Change Your World-NOT your Body

Monday, June 29, 2015

Ain't I a Woman-The Problematics of Butch Privilege

I cant remember back far enough in time when I did not notice females changed when a male was present. There could be a whole room full of women, being themselves; laughing open mouthed, serious, platonically loving, passionately arguing a point, comfortable in their skin, then in walks a man and suddenly all attention would divert to him. It didn't matter who he was, friend or foe, ugly or handsome, young or old, rich or poor. Women who would be moving to the natural rhythms of their bodies would abruptly shift into a different way of moving, occupying themselves. Then that self occupation would move outward toward the man/men, including male children. So that isn't to say, their behaviours/actions/mannerisms were necessarily sexual,  they werent. But the direction of their behaviours/actions/mannerisms definately pointed toward the males in the room. And so I'm clear, female behaviour/body language etc alerting to the presence of men is as subtle as it is glaring. As I grew up regularly witnessing females changing, deferring to the presence of males, I also observed those changes crossed ALL lines, class, races and religions. 

As typical of  Butch lesbians, I had more of a girl-boyhood than of a girlhood, through no intentional fault of my own. My peers, my allies were all male and out side of female family members I didnt associate with other girls. I knew school girls, yes. Would be friendly toward them, but had no active interest in things they enjoyed. Being with boys, among boys, a leader of boys, perceived as a boy, (like a boy?), I still didnt see (only on the odd occasion) where I was treated like a boy by girls/women. Boys knew I wasnt a boy, I knew I wasnt a boy, but because my femaleness didnt scream girl, I held boy respect. I was sooo boy, boys often (to my annoyance) wanted to be like me and said as much. That hasnt changed as an adult, even if they know I'm female. I still find it annoying. "I want to be cool, like you." Ugh!

I didnt develop (platonic) friendships with women until I was in my thirties and with the exception of a girlfriend, most of those friendships were with straight women. Dykes were never (still arent) friendly toward me. As I consciously shifted toward a more femalecentric circle through feminist endeavors, I gained female friends while letting male friendships slide into lesser and lesser positions. I still have male relatives and a close gay male friend I talk to regularly. But at this point in my life, my energy and time are given to women/women's causes, women's needs. As an adult with adult female friends, little changed when a male became present. Women I know today still change how they move, act, speak, listen to men as apposed to other women.

What has changed today is realising how women change around me, at least to the extent that that is possible. Males often deny having male privilege, deny that women treat them differently than they treat women. They deny those things because they dont see it, literally. A male doesnt see female behavior change because females have established a certain way of being in the presence of males that males cannot know, thats true of all men; gay, straight, even trans males. As I wrote about earlier, I had noticed how females changed with a male present from quite a small age. But not being around females except for relatives or girlfriends, once I developed female friendships, I assumed they saw me as one of them. Through a series of conversations with a certain Femme (my sweetheart), who had long witnessed very similar behaviour from straight women when a Butch entered the room, I began being very conscious of the women around me, because to be honest, I had serious doubts. I've heard other Femmes say as much themselves but thought their feelings were coming from a place of female competition/jealousy, rather than legitimacy. Not very feminist on my part, I admit.

Using my workplace as a kind of testing ground, I have a female boss and work with all women, women I believed were not just my friends, but my equals. What my keen observations revealed is, they see and treat me differently. They change around me. Their body language, their tone of voice. They even fight over me, which was apparent before, only now I realise why. But most importantly, they defer to me. I've worked very hard to be one of them, to show that being a different kind of woman doesnt mean I'm all that different from women. While I knew some of this went on with women, I only recently realised the magnitude of it. Again, to the extent that I can. Because like men, I cant see how women are when I'm not around.

