When Femme Fails (and Other Questions)

Last year I discussed “high femme” and shared with you my working definition of the term.   The two posts I wrote on this subject, which you can find here and here, prompted great dialogue–for which I’m so grateful! 

Just to refresh your memory, my goal in those posts was to conceptualize high femmes not so much as “more feminine” than other kinds of femmes, but rather as femmes who use exaggeration and/or theatricality to denaturalize femininity.   In short, for me high femme is a highly stylized form of femme gender expression that tends to privilege artifice over realness.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how this definition raises certain problems and questions.  For example, what constitutes “highly stylized” femininity and who gets to decide?  How “stylized” does a femme have to be before she can be considered a high femme? 

Do you have to intend to “do”  high femme to be one?  We talk a lot about our intentions or self-consciousness in performing femme, but doesn’t the reception of our performance matter too?  Here’s an example of what I mean.  What happens if I intend in a self-conscious way to highlight the artifice/constructedness of my femininity as a lesbian gender, but others (the guy who lives down the hall) don’t read me that way? Instead, they just see me as the pretty single gal in Apt. 3-B.  Has my performance of high femme “failed?”  All gendered performances “fail,” but it feels like something else is at stake here and I can’t quite put my finger on it….

These are obviously more questions than answers, but I wanted at least to put them on the table for 2009.   As always, I’d love to hear what you think!

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The Feminine Mystique

Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #3. 1977. Gelatin silver print, 7 1/16 x 9 7/16" (18 x 24 cm)
Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #3. 1977. Gelatin silver print, 7 1/16 x 9 7/16

 Photo Credit:  MoMA The Museum of Modern Art, New York http://www.moma.org/collection/