In Queering Femininity: Sexuality, Feminism and the Politics of Presentation (Routledge, 2019), Hannah McCann asks, “how can we consider femininity in a way that best attends to people’s experiences of, and attachment to, feminine styles?” McCann takes readers through popular and scholarly feminist commentary to understand, and critique, how embodied feminine styles are comprehended as effects of an oppressive system which also plays a significant role in upholding and perpetuating this system. Instead of positing that femininity is necessarily empowering or essentially good, McCann insists that femininity is neither inherently disempowering, nor it is necessarily bad. McCann contests the idea that those who appear, embody or perform femininity are not “cultural dupes labouring under false-consciousness” but are agentic in their own right as they navigate life and negotiate with power structures and navigate life and their own becoming in it. There is acknowledgement in the book about the messiness of gender and recognition of the fact that masculinity and femininity are rarely coherent and uniformly expressed or articulated.
McCann uses the term “femininity” to illustrate “style of the body” or appearance, which is a “non-inevitable normative descriptor” that demands attention to more complexity than what is accrued to norms and descriptions. It considers how femininity as a “bodily property” has been conceived of in feminist discourse and how such conception figures in the lives of those who inhabit such styles and the identities that accompany them. It does not dismiss femininity as irrelevant, and does not reject its embodies styles, even as it does not place emphasis on representation as exclusively having the power to bring about political transformation. McCann enquires, “What can the body as feminine do? And What might utopian femininity” look like, while prefacing it with the statement that these questions can be asked instead of feminine embodiments being rendered intelligible only as oppressed. McCann explores queer femininity with attention to her conviction that “feminine styles and accoutrements deserve attention outside of evaluations of their presumed representational significance.”
Dr. Hannah McCann is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Her research in critical femininity studies explores feminist discourse on femininity, queer femme LGBTQ+ communities, beauty culture, and queer fangirls. She has published in various journals including European Journal of Women’s Studies, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. Her monograph Queering Femininity: Sexuality, Feminism and the Politics of Presentation was published with Routledge in 2018, and her co-authored textbook Queer Theory Now: From Foundations to Futures with Red Globe Press in 2020.
Sohini Chatterjee is PhD Student in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Western University. She works on queer cultural studies, trans and queer activism, and resistance movements.