The pearl-clutchers have been using this word somewhat frequently in recent months. Or maybe I’ve just been paying more attention in the past six months or so… but the hysteria over the “performance of femininity” has been particularly noticeable. At least to me.
The makeup tax. Transgendered women. Passing. How terrible it is that other people judge women on how feminine they are.
It is terrible. We should all mind or own business and not worry about stuff that doesn’t have shit to do with how we pay our bills or sleep at night.
But like having 100 outrages should mean you have no outrage at all: the fact that every human being is judged on their performance of humanity… it isn’t any more or less terrible than people getting judged on their performance of cultural norms. It is stupid to compare miseries, but it is also stupid to suggest women are the only ones with this performance tax, whether it is psychic or fiscal. Being a minority is a delicate dance requiring near constant awareness of where one is in relationship to the dominant culture. If you’re too much of one thing, you’re dismissed. If you’re too much of the other, you’ve sold out.
We are all on stage in the world performing normal. Performing gender. Performing culture. Performing sexuality. And we are all judged on it. So is it worse to be a woman performing femininity than a man performing masculinity? Or a black man trying to navigate a culture that has historically both exaggerated the ferocity of his manhood and punished him for the exaggeration? I don’t think women have it worse. Comparing miseries is pointless, but so are the histrionics about the fact that we live in a society and societies have always operated along tribal lines. Anyone who deviates too far from the mean gets expelled. That’s how we’ve operated for millennia.
I’m not claiming this is good, only that it is.
You are a performer. No matter what your gender, orientation, skin color, cultural history, you are a performer. You have a closet full of costumes that say to the world “this is who I am,” just as an actor is given a costume to signal to the world who their character is. We are social creatures. We are a storytelling species. The first story we tell to those we meet is in how we present ourselves to the world. We are doing what we’ve done for millennia. Should mascara hold a woman back professionally? No. But it is foolish to think that performance expectations are going to go away. They aren’t. They are just going to evolve. As they have been doing for millennia.
Just… if the issue doesn’t get between you and paying your bills when it comes to judging other people, can we just all agree to leave well enough alone?