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What do 'butch' mean to you as a feminist (re. Jack Monroe)?

(51 Posts)
JeanneDeMontbaston Thu 29-Oct-15 21:43:08

A friend just sent me the link to this piece:

It's Monroe explaining how they understand gender, and much of it strikes me as pretty nuanced and very understandable. So I wondered about something that might be a side note - but can we discuss it?

Monroe explains:

I just want to be myself. Flatter-chested, a bit stronger in the arms and shoulders, and able to pass for a “young man” on public transport. I could still do that as a butch lesbian, but it doesn’t fit.

I feel horribly rude, but I read that and wondered what she was getting at - because she isn't, to my understanding, someone who's ever been 'butch'. I honestly can't tell if she thinks that she is butch, or if she is saying that she had two options - either to be trans or to be butch - and she dismissed the second one because it felt wrong.

I wondered about all this, because on MN FWR I keep seeing people say they've tested out as 'masculine' on tests, or that they are not especially 'girly', or whatever. So, I suppose there are lots of ways to define women who are not 'gender conforming'.

But, would you think of 'butch' as meaning only 'a woman who seems masculine'? Do you think 'butch' women are identifiable with men?

IrenetheQuaint Thu 29-Oct-15 21:52:44

When I hear 'butch' I think of those excellent 80s vintage feminists one sees at (feminist) conferences with really short hair and masculine clothes and body language. Jack Monroe doesn't fit in that category and I'm not sure if many younger lesbians do?

Her piece is slightly confused - she seems to be having breast reduction surgery but is unclear about whether it's in order to pass as a man or because of her family history of breast cancer. Plus some slightly irritating namedropping about John Bercow and Lords (!). But, well, whatever.

JeanneDeMontbaston Thu 29-Oct-15 22:08:17

grin Yes, that's what I see! Though I also see Lea Delaria out of Orange.

I guess what I wondered, partly, was if this were just passe? Because yes, I don't know that many younger women who dress/act like that (I do know some). And I know women who actively seem alienated by the term itself. But all of them seem less feminine than Monroe.

I found the piece a bit odd for the reasons you give - but, to be fair, I thought she sounded stressed and responding to a lot of criticisms, and I can understand someone in that situation just throwing everything they know at the paper.

So I get her mentioning family history and gender identity.

What I don't get is that reference to butch lesbians.

IrenetheQuaint Thu 29-Oct-15 22:20:45

Yes, I see what you mean about her writing the article in a hurry and chucking everything in.

I suspect she is using 'butch' to mean 'lesbian who wears trousers, has cropped hair and enjoys working out', but perhaps I'm oversimplifying.

I know absolutely zero about lesbian subculture these days - my lesbian friends are all either pretty mainstream in appearance or timelessly eccentric - so I will resist the temptation to speculate from a position of total ignorance.

CouncilOfLadies Thu 29-Oct-15 22:32:18

I'm an androgynous lesbian. And I am very lucky that my parents were totally accepting of me being a total tomboy as a kid. There was no "you can't play with Meccano because you're a girl" or forcing me to wear dresses and sparkly shoes.

I could play football with the boys and drool over my A-ha posters at the same time. There was never any pressure to fit into the neat gender boxes proscribed by society.

I guess she was raised in a very traditional household where the men did the exciting jobs and the women did stereotypically feminine roles.

It seems to me all this "I'm not female any more because I like stereotypical boy things" is a delayed reaction to that.

But I am actually disgusted at how regressive her thinking is on gender, and it just makes life harder for women like myself who have rejected those stereotypes, because now dim-witted people like her are in effect saying "you're not entitled to be a tomboy. You must be non-binary and trans like me."

It's incredibly homophobic and misogynistic at its core.

almondpudding Thu 29-Oct-15 22:33:57

I don't think it is nuanced at all.

Someone has said that because she has a working female reproductive system she is a woman. She says that logically that means someone who has had a hysterectomy or similar is not a woman. But that isn't a logical inference to make from that person's statement.

