At least there's Big Boo
October 15, 2015 1:07 AM   Subscribe

 
The exceptions were interesting to me, growing up. The tough women in Aliens and Terminator 2 were something one didn't always see in 80s Hollywood film, for instance. I remember Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol, which wasn't "Hollywood" but probably filled a few more seats than it would have otherwise, by virtue of riding the wave of popularity for mid-90s independent cinema, and probably got a few more people to watch work by Rose Troche, Gregg Araki and other queer filmmakers of the time.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:35 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


The only clearly butch playable female character in games (that I can think of) that wasn't mentioned in the article would be Bonnie from Payday 2, although her sexual orientation hasn't been canonically defined, AFAIK. The ones that did get a mention were mostly unfamiliar to me, and I'm glad to have learned of their existence. Thanks for the post!
posted by jklaiho at 1:58 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Was Mo Corley from Full Throttle gay?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:46 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't remember it being signalled specifically, but I think her relationship with the male protagonist never veered into romantic territory...
posted by Drexen at 3:53 AM on October 15, 2015


Which, in mainstream media, is all but confirmation that she has no interest in men
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:57 AM on October 15, 2015


I feel like there are some kinda butch-looking women in fighting games, but the only one that comes to mind is Jane, in Sega's Fighting Vipers/Fighters' Megamix games.
posted by box at 4:11 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Another side of the question: if my game features a custom protagonist, can I actually create a woman character who doesn't look like a Keith Parkinson Fantasy Babe? It can be pretty difficult, depending on the game (Guild Wars 2 is particularly terrible for this) but some games do it right (Dragon's Dogma, weirdly, is one).
posted by selfnoise at 4:13 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Man, I'm still bugged about Jack from Mass Effect. When you talk to her about her past, she even mentions being with both men and women, which doesn't make her a true butch, but still... and then that “girls’ club” line that's like the proverbial needle scratching across the record. I've always attributed that to BioWare (or more likely EA, BioWare's parent company) getting into a panic about negative media attention (from Fox, of course) to the first game's all-genders romance option, Liara.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:57 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Another side of the question: if my game features a custom protagonist, can I actually create a woman character who doesn't look like a Keith Parkinson Fantasy Babe? It can be pretty difficult, depending on the game (Guild Wars 2 is particularly terrible for this) but some games do it right (Dragon's Dogma, weirdly, is one).

Yeah, this bothers me almost more than when all the female characters are wasp waisted buxom sexpots. I mean, women like that exist and there is nothing inherently wrong with them being represented. It becomes a lot harder to defend when the three women in your game (out of a roster of 16) all fit the exact same mold. And it becomes a direct insult when you have a "create a character" option that makes it explicit that it is impossible for any woman who is not a wasp waisted buxom sexpot to have any place in your world.

Skyrim did pretty good though.
posted by 256 at 5:40 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I....would like to like Jack Halberstam. I really would. But they just constantly say stuff that I frankly associate with fucked up masculine of center people - their awful praise for that incredibly misogynist Mr. Fox movie, that essay about how the kids today are too sensitive and PC, and then:

Despite flannel shirt shortages, shifting fashion trends towards androgynous looks, the trendiness of transgenderism, a severe height disadvantage in relation to many femmes, and new levels of emotional sensitivity in queer communities, the butch has survived and lives to wear another ring of keys.

I think I probably think about a lot of the same personal gender stuff as Halberstam does (and I"m not saying that they don't do the kind of sophisticated academic work of which I am incapable). The whole trying-to-parse-out-the-butch-masculine-trans-guy thing, the whole still-living-sort-of-as-a-woman-among-women thing, the whole what-is-it-about-me-and-about-stuff-that-I-can't-resolve-this thing....and yet, jesus god. "The trendiness of transgenderism", what the fuck, Jack? And that whole har-har being short in relation to femmes because we all know masculine people are supposed to feel better when they're tall, har-har. I get that this is some ultra-sophisticated playful ingroup academic stuff, but still, what the fuck, Jack?

And of course, the subtext that being butch itself is actually politically retrograde.

I think that part of the problem with this kind of essay is that folks don't parse out the many things that get meant by "butch" - which is not the same as butchness being unspeakable. (And also, look, what is so unspeakable about butch that isn't unspeakable about femme? I do not see anything in the essay to clarify this.)

