“Femmes are shallow and materialistic.”
What comes to your mind when you think of queer femmes? Perhaps it’s a woman who wears skirts, heels, and makeup – but you might not know femmes as well as you think.
The common assumptions debunked in this comic cover what femmes can look like, what they like in bed and relationships, what it means to “pass” as straight, and more.
Here’s a chance to learn a lot more about femmes, change the misconceptions you believe, and find out exactly why these assumptions are harmful.
The Editors at Everyday Feminism
Click for the Transcript
(We see Annah, a cisgender, white, femme woman with an A-line haircut, botanical tattoos on her arms, mini skirt, leggings, and tall boots.)
(Annah has a confused look on her face under a thought bubble that says “Wait… I said I identify as femme… not as your mother, your fashion consultant, your service bottom, or your “other half…”)
(Several women, both cisgender and transgender, of various races are standing in the panel. They are all wearing dresses of various styles. Two of the women are wearing heels, another is wearing heavy boots and a torn denim jacket with flowers sewn on. One of the women is using a crutch. We can see other figures in the panel, but they are blacked out/silhouetted.)
Text: Assumption 1: Femmes are always women or female-identified
(The hidden figures from Panel 2 come into view. They are a black, cis, gay man wearing heels and lipstick with his jeans and t-shirt, a Latino, queer, trans man in a flower print dress, and an Asian genderqueer person wearing sneakers, patterned tights, a skirt, and a tank top.)
Text: Reality Check: While Femme is an explicitly queer title, it is a gender expression that encompasses a wide range of identities. Gay and queer cis men, trans men, and genderqueer folx often identify as Femme. Saying that femmes are always only women perpetuates a gendered binary that excludes lots of people.
(We see several trans women. They are all wearing heels, dresses, and full makeup.)
Text: Assumption 2: All trans women identify as Femme
(Three more trans women come to join the women from Panel 4. One of the women has her hair carefully styled and is wearing a gorgeously tailored suit with a colorful bowtie. Another has short cropped hair and is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The third is wearing a sweater vest and pencil skirt with men’s dress shoes. Everyone is laughing and talking together. One of the women from Panel 4 is waving, revealing her unshaven armpits.)
Text: Reality Check: Gender identity and gender expression are two completely different things. Just as a cis woman might identify as butch, andro, dandy, or femme, trans women also have a wide variety of gender expressions. Limiting trans women to one gender expression is like saying there’s only one way to be a woman.
(We see two femme people, a black genderqeer person with short hair, and a Latina woman with long hair, posing as if in a fashion shoot. They are both wearing dresses, tall stiletto heels, and striking makeup.)
Text: Assumption 3: All femmes wear skirts, heels, and makeup
(We see the two people form Panel 6, along with an API cis femme with long, tousled hair, wearing pants and a leather jacket standing next to a motorcycle, helmet in hand. The two people from Panel 6 invite her to join them under a sign that says “Femme-ship Discussion Group.”)
Text: Reality Check: Every person should get to express their gender in whatever way makes them feel the most comfortable. Sometimes this looks like sporting a “traditionally feminine” appearance; sometimes it looks like highjacking the tropes of mainstream femininity and turning them into kitsch or camp; sometimes it looks like wearing sweatpants and a hoodie.
Makeup, clothing, and accessories are not the only defining tropes of femme identity. Some femmes enjoy expressing their genders through aesthetics, while others express theirs through actions, interactions, political views, etc. The point is, femme isn’t always immediately legible in the traditional ways one would expect. Assuming otherwise insinuates that there is only one way to be Femme.
(We see three people dressed in sleepwear and fetish wear. One is a man in a soft negligee with a tiara, the other is a trans woman in her underwear with her hands tied, the third is a cis woman in a catsuit with stiletto heels and a sneer on her made-up face.)
Text: Assumption 4: Femmes are always pillow-princesses, service-bottoms, or bitchy tops/doms
(We see the characters from Panel 8 sitting down with each other and a few other characters. They are all talking with each other about what they like and don’t want. The man with the tiara is saying he wants to be stepped on. The woman with her hands tied has changed her mind about who should be wearing the ropes. The woman in the catsuit is explaining that she wants to be cuddled by her partner with a bunch of soft pillows and blankets.)