What I have seen? Where do I begin? I'll start with the "work wife", not to be confused with my girlfriend. The work wife claims a certain hierarchy among the other women in my office. She makes sure I have things I like at work, buying me ice tea (& gum if needed) everyday on her way to work. Or run to Speedway on our breaks or lunch to fetch me a coffee if I so request. Until my girlfriend (who knows the work wife) revealed what was truly going on (this is how women treat men) I naively thought she was just being a friend. And mind you, this isnt one sided, though I'm sure it could be. I do do (I just loled at that like a 5 year old), things for the work wife as well. I've gotten crafty in my older age, so I'll make her something I know she'd like or if I see something in a store I know she'd want or her son would like, I'll pick it up. We also have an ongoing lunch date every Friday. When I've had car troubles she's picked me up for work or followed me to drop my car off etc.

In the conversations about females changing in the presence of Butches, my girlfriend asked point blank, does the work wife do any of the things she does for me for any other woman in the office? She had me there, cause she doesnt. Other women in the office have vied for the work wife's position. Even being nice/polite to other women in the office can create serious jealousy. Not simply with the work wife, but those vying for that position. Other women will consciously try and stir up work wife/vying wives for the dramafication factor, which usually ensues. These situations take place weekly, I kid you not.

One of the women is bisexual. She is best friends with another woman there who's lesbian, therefore privy to dyke culture in a way the other women arent, including the work wife. So while the situation with the work wife or the vying work wives is very boy/girl, it is also totally non sexual. The bisexual however makes no bones about her interest. Such as when the manager is out of the room and I have to tell the room something regarding the work, Miss Bi's usual reply is "yes Daddy"! Or when the work wife has called me her "husbitch", Miss Bi (who is black) jumped in declaring that term to be an insult toward me as a "Stud", Stud being an elevated status above non Butch women. So Miss Bi now refers to me as her Studsband! And while some women there have joked (I presumed) that I was "the man" (including my straight married boss who regularly states "Lynn is the man in our relationship") Miss Bi has went so far to say she "sees" and "treats" me like a "man" out of respect for me as a Stud/Ag.

Moving on...

One thing I do for the whole room is to buy 3 or 4 prizes, plus a scratch off lottery ticket for them to compete for on Fridays. This isnt something I have to do, it is something I do with my own money because we have a difficult job, it breaks up the monotony and they all deserve a treat for their/our hard work. Because I do these things as well as other kindnesses, they refer to me as their "pimp" and themselves as my "ho's". This is completely from them, not from me. Bear also in mind, most women there are black. I used to simply see the humour in it, because together we do all joke about quite a lot. But when I really examined it, there were layers of things going on.

As a white person, I've been elevated via internalized racism and as a woman whom they put in the category of man, I've been elevated via internalized misogyny. All spelling out, not only am I not one of them, they perceive me due to cultural prejudices/sexism as BETTER than them! I'm someone to be served, flirted with, sexually available for, treated with respect, deferred to, in other words-I'm someone who isnt a woman. Identity politics can get men legal access to the ladies loo, but legitimate biology if carried differently can get you alienated for life. 

dirt

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18 comments:

  1. This is very interesting but I have to say as a younger twenty-something woman I can't relate to it at all. My childhood and that of my friends wasn't nearly as sex-segregated and we all mostly played together. Also I have never seen a girl/woman being considered better for looking like a stereotypical tomboy: in my experience it either doesn't matter or it's seen as weird and frowned upon. The behavior of shifting energy and becoming more subdued in the presence of a guy is something I have only experienced in myself and other women when in the presence of a really sexist jerk, in which case we feel uncomfortable and try to avoid direct confrontation and can become deferential. But yeah, overall my experience in childhood has been that even though boys were really preoccupied with what's feminine and masculine, girls overall didn't give a shit, and were frustrated when made to care.

