Ottawa
4 min

Combating femmephobia

Venus Envy workshop tackles prejudice

Tonight Venus Envy Ottawa plays host to Glitter and Glory: Femme Identity Femmephobia 101, a workshop that aims “to be a discussion of femme identity, femmephobia and the ways that femmephobia impacts us and our communities,” workshop facilitator Sam says.

“I'm hoping that the workshop will create some space where people can continue sharing those stories and leave wanting to be a part of femme legend,” Sam says. “Also, there will be glitter.”

Xtra spoke to workshop participant Rukiya M to get a better grasp on the realities of femmephobia and how we can combat this prejudice as a community.

Xtra: Can you define femmephobia for our readers?

Rukiya: Femmephobia, (trans) misogyny and sexism are all sides of the same box. Essentially, femmephobia is the prejudice, discrimination, bullying, violence, et cetera that people who are feminine, and who choose to present as feminine, face. It is important to note that our experiences of femininity and femmephobia can differ because of our cis, able-bodied, class, white privilege. As such, femmes are a diverse group, and I can only speak from a cis-queer, black woman’s perspective, so when I use the word “femme,” it should be noted that I do not speak on behalf of all femmes. Not even a little bit.

A few examples of femmephobia:

–       Saying someone shouldn’t wear makeup, dress it up, wear high heels; essentially, shaming someone for how they choose to present their femmeness; or that you are a better person because you don’t “buy into that bullshit.”

–       Being harassed, objectified, assaulted (physically, verbally, sexually, et cetera) because you are femme

–       That femmes' bodies have only one purpose; to please the masculine gaze and that femmes do everything to please others, particularly masculine people.

–       To assume that all those who dress in a feminine manner are submissive or passive.

–       That femmes can’t be radical and fuck shit up.

–       That femmes are shallow or vain or superficial; that all we care about is ourselves.

–       That femmes don’t have their own voice.

–       That femmes aren’t smart and fucking brilliant (femininity is associated with unintelligence).

–       That it isn’t our choice to be femme, and that we are who we are because we have internalized societal expectations of femininity – – because there is clearly no way we could have chosen to be femme otherwise.

–       When we express our desires, we are sluts, as if that’s a bad thing. That when we enter a relationship with someone, we are assumed to only be looking for “serious” relationships and have no interest in casual hookups.

–       That femmes are too sensitive, too emotional, hysterical, crazy, “dramatic,” et cetera, which silences our emotions, being placed in the role of caretaker or the person who has to emotionally tend to a relationship.

As a gay man, “femmephobia” reminds me of men saying they are only into masculine guys: “no femmes.” Why do you think this prejudice exists within the gay male community?

There is definitely this fear and prejudice of femmes and femininity that exists in the gay male community. We see it all the time when gay men are labelled, in a derogatory manner, as effeminate. On one hand, gay men face the homophobic bullying tinged with femmephobia that they experience from the heterosexist world, and, on the flip side, gay male culture perpetuates the same bullying and violence by discriminating against gay men that either choose to present themselves in a feminine manner or those men that are perceived as “too feminine.”

This hypermasculinity in gay male culture shames gay men who want to express themselves in a feminine manner and also reinforces, by creating slurs that discriminate femininity, that being feminine is the worst possible thing someone can be. One of the reasons that this discrimination manifests in the gay male culture is because gay male culture is not void of the sexism and misogyny that exists in the toxic hypermasculine patriarchal society we live in.

Is there also femmephobia that exists within the lesbian community?

Yes, it does! Femmephobia definitely exists in the lesbian community. In addition to the examples of femmephobia already mentioned, queer and lesbian femmes’ sexualities are over-scrutinized while simultaneously made invisible. One of the ways this plays out is that queer and lesbian femmes are often questioned about whether or not they are even queer because of femmephobia.

A misunderstanding of femmes says that feminine-presenting women: 1) cannot be queer 2) and that their sexuality is up for discussion/approval from masculine/masculine of centre queers.

This occurs often due to the fact that queer and lesbian femmes do not fit the construction of what queer and lesbian women are “supposed” to look like, which is inherently femmephobic.

What are the best ways to combat femmephobia within our community regardless of which gender is involved?

I strongly believe that, as Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl, says, “in order for gender equity to be achieved that we first need to empower femininity itself.”

Some ways we can do this within our communities is by prioritizing the voices of trans femmes, gender-variant femmes, women-of-colour femmes, differently abled femmes — and all the beautiful ways that those intersect. We can begin by believing femmes, by understanding that femmes do not live one-dimensional lives, that there is such a thing as femme on purpose, and that there is a long line of femme mentors and femme elders that have been proving for a while now that resisting femmephobia is possible and not a “new” thing. It’s important to also acknowledge that a lot of the social-justice work being done by and in queer communities is being done by femmes. Often this work is not valued and is underappreciated.

Further, it’s important to think critically about the assumptions we bear about femininity and feminine qualities and look at how these things are valued less than what is considered to be masculine.

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For further reading, Rukiya suggests an article by Sunny Drake called "Femme-Ally Conversation Starter," which includes examples of femmephobia and ways to stop perpetuating it within our communities.

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Glitter and Glory: Femme Identity and Femmephobia 101

Tues, Aug 13, 6:30pm

Venus Envy, 320 Lisgar St

$0-20, pay what you can