Text: Reality Check: Femme sexuality is a vast and complicated spectrum that often gets pigeonholed into the all-too-common “virgin/whore complex.” Making this binaried assumption about femme sexuality often leads to frustrating and sometimes violating encounters. It also keeps us from actually getting to express our individual kink preferences and/or sexual desires in general.
(A white cis woman is checking out at a department store. She is buying a lot of clothes, shoes, a designer bag, and a wig. She is smiling smugly with her credit card out.)
Text: Assumption 5: Femmes are shallow, materialistic, and consumer-driven
(We see the woman from Panel 10 walking by with her designer bag. We also see a Latina trans woman and a black genderqueer person trading clothes at a clothing swap, a trans man looking at thrift store dresses, and a cis gay man making his own jewelry out of recycled materials.)
Text: Reality Check: This stereotype is rooted in misogyny. First off, investing time, energy, and money into one’s outward appearance is not shallow. Do masculine of center people ever get told they are being shallow when they focus on their outward appearances? Secondly, depending on your aesthetic, fashion is not always expensive. Some of us have money to drop on expensive clothing and designer bags, some of us frequent our local discount bins or thrift-store clearance shelves, and some of us find our accessories in free-boxes or on street-corners and spray-paint that shit gold. Calling femmes shallow, materialistic consumers not only insinuates that one needs to have class privilege in order to be femme, it also negates the transformative, powerful anti-capitalist work femmes all over the country are invested in.
(Two people are standing next to each other. One is in expensive heels, dress, jewelry, full makeup, and a handbag. The other is wearing sneakers, jeans, a t-shirt with an image of cute corgi with flowers on it, and a little makeup.)
Text: Assumption 6: All femmes can be placed in one of two main categories: “High Femme” or “Low Femme”
(We see four people: a black cis femme in sandals, cut-off jeans, and a plain T-shirt with a carnation in her hair; an API cis femme wearing men’s dress pants, a form-fitting top, suspenders, and full make-up; a white cis femme wearing her hair in a ponytail, sneakers, and gym clothes; a Latinx femme wearing cargo shorts, a utility belt, a hard-hat, and a little makeup.)
Text: Reality Check: The term “high femme” generally refers to the femme who enjoys getting super dressed up for daily life, while “low femme” might refer to a femme who sports a more “jeans and t-shirt” aesthetic. This is another binary that excludes a massive slew of other femme gender expressions (hard-femme, andro-femme, utili-femme, dandy-femme, stone-femme, granola-femme, diesel-femme, L-word-femme, cuntry-femme, etc.). It also places emphasis on physical appearance as the only defining characteristic of femme identity, and it asserts a ranking system (high vs. low) that lots of us find intimidating and shitty. While some of us may self-identify with the “high” vs “low” dichotomy, it’s never something that anyone else should get to prescribe for us.
(A femme lesbian and a masculine-of-center bi woman stand next to each other)
Text: Assumption 7: “Femme” is the counterpart to “Butch.”
(We see several femme people talking to each other, femmes from Panel 3.)
Text: Reality Check: Femme is not an “incidental” gender expression that exists in opposition or in relation to masculine of center gender expressions. Femme is an independent, autonomous gender expression that exists with or without masculinity around to define us. Further, assuming there are only two valid gender expressions (“femme” and “butch”) asserts a harmful binary that excludes and alienates lots of queers in general.
(We see a femme cis man looking at a masculine-presenting man with a beard.)
Text: Assumption 8: Femmes are only attracted to butch and/or masculine presenting people
(We see several femme people holding hands, talking to each other, and kissing. The man from Panel 16 is thinking “I wish my partner was here! She’d love this guy’s beard!”)
Text: Reality Check: Again – making assumptions about anybody’s sexuality is never helpful or empowering. Despite popular misconceptions, not all of us are just dying for some masculine of center person to show up and sweep us off our feet! Some of us are only attracted to other femmes, some of us date people all over the gender spectrum, and some of us are asexual or not interested in having sexual encounters with anyone. Making this assumption not only negates the range and complexity of femme sexuality, it also complies with the heteronormative limitations that oppress queer folks in the first place.
