Policing Female Masculinity: Much Ado About Rachel Maddow’s Yearbook Photo!

BuzzFeed’s “Rachel Maddow Yearbook Picture” post, which has gone completely uncontrollably viral, is subtitled “Three words I never thought I could say about Rachel Maddow: I’d tap that!”

Hahahah! That’s so funny! You know, ’cause in this photo she has long blonde hair and is so PRETTY like a WOMAN and now she’s this scary butch lesbian with short hair and glasses and Opinions and who the hell would ever want to tap THAT? I mean, besides everyone and all of us here. But isn’t it so super-special that once upon a time, Rachel Maddow was still you know attractive by heteronormative patriarchal standards of beauty? I’d tap that! Hahaha!

Considering how completely 100% appropriate that feeling is, I’m surprised someone had the self-awareness to change the Buzzfeed post’s headline, which was originally “Maddow’s Smokin’ Hot Yearbook Pic” [screenshot below] to “Rachel Maddow’s Yearbook Picture.”

But the seemingly popularly accepted implications of the Buzzfeed post were just the beginning!

Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller teased our liberal instincts by asking his audience “Will Media Matters get madder than usual if I say she was very lovely?” And though internet commenters are a faulty gauge from which to extract a thesis, we’re gonna have to do that this time, ’cause Tucker is intentionally putting the burden on his readers to fill in the blanks, and they do: “What would possess her to give that up to look like a man?” “I can still see the adams apple.” Et cetera. Because, see, in February, Jezebel reported: Tucker Carlson‘s Daily Caller website has made a habit lately of calling Rachel Maddow “a man.” The site also maintains that this is not at all offensive. We’re not buying it.” And yes, it’s irrelevant that Rachel has made similar remarks about herself; just like you can’t talk shit about my Mom and like how it’s important to distinguish the weight of language from the oppressor/power-class vs. the oppressed.

The reaction to Rachel Maddow’s yearbook photo hit an all-time low when Senator David Vitter made some fantastic remarks on a Louisiana morning radio show about how crazy bizarre it is that Rachel Maddow ever passed for AN ACTUAL FEMALE:

MALE HOST: I wonder if Senator Vitter is ever going to post, like, maybe the video of the first time he was on the floor of the Senate. If I have to show the way I looked the first time I was on TV, you should do that too.
VITTER: We should go further back than that, how about high school yearbook?
MALE HOST: Oh yeah.
VITTER: De La Salle marching band.
MALE HOST: That’d be cool. Well you know, with Rachel Maddow they had that picture of her…
FEMALE HOST: Looking like a woman.
MALE HOST: Yeah it was really bizarre.
VITTER: [LAUGHS]: Must have been a long time ago.

Everyone freaked out and Vitter has since issued this post-it note sized apology letter:

Dear Rachel,

Regarding my remark during a radio conversation today, I apologize.

The hosts made their comment and I obviously chimed in. While we do not usually agree on the issues, I do not think you deserved that comment.



The scariest part of this for all those David Vitters and Tucker Carlsons out there? Rachel Maddow probably really couldn’t care less what you think of her physical appearance. She likely does not give a flying f*ck, but perhaps she, like us, might be more preoccupied with what this means on a macro level.

To queers, Rachel Maddow’s photo might inspire a knowing smile or empathetic LOL. But amongst a certain kind of Conservative Human, it’s inspired something else altogether: another chance to demonstrate their fundamental unease surrounding female masculinity by praising how “hot” Rachel could be if only she returned to pearls & a blowout. Judith Halberstam, in her book Female Masculinity, writes:

“The exclusion of butch women signals a widespread cultural anxiety about the potential effects of femaleness and masculinity. Presumably, female masculinity threatens the institution of motherhood: I suppose people think that if female masculinity is widely approved, then nobody will want to take responsibility for the trials and pains of reproduction.”

The panic over a potential shift in our present gender paradigm underlies most homophobia these days, ’cause lawd knows what hell will break loose if women ever stop caring whether or not men could find them tappable.

Furthermore, this kind of discrimination goes largely unchecked: Perez Hilton calls Cynthia Nixon‘s girlfriend “Our Favorite Hobbit” and Lindsay Lohan‘s ex-girlfriend “SaMANtha Ronson” and yet many of you still visit his website. Back in ’08, Evil Beet Gossip snarkily remarked, “I’d make some joke about how [Christine Marinoni] looks like a man, anyway, but that’s not true: she looks like an awkward 14-year-old boy” in an article entitled Cynthia Nixon Still in Love With World’s Ugliest Woman. A few months back the entire media collectively gasped to see Angelina Jolie was letting Shiloh dress how she wanted to — in her kickass unique tomboy style. In fact, Life & Style magazine splashed WHY IS ANGELINA TURNING SHILOH INTO A BOY?!! on its front cover.

this actually happened

Or maybe you remember 2006, when Donald Trump volleyed one homophobic insult after another at Rosie O’Donnell, suggesting Rosie’s then-wife Kelli Carpenter would be happier with one of his cronies than with Big Bad Manly Ro:

“She talks like a truck driver…I never understood, how does she even get on television?… I’d look at her right in that fat ugly face of her’s and say Rosie, you’re fired!… It’s not the chubbiness, Rosie is a very unattractive person inside and out, and she’s very lucky to have her girlfriend and she better be careful or I’ll send one of my friends over to get her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?”

In her September 2002 piece for AfterEllen.com, Rosie O’Donnell and the Tabloids, then-editor Sarah Warn reflected on how drastically tabloid coverage of Rosie’s life had shifted following her coming out:

While O’Donnell herself has unwittingly fueled the tabloids’ fire through some of her post-coming-out behavior… O’Donnell’s behavior alone doesn’t completely explain the abrupt change in the tabloid coverage…

The news coverage of O’Donnell’s haircut has been one of the most troubling issues, since it demonstrates the homophobia and sexism still lurking beneath the surface of many supposedly objective publications… Words like “radical,” “masculine,” and “drastic” [employed by a National Enquirer article titled “Rosie Loses Her Family”] are all designed to invoke disgust, fear, and dismay over O’Donnell’s defiance of traditional feminine norms. Never mind that her current look actually resembles most forty-something suburban American housewives.

Even the presumably politically correct Oprah devoted a show to the question; “If Lesbians Like Women, Why Do They Date Women Who Don’t Look Like Women?” LAST YEAR. Seriously. Raise your hand if anyone’s ever asked you that question. I bet if a low-flying airplane entered your mutual stratosphere you’d all be handless right now amirite?

Unfortunately Oprah didn’t invite Julie Goldman onto her show, where she could’ve told Oprah what she told The Village Voice, “Being butch doesn’t mean you want to be a man. You’re a woman—you’re just a butch woman. Butch indicates a playfulness with gender, and that’s just fucking cool.”

But this gender-bending still comes at a cost, especially when it’s not the androgynous malnourished sultry #youlookveryshanetoday kind. Studies have shown that “butch”/non-femme-presenting women, by defying traditional heterosexual and gender roles, experience more discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender expression. The fact that women still choose a masculine presentation is part of what makes masculine women so f*cking sexy: it’s BRAVE. They’re dykes and they don’t care who knows it, transgressing the gender binary regardless of potentially negative reactions from mainstream society.

In The Girls Next Door: Into the Heart of Lesbian America, Lindsy Van Gelder and Pamela Brandt challenge the “Orwellian” “dissing” of women who forego traditionally feminine-associated beauty rituals:

“One of the lesbian qualities that apparently seems strangest to the rest of the world is that we don’t all dress to please men. Even stranger—since the measure of women’s attractiveness in our culture is attractiveness to men—some of us are actively drawn to women who don’t bother to meet that standard of beauty…”

On “lesbian taste” in general:

if we had to make one other generalization about lesbian taste, it would be that a lot of us are powerfully attracted to women, gay or straight, beautiful or not, who look as if they can take care of themselves.”

You know, a woman like Rachel Maddow: fully & unapologetically authentic and unequivocally successful entirely on her own terms. Rachel Maddow doesn’t give a shit if you find her ‘tappable.’ Maddow told The Voice: “I’m not Anchorbabe, and I’m never going to be. My goal is to do the physical appearance stuff in such a way that it is not comment-worthy.”

I know that scares the living shit out of you, patriarchy, because if more women break free of the tight, predictable boxes and define success on their own terms, regardless of your assessment of their gender presentation, something really crazy might happen! You know, like a world in which you, too, might have the opportunity to notice that, regardless of her haircut or costume or gender presentation, Rachel Maddow always has been, and always will be, smokin’ hot.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3213 articles for us.


  1. Honestly, when I first saw the yearbook picture, I thought it was photo-shopped. Present-day Rachel FTW!

  2. I love this “The fact that women still choose a masculine presentation is part of what makes masculine women so f*cking sexy: it’s BRAVE.”