Butch is a catch-all for a lot of stuff:

1. The abject, ugly, sexually repulsive, embarrassing and grotesque failure of femininity, which is how straight audiences, IME, mostly read Big Boo. Big Boo's butchness occupies the space that a fat male comedy actor who is shown getting the girls while still being gross does.

2. Retro fifties/mid-century masculinity. The butch is popularly imagined to dress like a stylish guy from 1955 or so, hence all the dapper stuff. Maybe elements of the non-hippie sixties or early seventies. But you don't see butches in popular culture who dress like a stylish guy from 1985 or any time when masculinity wasn't really aggro and straight-appearing. Butch women are popularly held to mimic straight men.

3. Other masculinities. The invisible ones! I mean, when I think of masculinities that interest me they are usually the non-standard ones - hill-walking petty bourgeois communist English intellectuals of the interwar period. Oscar Wilde. Weird artists in the eighties. David Wojnarowicz. Magneto.

4. Straight butch women, or not-dressed-like-fifties-men butch women - a misunderstood category and it's interesting that Halberstam names this.

5. "Butch" behavior. What the hell does that even mean? It seems like it's always social - in some social settings, being butch means that you drive and buy flowers and are sexually dominant; in some settings it means that you're stoic, other-focused, reticent; in some settings it's your voice and stance. How does that fit in with feminism and what we understand of gender performance? Butch women are, basically, famous for being assholes to femme women - grabby and slurry and pushy and creepy. That's one reason why I've never wanted to use that label for myself - I associate it with women who go to the bar and talk gross sexual stuff about femmes.

6. And this is what I feel is poorly explained: butch little kids. I mean, you can look right at all my grade school pictures, and I have a really unfeminine expression in all of them - I saw them recently and it stands out. I stand out. Whence comes that? What status does it have? Is "butch" more retrograde than other gender performances when it's just, like, tiny Allison Bechdel? I don't think I even heard that there was supposed to be this gendered division among queer women until college.

I feel like all this stuff isn't "unspeakable" at all; it's just unspoken. There may be a point when we've done some speaking where we can start parsing out the what and the why of unspeakability, but it seems like early days yet.

I also feel uneasy with certain kinds of butchness because it seems like a workaround - on the one hand, in liberal circles you get taken seriously because masculinity (like Rachel Maddow), on the other hand, you get an excuse for acting misogynist because you're female, and you never have to apologize for privilege, because you're neither a trans man nor a straight women.
posted by Frowner at 5:43 AM on October 15, 2015 [42 favorites]


Another side of the question: if my game features a custom protagonist, can I actually create a woman character who doesn't look like a Keith Parkinson Fantasy Babe?

Saint's Row 4 is really great about this. You can make your character look however you want and choose to have sex with whoever you want.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:48 AM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


So, when several fans expressed a touch of disappointment that Cassandra from DA was completely heterosexual, there were people—mainly straight men—who defended her sexuality, saying that she “couldn’t” and “shouldn’t” be bisexual or a lesbian because it would be “perpetuating stereotypes,”

The Dragon Age series already has a straight butch party character. She rejects your romantic advances regardless of your protagonist's gender. So unless the stereotype these dudes are concerned with is "butch women don't want to sleep with me" this doesn't hold up.
posted by almostmanda at 5:54 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't think I'm supposed to comment on my own FPP, but holy shit, Frowner, for all the talk about misogyny, I never hear it come out to play with a full 70-piece orchestra as much as when the subject of butch women comes up. Gross, creepy, sexually repulsive, fake men...
posted by thetortoise at 6:10 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of my favorite, most loving, pieces on butchness is actually about femmes from the point of view of a butch woman, Ivan Coyote's "To all of the kick ass, beautiful fierce femmes out there..." video link.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:15 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't think I'm supposed to comment on my own FPP, but holy shit, Frowner, for all the talk about misogyny, I never hear it come out to play with a full 70-piece orchestra as much as when the subject of butch women comes up. Gross, creepy, sexually repulsive, fake men...

I guess I should clarify that I am routinely described as a butch woman, and have described myself that way. Most of the women I'm attracted to are butch.

I am always horribly hurt by the straight reading of butch women as repulsive/failed/etc. It haunts me in a lot of my social interactions.