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  2. Hey Dirt, thank you for writing this. My butch experience was fraught with alienation and very little acceptance until I was a bit older. I think when I was younger, in a different era, I was just viewed as a freak. Straight women have never been particularly friendly although this has also changed somewhat. Mostly I just associate with other dykes. I think the generalities of the butch experience can also vary a lot by size. Taller women are probably treated differently than smaller women and I'm guessing, paradoxically have more acceptance among some as well as hostility from others for being more of a threat and, face it, potential competition to men. Since I'm on the small side this would be speculation. When I was younger I used to get harassed by men incessantly even though it was obvious I wasn't interested. I would make myself as spiky and stone as possible just to be able to walk down the street. Ughh! So glad at least that part has gotten easier, (though it never really goes away, it just mutates). I think transitioning might be the current version of this. I don't know. I think as a dyke I have at least been spared some of the nastiness straight women inflict on each other when vying for the attention and favor of men. In my experience straight women, and bisexual women too, are mostly immune to the concept of female solidarity and sisterhood. What you describe actually sounds like borderline harassment but of course, only you can determine that.

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    1. Your experience sounds much more to that of dykes, especially getting bothered by males. I've never heard that from a Butch, and in daily life we pass from the time we're a few years old.

      Having women faun all over is far from harassment, but sociologically it is very interesting and speaks volumes about male privilege and female solidarity to keep men privileged and in power.

      dirt

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    2. Meh, I don't know. I would get mis-sexed when I was a kid and through my early 20s, rarely after that. That's why I think the overall experience can vary depending on height. A lot of things do, people of various statures are treated differently.

      Unless of course if you're equating physical androgyny as synonymous to butchness. I'm not. For me it's a whole slew of things from aesthetics to boundaries, how you carry yourself, etc. Anyway, I'm not quite ready to turn in my butch card and don't think it's possible, though in an effort to do away with gender maybe I should be trying, blah, blah, blah. To be honest, I think butch is what happens when you reject female socialization from an early age. It's really more like being neutral instead of gendered, which is what boys and men are allowed. I think it's what a lot more women would be if they rejected gender brainwashing.

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    3. Andro dykes are quite different category altogether. Again I dont know what height has to do with being Butch. While I'm sure there are Butches who are tall, most-myself including are average female height/weight. I'm talking about the experience shared by Butch lesbian throughout the world based on biology and sociology. In effort to OBVIOUSLY (so I thought) delve into the BIGGER issues this post clearly points to regarding females/male privilege and feminism.

      Butch doesnt happen, we're created in our mothers wombs, cell by cell. Whites who grow up in urban areas do not get to default to checking the african american category nor do lesbians who do not want submit to the male gaze. Butch is BORN, it isnt a choice or a default.

      dirt

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    4. Height has nothing to do with butch, that's my point. However, someone's experience as butch could vary tremendously depending on height as one factor, and there are many. I was simply commenting on your experience as opposed to mine and marveling at the differences. I've been viewed as butch by other dykes my whole life so I doubt this is a self/misconception. I was a tomboy, fought mightily to not have to wear dresses, played rough and tumble, you name it.

      If you are saying that butchness is somehow genetically determined, well okay, but I'm not sure I agree. By contrast, high-femme seems to me to be ultra-contrived and very much learned. Is that also "created in [the] mothers wombs, cell by cell"? And if so, how is this anything but a total affirmation of predetermined genders; not unlike ladee and boi brains?Assuming we recognize butch and femme as genders.

      Anyway, we can agree to disagree. I didn't mean to derail the conversation which I think was focusing on " females/male privilege and feminism". I guess I'm puzzled how your experience would amount to some form of male-privilege if you are not actually male, if that was indeed what you were saying. Like I said somewhere else, you are the best one suited to evaluate your own experience.

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    5. "High Femme" is a term used by damaged straight women who utilize constructed femininity in effort to strategically put themselves ladder rungs above actual Femmes. They also rarely date Butches, and find themselves more often times than not with Dykes claiming to be Butch. Butch Invisibility and scarcity being what it is, they dont know the difference. Kinda like you.

      Butch/Femme has NOTHING whatsoever to do with "gender" unless we're speaking of gender 1950's style, meaning male or female, in which case both are obviously women.

      dirt

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  3. Seriously insightful, Dirt. I expect I will re-read this many times.

