2021 has brought about many challenges, many of them rolling over from 2020, but one positive thing that has come from the hell that was last year was seeing more men embrace their softer side. We saw gender being challenged in many pockets of culture, specifically in fashion and beauty. It was a great sight for extremely tired and sore eyes because it gave me a glimmer of hope when it came to the limiting mindset of the gender construct.
While I couldn’t be more excited about this shift in mindset, we have come across a roadblock that can spin us back around and put the dreaded “male gaze” back in the driver’s seat. If you aren’t familiar with the male gaze, it’s “the perspective of a notionally typical heterosexual man considered as embodied in the audience or intended audience for films and other visual media, characterized by a tendency to objectify or sexualize women” – aka the way basic cis straight men objectify, infantilize, and fantasize about women through what they were taught by the men who came before them.
About a month or so ago, there was a trend on TikTok of girls saying that they wanted to present themselves as femme the same way that boys presented themselves as femme. Confusing, I know. What did this usually consist of? Tousled hair, slightly smudgy eyeliner, freckles, unkept bushy eyebrows, and baggy clothes. But if we look at what femme means for women, it’s the complete opposite. The term “femme” is the counterpart to “butch”, both terms used to label how lesbians present themselves. It’s worth noting that femme and butch can look different for everyone, but femme is typically used to identify a lesbian who is more feminine presenting and butch is typically used to identify a lesbian who is more masculine presenting.
The way that we are seeing the majority of men take on femme aesthetics is actually closer to what being butch would look like. This poses an issue for women because the standard for femme is now being defined by men, which makes absolutely no sense. Through the challenging of an archaic and discriminatory gender construct we are starting to see that the power is still in the hands of the patriarchy. A space for women to be unapologetically a woman (which is exclusively decided by each individual woman) is now being taken up by men, who are essentially guests.
During Women’s History Month, I’m seeing a lot of conversations and prompts by women for men to reflect on their place in society. A lot of these reflections encourage men to take a hard look at the difference between impact and intention, which is a reflection that I think all people should keep in mind when it comes to how they interact with marginalized groups.
Photo via Viacheslav Iacobchuk/TNS