Femmes: Not feminist enough, not lesbian enough

Dr Jessica Taylor

I am deep in thought about the way I have been treated in the last several months, by women around me whom I respected, listened to, engaged with and spoke with. Whilst this blog could get very complex, the crux of the matter seems to be that I am consistently being criticised for not being feminist enough, and not being lesbian enough.

The first one is subjective, the second one is homophobia.

Having mulled it over for a couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a pattern that I want to flag up.

We have an issue with femme lesbians. And we have an issue with butch lesbians.

We have an issue with feminine presenting women.

We have an issue with feminists who are deemed ‘too feminine’ and ‘too butch’.

And whilst we are busy criticising individual women for their hair, makeup or bodies, we are completely ignoring systemic oppression of women, and societal contexts of that oppression. Instead, we become individualists, and target women we don’t agree with or don’t like, and rip into their character and appearance.

This isn’t feminism.

I want to give you some personal examples of this (and some I have witnessed happen to other women).

I have committed myself to radical feminism, and always will. I believe that women and girls are oppressed by their sex, globally. I believe we need liberation urgently. I have supported that cause by writing free materials, creating free courses, teaching, lecturing, influencing and doing everything in my power to push that goal. Specifically for me, I focus on supporting women and girls who have been subjected to male violence and trauma.

Despite my unwavering stance on this, and the fact that I have stood firm, lost jobs, commissioners, contracts, book deals, friends and colleagues – I am frequently accused of not being feminist enough by women who do very little for anyone else. Further, some women seem obsessed with how I look and what I can and can’t wear… which sounds like the type of misogyny I thought we were fighting against.

In 2018, I decided, terrified, to wear a bikini on holiday. I do not speak about this publicly, but I have struggled with body image and eating disorders since I was about 17 and it’s not something I speak on, or will ever speak on past this blog.

Only a couple of people in my life have any idea how severe this is, and for the most part, I keep it under control. Wearing a bikini, or shorts, or a vest top, or anything that exposes me, is a risky and terrifying move. I hate summer for that reason. I am constantly on edge. I love travelling and going on holiday, but I spend most of my time checking my body image and feeling anxious. I have to focus intently on the environment and the things we are doing so I can stop thinking about my body.

In 2018, I decided to challenge myself and not only did I wear a bikini, I took a pic of it when I was on the beach. I stared at it for days and then decided to upload it with the caption ‘How to get a bikini body: put a bikini on your body’. It went viral and I instantly regretted it.

The forbidden bikini pic

I obviously got a mixture of reactions – from disgusting comments to other women disclosing their own body image issues and thanking me for the image.

But the responses that perplexed me the most, were the feminists whom I worked alongside, who were posting vile comments about my body, my stretchmarks, my weight and suggesting I couldn’t be a feminist or a psychologist because I posted a pic of myself at the beach.

I received comments from radical feminists who told me that I was exposing myself and that I couldn’t do that, because I was supposed to be radfem.

One ‘feminist’ mocked me for having ‘fat knees’ and told me to do more squats. I argued with her but she wouldn’t budge, she told me I shouldn’t have posted the image if I didn’t want shitty comments about my fat legs. Sounds like victim blaming, but okay. Very feminist.

At the time, I brushed it off.

But it happened again.

In 2019, I made several videos as part of a free course I created for women and girls subjected to sexual violence. In the videos, I am wearing a white and navy full length wrap jumpsuit and a blue cardigan. The course has been accessed by over 40,000 people. On the week of launch, I received comments from a radical feminist whom I had always respected, saying, and I quote, “no one wants to see your ugly saggy tits on videos talking about sexual violence, you’re going to trigger survivors of sexual abuse”.

I was mortified, but also confused. The jumpsuit was a wrap design, but you couldn’t see my breasts. I went back and watched them.

This is a still from the video.

The offensive jumpsuit

I then received several milder comments from feminists who asked me why I felt the need to wear the jumpsuit in a video for survivors. They said it was ‘sexualising’.

