September 25, 2010 at 11:15 PM (Uncategorized)

I’ll tell you a secret. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the word “butch.” I had never been able to figure out why. It hadn’t made any sense to me, because I liked butches, liked them a lot. Since I couldn’t figure out why I felt that way, I had decided that it must have been some irrational love/hate thing or something, and kept on using that word when I wanted to talk about certain women. I even started this blog to talk about them. It’s sort of a handy word, or at least it was for me, because I’ve always felt that I had trouble making myself understood when I tried to describe or discuss the sort of women it refers to.

I was googling this evening and trying to find some information about these women, and using another, clunkier term that I don’t like, “non-feminine,” and in one of the search results I found this quote by Margaret from AROOO on a post by Undercover Punk:

I completely agree about “female masculinity,” Amy. Anything that makes “unfeminine” (ie, not submissive in behavior or dress) a MARKED form of femaleness is anti-radical-feminism. For me, the word “butch” does the same thing, and is built upon the same model of “feminine” (submissive in behavior or dress) as “normal female.”

…and that is a large part of what had been bothering me about the word all along. I don’t know why that was so difficult for me to figure out.

Another thing that bothers me is the use of the word as a distinguishing descriptor, i.e., these women are butch, as distinguished from womyn in general. Womyn who are referred to as butch aren’t different from womyn in general in any way that is notable (except to the patriarchy). They don’t have some special inherent characteristics that no other womyn have. They have simply rejected society’s role for womyn, and, on an intellectual level at least, any other woman in the world can do the same (although they may have more or less trouble living their lives in accordance with that).

So that’s it for me. No more rattling on and on about “butches.”



  1. Margaret said,

    They have simply rejected society’s role for womyn, and, on an intellectual level at least, any other woman in the world can do the same (although they may have more or less trouble living their lives in accordance with that).

    I still think that it’s problematic to distinguish women who have always rejected femininity as being abnormal or deficient or less female in comparison to a feminine norm. But at the same time, I’ve come to realize just how special and important it is that girls do in fact reject femininity at very young ages. And to grow up rejecting femininity from girlhood while still maintaining a sense of oneself as female, perhaps even more female than the majority of girls/women who accept and identify with male definitions of femaleness – well, that is a feat that should be celebrated. It’s not the same as a woman choosing later on in life, after a lifetime of positive reinforcement of her femaleness because of misogynist feminization (that is, no feminine little girl is ever made to feel as though she is not really female because of her femininity), to reject femininity.

    I say all that to say that while I still agree with what I wrote back then, I’ve grown a bit, too. I think now that perhaps in addition to a refusal to negatively mark women who rejected femininity as girls, we should also seek to positively recognize these women for accomplishing something as little girls that is so fundamental to women’s liberation from male supremacy. And, though I’m not comfortable with the negative, othering connotations and usages of the word ‘butch’, most of the women I know who rejected femininity as girls are not as eager to do away with the word as I was when I left that comment.

    I highly recommend Dykes-Loving-Dykes by Bev Jo, Ruston, and Linda Strega. Bev Jo in particular writes very movingly and articulately about the need to maintain a discursive distinction between women who rejected femininity as girls and women who didn’t – in order to be able to talk about the difference in lived experience and in political power between these two groups of women. I think so long as there is an understanding that this is what we’re talking about when we say ‘butch’, girls who reject femininity and the women they become, and if we understand that we’re not talking about role play or an identity that can be donned and doffed in a pomo queer sort of way, that it can be a really positive thing.

  2. Undercover Punk said,

    I’ve been chatting with Bev Jo on Facebook. I’ll let her know that you’re discussing this, in case she has anything to add.

  3. Margaret said,

    Bev Jo is a second-wave lesbian feminist. She’s a butch lesbian, and she co-authored Dykes-Loving-Dykes. That book is the best thing I’ve ever read about the oppression of non-feminine women by feminine women. And it’s very detailed in describing the range of adherence to or rejection of heteronormativity, from butch lesbians who rejected femininity as girls, to femme women who reject femininity later on in life, to femme women who revel in the privilege they receive as feminine women whether lesbian or straight – and everything in between. I like that it distinguishes between women who rejected femininity as girls and those who reject it later on in life. When I left that comment, my only problem was that I had not made that distinction, which is an entirely different thing than insisting on calling non-feminine women masculine, as UP did in that thread.

