I’m No Lady

I hate being called a lady.  It’s almost as bad as being showered with “yes, ma’am’s” by my students!  I’m not against manners; to the contrary, I value them highly and even keep a copy of Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior on hand in case of an etiquette crisis.  (I kid you not.)

Pulling out my dictionary, I see “lady” not only means that a woman is polite and considerate but also that she’s “proper” and/or “virtuous.”  Which of course implies that other women are not.   Maybe that’s why, for me, lady is a category that tends to resist ironic appropriation.  However, I will admit that there are a few important exceptions:

  1. when used by drag queens
  2. in Tom Jones’ song, “She’s a Lady”
  3. when used by the glorious Lady Brett Ashley, whose namesake (a character in The Sun Also Rises) is independent, sexually liberated and drinks her way across Europe.  What’s not to like?

But let’s face it:  sometimes being called a lady is just plain sexist.  For example, I was appalled when a man (himself a writer) called me a “lady writer” a few years ago.  Ugh.  There are also times when people use the word as a synonym for woman, as in “My new tattoo is a hit with the ladies” or (to a child), “Say thank you to the nice lady.”  I’m not a fan of this more “neutral” use of the word, because I don’t think lady can ever be neutral.  That’s the point.  It’s a value judgment. 

Historically, ladies were the object of a knight’s devotion, so the term suggests chivalric codes as well as a particular social position.  I love being treated chivalrously and think the practice of chivalry can be feminist, but I think it’s problematic to encode chivalry in identity categories (e.g. butch/male lover and femme/lady beloved).  As many feminists have observed, a  pedestal is a small place to live.

Why do I feel immediately constrained when someone (however well-meaning) calls me a lady?  I think it’s because of the engendering work the term does–its quiet insistence that women follow certain codes in order to be thought of as meritorious, desirable, or attractive.  Although I certainly respect those femmes who find a retro appeal the identity of the lady, I see “femme” as a category that breaks gender norms and “lady” as an enforcer of them.  That’s why I’m proud to say I’m no lady. 

Zen and Beauty


Beauty takes time.  However,  incorporating a beauty regime into your everyday schedule is a huge time saver as well as a great way to ensure that you stick with your regime.  Before long you’ll be looking as luminous as Jean Harlow does in this photo!  And–as I discovered today–with luminosity comes serenity.

I think femmes instictively appreciate the zen of beauty.  For example, this morning I woke up at 6 AM and exercised, gave myself a facial (graded papers while the mask was on), did my nails (read and did course prep while my nails were drying), showered, dressed, and did my hair and makeup. 

The amazing thing is that I managed to do this all without rushing, which is highly unusual for me in the mornings.  I have to admit, it was rather glorious.  I arrived at my morning class feeling relaxed, energized and polished.  Perhaps serenity is truly the higher goal of beauty.  Who knew?

Sublimefemme Tells All, No. 13

Nice is highly overrated.


Get Your Femme On! (Holiday Edition)


Yes, my lovelies, it’s the post you’ve been waiting for–how to get your femme on for the holiday season in 5 easy steps:

  1. Embellish.  More is more.  Pull out those dressy accessories and wow coworkers at the annual holiday party with a fab new look that says, “the only good thing about having to go to this party was dressing for it!”
  2. Take Risks.  Those super high stilettos that you can barely walk on?  Now’s the time to wear them!  People will be too drunk to notice you’re wobbling.
  3. Think Glitter.  The holiday season is your chance to show your more glamorous side.  And nothing says “happy holidays”  like sequins and glitter eyeliner.  
  4. Be a Sex Kitten.  Show cleavage.  Wear the fishnets.  Who cares if people gossip about you the next day?
  5. Embrace Artifice.  Pull out your metallic eyeshadows and spritz on a bold fragrance.  Anyone who tells you to keep your look “natural” for the holidays is boring.  Why be low-key when you can be fabulous? 