I still don’t get it, to this day. But the judgment was pretty harmful for me, and I remember feeling like I had just spent weeks creating a free resource for people who really needed it, but all that was being talked about was my body. Again.

At the beginning of 2020, I started to notice more and more comments from radical feminists about my breasts, and my bra size. Comments about my body, what I wear, what I look like, my hair, my eyeliner. The same was said about my partner, Jaimi.

There was a rumbling of conversations that we were both too feminine, too sexualised, wearing the wrong clothes.

We found a thread in which 20-30 radical feminists (many of whom we knew) were making sexualised comments about our bodies, claiming we were fake lesbians, playing up to men, ‘take dick’, and more interestingly, that we were fake feminists and fake lesbians, because… we both have big breasts??

A set of comments in the thread were about imagining us being sexually intimate which were creepy as fuck.

One of the comments from a woman I had respected said that she couldn’t take anything me or Jaimi say seriously because every time she sees us, she imagines us talking and ‘then their tits just boing out of their tops and they act like they don’t want men to see them’.

It made us both feel creeped out. We do both have big breasts, and there’s fuck all we can do about that, but why would radical feminists be engaging in a thread that objectified our bodies?

Further, what seemed to be growing was a narrative of ‘well, if they don’t want to be sexualised, they shouldn’t wear those clothes!’

Which I’m sure we’ve heard… somewhere… before… hmmm

We’ve been together for around 18 months and been out only for 12 months. In those 12 months, we’ve been consistently shocked by how many radical feminists have accused us of faking our entire relationship, or being fake lesbians. The other frequent accusation is that we are ‘political lesbians’ – which neither of us are.

We didn’t feel we had to publicly explain our lives and sexualities, but as discussed on our podcast a few weeks back, we both knew we were attracted to girls from being very young. Jaimi was younger than me when she realised, but I was about 11. I had been involved with different girls from 11-16 but had never told anyone. I had other shit going on in my life and I wasn’t processing my sexuality. It took until I was much older to finally process it all. I haven’t made a choice to be gay, and nor has Jaimi.

Finally being able to live as lesbians has made us both physically and mentally healthier, more confident and calmer. We are visibly happier. Everyone around us says it.

There seems to be a real issue around what we look like, too. We’ve both been directly or indirectly accused of playing up to men because we appear feminine. It’s as if the only way to ‘be’ lesbian is to be butch.

I’ve been accused of ‘playing games with men’ because I mock men who send us disgusting messages. Yes, I do mock them. It helps me deal with the thousands of abusive messages I get. Mocking them is literally the only thing we have, sometimes. I report men to the police frequently for sending me threats and abuse and so far ZERO of them have been prosecuted. So yes, mock them I will.

Which brings me to another example which I witnessed a few months ago. This one does not involve me, but was a long thread which mocked two butch lesbians in our circles.

I was shocked to see radical feminists and so-called ‘gender critical’ women brutally mocking two butch lesbian radfems and claiming that they were probably men. The comments were appalling. Women I thought totally understood gender and misogyny were laughing about their short hair, their clothing, their styles and suggesting that they should just be put on testosterone.

I read whilst they placed metaphorical bets that butch lesbians would eventually all come out as identifying as men.

So, I’m too femme, and they are too butch?

Last month, Jaimi and I posted a drawing she had done of me. Again, I had the same anxiety around it because years on, my body image issues have gone absolutely nowhere. However, the drawing felt calm and peaceful. It felt like a representation of my body that I had never seen before, and for the first time in a very long time, I looked at that image and thought, “that’s actually okay.”

We had spent the week watching perseids which is the reason she drew the windows dark, with a large moon and two shooting stars. We had been driving into the countryside to find areas of dark sky to watch the meteors and it had been an epic week.

The drawing is based on a pic she took of me looking out across our garden. It’s not posed, it’s not sexy, it’s not anything really. It’s just an image of me looking out of the window.