I think the discourse about butchness is weird and problematic, and that's one reason that I tend not to describe myself that way.

Other reasons: stories I hear from femme friends about butch bar culture and shaming - butches urging other butches to act in misogynist and sometimes violent ways to "man up". The respect that I know I get in liberal straight circles when I dress and act in more stereotypically butch ways - people routinely take me as expert or in charge the more I am in settings where I'm likely to be read as butch. This often happens in an allegedly left space where the actual people in charge are femme queer women and straight women .

I find it really difficult to separate out the privilege that I accrue and the social violence that I know I could get away with perpetuating from the way that "butch" is positioned in our culture.

The thing is, I don't think there's an essence of being butch that exists outside culture and outside cultural narratives of masculinity. I think that butchness is always in tension and/or dialogue with straight male masculinity, and there's a lot of pretense that it's something that is totally autonomous, as if somehow we could all grow up - by virtue of being queer - without being shaped by any of the narrative of straight masculinity. I learned quite a lot from various butch women in my young day, but I also learned a lot from the same kind of retro images of masculinity that you see floating around today.

I never know what to do about this. I try a lot of stuff - dressing and talking differently, trying to step back in social settings, avoiding situations (and dating situations) where I think I'm being privileged/valued for being a masculine-spectrum person. But I feel like it's overwhelming when you're out in culture.

People in this town think I look like Big Boo and will walk up and tell me so. I don't look like Big Boo, but I look closer to Big Boo than most queer women of my approximate age. That's where I'm coming from - someone who is relentlessly read as butch, relentlessly put into a very narrow reading of butchness and simultaneously treated as disgusting and privileged because of it.

I find it very difficult to assume that there's something essential/autonomous about butchness when I feel my whole social person being forcibly reshaped by the same kinds of narratives that I describe above.
posted by Frowner at 6:36 AM on October 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


So basically what I'm saying is that I wish I'd phrased my first comment better - I was trying to say "here's a lot of what I see in public discourse about butch women, and when people talk about butchness, especially from the outside, they're talking about a big lump of stuff, and that makes these conversations very messy".

I think if I could add something to my first comment, I would say that another thing I think is absent from most popular discourse is what masculine-spectrum women think makes them masculine spectrum, and what they think that means - that there's a lot of theory talk about butchness and not as much study of what people have to say for themselves.

I phrased my comment really clumsily because I was - in a way - really excited to talk about masculine-spectrum identities, because I never get to talk about them. Especially positively - I do feel like my immediate response is to go all "these are privileges I receive over femme people, and this is why I suck".

Anyway, I am sorry that I wrote so unclearly.
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on October 15, 2015 [16 favorites]


That's kind of strange how the two articles linked that mention OINTB ignore the existence of black butches, commonly referred to as "studs" or "aggressives" on the show. Both Crazy Eyes and Poussey are also butch, but only Big Boo warrants a mention.
posted by Selena777 at 6:52 AM on October 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Halberstam actually talks about Crazy Eyes and Poussey toward the end, and makes the same observation that you do about the way that masculine-spectrum women of color are rendered invisible.
posted by Frowner at 6:56 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another side of the question: if my game features a custom protagonist, can I actually create a woman character who doesn't look like a Keith Parkinson Fantasy Babe? It can be pretty difficult, depending on the game (Guild Wars 2 is particularly terrible for this) but some games do it right (Dragon's Dogma, weirdly, is one).

The only game I have played that allows you to play a butch lesbian character Saints Row 4. You can choose to "romance" only the female characters without being a creep. Although the outfits that are given from the loyalty missions are typical teenage boy male gaze for the women (YT link).The sex and romance is played for laughs no matter if your character is male or female, butch or femme, etc. It's odd that a series that started as a GTA knockoff actually ended up being better about not only sexuality but also body type than almost any other series I know. You can even change your characters gender and body type throughout the game.
posted by Hactar at 6:59 AM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've got mad respect for my butch friends. I see butch as a valid reaction away from the gender programming cis women are raised to accept (and there is a lot for women to react against, right?). I can't begin to know what it feels like to be raised as a cis woman, but I totally accept that there are women who feel that "being a girl" (whatever that means) doesn't map to who they are.

