Masculinity in lesbian discourse

Book chapter

Jones, Lucy (2015) Masculinity in lesbian discourse: The case of ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ in Milani, T (Ed.) Language and Masculinities: Performances, Intersections, Dislocations Oxon: Routledge, 174-96

Manuscript available here.

This chapter queries whether masculinity can exist in isolation from men, viewing it through a queer lens by focusing on the discursive construction of identity in a lesbian group. Specifically, it presents discourse analysis of an interaction between members of a lesbian hiking group named the Sapphic Stompers, with whom 15 months of ethnography was conducted in 2006-07. In the data presented, the women (who identify as feminists) actively negotiate the meaning of makeup and ultimately reject it as an inauthentic resource for ‘real’ lesbians. It is argued that, in this moment, both femininity and masculinity are reworked, queered and negotiated in the construction of a lesbian-specific identity, one which embraces the cultural stereotype of butch and rejects that which is femme. The analysis challenges, however, the popular view that the Stompers’ rejection of femme styles necessarily equates to a performance of masculinity. Whilst it is acknowledged that masculinity is a fundamentally relational concept, existing only in contrast to femininity, it is argued that the Stompers actively reject heteronormative womanhood rather than ‘femininity’ itself. By rejecting that which is heteronormative, they rework expectations of femaleness, recast traditional ideologies associated with womanhood as being specific to heterosexual women, and formulate their own ideals and norms about lesbian women’s style, practice and behaviour. Whilst they may be seen to index masculinity in doing so, it is shown that this reflects their indirect indexing of a lesbian-specific identity. In this way, this chapter demonstrates the salience and prevalence of the gender binary on the production of identity in queer contexts, and puts forward a queer way of understanding masculinity in relation to lesbian discourse.


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