Saturday, May 23, 2009

What IS in a name?

OK, now you got me thinking about dress as identity in addition to the whole naming thing, and how patriarchy gets mixed up in that, too.

I suppose I would be closest to what is described in the Comments as "preppie butch," although I do the slob thing pretty well, too.

I laughed out loud when I read the Robin Williams quote on butches as simply "women in comfortable shoes"--in other words, sensible women. Another commenter wrote that a butch is a woman who stands up to a man, unless she is femme, in which case she is bitch, rather than butch. Loved that one.

But here's my take on it. Butch to me is not about playing a role. It is about not playing a role, not 'doing' gender. I don't consciously dress butch, i.e., shop in the men's-wear section, or cut my hair high-and-tight. I simply do not wear dresses/skirts, high heels, makeup, or fussy jewelry. Or fussy hair, either. My ideal haircut is one I can hit with a towel and be out the door.

I don't shave. Anywhere. Ever.

On the other hand, while I don't like frilly blouses as a general rule, I have floral prints in my closet. And I like nice undies. Bras are torture instruments and I would never wear one if I didn't have such big jugs, but as long as I have to wear them, I want them as lacy and frilly as I can get them. I think that is because I can indulge that side of me away from the male gaze. And because lacy underwear doesn't inhibit movement the way other feminine clothing (e.g., spike heels) does.

Doing gender is not my first priority: Practical, comfortable, yet attractive (nice oxford shirts, for example, in high-quality cotton and pretty colors) is. If people think I dress like a man, then so be it.

But as for identity, my clothing does send a message about me: I'm not conforming to gender requirements. I'm more interested in what works for me than what society wants.

Naomi Wolf, in The Beauty Myth, cites some statistics on how many battered women's shelters we could fund with the money we piss away on face creams alone. I think it came out to one per state per year. And she or someone else commented on how much we could accomplish with the time we spend doing our faces and hair and shopping for femme crap if we put that same energy into social change. So my clothing also sends those two messages about my identity: I'd rather spend the money on hobby equipment and the time on my profession.

Whereas, to me, the whole femme thing plays out the stereotype of females in our society as frivolous, superficial, silly, empty-headed, vain, spendthrift, allowing themselves to dress for (or in the case of expensive baubles, be dressed by) men, blah, blah. So in terms of messages I send with my personal style, if I were consciously sending one, that would not be it. Why would I deliberately drape something over my body that telegraphs, "idiotic"?

So here's my identity as summed up by my appearance:
(1) Judges self and others by their character.
(3) Likes nice things.
(4) Practical. Sensible. Comfortable.
(5) Nonconformist.
(6) Will stand up to a man--a bitch in pants.
(7) Sloppy.
(8) Preppie.


1 comment:

The Goldfish said...

Hi Sutton, I've found this discussion very interesting, and I quoted you in a post about Gender Presentation and Disability here.