Thursday, March 22, 2012

Femininity As Performance

So a couple of things have had my thoughts spinning on this topic. Firstly, was my blog about Rihanna yesterday and her female owned sexuality. Then last night I stumbled upon an online discussion where a young woman was asking for advice because her boyfriend expected her to fake orgasms since she couldn't achieve them through vaginal intercourse, which he thought would be sexy but made her uncomfortable. And finally, today brought more news that it costs a lot of money to maintain femininity in this culture. In fact, in the US women collectively spend $151 billion more than men yearly on similar personal care items.

What does all of this have in common? Well it drives home the point that stereotypical femininity is a performance and that performance takes a lot of work.

One aspect of our person is gender expression which is seen through the way we dress and act. As Judith Butler famously posited, all gender is a performance. Our society has created two distinct gender roles and most of us "properly" behave in ways which fulfill these roles. But when I think about those things that I rattled off before, I keep coming back to the fact that the performance of femininity in particular is exhausting.

First, take the young woman who's male partner was pressuring her into faking orgasms. What is really going on there? Aside from the obvious HUGE red flag that he was ignoring her desires and pleasure we have a young man who views sex with his female partner merely as a means to his end. It's actually more important to him that she ACT aroused and sexy than she truly feel pleasure and sexiness. In other words, her experience is irrelevant and he thinks her purpose is to pleasure him.


I mean, the more I read about their situation, the sadder I became. Not only because it became clear that he was clueless and callous but also because more and more women came out of the woodwork to commiserate with her. Here were tons of women who were sleeping (or slept) with men who didn't actually care about female pleasure, they just wanted women to perform sexiness.

So how does performance relate to the price of razors?

Well, of the basic products we're all told we need (deodorant, razors, shave gel, soap, etc.) women are charged more simply because these products--which are unisex at their base--are gendered by marketing. Perfumes, dyes, and pink packaging are the only differences, but companies then jack up the price for women.

The performance of being female takes so much more work and money because women are routinely socialized to think we NEED so many more personal care products. And we play the game and are rewarded for being feminine. In fact a study at UT found that "attractive" people make $230,000 more in a lifetime than "plain" individuals, so we are implicitly rewarded for doing these things. When female attractiveness in our culture inherently means feminine, which inherently means buying more items and more expensive items...well it's just a damn cycle.

I feel like it all comes back to the male gaze--which has become a cliche--but it's an undeniable factor that the performance of stereotypical femininity is inextricably linked with and created by what pleases the male gaze.

That's why I find authentic expressions of female sexuality noteworthy, even when they come from pop stars. So often woman sexiness is depicted as that performance for men--what heterosexual men would like to see/experience with no regard to the actual woman involved. Sexual depictions that center on the female experience, well, they're about as rare as they are refreshing. (Extremely, in both cases.)

1 comment:

  1. This is pretty much everything I have been thinking. Do you have any recommended readings on this topic?


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