With regard to being assigned butch and having a certain expectation of behaviors and qualities based solely on presentation. I completely understand and how frustrating that must be. I would really like it more people would work towards seeing butch people existing an ambiguous space that defies ready-made labels and stereotypes, and let butch people show you who they are before we start trying to guess at it.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:01 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Other reasons: stories I hear from femme friends about butch bar culture and shaming - butches urging other butches to act in misogynist and sometimes violent ways to "man up".

I've spent little time in queer bars or in explicitly leftist spaces, so I can't speak much to that part of it and the privilege that exists there, though I certainly believe it's real, but do you know where the encouragement to "man up" comes from? I don't think it comes primarily from a desire to emulate masculine violence; it comes from, in many parts of the world, taking a huge risk every time you walk out the door because of how you look and who you are, and being able to project a scary vibe helps.

I mean, I'm not a stereotype of "butch" and am constantly ambivalent about whether it applies to me, being a shy and pretty gentle person, but it's how some people see me when they're not acquainted with the nuances of gender, and while I've never had anybody take my ideas more seriously than any other woman's as far as I can tell, I do remember the guy who tried to attack me because he saw a "fucking dyke." That is a thing I associate with my gender presentation that I will never lose, that feeling of being scared that I was about to die, even though I live in absurdly liberal Portlandiaville now and it's only a memory. And I get strength from admiring the bravado and charisma of butch women, who move through the world in a way I've never figured out for myself.

I'm probably too close to this subject for it to have been a smart thing to post, and I'm sorry to butt into the discussion. Frowner, I understand where you're coming from that it's an incredibly narrow social role, especially when it's something people assume and not one you've chosen. I wouldn't be surprised if the word gets retired and replaced by multiple words less binary and rooted in a particular time. But it's where I come from, so it's a hard thing to let go of.
posted by thetortoise at 7:15 AM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


One example of a butch female character I've always loved is Bomb Girls' Betty, despite Betty's general presentation not being necessarily what we'd parse as butch today. I loved that the (1940s-era) show contextualized Betty's gender presentation within the time and culture she lived in and also made it clear that that presentation didn't come without costs, and that how she presented was constrained by her need to fit in just enough and make a living. I would love to see more butch characters shown living that tension--how do I balance my need to be my authentic self with the need to exist in a society which isn't necessarily accepting of people outside heteronormative gender presentations?
posted by sciatrix at 7:29 AM on October 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


About "manning up"....I dunno, I have only spent a little time in bars and I'm not good at bar stuff - I much much more of a "have a drink quietly in the corner with friends, leave early" person.

I guess where I would agree with Halberstam (showing that I am not a careful reader, I guess) is that there is this ambiguity to where "butch masculinity" comes from. I think that the whole "man up" thing is maybe both a sign of privilege (like, learning from men how to be assholes and get away with it) and the survival thing that encourages being as tough as possible, and a certain aesthetic of toughness.

I think there's this aestheticization that I haven't read enough theory about. Like, I got this book when it came out (and in fact, although my eyes aren't that deep set and my nose has a little bump, I looked at the time a lot like the woman on the cover...even now, it's sort of weird because it feels like looking at an old photo of myself in which I am inexplicably wearing all this leather and clutching a knife). It's an interesting book, although super, super white and full of some hand-wavey stuff about butch identity. But I mean, there's this...not playfulness at all, but aestheticization of what is usually the unmarked masculine. Like, in popular culture, "correctly performed" male masculinity is unmarked and invisible, and we just sort of expect that a correct man will be manly, able to fix the plumbing, interested in the sharp and shiny, able to order whiskey effectively, look good in a suit, etc. (I mean, you and I don't expect that) So when those things are separated from cis masculinity, there's a way in which they can kind of shine by their own light.

I don't think you're too close to the subject, though! I think it's a neat post to have, and frankly someone has to post it, and I think a queer woman who has some affinities with butchness is a perfectly appropriate person.

I mean, I'm not a stereotype of "butch" and am constantly ambivalent about whether it applies to me, being a shy and pretty gentle person

I always feel this weird dualness about depictions of "butch", where part of me is like "hey, wow, there's someone like me" (for some values of 'like me') and then I'm also struck by my own ambivalence and feelings of insufficiency.

