice appears effaced… the choice,
the sacrifice is Stephen’s.
o Mary’s choice, the tale of her desire, endangers butch and ‘normal’ man
alike. o She ‘turns’ gay, she ‘goes’ straight.
o Her story isn’t a lesbian (her)story in the singular sense.
- Lesbian (her)stories are plural, but none stabilizes a place for the femme.
- Romantic friends, androgynous lovers, bohemian expatriates cross through and
travel around the (his)story of lesbianism.
- But femmes stand at the boundary, never wholly ‘in’ nor fully ‘out’.
- At the turn of the century the boundary ‘normal’ women/femme fatale appears, as
‘femininity’ proliferates into its modern ‘normal’ and perverse formations.
- During the 1950s, perhaps for the first time, lesbian femme becomes a location
for some, in bars, on streets of U.S. cities. But this center cannot hold.
- And now, in the postmodern reign of The Queer, the femme reappears, signifier
of another kind of gender trouble.
- Though femmes occupy the shifting border of lesbian identities of the twentieth
century, they are never heterosexual.
- Though they may traffic in men, they do not, cannot, will not take up position
within a heteronormative framework.
- Those femmes who desire masculinity in a partner prefer queer masculinities,
occupied with irony and ambiguity.
- The masculine heteronormative man is inadequate in this department; the
phallus he ‘has’ seems not to be detachable.
- Queer men may also make perfectly good partners, of course.
Fem(me)inism: The New Science
- Femmenism grapples with the thorniest issues – desire and humour.
- Feminists ‘have no sense of humour’, they are ‘anti