She made the remarks about top surgery in an article about being trans. Angela Jolie made her statements about her mastectomy in the context of breast cancer. The two were not comparable.

She says her top surgery is criticised while women having breast enhancements are not. Well, she is making claims that her having her breasts removed is part of deconstructing gender which she claims is what feminism is all about! I would say that is equivalent to women claiming to be empowered by having breast implants, which is massively criticised as a stance.

It is just a load of bullshit. And she describes being trans as rejecting a female gender role.

We are constantly told by trans activists that identifying as a female is not a gender role. But now it is?

And nobody wants old women to catch up. All these young women don't want mums and Grandmas and Germaine Greer to come out as trans. They still need somebody to be the women that they can stomp all over.

Just sick of the whole thing.

sillyoldfool Thu 29-Oct-15 22:36:46

To me it's yet another wish washy label that means nothing much aside from reinforcing the gender stereotypes that oppress women. I'm sick of this.

BlackbirdsInaPie Thu 29-Oct-15 22:40:47

80s vintage feminists

Oh thanks ... could we stop with ageism in FWR of all places ...


a Non-butch woman who was into organised feminism in <gasp> the late 70s at university

BlackbirdsInaPie Thu 29-Oct-15 22:48:45

Sorry, grumpy post above, but please - those of us in our 50s are still thinking active people ... And I have mentors heading for 70 and more, who taught me everything I know about feminist theory & feminism in action in my career.

OTOH, you might have a look at the work & performance identity (as in actual theatre performance) of Peggy Shaw, half of Split Britches. She remarked in one show I saw, that the exchange of outward display of feminine gender for lack of aging was worth it. That is, she started performing/dressing etc in a way we might call typically "masculine" (ie the butch lesbian) at menopause, as a way of retaining a kind of status. Arrgh, she put it much better: it was about not becoming invisible as a middle-aged & then post-menopausal woman. Her partner (in the company & life, I think ...) is far more conventionally "feminine" looking, although they're both sharp feminists. Of the 70s kind so calumniated now.

almondpudding Thu 29-Oct-15 22:57:41

There was a whole section in Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs on 'boi' lesbians, and that was only written ten years ago.

But Jack Monroe was never a butch lesbian. I don't know why she is bringing up the topic.

I do think her article is relevant to the self defined women thread. By making a woman's group for self defined women, you exclude people like Monroe, and don't think she should be excluded.

JeanneDeMontbaston Thu 29-Oct-15 23:31:46

irene - ah, that makes sense. Yes, that might be what she means. But I find it somehow disconcerting - and this may well be my ignorance. I can't put my finger on why. But it is related to the way so many women her age seem to feel an almost visceral reaction to the term 'butch', and a desire to define out of everything it might indicate.

council - thanks for replying. I agree 100%, coming from a very different perspective. So it's useful to hear.

almond - mmm, I am confused. I did wince at the comparison to having breast cancer, I admit. But I think that is part of a wider issue, that society as a whole still does not recognise how traumatic surgery might be for women. I think Monroe is trying to be the person Monroe wants to be - which I get - it's just it's hard when it means belittling others.

silly - you mean, 'butch' is just a label of that reinforces gender stereotypes? How, exactly?

blackbirds - like irene, I like the idea of feminism with a history. I'm fairly sure her post is actually positive about 80s feminism - given she praised it - and my response to it certainly was. Not sure how that is ageist?! I'm terribly sorry for looking back to the 80s (when I was growing up) and before for inspiration. I had no idea it was rude, and I'm certainly deeply confused as to why it's seen as rude to celebrate those times?

sillyoldfool Thu 29-Oct-15 23:35:09

The way she's using it, saying she's butch so she can't be a woman, she is other.
I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't be posting, I don't know enough.

JeanneDeMontbaston Thu 29-Oct-15 23:39:45

No, do post!