    Sometimes I forget that when I walk out my front door and into a public, I have a ‘different’ look than the majority of the population. And then I don’t feel so brave. But every now and again I get a compliment about my hair, or my shoes, or my tattoos and then I fucking love the way I look. haters to the left.

  3. I’ve been mulling this over for a while in my head wanting to write something, and surprise- you’ve put down my thoughts more perfectly than I ever could!

    • Why do homosexual men and women take on all of the worst, most annoying traits of the opposite sex?

  4. riese i like this a lot. i want to carry around a copy of the quotation from “the girls next door” and hand it to people when they question my taste in women.

  5. Loved this article.

    I’ve become a lot more “feminine” in appearance since I came out. It’s because I’ve become more comfortable in being myself and expressing myself and, in my case, myself isn’t as boyish as I once was. I always wanted to wear makeup and have long pretty hair but never felt confident enough. You still wouldn’t catch me in a dress and heels and I don’t think I’d be described as particularly feminine in straight world but I regularly get called a lipstick lesbian by gay friends.

    I’ve noticed that people do have a much bigger problem with gay people who express female masculinity or male femininity and its really sad. At the same time I’ve also felt the pressure to get the scissors out, do a Jenny and get a lesbian looking haircut, etc.. so I don’t get people, even other lesbians, telling me that I’m not really gay because I don’t “look” it.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m bottom of the class when it comes to lesbian culture and I kinda feel like isn’t it just another kind of role that I feel like I need to conform too? Listening and liking the things that lesbians are supposed to like? Dressing to impress the right kind of woman instead of the right kind of man? The truth is I dress for me and like the things I like because I finally feel I’m worth enough to put my energy into satisfying myself first and I shouldn’t have to give a shit how that labels my sexuality or my gender.

    I’ve just realised I have a lot of feelings. Apologies. That may have been a tangent.

    Sometimes I also wonder if a lot of ignorance concerning gays and lesbians is actually ignorance concerning gender, what it is and how its defined. Sexual orientation and gender are two different things but they’re also highly connected. I don’t think we will ever get acceptance by educating in one area and not the other. Oprah didn’t understand gays because she didn’t understand gender.

    • Don’t apologize for all those feelings – many of them have also been my feelings at one point or another.

      I completely agree with the sentiment that “I shouldn’t have to give a shit how that labels my sexuality or my gender.”

    • I’m a “lipstick lesbian” too and I get criticism from other queers for “looking straight”/”not looking gay enough” and I am sometimes accused of buying into that heteronormative patriarchal standard of beauty that this article criticizes.

      I think the difference, in our case, is that when we present ourselves as feminine we aren’t doing it for men (I do catch myself dressing up or putting a little more effort into my makeup when I’m trying to impress a woman, though), so that’s what makes it less heteronormative. It bothers me that my gender presentation can be seen as a part of a homophobic heteronormative ideal, but I think that the combination of my gender with my sexuality is what defies heteronormativity, because I think heteronormativity pairs gender presentation with sexual desire (i.e. masculine presentation = desires women, feminine presentation = desires men), and by being a feminine-presenting lesbian, I’m challenging the heteronormative pairing.


      • Yea, I’ve gotten the same kind of grief going out to bars, at parties,that I’m “conforming” to what society wants women to be. The truth is I love the clothes I wear (its kind of scary) lol) It’s a bit unfair but people aren’t perfect and someone is always going to be offended or against something so I really don’t let it bother me. We’re all guilty of it. I mean, I know my personal taste in women is very femme and I do ignore advances from butch/masculine women. Part of me feels bad because I know it’s unfair to them and they might have really great personalities, but I just can’t get turned on by them. And of course there are butch women who don’t find my style/look attractive. At the end of the day we like what we like and we shouldn’t be attacking anyone’s personal preferences.

      • For me, the “problem” with make-up and “lip-stick lesbians” has more to do with the make-up, and the patriarchal values that I associate with its use.

        1) The needing/wanting make-up: the idea that one’s own skin is not as beautiful as the stuff put on it.

        2) That bare skin is masculine and make-up is feminine: so if a female “fails” to wear make-up, she isn’t as pretty as she “could be.” (Which of course makes a man who wears make-up less than a manly man….)

        3) The illusions we create with make-up – make eyes bigger, cheekbones accentuated, etc. – and there is a prescribed look that we are taught to achieve by proper make-up application (I’ll address this further in a minute) – ultimately make all women look alike, and like Barbie or Stepford women. I think of the Robert Palmer video “Addicted to Love” as a powerful example of this.

        I learned many years ago, earlier in my hairstyling career, that the whole notion of the “hairstyle that looks best with your face” is based on using the haircut to create an illusion of the perfect face shape – oval. (WHO decided this, I have NO idea!!)

        The goal of make-up is exactly the same as the goal of the perfect hairstyle – to create the illusion of the perfect oval face.

        It should be obvious that there is no perfect face shape, and we lose our uniqueness when we attempt to achieve this false perfection.

        I watch “Survivor” (I know, ouch!) and without exception find the women quite attractive when they are out there with no make-up, windblown hair, and such. When they get into the studio for the Re-union show, with all of their hair-dos and make-up, I honestly find them less attractive, less healthy looking, less real, less honest.

        Make-up can be used in marvelous ways, to create infinite effects, perfect for theater, movies, costumes, drama.

        But if you want me impress me, delight me, attract me – show me the real you!

        • Although I agree with everything you said Kim, I also know many people who gussy up for themselves and no one else. I’m an IT technician who has spent all of her career working in call centers. Most of them have a business casual dress code but it is not enforced because we do not interact with customers in person. I am friends with a gal who dressed up everyday but Fridays when she didn’t have to. I asked her once why she did it and her response was simply that taking pride in her appearance made her feel good. So if that makes her feel beautiful and gives her confidence who am I to judge?

        • I get this, but I wear eyeliner for me. Same with nail polish.

          You will pry my beauty products out of my cold dead fingers.

    • I can relate to this super hardcore – I was never really a girly girl in middle/high school, but when I was in college I started dressing more feminine – dresses, makeup, heels. Now that I’m in my late 20s, I’ve kind of come to a middle ground – I like to wear dresses in the summer (if it’s cold, screw you, I’m wearing pants), but you can’t get me into a pair of high heels and I hate wearing makeup (it makes my skin angry anyway :P).

      Now I kind of sit in this place that’s definitely not butch, but it’s not really femme, either. And I think I’m okay with that.

      Anecdota time: I started my last job in the winter, so I wore pants to work every day. (Also I was and am very, very out.) Then it became spring, and I wore a skirt to work on my first day of work. All of a sudden, everyone was fawning over me. “OMG DINA’S WEARING A SKIRT! HOLY CRAP YOU LOOK SO GOOD!” I was like, um guys? Just because you haven’t seen me wear a skirt YET doesn’t mean I don’t do it ever!

      • My first day of work? No, that’s not what I meant to say. I’m not even sure what that was meant to be there. >_<

    • Thanks for talking about this. Conformity in any sphere can be stressful if it’s not genuine. You do you.

      I’m in almost the opposite situation, where I am bisexual so I would be open to dating guys, but when I dress how I want to I tend to look really “gay” (i’ve been told that by straight and gay people). I’ve thought about feminizing my look, but it just doesn’t feel me. So unless a guy is ok with how I dress, I will probably only be dating girls for a while.

  6. So I love everything here! What I want to know is why do old white guys think I care what they think of my (or any woman’s) appearance? Giving themselves waaaay too much credit.

    (Judith Halberstam is so great!)

  7. Straight men are allowed to get fat, grow beer bellies that hang wayyy too far over their pants, dress atrociously, smell bad, and be covered in hair.

    Why are THEY the ones setting beauty standards in this world??? #idontfuckinggetit

    p.s. I’d definitely “tap” present day Rachel over high school Rachel, and I’d hope she would do the same for me (I was a disaster in my hs pic, yet my parents still insist on keeping it on their piano in all it’s 8 1/2 x 11 glory). I mean, who looks good in their h.s. photo anyway??

    • My girlfriend and I agree that if that photo surfaced and it wasn’t Rachel Maddow, people wouldn’t even give it a second glance. It’s pretty ordinary.

    • While there IS a double standard for male looks, men are still judged. Men who have beer guts and are hairy and gross aren’t what society is telling women to be attracted to. Obviously men are feeling the pressure since they’re out getting lipo, removing hair in some places and pouring on everything they can find to grow it in others. Women are told to be attracted to those adonis-like men, with beautiful, thick hair who drive fast cars. I think the difference is that there is less of an expectation for men to “not let themselves go” once they get married, have kids, etc.