The issue seems to be that I have high waisted short knickers on, which has caused several women to go into some sort of misogynistic meltdown in which I am now being accused (again) of not being a real feminist or a real lesbian.

This is now, at least the fourth time, where an image of me has been deliberately sexualised by women who claim to understand sexualisation.

My bikini pic was not sexual at all, but it was made out to be. My videos for sexual violence survivors were not sexual at all, but it was made out to be. My relationship with my best friend, and a woman I love intensely, is not sexualised or for men, but it is made out to be. The drawing Jaimi did of me has been made out to be sexual content, too.

The same ‘feminists’ who commented on the drawing of me claiming to be concerned about my ‘professionalism’ also made comments about my body, and claiming Jaimi didn’t ‘draw enough’ of my cellulite.

The same radfem women making these comments also engaged in yet another huge thread which included comments about my sexuality, my personal life, my weight, my body shape and what I was wearing.

Comments very clearly suggested (again) that if I didn’t want to receive criticism or sexual comments, I should cover my body up.

Now, where have we heard that?

Jaimi was upset by the suggestion that her art was ‘porn’ so she also shared it in her female-only art group with over five thousand established artists, and received a thousand positive comments. She asked about the nature of the drawing and asked if other female artists felt it was sexualising, and over 1000 women commented their thoughts underneath, not one said it was sexualising the woman in the drawing (me, but obviously, they don’t know that).

This interested me too, as the female artist group contains women who are radfem, libfem, and not feminist at all.

No one felt it was ‘porn’, except the the ‘feminists’ who were using it to try to humiliate me. Amazing, eh.

This escalated considerably recently where Jaimi and I were subjected to weeks of intermittent homophobic abuse from ‘feminists’. Lies have been spread about the age gap between me and Jaimi, which is only 7 years. I look old for 29, lol. I get it. I had a rough paper round. Jaimi looks younger than she is. So what?

You want some ID?

Amazing how age gaps in hetero relationships are seen as normal, in fact, the average age gap between hetero couples is much bigger than this according to research by the Pew Centre. To be honest, it was just another stick to beat us with. No one is actually concerned that a 22yo is with a 29yo.

Jaimi has been mocked by ‘feminists’ for stepping up to be a parent to my kids, for which I respect and admire her. I’ve recently been mocked by ‘feminists’ for having a child from rape when I was a teenager. There isn’t really any lower anyone could sink at this time.

But back to the point. There is a pattern forming here, and unfortunately, it looks as though we have fallen into the patriarchal trap of seeing all female bodies as sexual, whilst we attempt to argue that they are not.

Radical feminism is anti-objectification and anti-sexualisation – but it’s not anti-female body or anti-female nudity. It’s not prudish. It’s not about covering up.

We have body art, vagina art etc.

Radical feminism is not supposed to be a movement which encourages women to cover their bodies to stop them from getting sexualised and inappropriate comments.

And yet, here we are.

I’ve also mused on why it is seemingly empowering and cool for masculine presenting women to be pictured in crop tops, bras and sportswear, but not femme presenting women.

I know I’ve been in several feminist environments in which butch women have taken their tops off. I wonder what would have happened if I did that? I wonder why there is such a difference in the perception of our bodies?

I know I’ve seen images of butch women in very little, but there are no comments about how they are sexualising themselves and performing for men. Only when femme women do it.

Isn’t that because we are employing the same gender roles and misogyny as society is? Isn’t that because we are seeing femme women as ‘asking for it’ and butch women as ‘not conforming’?

Don’t we both have female bodies?

Why is it considered feminist and empowering when butch lesbians are pictured kissing or being together, but when femme lesbians do it, it’s pornographic and ‘for the male gaze’?

Doesn’t this objectify femme presenting lesbians?

Why is lesbian sexuality having to be hidden away, obscured and ‘kept private’ in 2020?

