So… I was originally thinking of writing “V is for Vampire” and talk about (other people’s) energy as food, manipulating (other people’s, or my own) energy during S/M scenes, and other stuff like that there. And I may yet do this. But today I’m writing “V is for Vamp” because it lets me look at the connection between “femme” and “femme fatale”.
There’s this whole, huge cultural narrative – one that I can trace back through Christendom and into Judaism via the religious texts we share that have shaped a LOT of European (And thus, a lot of European colonies’) cultures – about how women with sexual agency are dangerous.
While I tend to think of “femme” as, specifically, a queer-as-in-dyke form of hyperbolic femininity (and, thus, will mostly be using “she” and “her” to talk about femmes in this post), I do have a couple of broader definitions, like:
“Fem” as in male, frequently though not always gay, femininity; or
“Femme” as in “queered” (meaning “twisted” or “rendered non-normative”) women’s femininity, regardless of sexual orientation.
In its broades sense, Femme is “queered femininity” because its femininity that’s done (a) for the feminine person herself (or himself, or theirself) rather than for the “gaze” of anyone in particular; and (b) is, one way or another, an expression of personal power.
I find that “traditional femininity” is often read/cued as “powerless”. The Masculine does stuff to The Feminine. The Feminine waits in the tower to be rescued. The Feminine is the (exclusively) sexually receptive partner. The Feminine “lets the boy win” or does the unackowleded emotional labour of supporting The Masculine and centering the experiences, needs, and – particularly apt within the context of this post – desires thereof. And Femme doesn’t do that. Not as a matter of course. Some femmes do any or all of those things, as and when they’re inclined to do so. Sure. But it’s not a requirement, or a “yur doin’ it rong” situation if we don’t[1]. By that token, “femme” is femininity with agency; The Feminine subjectified, rather than objectified.
But that’s not only what I mean when I say “femme” is an expression of personal power.
I also mean that a Femme is someone who expresses/finds/claims her personal power through the (visual – or other?) expression of (frequently over-the-top) femininty. When I’m feeling on top of the world, I dress more impresively than I might do otherwise. Sure. But I also do that when I’m trying to access or activate my own power.
You’ve heard the phrase “lipstick as warpaint”? It’s like that, albeit maybe a little bit more nuanced.
When I get All Femmed Up – When I wear the velvet, the leather, the satin, the corset, the big heels, the fancy jewelry; when I bother with lip stain and perfume[2] – I am accessing a particularly powerful, giantess/glamazon part of myself that doesn’t necessarily come out when I’m, say, shlumping around in my bathrobe[3]. When I need to access that part of myself, I put on a little mascara, and it works. I stand taller. I stride, strut, and sashay rather than scurrying with my head down. Just with little mascara. Who knew?
And so I come back to the Vamp. The femme fatale who is dangerous, but who is recognizeable because of her cupid’s bow lipstick, her thick eyelashes, the deliberate slit up the side of her skirt. She’s the aloof, vampiric Angelina Jolie to Jennifer Aniston’s “girl next door”; the much-married, hypnotic-eyed Elizabeth Taylor to Grace Kelly’s tragic/fairytale princess. She is “glamourous” (in the sense of “entrancing” and “sorcery” as much as “fancy/fabulous”) as opposed to just “pretty“. The kind of woman who leaves broken hearts in her wake rather than settling down (“Safe in a house and a husband“[4]) the way that women are expected to do.
And, no, femmes aren’t necessarily looking to be heartbreakers or home-wreakers or “high maintenance” or any of the other things that we get read as or coded as. On my more cynical days, I suspect that we get coded as these things specifically because we’re not doing this Femininity Thing for the benefit of someone else. Not the guys on the corner, not the butches in the coffee shop, not our dates. Just for us. And that goes against what “feminine” is “supposed to be” (or who it’s supposed to be for).
I read an anecdote ones about a femme who’d bring a satin clutch out to the bar, and you could clearly see the outline of a particular dildo inside the clutch. And the gal relating the anecdote said something like “You can’t tell me that’s being ‘sexually passive’.” And I wonder if it’s that clear (if visual, in this case) statement of “this is what I want, and this is how I want it” is what makes the femme, the vamp, the femme fatale so intimidating.
I think I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to talk in circles, so I think I’ll stop there.
Ruminate Ruminate Ruminate.
Ms Syren.
[1] Although I’m aware that this has not always been the case. Amber Dawn, for example, talks about being Stone Femme and how, ten-15 years ago, that was a really unheard-of thing: A femme-identified person who exclusively tops. Likewise, if you look at earlier femme-focussed writing – I’m thinking specifically of the pieces in Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls – you find the “femme defined by butch” and “femme as specifically sexually receptive feminine lesbian” tropes/ideas/identities far more frequently than you will in more recent work.
[2] “Blood Kiss” by BPAL is a favourite of mine, but I’ve also mixed up my own concoctions – mhyrr, clove, and vanilla, is a nice starting-point for a perfume. 😉
[3] Shlumping around in a negligee, on the other hand… 😉
[4] That book has a character who is a Vila, and a sorceress, and she teaches the MC a thing or two about the magic – the sorcery – of makeup and glamour.