(Two women are talking, one looks nervous while the other is smiling and talking about a U-haul.)
Text: Assumption 9: Femmes are always looking to “trap” people into committed relationships
(Two women are sitting in bed together. One is femme; the other appears butch/masculine-of-center.)
Text: Reality Check: Sometimes we just wanna hook up and have hot, casual encounters just like anybody else! This tired old stereotype that femmes can’t have sex without secretly wanting a committed relationship out of the encounter is such bullshit! Don’t get me wrong – plenty of us just aren’t into casual hookups or one-time scenes as a matter of personal preference – but those of us who are find it so annoying when bombarded with the assumption that we must have some ulterior motive we’re not being honest about. This – again – ignores the complexed scope of femme sexuality, and it also asserts that it’s not “normal” for a femme to have a sexuality that’s separate from her desires around emotional connection.
Butch woman: “So, does this mean I should call you my girlfriend?”
Femme woman: “Eh, I’m not looking for that level of commitment right now.”
(A black femme woman is shown. A group of butch women, many of whom are white, are standing a fair distance away from her.)
Text: Assumption 10: Femmes who “pass as straight” have more societal privilege than MOC or butch presenting queers and therefore, should not to be considered part of queer community.
(The woman from Panel 20 looks at a big pile of crap labeled “racism, sexism, heterosexism, violence, ableism, and classism”)
Text: Reality Check: Lets be honest – heterosexism and cissexism have very real consequences. Anyone in this society who is gender non-conforming or doesn’t “pass” as straight is subject to a whole host of heteropatriarchy’s dangerous ramifications. So for femmes who do have cis and/or passing privilege, the world might be easier to navigate in some ways. It is crucial to remember, however, that femininity in and of itself (not to mention queer femininity) is still a major target for violence in this world. In addition, lots of “passing” femmes are also navigating the impacts of racism, ablism, classism and lots of other factors that – when combined with femininity – are often fatal. Writing femmes off as a “privileged members of heteropatriarchy” is divisive and inaccurate. When you adhere to this misnomer, you are failing to recognize the multiple systems of oppression that comprise patriarchy, and the ways that misogyny puts femmes at risk in the world daily.
(We see two femme people. One is a white trans woman, and has been approached by a masculine person who is asking for medical care. Another is a genderqueer Latinx person, who is being handed a baby.)
Text: Assumption 11: Femmes are always the best caretakers
(The woman caring for her masculine friend has accidentally knocked over a pot of soup. They both panic. Meanwhile, the genderqueer person is happily playing with and caring for the baby)
Text: Reality Check: Let me tell you – some of us will be amazing caretakers, and some of us will be your worst nightmare! There is nothing inherently nurturing about people with feminine gender expressions – assuming this perpetuates the same kinds of essentialist notions that say “men are ‘naturally’ rational thinkers, while women are ‘naturally’ more governed by their emotions.” These are constructed ideas under the guise of “biological fact” used to assign and enforce gender roles.
Annah: “Great, now that we’ve got that all cleared up, can someone point me in the direction of that Switchblade Bedazzling Workshop?!”
To learn more about this topic, check out:
- How Stereotypes About What Queer Women Look Like Erases Femmes
- 4 Ways to Support Queer Femmes – Instead of Erasing Us from Queer Communities
Annah Anti-Palindrome is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a bay-area based writer, musician and queer/femme antagonist who hails from the working-class craters at the base of the Sierra Foothills. For more info on her work, see annahantipalindrome.com. To contact, message her via her facebook fan page!
Rhea Ewing is a queer artist living in Wisconsin. Rhea is involved in a number of comic projects, including the monthly comics challenge site “The Radome” and a 350+ page nonfiction graphic novel about gender identity in the Midwest called FINE: A Comic About Gender. You can find more of zir work at rheaewing.com and finecomic.com or connect on Twitter @finecomic. Check out zir work here!