Or is this only applicable when the women are femme-presenting?

I know how some will react to these questions – they will argue that all femininity is oppression and all femininity is for the male gaze.

As a woman who has zero interest in men, their views, their opinions or their ‘gaze’, this position perplexes me. Are we saying that femme lesbians are all performative? That femme lesbians are all sexualised?

Are we ignoring female sexuality and the female gaze? What if femme lesbians are appealing to other femme lesbians? Are we just going to ignore their sexual attraction to each other and pretend it’s all for men?

I don’t even have space to go into the fact that many of the radical feminist women making these comments are heterosexual and married to men.

It’s gotten to the point now where women in radical feminism are openly posting about watching my Instagram and looking at pictures of me. And then having entire conversations about my body, my weight, my clothing, my relationship and my sexuality.

You are doing what you claim to hate.

You are engaging in narratives you claim to reject.

You are doing what MRAs do to feminists.

I’m sick and tired of women in this ‘sisterhood’ dragging each other. If it’s not ‘gender critical women’ mocking butch lesbians for being ‘men’, then it’s ‘radfems’ mocking a woman with cancer and asking why they aren’t dead yet. Younger radfems mocking second wave radfems for being old. Older radfems dismissing and humiliating young radfems, and then moaning that we don’t have enough young radfems. And I will never have the space to go into the blatant racism towards Black and Jewish radfems and do that justice, because that shit runs deeper than I ever imagined.

We are attacking each other.

The culture is sick. It needs to change.

We don’t all have to be friends, but we should at least acknowledge that radical feminism is made up of thousands of different women who look, live and act completely differently.

As long as we are all working for common goals, and we are not using harm, racism, oppression, bullying, abuse etc. to achieve that, shouldn’t we be holding each other up?

At present, I see no reason to continue engaging with a very large number of women in this movement, whom have either stayed silent whilst we’ve been harassed and abused, have engaged in it, have laughed at it or have not even noticed how common these comments are about women around us.

Turning a blind eye to the level of homophobia and internalised misogyny amongst us, and within our feminism, is not an option. Nor is blaming women who are targeted, for their appearance or their sexuality. Nor is mocking butch lesbians and femme lesbians in different ways and then pretending there is no homophobia present in our groups of friends or organisations.

My apologies, I thought we were all here for global female liberation from patriarchy.

Who needs a fucking patriarchy when you’ve got handmaidens like these?

On second thoughts, I am not ending this blog like this. I just want to send my love to all of the femme presenting lesbian women who are struggling with this constant shit being slung at them. I see it happening online and I reach out to as many women as I can to check they are okay, but I just want to take a stand and remind you that you are fuckin real, you are lesbian enough, you are feminist enough and the only people who need to reflect here are those who are using misogyny and homophobia to try to shut you down.

We will NEVER build a powerful movement for women if we exclude lesbians and femme presenting women purely based off what they bloody look like.

18 thoughts on “Femmes: Not feminist enough, not lesbian enough

  1. While respectfully noting that you have zero interest in my views or opinions, I think you’re awesome and I learn a lot from your blogs, thank you. I hope people whose v’s and o’s you are interested in will say more intelligent-sounding things that encourage you to feel even more empowered in your life and in your impressive work.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. We are lost if we turn on one another. It’s how the patriarchy win and we need to stop letting them ( while also keeping our own houses in order by getting on with our own lives and not obsessing about other people’s).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I think that your bikini is amazing 🙂
    I wore a one piece vintage esque last summer first time in a suit in a decade I posted it – I’m a curvy mamma
    I love that picture it was a turning point.
    I love women being themselves fat,thin,straight,gay,pink with yellow spots – yourself is beautiful
    what you have to say is important but no doubt it is too much for some.
    keep being you !