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    1. I hope so. It reveals and presents VERY serious issue ignored previously by feminists.

      dirt

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    2. Like the fact that women prop up the patriarchy.

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  4. @Dirt 6:26 -- Honestly Dirt, I know you have some pure idea of what "butch" is, but what MaryMacha described happens to many people, and these people might even be the "butchest" in their social circle. It IS frustrating. It would help to have a little support for everyone instead of writing them off as mere dykes.
    I've never had a male show interest to me in my life, and vice versa, but my family always pushed me and still pushes me towards it adamantly. Would this environment, that I can't control, prevent me from ever being a real butch?
    I assume it's a similar case with males calling attention, or people judging someone by their height. Societal things we have to deal with, that can get hard sometimes, so some choose to transition to be able to avoid it. But here we all know that that's not the answer.

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    1. Actually its nothing like males/height, more like orange and toad. WE Butch lesbians actually exist. Yes we exist in only a few thousand at any given time, BUT we still exist. WE ARE REAL! There isnt a measuring rod for how butch, there is just simply BUTCH!

      Where you find a lesbian measuring "butch" you will surely find a lesbian who is NOT Butch. I REFUSE TO BE INVISIBLIZED because some dykes who do not fit into the Gender Straight Jacket for women foolishly (wishfully?)default to Butch. I will continue to correct them/whoever whenever I see it.

      Butch is more than a flannel shirt and a pair of holey Levis, it is a biological/sociological/sexual orientation strung together with a rare unique human experience. As is all types of human. If you dont feel special and think you will by marginalizing and coopting a human experience as your own, think again.

      And Anon, I dont trivialize dykes, if dykes feel that way? They need to seriously examine their internal misogyny.

      dirt

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    2. I've seen your posts relating to butches, and then many comments after asking what exactly you mean. I think I've got an idea, but it is unlike anything I have ever seen in media or read online. But I do think I see what you mean. However, the overwhelming majority of people have common outside influences telling them what "butch" is, and what they see is their definition of the word. It's basically synonymous with dyke. In some cases, a more hardcore version of dyke.

      It would be interesting to have some external sources that define what butch means in your sense, Dirt. Maybe some literature or something.

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    3. I agree with that. We arent seen and when we are, we're presumed male, by lesbians and straights alike. This isnt just my experience, but the experience of any Butch I've personally known and those related to me by Femmes.

      Imagine you were an apple (I think I'm craving fruit), but the whole world showed oranges claiming THEY were apples? So every time someone saw an orange, they assumed apple. Thats what Butches deal with every day from the time we are born till the time we die.

      dirt

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    4. No way to fix it?

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    5. When your own community doesnt even know who/whats Butch, there certainly isnt going to be a way for the general public to get it.

      dirt

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  5. Not sure I'd count this as "privilege," but something that happened today reminded me of this post.

    I stayed late at work, so at close to 10 P.M. I was headed down a dark, dimly lit forested area on my way home. I felt the area was fairly safe, but I guess from all those stories you hear, you can't ever be too cautious.

    Anyway, I stopped to take a picture of a dimly lit street because I liked the way the few lamp lights illuminated the area. I lifted my phone up and waited for the camera to load, but instead of the street, what I saw was some dude in a dark shirt, with messy hair, and a sullen face hidden behind glasses suddenly pop up in front of me. I almost had a heart attack for that split second there. Literally, my heart lurched and I felt a sense of hopeless panic, until I realized my camera was on selfie mode.

    I knew some people were scared of me, but I thought it was because I wasn't exactly the friendliest person in the first place. Is it "butch privilege" to have people keep their distance because they might be scared? Perhaps as scared as they would be of some creepy guy?

    (I had always liked the distancing and never gave it second thought, by the way, because I'm happiest when people leave me alone. Now I'm just curious.)

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  6. Can you explain the difference between dyke and butch?

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