By choosing to “get your femme on,” you assume all risks associated with being a sexy, sparkly femme. 

Sublimefemme Unbound shall not in any event be liable for any direct or indirect damages arising from your unbridled femmeness, including excessive and irresponsible shoe purchases, overaccessorizing, death by glitter, or trip and falls resulting from women throwing themselves at your feet.

Beauty, Femininity and Feminism

Is your lipstick a tool of the patriarchy?  Is the pursuit of beauty anti-feminist?   Before you answer these questions, consider this:

It is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sports are “important”; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes “trivial.”  This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a hair salon.

I didn’t write the words above (except for the bit about the hair salon).  They’re paraphrased from Virginia Woolf’s watershed feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately beacause I believe the question “Is beauty anti-feminist?” repeats the privileging of the masculine that Woolf critiques.

Sublime Femmeness embraces the power of femme beauty and rethinks its politics:

  • We need to separate the beauty industry and anti-feminist beauty standards (e.g. whiteness as beauty) from the pursuit of beauty and femininity, which feminism should elevate.
  • When a feminist or anyone else denigrates makeup, fashion etc, what this person is really saying is that the things that matter to (many) women are trivial and superficial.
  • “The beautiful” is much more complex and varied than we have been led to believe.
  • It’s our imperfections that make us beautiful.

What else should be added to this list?  Does beauty and its pleasures shape your experience of femme?

The L Word, Fashion and Femme

What’s the significance of fashion and beauty on The L Word?  This question and others are asked by The Ginja Ninja in her recent post.   Check it out and come back here for my response!

The Ginja Ninja discusses the characters’ fashion and beauty practices as an enactment of 3rd wave feminism, but I think the rise of lesbian chic and the distinctive subcultural style of LA lesbians are much more influential on the social world of The L Word.  There’s a great NY Times article, “The Subtle Power of Lesbian Style,” which discusses the enormous impact LA lesbian style has had in the worlds of fashion and pop culture.   Contrary to popular stereotypes, “fashion” and “lesbian” are hardly a contradiction in terms!

In the first episode in which Moira/Max is introduced (as Jenny’s lover), Bette remarks, “I just don’t see why Jenny feels she has to role-play like that.”   I don’t think this is an example of the group’s “up-to-date gender politics,” as you assert. To the contrary, this is precisely what 2nd wave lesbian-feminists said about butch/femme!  I’ve written a lot on this blog about the dismissal of butch/femme as role-playing, so I won’t repeat myself here.  However, we should ask:  does this demeaning attitude about  butch/femme reflect the LA scene, at least to some degree?  I think this attitude–and the presentation of butches as “archaic”–demonstrates some of the show’s profound limitations around gender identity and expression. 

I think it’s important not to conflate “feminine lesbians” and “femme.”   For example, you refer to Jenny as “unmistakably femme,” but I’m not sure I agree.  Many femmes, myself included, feel that femme identity is not just about how you look, and is not equivalent to being conventionally pretty or “feminine” (although some of us are simply ravishing, I must admit).  For example, there are (equally ravishing) tomboy femmes, gender-transgressive femmes, etc. 

There’s a reason Tila Tequila says she’s into lipstick lesbians!  Unlike lipstick lesbians (I know I’m generalizing here), femmes tend  to be self-conscious about how we create our gender, which we often experience as complicated–maybe this explains why we’re all blogging!   In my experience, femmes have been very engaged in theorizing femme identity in relation to and as part of feminist, queer, genderqueer and transgender discourses and communities.  Obviously, this isn’t true of all femmes but it does highlight a point of pride for many of us:  as Jewelle Gomez puts it, we refuse to be muted or assimilated.

Where’s the challenge and provocativeness of lesbian sartorial styles on the show?  I’m certainly NOT saying that the characters of The L Word are assimilationist because they’re fashionable and/or feminine.  Instead, my concern is that lesbian style on The L Word often functions as a vehicle for dissolving and/or absorbing social and cultural difference.