    Like

  4. I just want to give you and Jaimi the biggest ever hugs. As someone who has had nothing but trouble/abuse from men and women due to the genetic misfortune of naturally large breasts I completely sympathise. What fucking sisterhood??? 😔😔😔

    Like

  5. Hi Jess – as always, beautifully written. It is sad to read the amount of abuse you get from women (not to mention men!) I am not a radical feminist (I think?!) though I absolutely agree with your position in most things I have read so far. My main difference, perhaps being a clinical psychologist, is that I see men (and women) who offend as a product of the ‘broken social & cultural’ context which has shaped them. This does not justify their poor choices (as others in similar situations have chosen differently!) but it does reflect a set of vulnerabilities that often affect decision-making. Power & control (or lack of) usually being at the center of such choices. If society creates offenders then it is society’s responsibility to rehabilitate offenders however, the fabric of society is broken, patriarchy & misogyny are so deeply ingrained that as women we often don’t even realise when we are are emulating the same narrative. I see myself as a feminist – perhaps I am not as versed in the true meaning of this, or perhaps I have too many blinds spots and therefore cannot always appreciate my own internalised bias, but as a clinician, I see the the nature of what you describe, the level of abuse you have been subjected to, to be a projection of their fears, feelings of inadequacy and being threatened by someone that is true to their conviction.

    Like

  6. I am so sorry this had been happening to you! Ugh! I get so frustrated with women dragging each other through the mud. I hope you’re able to find ways to heal and forge healthy relationships with other women who center women. I find your work inspiring and am so grateful for everything you share. It also gives me hope that women like you are working in the psychology field and I always look forward to reading your stuff. Hang in there and please know how appreciated you are.

    Like

  7. Wow. These women are missing the point and misdirecting their energies. The patriarchy is winning – women and girls are still scared to go to the toilet alone in some countries, girls are married – against their will – to men their fathers’ ages, girls don’t get to go to school – yet we have women in our own country who are concerned about the clothes other women are wearing.

    The only clothes concern I want to see is a revolution about pockets. And sleeves. I want pockets and sleeves, but the lack thereof is not the fault of other women. Other than that, who cares what anyone wears?

    Solidarity indeed. We cannot let them divide us.

    Like

  8. I cannot understand how they don’t see that they’re doing EXACTLY what feminists are supposed to be against – judging women by their bodies and appearances, and making everything about sex. How do they square this up? Mind-boggling.

    Like

  9. I didn’t know this was going on, and I’m devastated to hear it.

    I’m 51, a woman, oriented toward men, and feminist since I was about 15. Seeing pictures of other women, and seeing other women’s actual bodies, has been a huge part of being able to accept myself. Having been to non-sexual nude events, and changed clothes in women’s changing rooms, I know that almost no women look like the women allowed to be seen on television and in advertisement and the like. In fact, there is so much artifice in the looks depicted as ‘normal’ for women that even the models themselves don’t look like that.

    I am crushed to hear that attacks on women who dare to have bodies has gone so far. I am sorry you personally are being affected by this, and hope you and your partner find mutual support and joy in being seen by each other. And I’m sorry that lesbians more broadly, and women more broadly yet, are having to manage these attacks. And I don’t know what to do about it.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi Jessica, I just want to leave you some positivity and solidarity. I love your blog, I read every post, and I feel truly heard, understood and explained by your powerful writing.
    I’ve always been really lucky to be in an environment where women, especially feminists, build each other up and support each other, so this is a nasty wake up call that this still happens ESPECIALLY over bodies and sexuality and while we’re all supposed to have this common cause. That’s absolutely disgusting. I’m so sorry. Maybe the ones who read your posts and really enjoy them, like me, are just quieter (I’ve never commented before). But you make an astounding difference to so many lives through your blog and your writing – never mind those privileged enough to hear you lecture, or meet you in many other different capacities. Thank you for everything you do, and I’m so sorry you still have to put up with this shit. It is devastating. And as someone only ‘out’ in safe spaces it’s daunting to know this happens even more than I thought, but we will all fight it, together. You’re so powerful. We all are.

    Like

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