I wonder if this is one of the ways that butchness relates to straight masculinity - when you're a straight man, you're never masculine enough; masculinity is always out there somewhere and you constantly have to try to be more masculine. I realize now that I often feel the same way about butchness, like one is never butch enough - as if I could be a truck-driving professional welding artist who built her own house with her teeth, constantly wears leather pants, brews her own whiskey, built a duckling shelter by the pond on her property (butch tenderness!), brings flowers to everyone, etc and still wouldn't really be butch enough.

Bomb Girls' Betty....OMG, I want those pants so much. I would never need additional pants if I had lots of pairs of those in variety fabrics.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on October 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Butch is a catch-all for a lot of stuff:...

3. Other masculinities. The invisible ones! I mean, when I think of masculinities that interest me they are usually the non-standard ones - hill-walking petty bourgeois communist English intellectuals of the interwar period. Oscar Wilde. Weird artists in the eighties. David Wojnarowicz. Magneto.


I absolutely love this sentiment, and the way it's expressed.

I wonder if this is one of the ways that butchness relates to straight masculinity - when you're a straight man, you're never masculine enough; masculinity is always out there somewhere and you constantly have to try to be more masculine. I realize now that I often feel the same way about butchness, like one is never butch enough - as if I could be a truck-driving professional welding artist who built her own house with her teeth, constantly wears leather pants, brews her own whiskey, built a duckling shelter by the pond on her property (butch tenderness!), brings flowers to everyone, etc and still wouldn't really be butch enough.

You know, this is really fascinating, and something that had never occurred to me (a cis, heterosexual male). There should be more dialogue between people who identify with butchness and masculinity. We have so much to talk about!
posted by clockzero at 7:55 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wonder if this is one of the ways that butchness relates to straight masculinity - when you're a straight man, you're never masculine enough; masculinity is always out there somewhere and you constantly have to try to be more masculine.

I think that's absolutely part of it, at least in how I experience it. I have this problem where I cannot figure out how to participate in feminist spaces because I relate a little too intensely to straight male experience, and that's, like, not actually what feminist spaces are for, since the whole rest of the world is for that. So I try to shut up and listen in those spaces when I remember to, but where do I go to drop off all my gender baggage?

That male-identification thing, which seems different from being trans... for me, it's partly a sense of being nonbinary (it feels like the setting for gender in my brain never got switched on) and partly the experience of performing masculinity, though in a way different from how men-men do it. And this seems kinda like the landing-nowhere-in-particular sense of being butch that Halberstam is talking about (admittedly, while being hugely insensitive about practically every other gender identity). On the one hand, I feel alienation from femininity; on the other, I understand masculinity better, but know I fail dismally at it.
posted by thetortoise at 8:02 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


It is really nice to hear from other masculine-of-center/butch women on Metafilter! My people!

Jack's article went around my tumblr feed quite a bit when it came out, receiving several of the criticisms already mentioned. I think that the flailing around over the disappearance of butchness is overstated. Perhaps there are some butches who later transition. But there are still plenty of women who enjoy acting or dressing in ways that are traditionally masculine, and I don't think those people are going to go away, whether or not the media remembers we exist.

This is just a personal anecdote I suppose, but I feel way more pressured to perform masculinity in a misogynistic way among men. They are much more likely to turn to me, the only woman in a group of dudes, to make sure I laugh at their anti-women comments, than other queer people that I have met. There are some benefits to being one of the guys, but this is not one of them. There is a certain kind of man who thinks of butch women as being on his side.
posted by possibilityleft at 8:06 AM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


While butch women are without question almost invisible in games, I was a bit surprised not to see Fallout: New Vegas mentioned as an exception in the first article. I count three major characters (spoilers in links) who present as fairly (if variably) butch, and there are probably others I've missed (it's a while since I played the game). In general, I think F:NV treats gender and sexuality fairly refreshingly.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 8:43 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Dragon Age series already has a straight butch party character. She rejects your romantic advances regardless of your protagonist's gender.

Okay, it's a tangent, but not being able to romance Aveline really disappointed me. She's smart and strong and competent, but also kind of adorably awkward when it comes to courtship. Meanwhile, romancing Merrill felt like having a relationship with some kind of Welsh puppy, and Isabela just tried too hard.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:50 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


it's a tangent, but not being able to romance Aveline really disappointed me.

