you can get away with a lot, if you wear skirts and lipstick (and also if you have buckets of privilege to begin with)

November 17, 2010

Back before Colleen/Alan was canon, Colleen and I spent a lot of time intertwined. (So did Alan and I, but that’s a whole other story.) We walked around hand-in-hand. We snuggled constantly. If we were sitting together, odds were she was curled up in my lap. It didn’t mean anything- she’s straight as a ruler. It was just harmless, no-end-goal-in-mind flirting.

Usually no one noticed, or cared, or commented. Two conventionally pretty girls holding hands reads as comfortable friendship, which in this case is what it was.

Except once, some dudely type dude, displaying every kind of visible privilege you can think of, told us to get a room, as we were signing into our dorm building. I had an arm around her shoulders; she had an arm around my waist. It was not a big deal. So, whatever, we ignored him.

Then we shared an elevator with him. Amateur comedy night continued. “Hey, don’t ask, don’t tell, right?” Oh dudely dude. You are so, so clever, if, of course, by clever I mean entirely unoriginal and uninteresting. We continued to ignore him.

He continued to waggle his eyebrows at us. We got out of the elevator, and he called after us: “Hey, have a nice night!” More hyena-esque cackling. Your implications, dudely dude! They were so subtle and hilarious!

Here’s the interesting bit. Normally, my gender presentation is pretty damn feminine. I love skirts and dresses, I wear my hair long, I gravitate towards all things lacy. That night I wore loose jeans and an unfitted plaid shirt and I had my hair in a ponytail; I looked about as stereotypically lesbian as it’s possible for me to look (which is still not very stereotypically-lesbian-looking). Colleen’s a utilitarian dresser, all jeans and t-shirts.

When I look feminine, all acceptable-object-of-stereotypical-straight-dude-lust, I don’t get any crap for flirtatious behavior with girls. (Straight dudes love it when pretty girls flirt with each other, doncha know. Because clearly we are only doing it for their entertainment and pleasure!) But the moment I didn’t feel like performing conventionally-pretty girliness, it was something to comment on, something to joke about.

This is all sexuality vs. sexualization: conventionally attractive girls who perform femininity can flirt with other girls without a problem, because that’s an image on which, we’re told, straight dudes get off. Thus it’s just the logical progression of feminine gender performance, which is all to please straight dudes, or so we’re taught. But when girls who look like they don’t give a shit about any straight dudes who might be watching behave the same way, they need to be castigated and shamed. God forbid they express their own sexuality and thereby totally exclude the straight dude observer.

That leaves you (if you are a queerish type girl like me) with two options: conform in your dress and mode of presentation, and you can do whatever you want, because your queerishness will fly under the radar. (You’re still risking the comments and catcalls of obnoxious objectifying type dudes, but you are risking those anyway by Existing While Female. You are risking lots of things by Existing While Female, and you do not get to opt out of those risks.) Or you can present yourself in a way that differs from the pretty-girl norm, but prepare to deal with those same obnoxious objectifying type dudes trying to shame you out of self-expression.

But then let’s say you’re fat, or not conventionally pretty, or a woman of color, or a trans woman who doesn’t pass, or a woman with a visible disability, or some combination thereof. Then you don’t even have those options, because those obnoxious objectifying straight type dudes, the ones who drip with privilege and Axe? They are going to feel entitled to comment (or castigate, or shame, or punish) no matter what you do, no matter how you choose to conform or deviate.

Fuckin’ patriarchy, man.


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