    • lesbianplusfeminist said,

      Ok. I would have known who she was if I had finished reading your first comment before replying to undercover punk, duh.

  4. Undercover Punk said,

    Margaret, everyone can read the comments. You clearly have not outgrown the competitive compulsion to make yourself look better by contrasting your righteousness against others’ perceived failings. Brilliance will never compensate for horizontal hostility.

  5. Margaret said,

    Undercover Punk, I’m not victimizing you. The whole “mean black woman being hostile and abusive” shtick gets old, and you’ve been playing it for a really long time now. Sure, everyone can read the thread, but having specific points of reference helps.

    And, nice little swipe yourself, labeling my opinions “righteousness,” as if the sarcasm doesn’t shine through.

    Sorry, L+F, for over a year now Undercover Punk’s been contrasting my writing as being “just theory” in comparison to her own “practice,” contrasting my “meanness” with her own brand of syrupy sweet “politeness,” and even going so far as to claim she’s “separating” as a white woman from me a black woman. But it’s only “horizontal hostility” (a political term meant to describe the hostility relatively privileged women have for women intersectionally oppressed, by the way) if I contrast what I was saying back then with what she was saying back then. It gets hard to stand by and watch her tactics as she pretends to walk some high road.

  6. FeistyAmazon said,

    Butch and proud, and I’ve rejected femininity ALL my life. We are another version of Female, and for me, Butch=Amazon, not male, not trans. Period. There is no other definition of womonhood that even comes close to it for me….and I also lust and love other Butch Dykes….who are out loud and proud, both about being Butch and being Dykes, and while I don’t agree with Bev Jo on certain matters, I found that section of her book very, very validating on Butch oppression. It is NOT something we can put on and take off..it is who we are at our core, since a very young age…at 7 rejecting dolls, at 10, dresses, at 12 never wanting to marry a man or have children, and always taking up my space, doing ice hockey when no other girl in the entire league did, and karate even full contact, when no other female in the dojo would, at the age of 15…and severely censored and harassed by family members, classmates, and teachers and the world for not being properly ‘feminine’. I was a lifelong hardcore tomboy who grew up to be a Butch Dyke and when I came out I found a place that honored me, in a way no other culture or subculture does….along with other Butches.

    As Female Identified Butches, we ARE organizing and taking back our identities, one Butch Dyke at a time.
    -In Sisterhood,

  7. m Andrea said,

    lol It is seriously very helpful for me to see two fantastic people each taking petty potshots at each other (or something, I don’t understand anything more about the on-going argument). It’s helpful to me because I tend to do that also, but it’s only when I’m not involved and simply observing other people do it, that I realize how freaking stupid it is — and no offense to either one of the sincerely amazing women involved.

    It’s taken me a looooong time to remember to attack the argument, not the person. Occassionaly I still forget…

    Also, this post and relevant comments helped to reconcile my own ambivalence about terms like “butch” so many thanks!! As long as I remember the word is supposed to mean “a female who rejected proscribed gender roles from birth” it makes more sense and loses that but why shove YOURSELF into a box? response.

    I probably would have been butch also, but then again I hated men from birth and there was no way I was going to hang around any of them if I could possibly help it, but they were all clustered around the activities I wanted to do. Which meant I avoided those activities.

    • lesbianplusfeminist said,

      Margaret can defend herself, but I don’t see that anything she has posted here constitutes a “petty potshot.”

      I don’t understand your comment about activities. There are plenty of different ways to flout gender roles without participating in traditionally male-dominated activities.

  8. Margaret said,

    I thought the same thing, L+F, about the “potshot” that is apparently my telling Undercover Punk that I wasn’t victimizing her, and the “activities.” Leave it to a white woman to come up with the former, and leave it to a straight one to think she would have been butch if only she hadn’t wanted to avoid the boys clustered around the graphing paper and compasses. As if no butch woman ever wants to avoid males.