  8. I’m glad you mentioned Perez in this, I think he’s the biggest offender because he claims to be for the same things the gay community is for, and I think that’s the biggest gay lie ever. Just because he’s gay doesn’t mean he’s aloud to say homophobic things and get away with it. I stopped reading his junk when I saw him referring to Samantha Ronson as SaMAN.

    Rachel Maddow and Samantha Ronson are two strong hot women who happen to be the opposite of what society has brainwashed us to believe is normal and proper for us ladies. And I thank God that they are, because that’s visibility and the David Vitters of the world gonna have to fucking get used to it.

    • I stopped reading Perez Hilton after he was slut slaming Sienna Miller for having an average dating life – she was seen going out with three different men, and he said “Well she has three holes – that’s enough to keep them all satisfied” or some bullshit like that. It must have been two years ago at this point.

      His misogyny is just fucking unbearable. His own internalized homophobia is disgusting too – let’s not forget he thought the worst thing he could call “that thug” will.i.am was a faggot.

  9. I love this so so much. Everyone in the world needs to read this. My parents need to read this. OPRAH needs to read this. Ah so good.

    • Sadly, my parents (cough mom cough) need to read this as well. I really wish I could take her to a Womens Studies Class of mine and just like open up her freaking eyes.

  10. Whilst I agree with everything written here about Maddow & how straight society views butch women, I believe it goes both ways.

    Feminine lesbians are condescended, have their sexuality doubted by straight people (and other lesbians, who should know better). Femme lesbians are labelled “porn or male fantasies”.

    “it’s BRAVE. They’re dykes, and they don’t care who knows it”

    Well, I’m a dyke too, a femme one – and I don’t care who knows it.

    • Right, and me too so it’s not like I don’t know exactly what you’re saying. (I’ve been turned away from a gay club because they wouldn’t believe I wasn’t straight, don’t even get me started.)

      BUT, in terms of that big wide patriarchial world out there, we are the ones who present closer to what they “expect” women to look like, and we get the rewards and privileges that go with that. My gf and I are both pretty femme-looking, and we essentially get to choose whether people around us in public know we’re gay. No one’s ever going to look at me with suspiscion when I walk into a bar. I sit down for a job interview and the word “gay” is nowhere until I start bringing up that I work with LGBT youth, etc.

      The same isn’t true for women who present as masculine. They don’t have the choice of “opting out” of being identifiably gay in any given situation (say, in a job interview, or in a subway car with a group of drunk assholes where it could all go prety wrong pretty quickly). There are disadvantages and even dangers that can come with that — like Riese says, it is a brave thing to do.

      That doesn’t mean femme dykes are inherently any less brave, or that we don’t get shit of various kinds, or any of that. It just means it’s worth acknowledging that a) butch dykes really confuse/piss off the patriarchy and often end up paying a price for that, directly or indirectly and b) given that, it is an act of bravery to keep on keeping on.

      It’s disingenous to act like there aren’t privileges to looking more like you “fit in” (regardless of whether you actaully do), because there definitely are, and butch dykes don’t have the access to them that more femme women do.

      • i really appreciate the way you articulated this. obviously it’s important to acknowledge and talk about and fight against all the different forms of oppression that are faced by gays and lesbians and queers of all stripes, but some of us – the butches, the drag queens, the flamers, the twinks – i mean you can see it from space. you can’t turn it off. we don’t get hetero privilege, not ever. and on the day-to-day, that can be a fucking. drag. BUT – the dichotomy for feminine lesbians is that being able to walk down the street undetected also brings with it the erasure of one’s sexual/political identity, which is something that some femmes i’ve known have struggled with. it’s a trade-off, i guess. and i think i remember reading something in one of Leslie Feinberg’s books somewhere, where she said that back in the old school days of butches and femmes, the masculine women were getting it from all sides, but it was also an act of bravery for a femme woman to quietly hold her partner’s hand while they walked down the street, outing herself and standing in solidarity with her butch partner, when she had the option not to. i think it’s two sides of the same coin, in the end. but anyway i really appreciated your response here.

        • I have a friend who is very obviously gay in his appearance and once another gay guy was giving him hassle. This guy really took a problem with how “gay” my friend appeared and started saying how he’d much rather get with a rugby player type than a skinny flaming homo like my friend.

          My friend’s response – I might not look like the rugby players but at least I get to sleep with them.


          I loved it. What you said reminded me of it. He’s learned to embrace the fact that everything about him screams gay and appreciate that. I’ve learned to get over the fact that I sometimes have to scream gay and appreciate that too. There’s pros and cons to it all.

  11. I love this, but it’s so endlessly frustrating. Maybe things would be easier if we just fit into gender norms lawlz no.


  12. Femmes are brave to make the choices they do when it would be easier to hide. DYKES are brave.

  13. I saw the picture of Rachel Maddow and I had a brief flashback to the my most awkward and closeted time of my life: high school. I thought of my prom dress, which is hanging in my closet. I had, according to my mother, “long, beautiful, dark brown hair.” I was not myself; I was much too afraid to be. Thankfully I graduated and came out queer and myself.

    Thank you Riese for this. My closeted-fifteen-year-old self thanks you for this.

  14. dear riese,
    if i could, i’d give you a bajillion dollars. and a car. and a box full of kittens. just so you can keep writing KICK ASS pieces like this. so i’ll give you a hug and keep donating when possible?
    much kudos, e.

  15. what a fantastic article

    also, I would like to discuss how much the cockles of my heart were warmed when I first saw it on twitter, as a re-tweet of a straight friend, after I had been too busy reading your old L Word recaps to visit my RSS reader and see it for myself.

  16. Rachel Maddow looks amazing the way she is today- nerdyhot in all of its true glory. While I have a specific love for femme girls, i have to agree: GENDERBENDING FTW. And a big fuck you to everyone who uses the possession of masculine traits/presentation to degrade women.

  17. a) i think you can look femme while also looking like you can take care of yourself

    b) i really thought that picture was shopped. she looks just like she looks now but with blonde hair plopped on top!

    • re: a) yes, i think that’s exactly what the quote was saying. that it has nothing to do with anything besides that she can take care of herself. femme or butch, label-free or married-to-labels, straight or gay, anything.

  18. ehhh…this topic always depresses me. It never fails.

    A lot of butch women really, really don’t choose to look masculine like it’s a political statement. It’s innate, a natural state.

    I feel like I’m faking something when I choose to look feminine. Even though people tell me I look pretty, I know they’re complimenting something that’s not the real me. And trying to be feminine is exhausting. All the stuff that I have to remember–how to walk and my mannerisms.

    When you’re innately feminine, masculine or something in between, it just comes naturally. When you’re not pretending or trying to be something, you’re not conscious of it. And no one wants to be constantly conscious of their appearance and mannerisms all day long…it’s mentally taxing.

    Folks might think a butch woman would be more conscious of her appearance because people point it out…as if she doesn’t already know she’s butch. But she’s only conscious of it when people point it out, whereas if she tried to look femme she’d be conscious of it every minute because her own brain would be pointing it out.

    See, even though I’m female, when I dress feminine I feel a sense of gender incongruity. I don’t want to be a man, I’m just butch.

    And then butch dykes also get all the awesome blame from other gays and lesbians for perpetuating lesbian stereotypes….which is really great for confidence building!

    For some reason I feel like apologizing to Rachel Maddow that this is a topic. Because this is the 3rd web site I’ve commented on…and I feel guilty that I’m just adding to it.

    • Well put. I’m also uncomfortable with the insinuation that butchness is a grand political statement used to deconstruct the patriarchy. Femininity isn’t the default mode for women. Looking, feeling, and behaving in a masculine way isn’t some kind of edgy new game all the cool kids are playing. It’s about being comfortable in your own damn skin. And I say this as a lesbian who usually presents (though performs might be a better word) as femme (as not to scare the rents, employers, friends, etc) who wishes she could be completely androgynous — utterly, exactly in the middle. That, to me, is what’s comfortable. It’s not a *Thing*. I didn’t choose it. That’s who I am.

      On a much less serious note, I fucking love butches. Can I buy you a drink or something?

  19. I’ll preempt this by saying that I watch Rachel Maddow religiously every night, absolutely love her show and all her quirkiness, and think she looks better now than when the high school photo was taken. OK, so I may be in the minority here but I never understood why her look changes so much between her show and other public/TV appearances. It’s probably a trivial matter but I notice it every single time she’s a guest on other shows. I mean, like I really dig the glasses.

    • She has said she goes for a middle of the road look on her show because she wants people to pay attention to the information, not what she looks like.

      • I can see that, I suppose. And to be fair, it’s only when I see Rachel Maddow in a setting outside of her show that I remember that that’s probably how she presents herself most of the time.

      • People DO pay attention to what she looks like, and sometimes they can tell it isn’t genuine. I’m not judging her though. I’m butch, and I do what I have to do to make it through my day.