I don't think I know enough either - that's why I am asking.

I read it as Monroe saying that she could be a butch lesbian, but that that would not feel right - suggesting that she has some insight into being that. And I felt odd about that because she's made clear before that she isn't a butch lesbian, so it felt like her denying an identity in a way that vilifies that identity.

almondpudding Thu 29-Oct-15 23:49:21

But she isn't butch. She doesn't come across as masculine in appearance or any personality traits. She's less masculine than say, Anne Hathaway or Emma Watson.

I feel really sorry for her because she clearly has a lot of soul searching to do, and I think she will get hurt doing it in public. There's something really sad about all of this.

She isn't like Greer who has a job and happens to be well known. Monroe's job is being a celebrity cook; she has to get people to like her and be interested in her.

How do we separate the whole celeb culture thing from talking about feminism when celeb culture is becoming the media focus for women's issues?

OnlyHereToday Thu 29-Oct-15 23:55:58

I used to pass for a boy/young man on public transport when I was younger. I loved it, it protected me from unwanted male attention.

I thought I wanted to be a boy when growing up but actually I look back and know what I really wanted were all the privileges my brother had.

There is a fine history and tradition of butch lesbians, often a ridiculed and ostracised group.

I actually thought I wanted to be male at one point, wanted a hysterectomy, didn't want breasts or even like being a woman, or rather the position of women. Didn't want kids, was already out as a lesbian and had been for years.

Anyway, found feminism, began to love being a woman, still have short hair, no make up or jewellery ever and only wear trousers but not got the physique or facial shape to be butch, more baby butch, many with the look I had would describe themselves as bois on the scene nowadays.

And I had unexpectedly ended up having two kids, loved being pregnant, so I'm glad I didn't do anything drastic.

That's a bit about butch, very long history and culture to it, including women passing as men.

OnlyHereToday Thu 29-Oct-15 23:59:03

Which I could have summed up by saying being a butch lesbian is an identity, and there is a long history of butch lesbians bravely being out. It got totally disowned for a while but is back a bit now.

almondpudding Fri 30-Oct-15 00:02:38

We definitely all owe butch lesbians a debt.

OnlyHereToday Fri 30-Oct-15 00:05:04

Yes, it's shocking how disowned they are.

JeanneDeMontbaston Fri 30-Oct-15 00:06:11

But she isn't butch.

Well, quite. This was what prompted me to start this thread. But I feel rude, because I can't tell if she thinks that she is butch - and if she doesn't know that, then maybe she is talking about something else entirely?

only - thank you for sharing that, it is fascinating. A lot of women I know would identify as bois, but increasingly, that is also seen as a genderqueer identity, and not a lesbian or female identity - it's seen as a subset of masculinity. So I suppose what I am asking is, how come these definitions extend the range of 'masculinity', but never 'femininity'?

JeanneDeMontbaston Fri 30-Oct-15 00:07:16

almond - amen to that. We owe them a debt.

OnlyHereToday Fri 30-Oct-15 00:10:35

I blame the patriarchy.

JeanneDeMontbaston Fri 30-Oct-15 00:11:01


OnlyHereToday Fri 30-Oct-15 00:14:41


I feel very strongly that my identity is a part of me being a woman and a lesbian. It's got absolutely nothing to do with men or male identity.

almondpudding Fri 30-Oct-15 00:16:26

There are other identities that developed in the sixties and are still developing now that have expanded femininity. The whole Earth mother thing, that continues as lentil weaving and attachment parenting as described on here. Greer talks about that in the Whole Woman.

JeanneDeMontbaston Fri 30-Oct-15 00:20:34

That is what I was rather tentatively wondering about.

My partner is fairly very opposed to the term 'butch', precisely because she associates the term with men and male identity. And I'm being an immature idiot by trying to define my own identity in relation to someone else, obviously. But I do wonder if the terms that used to refer to women, are being co-opted to only refer to masculinity?

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