Today’s book review is an oldie but a goodie, to coin a phrase my grandmother was fond of using. I’m going to talk about the 1998 book by Judith Halberstam titled, Female Masculinity. This book predates the original publication of the S. Bear Bergman book I previously reviewed, Butch is a Noun, by about 8 years. If you click the “Butch is a Noun” link in the previous sentence, you’ll be taken to my review of the books 2010 revision. If you read that, then you’ll understand a large part of my fascination with this subject.
To recap for the rest of you that have been reading my blog for awhile, you already know that my wife is very butch. You also know that she and I have had some long discussions about her with regards to gender identity. In appearance, she can be very butch. Her dress is never femme. Her mannerisms are typically more masculine than feminine. Her interests are far more masculine than feminine but it’s probably a 60/40 or 70/30 split. Her emotions run the gamut between the stoic male and the angry male to all of the typically expected female emotional traits. She’s pretty complex.
My wife is content to live as a female with mostly male traits. She’s not interested in transitioning. What she is interested in though is me learning to understand her better. That’s been quite a process for me. The book Butch is a Noun helped. Today’s review book, Female Masculinity helps even more.
“Butch” was primarily about lesbians. Female Masculinity focuses primarily on lesbians too but it’s reach is farther and it also includes women in transition. There’s quite a lot to say. This book scratches a lot of the surfaces. I’d like to see a sequel with yet more updated information.
Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s (lengthy) synopsis:
Through detailed textual readings as well as empirical research, Halberstam uncovers a hidden history of female masculinities while arguing for a more nuanced understanding of gender categories that would incorporate rather than pathologize them. She rereads Anne Lister’s diaries and Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness as foundational assertions of female masculine identity. She considers the enigma of the stone butch and the politics surrounding butch/femme roles within lesbian communities. She also explores issues of transsexuality among “transgender dykes”—lesbians who pass as men—and female-to-male transsexuals who may find the label of “lesbian” a temporary refuge. Halberstam also tackles such topics as women and boxing, butches in Hollywood and independent cinema, and the phenomenon of male impersonators.
Female Masculinity signals a new understanding of masculine behaviors and identities, and a new direction in interdisciplinary queer scholarship. Illustrated with nearly forty photographs, including portraits, film stills, and drag king performance shots, this book provides an extensive record of the wide range of female masculinities. And as Halberstam clearly demonstrates, female masculinity is not some bad imitation of virility, but a lively and dramatic staging of hybrid and minority genders.