All the arts and wiles of our sex

I’ve been thinking about this word “femme” – which, it seems to me, an awful lot of straight people have “appropriated” from lesbians, but that’s a slightly separate issue. What I’ve been thinking about is the fact that it’s a substitute for the word “feminine” but sounds hip and knowing, while “feminine” just sounds dopey and last century. Maybe the appropriation isn’t a separate issue after all then, since people tend to appropriate words and gestures and the like for increased hippitude.

Anyway, “femme” is a cooler way of saying “feminine,” but the trouble with that is that erases the political aspects of the word “feminine”…and that’s not a good idea.

What do you think of when you hear or see the word “feminine”? Graceful, fragile, dainty, pretty, delicate, weak – you see where I’m going with this? From dainty and delicate and weak you get to subordinate, powerless, compliant, second class. It’s not just random that that’s what feminine means; it’s political. What it means isn’t hip at all. Calling it femme instead makes it sound rebellious instead of compliant.

I’ve been thinking about the word because of something I saw on a blog that made me laugh incredulously –

________ is not safe, especially for femme women and femme AFAB non-binary people.

Say what? Femme AFAB non-binary people? Aren’t those just…um…women? If they’re both “assigned female at birth” and femme aka feminine, then how are they non-binary? How is this not, again, appropriation? How is it not appropriating a hipster label in order to seem less boring than tedious yawny ol’ women?

I think the hipsters are making a mistake thinking they can make “feminine” no longer political by changing it to “femme.” The word “feminine” has creepy overtones for a reason, and that shouldn’t be brushed aside.

Have some Virginia Woolf on The Angel in the House:

What could be easier than to write articles and to buy Persian cats with the profits? But wait a moment. Articles have to be about something. Mine, I seem to remember, was about a novel by a famous man. And while I was writing this review, I discovered that if I were going to review books I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her–you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it–in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all–I need not say it—she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty–her blushes, her great grace. In those days–the last of Queen Victoria–every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: “My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.” And she made as if to guide my pen.

A pox on all the arts and wiles of our sex.

11 Responses to “All the arts and wiles of our sex”