I kinda think it's really stupendous that she's not a romance option for anyone. A lot of the Bioware romance characters feel like they have a lot of their characterization and quests locked behind their being your romance option of choice, and feel underdeveloped if you don't pursue them (and you're locked to only pursuing one, maybe two, per playthrough, too). This leads to them feeling like a mini-game to unlock extra content, which is kinda gross!

Instead, you've got access to Aveline's whole arc: you're there at a time of great tragedy in her life, you support her as she copes with that, and you help each other out along the way through the game to achieve your goals. She's one of the most fully-independent characters in any Bioware game: she's got a job that isn't "stand around in Hawke's house", she's got co-workers, she's got her own romantic aspirations. It's still kind of a radical characterization in CRPGs, and I think her not being interested in Hawke is part of what allows the game to pull it off.
posted by majuju at 9:32 AM on October 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, don't get me wrong--I loved seeing Aveline's arc and watching her develop. She felt like an actual person with a personality and goals and everything, which I think is one of the big reasons why I wanted to see my Hawke involved with her. The other two female choices felt really bland by comparison. Just Hawke and Aveline, fightin' crime together.

Or a suitable level of crime, anyway...my Hawke was pretty thief-y.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:26 AM on October 15, 2015


God, this is an interesting discussion, and I'm kind of flaily because I would have liked to make more substantial comments earlier today but haven't been able to sit down at the computer for too long.

> Another side of the question: if my game features a custom protagonist, can I actually create a woman character who doesn't look like a Keith Parkinson Fantasy Babe? It can be pretty difficult, depending on the game (Guild Wars 2 is particularly terrible for this) but some games do it right (Dragon's Dogma, weirdly, is one).

This also drives me nuts, and in my experience it's true not just of games but of basically anything where you have the option to make yourself a customizable avatar reflecting yourself. I like to play those little paper-doll internet games where the point is to "imagine yourself as a mermaid/disney character/chibi doll/whatever," and I am constantly frustrated because there is almost never a good option for short hair, for example, or for clothing that is anything but super femme. It's like I don't exist. If I'm very lucky, sometimes I can leave ruffles off an outfit or I can use just the bangs of a haircut without the "back" end, but the result rarely looks anything like me.

> I always feel this weird dualness about depictions of "butch", where part of me is like "hey, wow, there's someone like me" (for some values of 'like me') and then I'm also struck by my own ambivalence and feelings of insufficiency.

I wonder if this is one of the ways that butchness relates to straight masculinity - when you're a straight man, you're never masculine enough; masculinity is always out there somewhere and you constantly have to try to be more masculine.


...wait, that isn't just me? I always go back and forth on whether I count, and compare myself to other FAAB people and fret about whether I'm "really" all that butch or gender-non conforming when the subject comes up... and then I wind up belatedly catching myself and going "....Sci, you're comparing yourself to trans guys" or otherwise to people who don't ID as female at all. Which is a weird place to wind up in.

I almost never run into other women who present the way I do but unequivocally identify as female these days. My gender ID is complicated in that I identify with a tradition of femaleness that is really not the hegemonic, mmm, "mainstream"/heteronormative/femme tradition. Not trying to place a value judgement on that, mind you, but just trying to say that I think there are multiple subcultural opinions about what it means to be female and lots of gender traditions to borrow from, and the one I pull from and feel most comfortable in is one that generally gets lumped into female but in a masculine/non-gender-normative/associated-with-queer sort of way. I wonder sometimes if other people are drawing from a similar tradition but labeling it differently these days.

Which is to say, gender is complicated and so is non-normative gender presentation, whether you skew masculine or femme.

> Butch is a catch-all for a lot of stuff:

Yeah, I think this is another thing that's really complicated when people talk about being "butch." I think that butch is one of those classifications that makes no sense unless you have a more normative standard--call it "femme" here, although there's an argument to be made that there are non-normative femme presentations under "female" too--anyway, it makes no sense unless you have something to contrast it against.

