“Femme is intentionality. When you compliment my outfit, you are appreciating my taste, my resourcefulness, my creativity, my sense of adventure, my liberal application of glitter, my choice to wear sequins with sequins.” — Bossy Femme (in a beautiful lovely article that’s all worth reading, not just this part of it).

I love this idea: it took me a long time to figure out exactly what exactly it was about this ‘femme’ thing people did that make it different to just dressing in a typical feminine way, and well, the difference is in that ‘just’.

(I don’t know if I count as femme:  at the moment, I don’t think I would, ’cause day-to-day I dress like a scruffy fucker who enjoys not having to worry about wrecking shoes and clothes in her messy mucky dusty warehouse of a workplace. But I’ve learnt a lot in the years since I left home without a single dress to my name. Nowadays I think femme presentation’s a thing I’m starting to do, a change from my default, a deliberate choice and one that’s happier for that quality of intentionality.)

From where I’m standing, the differences are all in that just: feminine’s meant to be the cultural default for women. To me, feminine means foundation and styled hair and dresses to formal dinners and leggings to clubs and make-up that’s subtle but somehow a bit of a cultural necessity. Shaving your armpits. Waxing your legs. Plucking your eyebrows to a fine line. Not having hair above your lip. It’s about telling women their natural bodies shouldn’t be seen – I couldn’t go out, I hadn’t put my makeup on yet. I was always quietly but fiercely determined that makeup wouldn’t ever become a norm for me, because fuck you beauty industry I need those extra twenty minutes in the morning before school to do important shit, like read, or later to check my emails and read webcomics that’d updated overnight. I didn’t want feminine because it was an imposition. It wanted me to think it was mandatory.

Saying that they’re feminine is an insult to boys. So’s calling a women unfeminine. Funny that.

Masculine appearance isn’t the same kind of quality, note. Not taming your facial hair is manly, if potentially ridiculous, but at the same time (in Western cultural norms) choosing to shave doesn’t make you laughably unmasculine. The same goes for most kinds of grooming society expects from men: neglecting them don’t actually let them in for much vitriol either way, and the default state of their hair and faces are their own business. Masculine presentation is a broader spectrum, so whereas according to Cosmo or what-the-fuck-ever some degree of careful artificial femininity is a default requirement of being a women: shaved legs and waxed upper lip are so normal that people assume a hairy woman’s a lesbian.  Which I wouldn’t see as an insult, but how the fuck does simply not making a cosmetic alteration from your normal appearance have such significance in our culture that it can be used as a basis from which to assume someone’s sexual orientation

To me, how I see femme, what I admire in femme friends and shoot for when I dress up in that direction, femme’s saying ‘fuck all those basic requirements’ and dressing to show off however you want to. If feminine’s something started when someone buys a baby boy something blue and a girl something pink and grows up through barbies and gossip magazines and is basically no longer a conscious choice so much as a set of assumptions, femme’s making a choice.

Dressing up with punk-pink hair and glitter, or by setting off the lines of sharp-cut suit jacket with bright colours and glossy hair and a fuckton of smoky eyeshadow and heavy jewelry. Dressing down with skirts over jeans, or layers of floofy knitwear over a comfy shirt. Spending hours hunting for precisely the right this or that, be that in a road full of charity shops or through the fanciest streets in London.

Femme’s a choice: intentionality. It’s a skill, and the product of time and thought and self-respect and subversion and hopefully a fair bit of fun and glitter and joy too.

And the way I see it (be warned, I don’t I say this as anyone with a long history of dedication to femme, just as a newcomer emerging out of years of resentment of the feminine), it’s finding and reveling in a style that suits you, not trying to emulate some lifeless ideal skinny-white-bland paradigm of womanhood. For me, stopping any futile attempts to shape my hair with products. Playing around with little plaits and clips instead and braiding parts of it back into secret complicated structural patterns and getting delightfully asymmetrical gravity-defying twisty results. I like this femme thing, the way I see it, which is ‘who the fuck cares if I’ve never seen this in a magazine, it looks fucking awesome!’

I don’t think it’s something I’ve got the inclination to enjoy 24/7, but I sure as fuck can get behind a femme manifesto that’s aware of all the pressures of femininity and still getting pleasure out of making its very own style. So: thanks, Bossy Femme