“The day my mother taught me to shave my legs, she handed me a disposable Bic razor, my father's shaving cream, and a warning that I would cut myself a lot until I mastered the art, especially around the knees. I didn't take that seriously. How could this piece of cheap plastic possibly harm me? I have cut myself every time I have shaved my legs since that day. My smooth skin does not define my femininity, but it does remind me that I have choices women only one generation older than me didn't have.
I consider myself closer to androgynous on the gender spectrum. I shaved my head, wear my husband's clothing, only wear makeup as part of my onstage persona, and bras are my ultimate nemesis; freedoms I do not take for granted. But, for reasons that are beyond logic, I still shave. And every time I do, I cut myself. Sometimes you hit just the right spot and it's a total blood bath. It can be a bit traumatizing. In those moments, these rapid fire thoughts pass through my mind - "Ow!, Shit! Why am I even doing this? Fuck the Patriarchy!" Oh, it's so soft." And so, I continue to live in the ambiguous duality that, while I live in a day and age when I have choices to reject the symbolic oppression of the Patriarchy that wants me to be a hairless sex slave, I choose to face the threat of death by disposable razor in order to luxuriate in my own lustrous perfection. These silky smooth legs are my treat to myself, and that's my middle finger to the Patriarchy. “
Liz, 35mm color negative
“I think of my body as a canvas. It’s a medium I use to express ideas. Every day that can mean something different. Sometimes it’s my favorite t-shirt that my dad gave me from a Serbian student resistance group that fought against Slobodan Milosevic in the late 90s. Sometimes it’s the application of bright pink or red brick eye shadow. A jumpsuit, vintage bowling shirt, the perfect tweed pencil skirt. Each allows me to inhabit some slightly different version of myself. Throughout my adult life I’ve been slowly adding tattoos to that canvas. They’re very private to me. I don’t have any that can be seen by my colleagues at work. But sometimes, when I’m with my friends, going to a show, somewhere more casual, I’ll wear something that shows my back. That’s where she lives. She’s everything I’m not. She's old fashioned, with thick, long hair cascading around her bicycle, she has mystery. The look on her face is haughty, but we’re friends and allies. She’s part of me, but she’s not me. She’s a secret I sometimes share with the world.”
Adriana, 35mm color negative
“I believe that nakedness feels like how I really exist in the world, but I have a fascination with undergarments that are comfortable and not necessarily gendered, just purposeful and beautiful. I've noticed that when I regard my femininity, it's really only in the sense of my existence. I grew up with a mother that didn't accept, and never really regarded my own brand of femininity as something that can exist in the world we lived in.
My childhood consisted of scolding for bruises I would mindlessly gather on the playground, adolescence filled with questions about my sexuality, and adulthood saw the end when I realized there was an expectation I had to fulfill. I punished myself for a very long time. I still creep into those old ways when I'm not paying attention, but I catch myself now, I'm much more patient. I think emotional abuse isn't just as simple as calling someone stupid or worthless, it's a deeper refusal of someone's identity, of their self.
I found myself as an adult fighting for who I knew I was, and I came to that ago old realization that everything isn't a fight. I can't fight that my expression non-binary, and therefore, subversive. It's a constant lesson, but divorcing my parent to focus on my mental health opened the door to my life as it is now. I have much more peace, in knowing that my identity is strong, lovely, feminine, and constantly blossoming. I have no limits for how I define my femininity, even my woman-ness, I began by choosing whatever hairstyle I crave, like shaving my head in the dead of winter, or growing it out. We'll see whats next! I believe femininity is as given as your existence, and therefore very individual.”
Federica, 35mm color negative
“I found myself trying on clothes but nothing fit right since I gained weight, and while piling them on the bed I realized that finding the right outfit is effort, stressful and tiring work that brings you down when you don’t match the popular opinion of the western feminine look. I never had an easy time with thinking of myself as feminine, and people always called me out when I’d experiment and wear heels and lipstick in high school. I got to the point where I was tired of it and went hyper feminine in my twenties; I went hard for the rockabilly look and aspired to look like Brigitte Bardot. A few years later I had come to realize that it was an expensive hobby and I was too focused on looking as feminine as possible to please people’s expectations, but it never matched my personality. Now I only do it when I want to; some days I will be a tomboy with burgundy lipstick and a low maintenance hair bun, others I will put in work and effort, and play dress up like I did with my barbies in elementary school, but when I feel like I put in too much effort I take a step back, look at myself, and try to remember to do this for myself.”
Mary, 35mm color negative
For a long time, I conceived of femininity as a defect, a blight which gave rise to of all of the weakness I despised in myself and eschewed in others. The flaws which left me vulnerable to sharp tongues and cruel intentions, to the chorus of voices whispering, shouting, proclaiming my lack of worth. The frailty which emboldened those who would seek to own me; to fill me with their ire, their filth, their sadness- to discard me once depleted. The raw sensitivity to the heedless whims of a broken world. Over time this resentment has lost its edge and been smoothed over by a respect for the power of the feminine: the threads woven through us which entwine to build a home, a vessel in which to store ourselves and carry others for a time. The deep well of quiet patience and forbearing grace; of the hard-won wisdom, which allows us to be our own mothers, our own lovers. I have since worked to create a space to manifest this feeling. A haven where the things I need and the things I love can be safely harbored. Where I have learned to greet my feminine self, and revere its soft resilience- which can swell with tremendous strength.
Anastasia, 35mm color negative
“When Jen asked me to think about a concept for “what is feminine?” I was immediately intimidated and terrified. I wear make-up and I wear dresses: in comparison to the academics I often find myself surrounded by I am more likely to not be taken seriously because I wear make-up and favor more feminine clothing than the standard loose-fitting jeans and t-shirts. But this is never what makes me feel feminine. I realized with a little reflection that I don’t feel feminine on my own. When I’m alone, I’m just me. I’m not feminine until I watch someone register me as feminine. Problematically, I noticed that my sense of femininity develops from watching someone else notice me. I always feel most feminine when I am out in public, usually when I am sitting in a coffee shop reading, or at a bar by myself before a friend arrives. I will usually walk into an establishment and find a corner to situate myself in where I have a good view of most of the space. Partially for the feeling of security, partially because I like watching other people: noticing what people are reading or drinking or wearing or talking about. But I also situate myself in this way so I can see who has seen me. “