If you look at Betty above on her own, to a modern eye she looks pretty mainstream in her gender presentation, at least in her dress and grooming--after all, her hair's not that short, she's always wearing makeup and lip stick, her slacks aren't all that masculine, and she's totally dressed in what we think of as a woman's blouse on top of it. But if you place her against the other female characters in her show, suddenly she sticks out like a sore thumb. I think that "sticking out like a sore thumb"-ness, against some kind of more mainstream gender presentation, is pretty quintessential to being butch--but it absolutely depends on having an agreed upon idea of what, exactly, constitutes that "default." And I think that's where a lot of self questioning if one is butch "enough" comes from.
posted by sciatrix at 11:39 AM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I haven’t watched Bomb Girls, but Betty reminds me of a pretty stock character in pre-war and WWII British novels. Those novels are full of “handsome” women, and “horsy” women, and “mannish” women, and they are often depicted as hardworking, trouser-wearing, gruff-voiced, plain-haired, unmarried stalwarts. These are the women who take care of the fragile widows and weed the garden and crank the engines on the car. These are the women who do without so their fluttery delicate sisters (or, often, roommates) can have extra sugar in their tea, extra butter rations for their toast. They are often relatively unemotional unless said sister/roommate is threatened or hurt, and then they are fiercely protective. (In Agatha Christie novels, for example, after a suspicious death in the village they often try to Sort Things Out Themselves and end up murdered for their troubles.)

Every once in awhile one of them is married, and she bullies her meek husband while bragging about her prize-winning dogs. I haven’t thought extensively about this trope before— the pictures just made me realize how common it is in that era.

There are a lot of historians and sociologists who talk about how husbands coming home from WWII had to assert their dominance and masculinity in order to quash the self-sufficiency and well-earned pride their wives (and other female relatives) had developed while they were away, and I wonder if these particular women— who were apparently common enough to be A Type— were another casualty of those homecomings, if only because their position was suddenly much more tenuous and/or threatening to desperately reasserted masculinities.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:06 PM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


So, two thoughts:

1) Does butch inevitably denote lesbian? After all of these years being told to seperate gender from sexuality, why can't we use butch simply to denote masculine-end-of-genderfluid-female?

2) The big "outcry" about Cass in DA:I wasn't that she "had to be straight" but that, of the many potential romantic leads, she was the only canonically "straight" woman, and only one of two options for a heterosexual male character. Yes, I know, cry us a river, but I would have happily traded Cass for Sera.
posted by Oktober at 12:27 PM on October 15, 2015


I have minimal knowledge of gender politics here, but I think it's easy to see why Hollywood can't 'get with' butch women. It's the same reason that as a small child I admired them when I didn't even fully grasp heterosexuality, let alone homosexuality & the multitudes of possible gender-identities: they radiated a complete lack of internalized sexism, they clearly didn't live in a psychological universe where appealing to men or getting approval from men even registered. Hollywood, and MSM in general, banks heavily on the straight male dollar and every angle of every script has long pandered to that, at least until independent media came along.

They represent, at least to me (certainly in childhood), a different psychological world where male dominance, especially through deep cultural brainwashing, just isn't in the equation. That's pretty damn threatening to the status quo; nobody wants to be obsolete.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:30 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


That male-identification thing, which seems different from being trans... for me, it's partly a sense of being nonbinary (it feels like the setting for gender in my brain never got switched on) and partly the experience of performing masculinity, though in a way different from how men-men do it. And this seems kinda like the landing-nowhere-in-particular sense of being butch that Halberstam is talking about (admittedly, while being hugely insensitive about practically every other gender identity). On the one hand, I feel alienation from femininity; on the other, I understand masculinity better, but know I fail dismally at it.

I always end up feeling like I understand a non-standard masculinity - the masculinity that makes sense to me is always the conflicted/marginal kind. Like, I identify really strongly with Henry Rios in Michael Nava's groundbreaking gay mystery series - those pull up so many feelings for me. And yet Rios is a giant weirdo (he's anti-porn, for one thing, in a very, very old-fashioned way that seems really weird in a book by a gay man published in the mid-nineties. It's an amazing series, though.) The men I'm friends with are all "failures" at masculinity in some way (that makes them much less likely to be jerks!); the male writers I like mostly write from a failed/degendered/weird standpoint (WG Sebold right now).