  9. berryblade said,

    Would you mind if I linked this post L+F?

  10. Bev Jo said,

    I’m not sure where to begin! I just joined, so will start answering some of what happened in Sept.

    First, Margaret, I love what you write and how you write. I feel like you fight hard to protect those who even Radical Feminists oppress because they either don’t realize or are knowingly part of the system they claim to be against — meaning they are outraged and radical against what oppresses and offends them personally, but then immediately switch to the reactionary (or, as I think of it, a right-wing/conservative version of “Radical Feminism”) when anything threatens their status or privilege. (This gets difficult to explain because, though I’ve been in a Radical Lesbian Feminist, primarily Separatist community for 40 years, there is obviously a new language developed that I’m not familiar with. I tend to refect anything elitist that prevents newcomers from joining us.)

    I keep hoping that we can try to stay friends and allies, so I will suggest all drop ridicule and insults, postering and attempts at humiliation and name-calling. It not only doesn’t help — it almost always reveals who is actually the most arrogant and privileged.

    I do not see Margaret as being “compulsively competitive” or “righteous” here at all. I see her giving unacceptable radical and courageous support for Butches, who are the Lesbians who get the most Lesbian oppression from men, het women, and Lesbians. I appreciate her awareness and support! And I appreciate the personal support too since I feel like joining threads and blogs recently I have been attacked, ridiculed, and censored for being too radical, too Lesbian, and too working class.

    When I was attacked on a thread for being Butch “in theory and not practice” by someone who has never met me and knows I identify as a lifelong Butch (and am one of the first who has written and given workshops about Butch oppression and having equal lover relationships), I didn’t realize that this was a common attack and insult, like just calling someone a name.

    Andrea, what does mean Butch have to do with “hanging around with men?” I hated boys and most men, except for my father, as a girl, and I have never been friends with any males. I have always chosen females to be with. Butches are the opposite of male. But you’re het?!! Then what are you talking about? Can’t get closer to men that that.

  11. Bluetraveler said,

    I wonder, as a “masculine” straight woman, what non-clunky term could I use for myself that doesn’t involve gender and is not “butch” (applied to lesbians only)? I don’t like the implications that being more “masculine” is indeed being less female than being “feminine”.

    • lesbianplusfeminist said,

      Hi Bluetraveler. I like the phrase femininity-non-conforming and I abbreviate it FNC so I don’t have to keep saying or typing the whole thing over and over again.

  12. Bev Jo said,

    It helps to stop using the term “masculine” which literally means male. Being yourself and rejecting the true masculinity that is “femininity” does not make you male. “Feminine” is male and masculine.

    Not sure what single word to use though. Maybe for a while, use a phrase — natural woman who refuses to obey male rules to be male-invented “feminine?”

  13. Bluetraveler said,

    FNC sounds great! I think I’ll gradually start using it now (with some explanation needed). Thanks for all the suggestions.

  14. Bev Jo said,

    Hi Blues Traveller,

    I couldn’t find where you’d asked me the question about Elliott, so I posted on The Magazine Project site.

    • FeistyAmazon said,

      ‘Femininity nonconforming”! Please! That’s another attempt to invisibilize Butch Dykes. I’ll take Butch anyday, as it’s a proud word indicative of our Lesbian Herstory, and every Lesbian who has resisted femininization. I don’t want ANY word that ties me to femininity, which to me along with masculinity are patriarchal constructs to keep Dykes and other women and especially Butches in a box. I cannot relate to all the talk of babies, feminine clothes, makeup, obsession around body size, ect. ect. that feminine women talk about…..including some feminine Lesbian women, or the assumption that Feminine automatically equals FEMALE, while Butch, nonconforming behaviors mean ‘you just want to be a man’ or ‘you’re a Dyke’ and thus not acceptable and should be repressed, feminized, treated, beat up or ignored or made invisible and cut out of most jobs because we don’t conform to femininization. There are many flavors of Female, and if Butch doesn’t work for you PERSONALLY, why not use Amazon? Amazon has resisted Feminisation or the powerlessness expected of feminine women, while allowing Butch Dykes and other strong womon centered women a place to inhabit. Both work for me: DykeAmazon and Butch Dyke Amazon, and I wouldn’t give up EITHER aspect of my identity.

