in light of the recent, disturbing trends i’ve seen growing on tumblr and elsewhere lately, i’d like to clarify a few things about butchness as an identity, a concept, and a subject worthy of respect.
butch is a lesbian identity historically defined by aspects of presentation, behavior, and self-perception. it has its roots (at least in america) around world war ii, where thousands of women took on stereotypically masculine jobs in the women’s army corps, becoming welders, truck drivers, and more confident in breaking from feminine ideals. it emerged as a coherent idea within lesbianism around the forties when the lesbian bar scene took off and saw its heyday in the fifties and sixties, where butches learned from each other how to dress, act, woo femmes, and carry themselves and their brave identities with self-assurance and pride. since then, it has grown and changed alongside lesbian culture and gender perceptions, surfacing a little differently every decade.
butch is an intriguing and gorgeous gem from lesbian history (and lgbt history as a whole). lgbt individuals have forever sought ways to express their desires and identities outside of society’s stringent gender-based norms. masculinity, in particular, has been closely guarded, held holy, and a means of oppression. women who had nothing to do with men whatsoever — women hated by men as a whole — forged their own rules and roles and lifestyles from the ashes of men’s pride, with utter indifference towards that which men held dear.
butch is outside of the common perception of gender. it stands against the idea that gender identity and presentation must be thought of as completely distinct — and also allows that gender identity and presentation be held distinct and at odds with one another. there are butches who affirm themselves completely as women and butchness as an integral part of their womanhood, in opposition with the standards of femininity imposed upon women everywhere. there are butches who identify personally and intimately with the androgyny and gender nonconformity that butch presentation necessitates, and might go by he/his pronouns or have their children call them “dad” without being any less lesbian, any less butch. these are both completely valid and acceptable ways of being butch.
butch is not maleness or male privilege. butches are not men. masculine presentation does not a man make. butch is by necessity lesbian, and lesbianism by its very existence has everything to do with women and nothing to do with men. butch is complex, challenging, and diverse, and requires nuance in consideration and analysis. this is not something to hate. this is not something to fear. it is something to wonder at, to appreciate, to learn from.
butch is not evil. is not ugly, unless a butch would like to reclaim the ugliness that society’s spite has thrust upon her. is not oppressive. is not something to be conflated with maleness, whether cis or trans.
butch is beautiful. is handsome. is brave. is enduring. is revolutionary. is significant, both historically and for today. is magnificent. is admirable. is strong.
butch hatred is not the hatred of men or the hatred of some ridiculous, universally oppressive “masculinity.” butch hatred is hatred directed towards women and, furthermore, lesbians. butch hatred is the hatred of lesbians who have been a significant part of the backbone of lesbian culture as long as lesbian culture has existed. the women hated foremost in the twenties were those who wore pants. the women labeled as “gender inverts” for their posture, confident stance, and preference for “men’s activities” in the late nineteenth century wrote the first books women like them could turn to for stories of women’s love for women, for women not acting the way women ought to. (see the well of loneliness by radclyffe hall.)
butches are not privileged for their butchness. butches are widely disadvantaged and punished for their gender nonconformity. the fact that we live in a day and age where some people — some lesbians, even — are so isolated from actual gender dynamics that they would believe that women can get goodies from society for not acting “like women” is completely, wickedly mind-boggling.
stop with “masculine privilege.” stop with “butch privilege.” stop with “femme oppression,” which is a post for another day. the hatred of butches is frankly inexcusable and deeply shameful. you are better than this, and butches deserve far, far more than the spite and ignorance you show them.
of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion,
the first all-African-American, all-female unit to serve overseas in World War II, take part in a parade
ceremony in honor of Joan d'Arc at the marketplace where she was burned
at the stake. Rouen, France. May 27, 1945.
Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts proposed a bill in May 1941 with the support of Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall to establish the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp (WAAC). The bill was passed a year later and the first enlisted auxiliaries arrived for training at Fort Des Moines in July 1942. In July 1943, the Reserves was incorporated into the Regular Army and reestablished as the Women’s Army Corp (WAC). During WWII, about 150,000 women served in the WAAC and WAC.
During the war, Eleanor Roosevelt continued the ceaseless
activism that had long marked her as America’s most public First Lady. Mrs. Roosevelt was
outspoken in her support for gender equality. She championed women’s entrance into the armed services.
Female welder, Tyneside, UK, 1942, a photo by Cecil Beaton taken when he worked for the Ministry of Information during World War II. As in the US, during the war women, by necessity, took over men’s jobs.
The Dutch cellist turned World War II resistance fighter, Frieda
Belinfante, was born on this day in 1904!