        You’d think that somebody making as much money as she does would say “Fuck it” and dress how they naturally would, but it seems to work the opposite way: more money seems to ensnare people in the system even more, and make them even more subservient to it.

        I do what I have to to pay bills and make rent, but she doesn’t have that worry . . . so what’s she thinking? I don’t know. I don’t have a TV and I’ve never watched her show, so I can’t say. I’ve seen clips online, but the point is I’m not rich and don’t pay attention to TV, so I can’t say what it’s like in her shoes. I mean, I bet if she lived frugally she could quit her job right now and never have to work again. So why does she wear a fuckin women’s suit for these people?

        • There’s also this to consider: when one is in a public arena, one may choose to present in a certain way in order to give one’s words more of a chance to be heard before they are disregarded or dismissed. As an adult educator who talks about (sometimes) challenging topics, I often choose to wear a certain shirt, pull my hair up or back, or whatever because I intentionally want to make sure that people hear my words. It benefits me, when I am in my professional work, to change how I present a little bit…because it gives me a few extra seconds of people’s willingness to listen, and that few extra seconds may make all the difference. I doubt that Rachel Maddow is making decisions based on financial reasons, but I could very well understand that she may make them in order to get her thoughts and words out into the world in a way that minimizes distraction.

        • If you’re a woman in this country at this time, you don’t get an on-air position with a mainstream network (NBC, their ownership), if you look on-camera like Rachel presents off-set, i.e., very boyish/semi-soft-butch — as she’s said herself, “I look like a dude.” Also, I’ve noticed she very definitely has what used to be called and considered a “better side,” which she has to favor on her own show, but can’t always when she’s doing a guest shot, depending on the camera angles and setup elsewhere. It’s all part of the double-standard against women irrespective of orientation. A Costas or Stephanopoulos can be men in their 50s and 60s, and look like young boys, and still demand credibility. Actually, men are allowed a much broader range of looks on TV than women. And you never hear discussions like this about the looks of male TV professionals anyway: They may occur, but on the margins of what TV executives perceive or care about.

          All that said, Rachel is still on the ‘cutting edge’ of relatively-butch looks for MSM women, most of whom are still rather femme to very femme, at least on-camera.

    • I think I remember her saying that she doesn’t wear her glasses on her show because the lights reflect weirdly off of them. But yeah, I really dig the glasses too.

      • Yeah, the glasses don’t work on a screen all that well. Lights are bad, and the thick rims interrupt her facial expressions onscreen in a way that they wouldn’t in person. I have to say, since I pretty much only know her via the TV show, I’m pretty attached to the glassesless version. Then again, I’m more attracted to the soft-butch style in general anyhow…

    • You are not alone. In fact if Riese takes an Autostraddle poll, I bet the vast majority of us prefer, (drool over) the bespectacled butchier version of dear Rachel.

  20. Poor Tucker with his gender-confused girlie hair is just bitched out that he didn’t make it to top anchor like his
    peer (at the time) Maddow. Lately my butch heart goes out to the sad state of het-men because they’ve become so socially irrelevant. Trans-guys and butches are getting all the action. The profound cultural anxiety is not felt by the straight women who flirt with us dykes, but by the terror of the end-of-the-world as straight men have known it. Imagine! Their importance reduced to the “free” price tag of their sperm. Ouch!

  21. Thanks for the great article! I just wish women didn’t gasp and flee in terror whenever I’m using a restroom outside of my house or a gay friendly establishment…

  22. Of course all the men who feel threatened by her come out of the woodwork and have nothing to offer but cheap, low-brow, low blows that only further prove that their weak, inferior, puny little brains cannot come up with an attack when she is ripping them to shreds during political debate. Of course the under-developed mainstream America adores this for the LAWLS and can only dream of Rachel getting a feminized make-over accompanied by the usual “Tyra Banks photoshoot.”

    Rachel, stick your middle finger in the air. Boys who think she was “prettier” in her yearbook photo, stick your dick in a blender. And women, look up to this important, transgressive, progressive, feminist leader of today.

    & If any of you boys out there actually read and appreciated this article, and agreed with everything it had to say, and believe Rachel Maddow is an inspiring figure, pat yourself on the back and pray that more like you come into existence.

    • Time to appreciate; concerns for fluctuating presentations be damned. It’s all still in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I’m pleased, lucky that the Rachel of then in the yearbook and the Rachel of now are both quite attractive. Beyond that, it’s all a non-issue, since Rachel, as to many, impacts my life only in flat screen format, as an electronic image without pheromonal presence. Her real self likely now releases smells similar to then, but then again, that’s not of public concern …


    i was waiting for y’all to address this.

    gawd reading the comments on all those other sites that posted the photo, everyone being like “i’d tap that!” “sooo hot!” “obligatory pearl necklace joke!” made me want to curl up in a ball of angrysadness and die.

    it’s just such shit, you know? and that attitude is SO PREVALENT EVERYWHERE EVER. i was hanging out with this guy this weekend who insisted on repeatedly telling me HOW MUCH BETTER i looked when i had long hair slash “looked like a girl” and it was so demoralizing and upsetting and ugh, like do these people seriously not realize how hurtful and wrong it is to say stuff like that?

    srsly, how hard is it to understand that people “look the best” when they are the most comfortable with their appearance, not when they best conform to fucking stupid patriarchal standards of beauty or uphold gender normative ideals or are the most attractive to you personally? hate.

  24. I get gentle flack from my (mostly cis-male, straight, white) co-workers at my IT job, because I’m the token lesbian and one of the few women among the gaggle of female workers who isn’t a Middle Eastern exchange student who are modest and keep to themselves. I’ve actually felt a teensy bit of pressure in the past few weeks because I’m as dust-covered, loud-mouthed, and jocular as my co-workers. They’re not bad guys at all, but I HAVE felt not terribly pretty lately.

    Hearing that I’m brave? Made my goddamn WEEK. Haters gonna hate, and my swagger is BACK, babies. <3 Riese <3 <3

  25. I don’t ever turn on my TV but seriously. What is not to love about Rachel Maddow. That pic of her up there – yeah, in the suit with the sneakers – has made me decide she should be the Thirteenth Doctor. (My Lord and Savior, Our Boyfriend Mr. Lambert should be the Twelfth Doctor. I’m pretending they’re British, okay?)

    I mean, for real. Can you imagine the places that Rachel Maddow would go as the Doctor? I can see her version of the Doctor as like, really struggling with the power she has to cross her own timeline, and eventually giving in, and next thing you know it’s like BOOM, ECONOMY SAVED. BOOM, WE’VE ENDED THE WARS. BOOM, NO MORE TERRORIST ATTACKS OR POLITICIANS TRYING TO TERRORIZE US WITH THE THREAT OF TERRORIST ATTACKS!

    Maddow for Thirteen, yall. Think about it.

    • I’m not usually into other butches/andros, but I make exceptions for excellent, swaggery other butch/andro ladies. Rachel Maddow for Thirteen? SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

  26. I laughed when i saw on the Huffington post a story which quoted someone saying Maddow looked like a man. Because she just doesn´t. And long blond hair doesn´t suit her, even tough we can all agree that many women look divine with long blond hair.

    And most if not all straight men i know do not have a 1950´s idea of feminine beauty i feel some accuse us of preaching because of gender/sexuality.

    I have this theory that lesbian/gay culture´s butch/femme axis is another materialisation of a genderd culture. So s culture with a more fixed gender idea also has a more fixed butch femme axis in it´s LGBT community. And the oppisite is true in more liberal societys

    p.s. my spellchecker doesn´t work so you will have to excuse dyxlexic little me.

    • Not gonna lie, the first thing I thought when I saw that pic was “damn girl, touch up your roots!”

  27. Hi Mom! Did you read the whole article? The whole thing?? b/c I’m going to quiz you about this on the phone. Are you trolling the comments to see if I said anything…because I did! Caught ya! And see, you’re not the only one asking these questions. Even Oprah went there.

    And no, I haven’t tripped on Special K.

  28. Seriously. Raise your hand if anyone’s ever asked you that question. I bet if a low-flying airplane entered your mutual stratosphere you’d all be handless right now amirite?

    Ga’on, Riese.

    Ugh, the Daily Telegraph used the SaMANtha crap when Sam was in Australia. She was here for 24 freaking hrs. And yet they managed to insult her 3 times.

  29. Samantha Ronson is totally different… she just used Lindsay Lohan to get famous.

    Rachel Maddow actually looks better with short hair… short hair can be feminine too, depending on the way it is cut. The long hair actually looks awful on her!

    Anyway, how come the radio station isn’t attacking males for looking like women these days? Oh that’s right, it’s probably because the writer and/or the radio announcer is a male and probably is “metrosexual” (ie appears very feminine :p)

    • Really?
      Did you actually read the article and decide this(^) was what needed to be said?

      The article’s about society’s reaction to colouring outside the gender lines. And giving those who do a hi five for all the times they’ve had to put up with crappy playground taunting.

      It’s not about Sam Ro or Rachel Maddow *personally*. They just provide great examples ‘cos they’re in the media.
      It’s also not about the “why not the pick on them too” sentiment in your last paragraph.

      Maybe I’m reading you wrong, and I’ve coloured your comment upon reading. If so, my bad.

    • I’m with you.
      This article might just have actually pushed me over the edge. Suddenly I feel ready to browse the alternative lifestyle haircut gallery again, get in contact with my best friend’s girlfriend (most awesome straight couple btw) and go get that hairdresser’s appointment we’ve been talking about for weeks and months.
      Fuck it, my hair will grow back if I don’t like it and I will be all femmy again if I want to.

      • (though I must admit, it’s kinda fucked up that it’s a privilege always being able to go back to girly/femmy even if one changes their style for a period of time. because there’s still safety in that.)

      • Funny thing is, I don’t wanna go back. My hair will be short for a very, very long time (unlike the other time I cut them short which was 10 years ago).

        Earlier today I was checking eyeglass frames and my attention was drawn to a piece and I was like “this! I want this!” After 3 seconds I realized they were very similar to Rachel Maddow’s frames.

        So you see, when I say ‘brainwashing’ I really mean it ;) Feels good to be brainwashed by Autostraddle and Rachel Maddow though, probably best brainwashing ever :D

  30. I’m happily married to a guy, unrequitedly bi, and pretty damn butch looking. I hate skirts and makeup and fussing with my hair. I figure I’m just helping to erode heteronormativity. ;)

  31. Well said.

    As a Eurotrash who lived in the US for long enough to realise how, frankly, backward (retarded) society is in terms of gender roles and sexuality.

    I do sense a wind of change, however, with mainstream-palatable movies like “The Kids are Alright” and the Time article about lesbian parenting penetrating deeper than ever before.

    It is up to the community to strive to integrate from the comforts of the ‘minority status’ imho.

    That is all.

  32. This issue gets labeled as homophobic (which it is) and gender ignorant (which it is), but underlying all of these issues that we are all keenly aware of on a daily basis is the most basic power dynamic of all……that’s it’s just another man trying to control another woman. period. and using whatever tool is available. In this case, they’re using the time honored “she doesn’t look like a girl even though she COULD” argument.

    What is clear to me is that even if Rachel (and Samantha, and other butch women) did dress and look “feminine”, men would just find another tool to try and control them. Namely, the lesbian issue. or the fact that they are independent. or ambitious. or that they don’t have a baby. ETC ETC ETC

    while it’s hard to not get all fired up about this (because it is seriously offensive and hurtful to all of us who don’t “fit” the passive female/girly/straight accepted stereotype), i’d like to just put my 2 cents in here that it’s the same ol’ power play at work here in the 21st century…….man threatened by smart successful woman tries to club her on head and drag her back to cave.

    • i think my post pre-supposes that the basic power dynamic of a man trying to control another woman is inherent in all things in this country, but what i’m trying to look at is how specifically that power dynamic is maintained and executed in cases like Rachel Maddow’s, where traditional methods such as telling a feminine lesbian she is attractive enough to get a man so why doesn’t she, or questioning the selflessness of a woman who chooses not to have children, aren’t being employed — without those options, how does that power dynamic still find a way to play out? One could analyze this dynamic for any woman, really — like how the way some media outlets continually described Sam as Lindsay’s “lesbian lover” rather than “girlfriend” or chided Lindsay’s bisexuality as flaky or fake, to downplay the seriousness of a man-free relationship (or insist that Sam is, somehow, a “man” and therefore they’re still playing by gender rules) to police Lindsay. Interesting that Sam was assumed to be a lesbian when she actually identified as bi, as if anyone who dared to cut off all their hair might still be available to men, whereas due to her feminine appearance Lindsay was assumed to be having a “lesbian phase” or at most was bisexual (Lindsay’s publicity machine hasn’t much helped in this regard, but anyhow). Policing happens everywhere that men & women roam together, but I think this case is particularly worth looking at for a number of reasons which I think I mostly explain? Does that make sense?

      • Riese, your argument was refined and powerful and I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. My post was more about the distillation process in my own mind with issues that can sometimes be complicated.

        I live in an area where probably only .001% of the population has a background in gender studies, or who even thinks about it at all (other than to criticize people who don’t “fit” the stereotypes). To me it is important to at least make the point about the basic power dynamic at play so that we can all have a common denominator in our arguments.

        Fantastic article :)

    • Not to attack you or what you’re saying, because there is a huge amount validity in the points you’re bringing up, but you’re placing girly with passive and straight. I’m girly in dress and appearance, but I’m all kinds of aggressive on the court/field/job. In a way, you’re doing the what the men are doing from the other side of the spectrum. They say butch/aggressive/gay, which isn’t fair either. There’s a problem with this need to pin a person’s look to a social/political ideology or stance. Can’t it just be irrelevant?

      • I did not create the stereotype of what men expect a woman to look like and act like; I am stating it to make the point that if we don’t conform to these standards (and in no way is there any assumption that being girly is only associated with being passive or straight), at best, we are excluded from certain situations and at worst, are attacked verbally and/or physically.

        I am with you Sinclair, I wish appearance and gender expression was irrelevant but unfortunately it does matter. people will always judge us by what we wear, what our hair looks like, how we interact, etc. Mostly that judgment is unconsciously passed on to us and we *can* change the variables of that judgment to include things that we value. but snap judgments will always exist. accept that it is a necessary human trait, but fight to open minds and hearts to alternatives. xo

  33. You know, if we start acting masculine, and dressing masculine, and maybe even take on masculine roles, that means that we’ll demand the same rights and privileges that boys automatically get. Oh! And proper wages! Oh my. But if we look feminine, act feminine, and are “tappable”, then we are of no threat whatsoever. AIEEE!!

    Just one theory of several. Heh.

    • yup that seems to be the feeling that some ignorant people hold. Not everyone is thinking in those simple terms in the community (thank god) but I’ve run into quite a few who do think that way. At a certain point your attire, makeup routine/lack thereof, and attitude aren’t products of “conforming” to society’s standards but your own desires. Do I spend a good couple of hours getting ready to leave my house just to grab a gallon of milk? yea I do, partially because I wanna look hot if I meet a girl in aisle 2, but I spend more time working at demanding I be treated with respect and equality.

  34. THIS. When I first saw this picture I was dumbstruck. Not because I didn’t believe it, (my friends and I laugh over our hs pictures every time they come up), but because everyone and their mom had something obnoxious to say about her “prettiness” or “hotness” back then. Like, who’s hotness? The idea that attractiveness is objective is just crazy! There’s as many versions of attractiveness as there are people in the world finding other people attractive. And then to take it one step further and attribute that random-ass SUBJECTIVE value of attractiveness to a person’s worth? Like, WTF? Worry about someone’s supposed attractiveness to you if they’re asking to fuck you. Otherwise, shut up already and let me drool over her (hot, butchy self) in peace.

  35. I think the men making the comments about Maddow have proven themselves to be only interested in the blond hair and stereotypically feminine standards of dress presented in the photo, because her face looks exactly the same. Clearly, these men aren’t even looking at women’s faces!

    Also enjoying the discussion of butch/femme dichotomy that’s going on. What if you self-identify in the middle, but people keep pushing you to one side? How do you stay true to your middle of the roadness, while politely telling those you care about to back off?

  36. Reading this article made me feel sexy just being the queer I am. Today I shaved my legs and wore a killer skirt and lip gloss combo. Next week I may grow out my goatee and live in t-shirts and loose jeans. I love seeing other people just do their thing successfully.

  37. I’m surprised that the guy on TMZ who looks like the fourth member of Hanson hasn’t already been called out for “gender non-conformity,” y’know, given the show’s commitment to reinforcing negative heteronormative and all-around douchebag stereotypes. and i’ve only seen it because it is my gf’s guilty pleasure (that and the Hills)…don’t ask.

  38. You know what REALLY makes me angry? When femme lesbians act shitty about butches. When I asked an acquaintance of mine what “type” she’s into, she said, “Uhm, hi, if I wanted to be with a man, I’d be with a man.” BITCH YOU’RE NOT HELPING. Just because a woman isn’t into wearing make-up and dresses doesn’t make her any less of a woman, or any less beautiful. RAWR I’M SORRY, I HAVE FEELINGS.

    • there are actually femmes who are more angry about this than their butch/tomboy partners. ;)
      yet I think there’s a lot of internalized homophobia, with all the fuss about how it looks best/is the most beautiful kind of lesbian relationship (according to whom?) when two girly/femme women are dating.

    • No shit. I have no respect for people that throw one of their own under the bus in a laughable effort to save their own ass. I’m butch. If you’re reading this and you’ve pulled that shit before, fuck you! At the end of the day, the straight world puts you in EXACTLY THE SAME CATEGORY as me. KNOW IT. And as for the pathetic “respect” (crumbs) they throw you periodically, keep fawnin’ over ’em, haha..

  39. What’s th crack ladies- rite so here’s my take on this “gender” malarky..

    Are our outward appearences not a reflection of our inner personalities? Our true personalities, beliefs, principles & usually sexuality aren’t fully formed until we go out into the world on our own (after high school/college) when we aren’t trapped by our parents, families, towns normalities? So it makes perfect sense that Ms Maddow would been the typical all – American girl. I
    Another thing about th outwards representation of our personalities – is it not subjective(if that’s th right word) – and this gona sound terrible to a few folk, sorry if I offend, but clothing that has been worn by men has been reclaimed by butch ladies, but am I correct in sayin that had floatly feminine dress had been associated with power control and other more assertive traits that associate with masculinity that they would have been adopted instead?

    Finally. Just saying the basics come down to what u like to wear, we all wana pull th hotty at th pub/shop/whereverthehellwecan so we wear th clothing that best reprsents US and makes us feel comfortable and confident (pretty sure ther was a daily fix or NSFW about confidence being sexay) any way my point is my favorite colour is yellow, I wear it a lot cos it makes me happy and I hope I project it, my best friend wears a lot of black and White g-d only knows y, but she would never wear th bright colours I do and I wouldn’t b as clean cut as she…

    How’s about this – wel just wear whateverthefuckwewantcositmakesusfeeldamsexy?

    • Subjective totally isn’t th right word and now il b lyin awake allnight trying to think of that word that is just on th tip of my tongue!! Grrr ..il let u know when it comes to me- b prepared for a stupid o’clock post !! Lol

  40. wow, what a great article.
    when i look at that high school picture, i see a sad, trapped dyke trying to break free. i don’t see a hot queer lady who’s confident & sexy & fully herself. it makes me upset how the sad trapped version is considered “hotter” in society-at-large.
    i think part of the reason why i enjoyed this article so much is: gender presentation discrimination (esp. in the assigned-female-at-birth demographic) is so normalized & so invisible, there are very few ways to fight back against it. if you’ve walked the streets as someone who doesn’t fit neatly into the male/female dichotomy, you KNOW what’s going on when you walk into a job interview and everyone in the office stops talking and looks at you. you KNOW what’s happening when the interviewer smiles and nods and rejects you for a job that you’re more than qualified for. but how can you prove it? nobody said a damn thing to your face. they don’t even have to.
    btw, although the line “they [butches/gender-nonconformers] are dykes and don’t care who knows it” is a powerful one, not all masculine female-bodied people are dykes. i am an androgynous, frequently-called-a-man bisexual/queer lady partnered with a transman, and i know there are a lot of us dudely-looking people who are into the menz. just sayin’.

  41. Brilliant post. Not to be preachy, but this is what I’ve been saying for years about why ENDA needs to be gender identity inclusive — so much discrimination against LGB’s (not to mention T’s) is about gender identity and expression.

    For this brilliant post, I will now take a leap that I knew was inevitable anyway and donate to Autostraddle. Thank you for being here!!!

  42. I have so many feelings about this article and this specific topic and could go on about this for ages
    – what it feels like to be with a tomboy who had to take shit for what she looks like all her life and then having to take that shit because you “choose” to fall in love with such a woman (though you could have a real man or just fallen for a “beautiful woman”);
    or what it feels like to be more of a femme and not be able to show who you really are or the appreciation for more masculine or masculine identified women;
    or to hear one of your closest male friends, who is pretty alternative himself, go on blabbering about this girl who looks like a “little boy” and why the hell she does look like that or if she has to be a lesbian because of her looks;
    or how these standards are LIMITING women in every area of self-expression and identity and coming to terms with oneself and feeling comfortable about who we are, unattached to men and their desires…

    … when really, everything i want to do is to print this article and hand it out to random people and to paper my city with it.

  43. These commentators must lead dull, flaccid sex lives if their standards for female beauty are that banal. While much of Maddow’s sex appeal is in her attitude and quick wit, when you tack on her style and glasses and chucks I have no idea how any woman could resist her.

    • Word. When I first saw the yearbook photo, my first thought was “That’s fake.” When assured it was real (Rachel acknowledged it),my first thought was “That’s just wrong.”

  44. I’m so happy this was posted! Amazingly written and I don’t think anyone else could verbalize the whole butch gender-bending thing any better.

    Some quick thoughts: I came out very recently (maybe 3-4 months ago?) and roughly at the same time I cut my hair short. Whenever I came out to people I either got one of the following two questions, generally with a somewhat terrified look on their face: 1) You’re not one of those butch lesbians are you? or 2) You’re not attracted to those super masculine boy-looking girls right? Both are downright offensive. Why should it matter if I identify as butch or if I liked butch woman? I don’t get it; it’s like being a dyke automatically means either of those or both.

    I’m pretty genderfluid and I’ve always been. Actually – I’d like to say I’m MORE feminine (or get more bouts of femininity) since I’ve come out. I don’t see why that’d suddenly change since I’m out. People -.-

    PS Rachel Maddow is sexy.

  45. I think she’s hot as a blond or brunette. long or short hair. glasses or not… I’d tap that.

    wait, she’s a lesbian?

    DAMN YOU UNIVERSE! why am I always attracted to women who are biologically not attracted to me?

  46. I don’t feel feminine. I feel very much like a girl, but a girl who loves sports, cartoons and robots.

    I like to wear traditional boy clothes. I like to stand with my legs apart. I like to have an opinion. I like people to know my opinion. I like to climb trees and walk alone in the city after dark.

    My hair is dark blonde and really long. My eyes are blue and my facial features soft. My body is perfect for a dress. Sometimes I like being that girl, the girl people look at one more time, the girl who can get boys to do whatever she needs them to, the girl society appreciates. I’m never sure what wish represents; is it a more traditional feminine part of my identity, or a need for approval? Is it just because that is what my mind has accepted as beauty?

    Being androgynous, masculine, butch, isn’t just brave because it defies society’s perception of beauty; if often defies your own.

  47. i. love. this.

    and all the responses give me a bit more confidence with the way i handled a recent situation – some guy was hitting on me and i told him i’m gay (my girlfriend was at the same place). to this he replied, “no, you’re bi. you still pass for straight so you’re clearly confused with what you really want.”

    ha the guy knows me all of the amount of time it takes for a first impression and he’s an expert on my sexuality? just because i dont dress how he thinks lesbians do? siiigh.

    ignorance is so frustrating. still i’m comfortable with my semi-feminine semi tomboy style so i try not to think about the comments he made but they still made an impression. i hate that such an ill-informed jerkwad can make me doubt myself. (dont worry it only lasted a few seconds and i was back to my normal confident self!)

    • Yeah, for sure. I’m actually bi(/pan/whatevs) but I don’t really identify as female and I wear guys’ clothes and have short hair and shit and everyone always assumes i’m a big ol’ lesbian, which i’m not by any definition of the term.

      i actually had to make out with this guy once (maybe not the best solution, but i was drunk) before he was like, “wait, you really are bi?” … no, i was just making it up for funsies, srsly?

    • @lo….isn’t it great when men who have known you for about 1 minute tell you who YOU are?? what gets me most is the smug look on their faces…the sheer audacity of their expression when they look me dead in the eyes and go, “you are NOT gay…you look WAY too straight for that.”

      oh really?? well, sir, i’m sorry to bust your bubble, but feminine lesbians are as real as the straight girl at the end of the bar who wants nothing to do with your sorry ass either!

      i would feel as awkward and uncomfortable with short hair, cargo shorts, and a tie as a butch girl in heels and a dress. when is the world just going to let us wear what we want and look the way we feel is right and leave us the fuck alone??

      • exactly!

        and my immediate reaction is to try and justify myself but why the hell does he deserve an explanation? i’m me. i’m comfortable in my skin. clearly that makes him (and people with similar attitudes) uncomfortable… so wasting my time on his inability to accept that someone dares to vocalize her true self – meaning “hey buddy, it’s not happening” among other things – wasn’t on my agenda.

        and i’m ok with that.

  48. Pingback: gay marriage, man purse, the butch dyke and the ‘before’ photos. « writing ourselves whole

  49. Everyone should be able to look as they want. However, it bothers me when the focus on homosexuality goes to gender issues rather than on who you love, which should be the point, after all. I’d also “tap” the yearbook Rachel but feel 0 attraction to her as she is now. No one can rule over someone’s style. Neither can they rule over someone’s taste, regardless of it being pc or not.

  50. As a Gay woman for many years, I don’t like role playing on either side of the fence – Gay or straight. I have always been put off by Gay women who try to emulate straight relationships with the butch/fem role playing. Many Lesbians try too hard to recreate the male stereotypes in their female relationships – it’s so out dated and tired. I admire a woman who is not afraid to be a lipstick Lesbian and doesn’t have to wear a label, “butch”. I find that many butch women are reinforcing negative stereotypes of straight men. These hyper “butch” characteristics are artificial and at times very unattractive in both straight men and Gay women. My advice, cut the act, and just be a woman without attaching labels and outdated stereotype images.

    • Wow, offensive much?

      Maybe people aren’t “trying” to emulate anything. Maybe it’s not “artificial” or “an act.” Just because masculinity is unattractive to you, well, doesn’t mean it is to everyone. And the command to “just be a woman” is pretty jarring and condescending, especially since a fair number of butches don’t really identify as women.

      People (ideally) behave the way that makes them feel most comfortable. Whether that’s super masculine or super feminine really doesn’t concern you, and you sure as hell shouldn’t be judging them for that. How is “lipstick lesbian” any less of a label than “butch”? Both are legitimate identities, and both can also be hurled around as insults, though I wish they wouldn’t be.

      Are there certain forms of masculinity that thrive on sexism and on the delegitimization of femininity? Absolutely. Should they be allowed to flourish? Not at all. But to call people out simply for being who they are, for being more masculine than feminine, for identifying as butch and for, yeah, liking that butch/fem dynamic is, I think, really narrow minded and pretty damn offensive.

  51. Hi! There seem to be some common themes coming up in these comments and if you’re new here, I wanted to direct you to other articles you might enjoy addressing various elements of the Queer Oppression Contest:

    Femme invisibility within the queer community: What Does a Lesbian Look Like?: The Autostraddle Roundtable
    The rise of androgynous, gender-flexible style: addressed in Why Lesbians Won’t Give Up the Hipster and What Does a Lesbian Look Like?
    What it feels like for the other gender: Let Us Now Praise Effeminate Men

  52. I wish people didn’t confuse being a homosexual, which means falling for someone of your own gender, with people who are “gender-challenged” for lack of a better term. It annoys the hell out of me when people assume that lesbians do not identify with straight women as far as their own looks go. I won’t deny that many lesbians feel they fit outside feminine standards but it’s also true that most of the lesbians who don’t feel the same way are “invisble” exactly for not standing out as far as their appearance goes.

  53. This article got me thinking… and, you know, visibility matters.

    For me, it started years ago. I cut off all of my hair. I brought girls to family functions. I wore ties a lot. I slapped an HRC sticker on my car. I wore cargo shorts and fedoras. I didn’t come right out and say it (heyhihey! i’m gay!) b/c I assumed they’d freak. But somehow, my family of Evangelicals, who love their Fox News blaring and their Mexican machismo, this family, just let me evolve. I mean, if I say something stupid, they will call my ass out. But they have never, ever, given me shit for my glaringly obvious homo-gayness.

    Why? Because sometimes love is stronger than bigotry. Not always, but sometimes. And sometimes, if you walk through life with love in your heart and patience and rainbows and all that jazz… Sometimes, people come around.

    There’s hope, you guys. I’m living proof.

  54. Does anyone else find it weird that people think Rachel on her TV show looks “like a man”? I have never met a non-effeminate man who wore makeup and a low-ish-cut shirt under his blazer. She just… doesn’t. Look like what I assume the people who say that think of “A Man” as looking. At all.

  55. a friend recently told me about carl jung’s animus/anima psychological theory – the belief that women who embraced their masculinity, as well as men who embraced their femininity, were examples of those that had sought out and revealed the entirety of themselves and therefore broadened their minds, spirits and overall conciousness.

    i’d take that over being ‘tapped’ by buzzfeed any day of the week.

  56. I meant to comment on this ages ago but couldn’t think of anything cohesive so here are some random thoughts:

    1. I think there is endless mileage in butch/femme self-image discussion.

    2. The world is in serious need of a crossover butch superstar.

    3. The whole thing with blokes and their tappability standards, I’m concerned with how so many are so in the thrall of idiots like Trump. You see, like Iphis, I’m token lesbian within a group of male geek friends/co-workers, so I hear a lot of mantalk about women.

    They make a lot of noise rating women according to the way the media would have them, yet they all go out with/are married to women that aren’t at all like identikit blondes and, ostensibly, love them very much.

    I feel like their pointless bravado is fuelling the patriarchy and, well, we all blame the patriarchy, right?

    4. Rachel Maddow is a walking totem for putting brains before (her own, obvious) beauty. For someone like me, that has always assumed that they’re gonna have to snare a partner based on their wits rather than appearance, that’s an incredibly powerful figure to have out there.

    5. Anyone else think that yearbook photo has just a hint of Brittany from Glee in it? I am already envisioning what kind of amazing intellectual makeover could happen to her if they made Glee: The College Years

  57. The funny thing is, she’s not really even that butch now. I would consider her androgynous more than anything (though she is pretty sexy!!!)

  58. Rachel looks so odd in her HS photo. It just doesn’t fit her energy, and I would think that if all I’d ever seen of her was that high school photo. It’s obviously not authentically her.

    In my daily life, I tend to go more for comfort than fashion, but I noticed whenever I was going to a lesbian bar, I’d get all ubergirly in a way I might have done in the past for men (before I came out). When I said this and how weird I found my ultragirliness to be, a new friend asked if I preferred butch/soft butch women and yeah, I do.

    I realized I was getting all dressed up to please (myself and) them. I don’t care how men view me, but I want women to view me as cute and sexually attractive. Interestingly, the last man I ever slept with has decided I’m androgynous because I “don’t wear clothes that fit my body all the time.” Guess he, like many men, couldn’t handle the idea that I wasn’t dressing to turn him on!

  59. Forgot to add – it’s interesting to me, whenever there is a butch/androgynous woman, she’s the one who makes the straight women question their sexuality. Perfect example? Shane. Dana, Jenny, Tina are awesome but they don’t make heterosexual women question their sexualities in droves, but Shane does/did.

    I think men realize that they’re more likely to have “competition” from a butch/androgynous women for “their” women than a femme (though that’s not necessarily true of course). I think that’s part of what fuels their distaste for them – here’s a woman who they can’t subject to their fantasies and their typical roles of femininity in order to hold onto and fuck her, AND she’s also competition for vag. Major confusion and ego frustration!!

  60. I’d do her anytime: past, present, or future. She’s smoking hot in her yearbook photo and she’s smoking hot currently. And then there’s her mind…. Mmmm

  61. 1. I’m so mad I could spit.
    2. The “New Hot”? Rachel Maddow, as I’m sure everyone can agree here, has always. been. hot.
    3. She is so much cuter now. Blonde on Maddow is incongruous.
    4. When I got my haircut, my dad said I looked like a little boy. So around here that means I’m crazy hot too, right?

    • “4. When I got my haircut, my dad said I looked like a little boy. So around here that means I’m crazy hot too, right?”



  62. I am curious to find out what blog platform you are utilizing?
    I’m experiencing some small security problems with my latest website and I would like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any suggestions?

  63. Why so wrapped up in appearence? We all have preferences. Why shouldn’t we all be ourselves, and not create apperances for the purpose of creatining an identity? Look the way you want to look, or look the way you think your prospective partner might want you to look. If you think rachel maddow is a great example of what a lesbian should look like, you have your own pre-conceved notions. Put your money where your mouth is. Meet someone on the internet, share ideas, talk for hours, and enter into a relationship based on what you have in common.

  64. Although it’s hardly appropriate, I’d just like to say that as an almost typical hetero-normative-type-male, that I find the contemporary Ms. Maddow extremely sexy and that yes, I’d tap that, if I weren’t already married, and, you know, if only she was into it. Cause smart and combative is definitely hot (and so is being, you know, kinda hot). And so is: rich, famous, on TV, published author, and converse high tops. Just saying.

  65. I’ll Tap that, before or after she’s hella hott either way. Plus her book was inspiring to butch women like me.

    PS Trump without his millions would so never get laid with that hair so who is he to talk about ugly. I guess having enough to afford model wives has made him delusional.

  66. As a hair stylist and makeup artist for a living, I can tell you that the only remarkable thing about Rachel’s yearbook photo versus a current photo is that she hasn’t aged a bit, and in fact, looks more beautiful today than ever! The only difference I see is that in high school she had long blond hair and today she has short, dark, and yes, feminine hair! I’ll bet no one even noticed that today she wears makeup (understated, to be sure, but definitely there) and in the yearbook photo was wearing none. Anyone who sees anything besides a beautiful young woman who grew into a beautiful, professional, proud woman is absolutely looking at the wrong things. And the poster who said that Rachel probably wouldn’t give a flying f*** about what anyone thinks of her looks is most likely correct. There, I’ve said my piece and I’ll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for listening ;)

  67. Am I crazy? I think she looks much cuter now. I don’t think the high school yearbook picture style suits her.

  68. If people are afraid of female masculinity, and if they think Rachel Maddow is the representative… won’t they shit bricks when they see Saint Harridan!?!

  69. Honestly, my first reaction to Perez Hilton’s name, even reading it here, is a completely uncontrollable lip twitch, a tiny sneer. I’m utterly unsurprised he’s a jerk with regard to women’s self-presentation.

  70. Amazing how ugly she now is….I guess the hard-card lesbians worship her, but pretty much EVERYONE else laughs are her and uses names like Madcow or Ron Maddow…..

    typical authoritarian….”I am a Rhodes Scholar….Liberals know best….Obama is my hero”……-yawn-

    If you had a clue, the LGBT community would be a little less worried about getting married and more concerned about gun control and the Executive Order Obama is considering.

    When sh*t goes down…..you will all hide and beg for someone to help…that is when the real MEN step forward and take control.

    that is all……fire away b*tches!

  71. I know this is an old entry, but as it is being featured on AS sidelines, I think someone needs to edit this article to change the name of the genius formerly known as Judith.
    If we are highlighting their work Female Masculinity, perhaps we should acknowledge their own. Jack Halberstam for the win.

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  73. I always get a little miffed whenever anyone assumes that butches automatically have it harder than femmes, because I really don’t think that’s true.

    Basically the difference between butches and femmes is that heterosexual people will immediately assume a butch is gay. That’s the end of the difference (and eventually everyone usually figures out the femme is gay with good/bad repercussions, just pointing that out).

    And let’s think about that difference, honestly a lot of the time it’s probably a good thing that people immediately assume homosexuality because at least you’ll immediately know if they’re a bit of a dickhead. You don’t have to get to know them first (and have them get to know you) before they try and crush you. And not just emotionally because most assault/rapes/murders are committed by someone the victim knew. Starting to see it’s a bit dangerous being a femme?

    We could also consider what it’s like going out with friends when you’re femme. What I consider having a good time is what males consider pornography. So naturally they think they’re invited. Even security and police think it’s just for attention so good luck getting help. In my personal experience it usually takes another butch to calm the situation and men will hardly ever pick on butches doing the same thing as us because heterosexuals are far more interested in going after femme lesbians than butch lesbians. They seem to feel more entitled to femmes because that’s what the media has directed at them.

    Which brings us to the crux of the situation, why not just pretend to be straight, you know stay closeted? I dunno, why don’t butches just dress in girly clothes? Maybe because after eighteen years of being closeted and pretty thoroughly depressed I decided I didn’t need to hide anymore.

    I’m not saying femmes have it worse than butches, but I am saying that butches don’t have it worse than femmes. We all have pretty similar problems and I think it’s unhelpful to just make a blanket statement of ‘butches are so brave because they have it so much worse’. It kind of contributes to the pretty massive problem of femme invisibility.

    Damn that’s nearly an essay………………… i just have femme feelings

    • > What I consider having a good time is what males consider pornography.

      I’m reminded of only a few weeks ago when I and another femme were kissing goodbye to each other and we had to change locations because a shuttle driver started taking pictures.

      I feel your femme feelings. This type of thing happens way too often.

      (Thanks to the person who noticed and wandered over to give us a heads up.)

  74. Oh boy, can I ever relate. I graduated high school last year, and when the school yearbooks came out a boy in my tech class said he barely recognized me in my senior photo (I had long hair when the picture was taken, then chopped it all off that fall). I laughed and agreed it was a big change, and then he thought it was appropriate to say “Yeah, I can’t remember a time when you used to look like a girl.” Naturally, I bitched him out, but all he did was give me “calm down” hand signals, like I was a dog. I still look very much like a girl, and I love my short hair. Less drying time! :P Looks like us Rachel’s are just meant to be sort haired girls, eh?

  75. I guess articles like this always make me bristle because of a dynamic underlying them that I feel can be double edged. I am all for people feeling empowered, but the message that female masculinity is inherently powerful and means “a woman can take care of her self” re-enforces and privileges masculinity in a way that’s particularly poisonous for those of us who don’t chose it. (And like seriously, who hasn’t known a masculine presenting dyke who was a hot mess and couldn’t take care of herself? But everyone starting assumption with a femme is weak and dependant and with a butch is strong and independent. I don’t think there’s a damn thing wrong with being a hot mess because we all are now and again, but people make all kinds of assumptions and there’s nothing true about them most of them.)

    And I think it’s good, for folks practicing female masculinity to feel empowered in their gender expression. It super, super is. Everyone should feel empowered to be who they are. But to me, this article didn’t just empower female masculinity, it also implied that this was different from femininity, and that femininity is *not* powerful while female masculinity is. And that female masculinity is brave, hot and transgressive while femininity is staid, conventional and not deliberate.

    I think femininity is worth fighting for. I don’t think anyone should feel they have to defend something that doesn’t speak to them, but it is too often that people imply we’re weak, less radical or less considered for expressing our gender in the way we see fit. And that is just as broken as anything else.

    Look, I weld metal, make my car’s tires sing on mountain roads and have experience traveling the world alone in countries that make privileged people write hilarious panicked blog entries. I also have long hair and wear dresses and skirts. Because that’s what speaks to me right now.

    Can we stop making assumptions about people’s personalities based on how they look?

    I think we’re better than that, and I think as a community, we all deserve a space with less assumptions.

    • oh yeah you’re totally right — i wrote this well over three years ago, and while re-reading it last week, i was like, oh wow, i sort of did [exactly what you describe in your comment]. a lot of what i’ve written on this site has been part of my gradual self-education about queer and gender stuff i never learned before, and i think this definitely reflects a 101 understanding. i also think that things were different back when i wrote this, there wasn’t the same level of female masculinity empowerment and inspiration online as there is now, which makes this seem a bit less “groundbreaking.” i’m definitely still proud of the piece and what i wrote in it, but would approach it much differently now.

    • Oh wow, I just realized how old this article was. It appears to be seeing a resurgence today. One of my exes just linked to it. :-P

  76. I recently showed the film “MissRepresentation” in a media class I teach, and I was astounded to hear that Rachel Maddow apparently gets hate mail and is considered unattractive/unacceptably butch.

    I am the most heterosexual woman on the planet (it’s become a sort of running joke among my friends; despite being a person who studies media and gender I married a hyper-masculine jock frat boy dude)

    and to me? I have ALWAYS thought Rachel is just stunning. She has a lovely face. I love her hair. I love her whole presentation. I love the way she dresses. I love her glasses. If I were into girls, I’d be into her. I honestly am flummoxed by how anyone could find her unattractive. Is it just fear of lesbians, or..?

  77. What is disturbing to me about all this is the acceptance from just about everyone (gay and straight, liberal and conservative alike) of TV-land’s conflation of the hyper-feminized look with womanhood and heterosexuality, and an averagely-feminized look with manhood and gayness.

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  79. As a straight cis male, she looks more attractive today because she looks hella more self-confident and owning herself.

  80. Rachel Maddow looks hot in the photo where she is wearing all black with black high top tennies!

  81. What’s truly blowing my mind is how identical she looks to one of my relatives in that yearbook photo. Like twin identical. O_O

  82. Yet more bloated elderly white dudes pontificating about women’s appearances and measuring their worth by it. Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if a Presidency which is the picture of archaic male chauvinism was brought down by a middle aged lesbian who does not feel any need to cater to heterosexual male tastes. Rachel is razor-sharp smart, appears to have a healthy life balance, great sense of humour and looks amazing for a 43 year old. But as a heterosexual male, I know she couldn’t care less what I care about her appearance and it’s reassuring to have a strong woman who wins the ratings without trying to use her sex appeal as leverage and respects the intelligence of her audience.

  83. I just convinced my mum to get my hair cut like her :) (I have anxiety issues so can’t just walk into a salon). Cos shes a woman. It’s a somewhat low maintanence androgynous cut :) I like all those quiffs and stuff ppl have but I’m too lazy. (I’m afab nb but my mum doesn’t know what that means & chooses to let it mean ‘butch lesbian’…)

    I really hate/feel iffy about old guys & middle aged guys saying they’d ‘tap’ the yearbook photo. I don’t normally think late teenagers look like children but she really does in that picture. Physically she looks adolescent (which still, middle aged + guys don’t have to talk out loud about attraction to) but there’s a sort of ‘energy’ to the picture that looks shy and lacking in confidence. Maybe cos we all know how confident she is as a grown woman. To me it’s sleazy having an opinion on ‘tapping’ yearbook Rachel unless you’re v young & insecure yourself. I want to give her a big platonic hug and say ‘things will be ok’ then (if Rachel likes nb ppl/me) mutually tap with the actual adult

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