      • lesbianplusfeminist said,

        The concept of FNC includes butches (as you youself have written: “we don’t conform to femininization”). It isn’t meant to supplant the term butch or erase the existence of butches, but to include all womyn who don’t conform to femininity.

        Although it’s not explicit in the phrasing, the term “butch” ties you to femininity just as much as FNC would. If it were not for the expectation of femininity for all females, no female would ever be recognized as existing outside of that expectation, and the concept of “butch” would not even exist.

  15. Bev Jo said,

    Yes, we wouldn’t need to identify as Butch because we would be the norm without patriarchy, but saying who we are in this Butch-hating, Lesbian-hating world is as important and courageous as saying we are Lesbians in Lesbian communities as well as male and het ones — which we also would not have to do otherwise.

    One of the problems is that Butch is very different from FNC and Dykey Fems and mainstream Lesbians. We are a threat that all had a choice to be less male-identified “feminine.” Some objectify and want access to us, while others want us out of their sight and out of existence as much as many het women want Lesbians gone.

    We threaten patriarchy at its core.

    I agree it’s good to have a word for other females who rejected some forms of femininity and I appreciate not appropriating Butch (which too many do already.) But FNC sounds very academic and middle class, so I think it’s won’t click with most.

    Amazon is an idea, and all should understand it. But it also implies a warrior. So should a woman who chooses intimacy with those who many of us consider the enemy be called an “Amazon?” Many make exceptions for our het/bi Radical Feminist allies, and try to not think about details, but really….do Amazons let men fuck them? Sorry to be graphic, but this is serious.

    • lesbianplusfeminist said,

      I agree with all that you are saying, I just didn’t want FeistyAmazon to think I was trying to supplant the term butch. I also don’t expect people to go around calling themselves FNC in their day-to-day lives.

  16. FeistyAmazon said,

    Not ALL Amazons are Warriors, some are drummers, High Priestesses, Dancers, fight with the pen rather than the sword, but ALL Amazons put their Sisters and women first and foremost, and were put to the sword themselves for doing so. All knew how to defend themselves, without relying on some man to do so.

    I would say a few are hetero, but most were women loving women, and absolutely villified not only for their strength but for their intimate love of other women. Any woman who fights for, puts women first and foremost before any male, and will defend her Sisters or any woman before a man, and LOVES WOMEN and Mother Earth and women’s mysteries, womens’ spaces FIRST AND FOREMOST could be considered an Amazon.

    I’ve seen many women come through my Amazon workshops and the big difference between the Dykes who do so, and the hetero/bi women, is that the Dykes ‘get’ that Amazonism is all about a Sisterhood and a Nation/time and space we had and can still have(like at MIchfest, which I consider Amazon land) that was OURS. The hetero/bi women are women warriors who connect with the strength and Warrior aspect of Amazonism, and independent woman status, but do it alone in the world…and don’t ‘get’ the Sisterhood aspect like the Dykes do, in their bones.

    Ultimately, I see to connect with Sister Amazons who honor the Sacred Female on ALL levels, sexual, emotional, intellectual, psychic and spiritual levels, and the ONLY ONES who qualify for that are Dykes.
    P.S. I’m so tired of tying Butch to Femme, because for me, I prefer other Butches, strong, powerful Amazonian womyn who take up their space, defend womyn, and make it the best way they know how in a world that absolutely tries to annihilate and/or invisibilize or demonize us.

  17. Bev Jo said,

    Yes, Butch does not have anything necessarily to do with Fem, but there is such a sense among Fems that we just belong to them and they can appropriate us. It’s an amazing sense of ownership that I have seen for years. I too prefer Butches.

    I was writing about Amazons in 1973, with our Separatist newspaper, “Dykes and Gorgons.” So at that point, some Fems were indentifying as Amazons. And some went back to men. I am now very reluctant about who I would call an Amazon.

