As someone who seeks butches for dating, I have some insight into the issues surrounding the term “butch.” Having sought dates primarily through the Internet, I have worked to compose many a description that was meant to convey what I think is encompassed by the word “butch,” and I know something about what it is to describe butches. I have experienced the irritation of suffering through what I saw as clear self-misidentification as butch. All that is to say is, I know the importance of the question: What is a butch?
A simple response might be: A masculine woman.
But what is masculinity? My expensive Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of The English Language tells me that masculine is:
1. pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men.
2. having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness.
…and the rest discuss grammatical uses of the term.
Hopefully, the problem here is obvious: We have a word we want to apply to women, yet it is defined wholly in terms of men. On the face of it, it may not seem such a big deal to refer to one group of people with a term that derives its meaning from a different group of people; however, when we consider the fact that the patriarchy does it’s damnedest to define women and men in opposition to one another, to perpetuate the charade that there are certain natural, universal, terribly significant differences between the two groups that justify women’s oppression, and in the process arbitrarily builds and re-builds grab bags of human characteristics called “masculinity” and “femininity” to further these causes, it becomes obvious that the concept of masculinity is but another tool of oppression.
When we examine what characteristics are commonly referred to as “masculine,” we find assertiveness, physical strength, bravery, sexual prowess, and many other qualities that are not only obviously possible for any human being, but have in fact been a part of the personality of all sorts of human beings. Some people mistakenly believe that this is what constitutes masculinity: a set of behaviors, looks/styles, and states of mind. The crucial concept that they miss, however, is that masculinity does encompass these things, with the qualification that men (and sometimes boys) are the default, original, natural, rightful, and/or most appropriate owners of these demeanors, looks, and thinking patterns. Thus, the man-centric definition (and popular usage).
The concept of masculinity being primarily about men cannot be separated from the word; it is defined in terms of men. It isn’t an originally neutral term that was hijacked; it is patriarchy-manufactured, -maintained, -stamped and -approved. One cannot use it to affirm certain characteristics in a person without simultaneously affirming the fiction that these characteristics derive from men. Clearly, “masculine” is not an appropriate adjective to use at all, let alone in reference to the bold patriarchy-destroyers that butches are. Such usage would confer the status of wannabe or imitation man on the woman thus described.
Not only does Dismantling The Patriarchy 101 tell us that a key dismantling tactic is the rejection of patriarchal language, it also instructs us as to the importance of defining oppressed groups on their own terms, so, the question remains: What is a butch?
My name is H. and this is a blog about lesbian issues, feminist issues, and, particularly, issues that lie at the intersection of lesbianism and feminism. It is written from the perspective of an introvert, a single lesbian, a born and raised U.S. citizen, a butch-lover who is not femme, a social pessimist, and other things that I can’t think of right now.
This blog is not about the legitimacy of lesbianism or feminism (overall).
This blog, or parts thereof, may not be comprehensible to those who do not have a basic understanding of feminism. It may not be updated regularly. My opinions are subject to change (with good reason, of course) or deepen. Posts are subject to random, far-in-the-future edits as I think of ways to clarify my writing. Comments are open to all who don’t spam, demonstrate the ability to type comprehensible English, stay on-topic, refrain from needlessly repeating themselves, and refrain from name-calling and trifling squabbles. In-the-know commenters are encouraged to guide clueless commenters.