Femme Theory: Femininity's Challenge to Western Feminist Pedagogies
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Contemporary Western feminist scholarship fails to explore the backdrop to the naturalization of feminine subjugation. By analyzing the structures, histories, and theories of gender relations, this study dislocates femininity from its ascribed Otherness and, in doing so, demonstrates how empowered femininities have been overlooked or rendered invisible within gender studies. Femme, as the failure or refusal to approximate the patriarchal norms of femininity, serves as the conceptual anchor of this study and is used to examine how femmephobic sentiments are constructed and perpetuated in contemporary Western feminist theory. In part, this perpetuation is achieved through the pedagogical and theoretical exclusions from the texts chosen for gender studies courses, revealing a normative feminist body constructed through the privileging of identities and expressions. Privileging of identities is demonstrated through the designation of literary space and in an overview of dominant theories, such as how the feminine subject is maintained as the object of critique and as not able to be “properly” feminist. This assessment of gender studies course texts reveals a limited understanding of femme and femininity that maintains these identities as white, middle-class, normatively bodied, and without agency. Feminist theory demonstrates an embedded normative feminist subject, one marked by whiteness and body privileges. By deconstructing the privileging of theories of the normative feminist subject, this study argues that gender studies has replicated feminist histories in which the politics and concerns of the white socially privileged subject are the first to be addressed. While white femininity is present in hir Otherness and in critiques of hir femininity, the racially marked femme does not exist, even in absence. The femme—as a queer potentiality—offers a way of thinking and re-thinking through the limitations of contemporary Western feminist theory and the paradoxical preoccupations with the absented femme.