Frieda photographed circa-1940. She lived openly after WWII with her partner Henriëtte Bosmans, who was also a Dutch musician (x).
Frieda was born in Amsterdam on May 10, 1904 to a very musical
and artistic Jewish family. Her father was a renowned pianist and music teacher
in the Netherlands and her family line boasts several popular writers and
journalists from throughout the generations. Frieda began studying the cello
when she was ten-years-old and she made her concert debut at age seventeen. The
Nazi occupation eventually interrupted Frieda’s career and prevented her from pursuing
music until after the war.
As an out Jewish lesbian who was known for her butch presentation, rebellion against the Nazi Party came naturally to Frieda. It was her good friend Willem
Arondeus, a fellow artist and gay man, who pulled Frieda into the world of the
Dutch resistance. Willem was one of the leaders of Raad van Verzet and he
recruited Frieda to help forge documents for Jewish people trying to flee the
Netherlands. Together, Frieda and Willem eventually went on to perform the
bombing and destruction of a Nazi-run population registry on March 27, 1943. The
operation was a success and it hindered the Nazis from being able to identify
Jewish populations in the Netherlands. After the bombing, Frieda, Willem, and the
other resistance fighters involved with Raad van Verzet were forced to go into
hiding. Frieda disguised herself as a man for three months before she eventually
made her way to safety in Switzerland.
After the war, Frieda returned to both the Netherlands and
her music career. She eventually made the transition from performer to music
conductor and immigrated to the United States in 1947 to join the music faculty
at UCLA. Under Frieda’s conduction, the music scene at UCLA reached unforeseen heights.
In 1987, the City of Laguna Beach, California declared February 19th
to be the new “Frieda Belinfante Day” due to her outstanding life journey and her
contributions to the Laguna Beach community. Frieda passed away in 1995 when
she was 90 years old, but she was posthumously the subject of a 1999 documentary titled But I Was
A Girl and a Dutch exhibition about the
persecution of lesbians and gay men during World War II.
The number of women in the American
workforce increased exponentially after the United States entered World War II on
December 8, 1941. Women filled critical wartime industry positions left vacant
by men fighting in Europe and the Pacific. Pictured here are civilian and
military employees working in the small arms plant of the Curtis Bay Ordnance
Depot, Curtis Bay, Maryland. The women in this photograph operated machinery
that affixed .50 caliber bullets to easily transportable ammunition “belts,”
which were used during World War II to feed heavy automatic weapons. Women who
took up these types of manufacturing jobs – think “Rosie the Riveter” - were
essential to the war effort, as they produced critical ammunition and supplies
that helped ensure an Allied victory.
Interested to learn more about
Curtis Bay Ordnance Depot, and the activities of the Ordnance Corps during
World War II? Check out our online catalog at: archives.gov/research/catalog
and make an appointment to view our holdings at the National Archives at
Philadelphia by calling (215) 305-2044 or emailing us at
Today’s post was written by Samuel Limneos, Archives
Technician at the National Archives at Philadelphia.
3SC 18-024-576-4 Curtis Bay Ordnance Depot. Small Arms
Plant. 13 Dec. 1945; Photographs; Box 1; Management Improvement Files 1952-1953,
Curtis Bay Storage Facility; Record Group 156: Records of the Office of the
Chief of Ordnance; National Archives at Philadelphia. (Record Entry ID:
PH-6022) (Series NAID: 638784).
“U.S. nurses walk along a beach in Normandy, France on July 4, 1944, after they had waded through the surf from their landing craft. They are on their way to field hospitals to care for the wounded allied soldiers.”
During World War II masses of American women went to work across this great nation, many entering the workforce for the first time. Women took on new roles and sometimes assumed those of their husbands, and they didn’t always receive the same recognition, job title, or salary as their male counterparts. At the Brooklyn Museum, both Isabella S. Roberts, acting Director from 1943-1946, and Caroline Keck, Advising Conservator from 1943-1945*, successfully stepped into their husband’s roles at the Museum during World War II, breaking the glass ceiling so to speak.
With my background in race and gender in 19th and 20th century America, I am fascinated by these women and their story. What I find most interesting, is that in June 1943, the Museum’s Governing Committee voted to pay Sheldon Keck half his salary while he was away from the Museum in World War II. In January 1944 Isabella Roberts recommended that this portion of the salary be paid to Carolina Keck instead. In addition, it was decided that the salary Sheldon Keck was being paid would be discontinued. Although Caroline Keck was not paid the full salary, it’s significant that Isabella Roberts went up to bat for Caroline Keck. Would the same decision have been made if the acting Director was not a woman? One can only speculate!