And then I think to myself, sure you want a different body, but basically you'd be going on hormones, having major surgery and being seen as a man....in order to be a weirdo who performs masculinity unsuccessfully and doesn't fit in with other men. Which would change what exactly, other than a way better selection of shirts and having to deal with male privilege? I think about how I find Halberstamish neither-here-nor-there profoundly unsatisfactory for myself a lot of the time, and I think about how my body would be less alien to me if I transitioned, and then I think about the social world I'd be leaving and the social world I'd be joining, and I end up Halberstamming it.

1) Does butch inevitably denote lesbian? After all of these years being told to seperate gender from sexuality, why can't we use butch simply to denote masculine-end-of-genderfluid-female?

I think that an issue is that there's a pretty long history of masculine lesbian women calling themselves butches (like, it's a noun) and being reviled and despised and developing this particular history and cultural knowledge, so there's some political baggage when it just becomes a general term for non-feminine women. In a similar vein, for example, as a white person of unsettled gender I would never call myself a "stud" or "aggro" because those are terms that have specific racial/gendered intersectional meaning and history. Also, of course, there's the issue of "is butch predicated on femme, and therefore is butch predicated on the standard gender hierarchy" so not everyone wants to use that term anyway.

I mean, I've heard many people talk about "butch straight women" so I think it's not quite as big a political deal, but I am very fond of "masculine-spectrum" for this kind of thing, since it covers non-cis-male gender expression broadly.
posted by Frowner at 12:35 PM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think the problem is that they are defining butch in ways that don't make sense for many people. Like how the fuck is Sera, she of the no boys allowed, constant penis drawings everywhere, butch haircut, talking with Iron Bull about barmaid's tits while refusing to play the femme game even for the fucking fancy pants Winter Palace, not butch? Because she's attractive? Because she's petite? You don't have to be six feet tall to be butch.
posted by corb at 12:54 PM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, of course, there's the issue of "is butch predicated on femme, and therefore is butch predicated on the standard gender hierarchy" so not everyone wants to use that term anyway.

Can you elaborate on the pros and cons of dealing with this? I'm not as familiar as I'd like to be, and I'd love to hear your take on the topic.
posted by sciatrix at 1:12 PM on October 15, 2015


Slightly off topic, but:

thetortoise: "I don't think I'm supposed to comment on my own FPP"

There's nothing at all wrong with commenting on your own FPP. What occasionally gets called out is when people dominate their own FPPs, and don't allow conversation to progress organically. But taking part to a normal degree, as you have here, is totally okay.
posted by Bugbread at 4:48 PM on October 15, 2015


I was thinking about my response to Frowner's points about butch/MOC people having privilege over feminine people and how I believe that privilege is real but have trouble recognizing it because of the amount of shit I've gone through over the years because of my gender presentation (often in concert with not being neurotypical). And I was thinking about how much my response resembles that of some poor white guys who bristle at the idea of male privilege, because of the amount of unprocessed pain that economic injustice and a patriarchy that asks them to sacrifice their bodies for work and for war have caused them. Intellectually, they're wrong-- male privilege and white privilege are real things and play the chief role in power structures across history and worldwide-- but I understand where their response come from, because it's like "look, I have a load of trauma that I've never gotten to deal with and nobody recognizes, and now you want to tell me I'm privileged??"

I am glad I got to have this conversation, because it reveals to me how I'm carrying privilege there and also hurt that comes from years of being called "ugly" and people thinking it's safe to harass a freak. Which to say, keep going, y'all, this is interesting.
posted by thetortoise at 8:18 PM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


One of the comments upthread about stock characters in pre/WWII novels reminded me of a really visceral reaction I had to the stage show of Matilda (I think it's come across to America now but at the time it was only on in London). In the original Roald Dahl book, Miss Trunchbull is definitely butch, definitely a woman, definitely a villain (and maybe there's some complicated misogyny tied up in making your antagonist a butch woman because Roald Dahl was not the nicest of people but I don't feel smart enough to untangle that right now).

In the Tim Minchin stage show, that part is played by a man in drag, which absolutely enraged me. It's maybe meant to be a callback to the tradition of pantomime dames. But I came out of the theatre completely infuriated by an artistic choice that meant god forbid we see a woman who's butch, god forbid we see a woman be nasty, god forbid we let a woman have what's arguably one of the most interesting parts in the show. Give all that to a man, because let's be honest, aren't butch women just men in drag? I feel so annoyed just typing about it!
posted by theseldomseenkid at 12:36 AM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


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