    And we have different interpretations of what Amazon means. I have seen so many extremely male-identified feminine women prance about like drag queens — particularly in the “spiritual” or witch community that I can’t bear seeing them identify as Amazons. At one witchy event I went to, some were actually wearing tiaras. It was like the worst aspect of femininity revealed itself. At another “Amazon” coven event, we were asked to bring “objects of power,” and they included high heels!!! I felt so oppressed as a Butch by all the giggling and swanning around that I swore to never go back.

    Is there another term that doesn’t feel like usurping something sacred? Or do we share it with extremely feminine women?

  18. Bluetraveler said,

    Ever since I was little I was very attracted to the Amazon figure and the Amazon deities, Athena and Artemis, and other similar historical figures such as Joan D’Arc and Hua Mulan. If I had to play pretend I’d usually play stoic warrior women. But the thing is, I don’t want to be seen as belligerant and since I am straight I don’t want to appropriate a term that might be for lesbians only. If I actually was lesbian, my life would be much easier because I already get pegged as one by lots of people, while I’m not, and so I get the homophobia part without actually being gay (sigh). I am one of the rare cases of “straight invisibility” (lol). I also tried to deny to myself for a long time that I’m attracted by men, because of my prejudice of anything that might be tied to “femininity”. I’m exclusively straight and, as a pretty hardwired part of myself, I can’t change it. But the men I’ve been attracted to usually had “girly” personalities and traits, such as kindness, nurturing behaviour, non-aggressiveness. One guy I see and I’m starting to like is vegetarian, loves cats and tends to them “like a mother” (his own words) and likes cooking pies. All things that nicely complements my personality traits. I also strongly believe in the motto “better alone than in bad company” and I’d prefer being an old cat lady (lady?!?) than barefoot and pregnant (not one of my expectations).

  19. Bev Jo said,

    Thanks, Lesbianplusfeminist. Let’s think of something that might work.

  20. FeistyAmazon said,

    I don’t tolerate all that prancing about in my Amazon rituals, they are far more grounded than Rabbit’s, and NEVER would a high heel be considered an object of power, as I see a high heel more like what Mary Daly says, a DykeAmazon Pirate in her own right: a form of footbinding, like Chinese footbinding, with alot of attendant damage to the feet over time. This is why I’ve never attended her ‘Amazon’ rituals, especially when she said ‘Amazons in dresses’, as a DykeAmazon I’ve ALWAYS rejected dresses and such. Again, another patriarchal insistence on clothing to make us feel helpless.

    One of these days this DykeAmazon, with a few allies, may show up to her so called Amazon rituals, and REALLY share some power, and see what happens. But I’d much rather do my own…tapping into our ancient spirit and power…and to see that please check out the website for more info that is well researched, Dyke and powerful womon affirmative: AmazoNation.com

    There are some very powerful women on that website, good research, poems, ect.
    Like anything else take what you like and leave the rest. As a Butch DykeAmazon I know what words speak to me, I don’t have to invent new ones….Mary Daly, DykeAmazon Pirate did that all just fine with her brilliant mind. Some work, some don’t. And the Amazonism she speaks of is a Pathway to Power, both her and Sally Gearhart influenced me early on, Sally with her book of an alternative Amazon culture run by Dykes that uses a psychic technology with the womyn intimately connected with each other, their own powers and Mother Earth. Those silly girlish women don’t stand a chance. Not every woman is an Amazon, or could be one, but there are those of us, DykeAmazons in particular that have been called to this Path for a lifetime, and perhaps beyond….and they stand squarely on the ground, take up their space and emit a Power most women haven’t even been able to tap into with their girlish male defined ways…..

  21. Komal said,

    I feel the same way about the word ‘butch’.

  22. FeistyAmazon said,

    Yep, that’s what a true Butch, a modern day Amazon, is all about….which is why I identify as a Butch DykeAmazon…it is both a sexual and spiritual designation for me…since my sexuality and spirituality really truly ARE ONE…and a way of looking at the world that gives a very different vision than what we are told by the patriarchy and media…and what even so many Lesbians fear too. That they’ll be told ‘well you just are haters of men, won’t include us’, and thusly are cowed all the time to defend our Dyke/Female/Amazon territories…….but the Amazons among us, will defend those territories over and over again, even if our own so called ‘sisters’ try to sell us down the river…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: