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Saturday 10 October 2009


Listen Up

13th November 2008

Book Review: Femmes of Power

Posted by: Kitten Power

If you sat down every queer woman in New Zealand and asked them what it means to be femme, the answers would likely be as diverse as the women being questioned.

femmes-smaller.jpgSo it is from the assorted femmes who feature in the stunning book Femmes of Power (Exploding Queer Femininities), a stunning collaboration from gender variant photographer Del LaGrace Volcano and Swedish writer Ulrika Dahl.

Featuring more than 60 intriguing characters from North America and Europe through interviews, letters, essays and photo shoots, the book asks whether femininity can be a radical expression of queerness, rather than something that can provoke exclusion.

The book features French novelist and filmmaker Virginie Despentes, writer and maker of the controversial film Baise-moi.  It pays tribute to riot grrls Michelle Tea, Bitch and Leslie Mah.  It also takes a look at Atlanta’s Femme Mafia.

But the most powerful stories in Femmes of Power come from femmes you’ve probably never heard of.  Take San Francisco performer Krista, a self described “fierce fat femme” who goes by the stage name “Kentucky Fried Woman”.  She questions the media portrayal of what a femme is supposed to be, asking:

“Where are the representations of the queers I desire?  Where are the representations of queers of colour, working-class queers, gender-queers, fat queers, queers with disabilities, older queers?”

Then there’s London’s “Dyke Marilyn” (who claims to be the love child of Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix), who points out that the LGBT community is still prejudiced by the equation of femininity with weakness.

“People who are feminine shouldn’t feel excluded due to stereotypical attributes considered to be unfeminine.”

It details femmes who are constantly asked whether they are actually straight, femmes who are told to stop being so femme in order to stop getting male attention.  Then there are femmes who like to sport facial hair - while wearing lipstick, and femmes who like to work on cars - also while wearing lipstick. 

Most touching are those who share the strength they found through simply realising they could be both femme - and queer.

For art lovers, even if it were a standalone portrait book, it would be an evocative coffee table conversation piece.

But there is so much more to be found in the stories, which are best read slowly, even one at a time, so you can savour and digest each one.

Femmes of Power would make an empowering and riotous Christmas gift for that femme in your life - however she chooses to identify with the word!

Femmes of Power - Exploding Queer Femininities RRP $59.99.  Out now.

Tags: General

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kay // Nov 15, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Yes its a fascinating book, and will soon be on the shelves at LILAC in Wellington. LILAC is a lending library for lesbians and queer women. LILAC is open:
    Wednesdays 5-7 pm, and Saturdays 11 am-1 pm

    Visit LILAC’s website at for more information and the latest titles added to the collection - new books and DVDs arriving regularly.
    Cheers, Kay

  • 2 Kitten Power // Nov 19, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Thanks Kay - LILAC sounds awesome, you lucky Wellington women.

    The Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby also has it listed on its website.

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