Does He Mean Us?

I spent much of yesterday in Bristol. I had some important shopping to do for BristolCon, and there were two events on in the evening that I wanted to attend.

First up we had a Q&A session at Waterstones with local writers: Gareth L. Powell, Jonathan L. Howard, Emma Newman and Tim Maughan. That went very well, so congratulations to Paul & Claire from BristolCon for organizing it.

After that I headed off to the Arnolfini for an evening of queer entertainment. I was a bit late due to one event starting immediately the other finished, so I missed most of the Oscar Wilde stuff, though I did get to see a performance of the famous interview scene from The Importance of Being Earnest. It was followed by a showing of the Quintin Crisp film, Resident Alien, which was fascinating.

One thing I learned from it is that Sting’s song, “An Englishman in New York”, was written about Crisp. It works even better when you know that.

But what stuck with me most from the film was when Crisp made a comment about why he left England. He said something like this: “They don’t like effeminate men in England, but then they don’t like effeminate women much either.”

Of course Crisp’s reputation was built in a large part on making outrageous statements for which he didn’t really need proof, but it did get me thinking about women that England has taken a liking to. There’s people like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Margaret Thatcher and Twiggy, none of whom are particularly femme. Princess Diana is an obvious exception, but both she and Felicity Kendall have a girlish innocence to them. Possibly it is OK to be feminine as long as you are not sexy. I suspect that sportswomen such as Jessica Ennis and Laura Robson will get pilloried by the tabloids if they glam up when not in competition. And I also think that Clare Balding will always be more popular than Gabby Logan; Delia Smith more so than Nigella Lawson; and that this won’t be entirely to do with their abilities at their jobs.

Of course I have no more evidence for this than Crisp, and its entirely likely that other countries are just as bad, but it seemed worth an idle conversation weekend post.

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1 Response to Does He Mean Us?

  1. Anne says:

    That’s an excellent point. No matter how much progress women make in being seen as equal to men, femininity hasn’t begun to be seen as the equal of masculinity.

    However, I’m a naturally ‘unfeminine’ woman (I probably come under your cutesy/girlish innocence category), and in a lot of ways I feel that it’s earned me more derision than respect, from men and women, and from my teens I’ve come under pressure to ‘glam it up’ from both. If I were to do so, I would be performing a construct of ‘femininity’ that has never come naturally to me. This is the way I naturally am, and I’m no less female because of it.

    While women may lose respect for sexing it up, on the flipside, we often become invisible if we don’t. It’s a lose/lose situation, isn’t it? What we really need is for our appearance and our sexuality to stop being relevant to our abilities.

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