A while back, I wrote “Five Lesbians to Avoid at the Bar,” a femme problems article where I explored and poked fun at certain bar clichés and stereotypes, such as the gold digging femme and the baby dyke. It was one of my first attempts at satire, and I failed. The broke butch hit a sore spot for many readers, and rightly so. Little did I know that I was writing that article from a vantage point of privilege, and little did I question the reality of why butch women may or may not have equality in the wallet. After many candid conversations, and some reflection time, I really started to grapple with my understanding of femme privilege.
While we women as a whole still make 77 cents to every man’s dollar, research shows that across the spectrum of the LGBTQ community, job disparity more heavily affects our trans and more masculine-presenting counterparts. Although many states are adopting or have already adopted laws that prohibit the discrimination of a person based on his or her or their gender, gender presentation, and sexual preference, the reality is that the passage of such legislation does not guarantee its implementation.
Privilege comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and contexts. It doesn’t just refer to the amount of money your family had when you grew up. It doesn’t just refer to your race and how you fit in with the majority culture. Privilege comes from the underlying right, advantage, or immunity available to a particular person or group of people. It stands to reason that privilege can rear its ugly head in regards to our gender presentation and sexual orientation in the context of the workplace, social experiences, and day-to-day interactions.
When I walk into a job interview, I won’t suffer the same potential judgments for my external appearance. I consider this femme privilege. With my power suit and pumps in tow, I fit in with the cisgender female community; therefore, the scales of social equity tip in my favor. There are no questions (or eyebrows) raised about my gender, my sexuality, or my lifestyle. None of that comes to play in this scenario, because I am a feminine lesbian. It’s not until weeks later, once I’m hired for the job and an annoying colleague makes a pass at me or asks about “my man at home” that I have to out myself. And by then, assuming I’m working in Washington, D.C. or Maryland, I am protected by law.
The reaction two femme women receive walking down the street is entirely different than the reaction two butch women may get. I also consider this to be femme privilege. Thanks to our omnipresent media and its disproportionate portrayal of the gay and lesbian community, two femme-presenting women are often celebrated as “hot.” All lesbians hail The L Word. Even within this highly successful break-through television drama meant to introduce the lesbian community into mainstream media culture, the majority of characters were attractive, successful cisgender women. These archetypes create an unrealistic view of lesbian relationships and encourage femme privilege in mainstream society.
After all, who’s doing the hiring around here? Isn’t the white, heterosexual male still in power? How many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have any experience with minority culture in terms of race, sexual orientation, or gender identity? Unless Ellen is hiring, the reality is that femme lesbians do experience a certain privilege in “the man’s world”, and this allows us certain liberties that we may take for granted.
So what do we do?
People never want to admit that privilege exists. We do what every person, sub-group, and subculture is supposed to do when they discover they have a privilege. We educate ourselves about what our privilege is, where it comes from, and how it manifests in our daily lives. We listen when our friends and community members speak up about their experiences. We adopt a language of respect and equality, understanding that not all of our experiences are the same. This is something my femme privilege will inspire me to do, and continue to do, until the day we are all speaking the same language.