P18 – Svenja Spyra

Svenja Spyra is PhD candidate at the chair of sociology and gender studies, at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich. Since 2018 she holds a scholarship of the Hans-Böckler-Foundation. Since summer term 2020 she teaches at the faculty of sociology at the University of Gießen. After finishing her master-degree at the University of Bielefeld, she works as research assistant at the technical University of Munich (TUM). Svenja is member at the Institute for Social Movement Studies (ipb). Her research focusing queer and feminist movements, pop culture, Sociology of the Knowledge, Sociology of Culture, Sociology of the Body and the fields of gender and queer studies.

Fem(me)bodiment. (Queer) femme-ininity in German queer and feminist contexts since the 1920th

The paper-presentation is part of a conceptual history project of (queer) femme-ininity in Germany, which results from the need for informations about the subjectification of queer fem(me)ininity. The German scientific discourses addressing lesbian and queer, feminist subcultures and movements shows a research gab regarding fem(me)inine representations and subjectivity in general. More specifically fem(me)inine representations and subjectivity as part of feminist and/or queer lesbianism are still missing in the research of the last three decades. Rather it seems that there is a dominance of masculine and androgyne (self-)representations in these fields (cf.: Hark 1989, Engel 1996, Schader 2004, Fuchs 2009).

On the one hand, these preferences seem to build up the discursive frame of how a lesbian or queer feminist looks like. On the other hand, these preferences depend on the social construction, constitution, (re-)presentation and (re-)production of lesbian and queer feminist subjectivity (cf.: Spyra 2020, in press). From my perspective this is especially interesting, because lesbian and queer feminist contexts are often challenging contemporary, hegemonic gender norms, representing counterculture(s) and embodying a normality beside the norms (cf.: Lenz 2004: 666; Binder/Spyra 2017: 22).

Following the introducing descriptions of the research fields I first take up some thoughts of Judith Butler. J.B. argued in the early 1990th in the groundbreaking opus Gender Trouble (1990) that feminist aims and representations are threatened to fail, if the communities are not able to acknowledge and consider the powerful structures which define and frame processes of subjectification (cf.: Butler 1991: 17).

Connected to the introducing explanations my empirical PhD-Project addresses the contemporary negotiation and subjectification of (queer) femme-ininity. The study is situated in sociology, especially linked to gender and cultural studies. It is mainly based on theme-centered interviews (cf. Schorn 2000) and focus groups (cf. f.e. Bohnsack 2014). In the light of a genealogy, I also reflect upon, how the term of queer femme-ininity is developed in German lesbian, queer, and feminist contexts.

Working with the data from the contemporary contexts raised the question of whether there are also feminine (self-)representations and forms of embodiment in German lesbian and queer feminist histories. For this reason, I have a look at different disciplines and try a systematical analysis of the knowledge in search of terms of self-descriptions and links to bodies and body politics in lesbian and queer, feminist debates and contexts, in these nexuses since 1920th (cf.:. Spyra 2020 in press).

Based on these observations it seems relevant to ask, what the meaning of queer fem(me)ininity in Germany is? The German activist and cultural scientist Sabine Fuchs published a book in 2009, named Femme. queer, radical, feminine. It is the only German based collection of essays, scientific texts and interviews written by different authors. The book shows that femme is a historically lesbian (self-)description[1], which currently not only addresses lesbian subjects, but also non-heterosexual forms of subjectivity, which are connected to femininity and kinds of desire (cf.: Fuchs 2009, 12ff.). Furthermore, it argued, that there is no clear answer, on how femme and queer femininity could be outlined, or if it should be (ibid., 12). I will get back to that point later.

The historian Heike Schader explored in 2004 the medial representations of same-sex desire in German same-sex magazines in Berlin of the 1920th. The study shows a gender-binary of (self-)descriptions of same-sex women in Germany, which called themselves ‘feminine’ and ‘virile’ (synonymous for masculine or androgyne) (cf.: Schader 2004: 34). The feminine same-sex women are often seen as a pseudo version of same-sexual women (ibid. 107). Femininity was in this context considered synonymous with ‘fashionable’, ‘teasingly’ or ‘erotically’ but, and I think that is very important, not in a corporeal way (ibid: 110ff.). For the time after world war second there is not much research about German lesbian and/or queer feminist subcultures or movements. One explanation for this could be the fact, that the Nazi-regime destroyed same-sex and emancipatory contexts in Germany (cf.: Schoppmann 2007: 24). This just as a marginal brief note.

The very rare texts which I find in different disciplines shows a gap between the 1950th and the 1980th years relating to the change and transformation of feminine (self-)descriptions and embodiments. For the 1950th there are indicates of a change of the feminine same-sex (self-)descriptions (cf.: Schader 2009: 107). The conceptual frameworks transition from just ‘feminine’ to the terms ‘Mädi’, ‘Mädel’ or ‘Dame’ (‘Lady’) (cf.: Schader 2009: 107). Schader argued in another text from 2009 that feminine homosexual women are summed up in terms of a symbolic embodiment of heteronormativity (ibid., 113f.).

Both, the sociologist, and queer theorist Sabine Hark and the historian Heike Schader detect independently of each other a change and transformation of feminine (and masculine) self-descriptions to ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ (cf.: Hark 1989, 61; Schader 2009, 109). Harks text was already written in the 1980ies. The paper differentiates the terms ‘butch’ and ‘femme’ as self-descriptions on the one hand, from the previous terms of self-descriptions and calls them on the other hand a game which is played with differences (cf.: Hark 1989; 61). While Schaders study on medial representations of same-sex women in the 1920th emphasized that there is no link to the body, Harks text accentuates that body practices and visual codes are connected to lesbian and queer feminist spaces in the 1980ies (ibid., 61). Lesbian and queer feminist spaces in the 1980ies have seen typically feminine clothes on the one hand as emancipatory and on the other hand as traditionally connoted (ibid., 62). Finally, I like to rejoin to my introducing explanations related to the meanings of queer femme-ininity today. Different authors located the term and subject of queer femme-ininity in Germany often in an erotic gender-binary, played by non-heterosexual women (cf.: Schader 2009, 107; Grisard 2009, 139). And, to people who could framed as non-binary, how my own study shows. Fuchs argues, that in the connection with a cis-gender, femme means or embraces a critically and reflexively act, although there it is too considered that femme in the connection with a cis-gender not necessarily means, that femme is a lesbian or a woman (cf.: Fuchs 2009). My own data confirm Fuchs’ argumentation and shows often more a link between the meaning of queer femme-ininity in German lesbian, queer and feminist subcultures and movements and those in the USA.

[1] Until the 1980ies for me it is not clear enough if the terms where primarily used as a self-description, so I decided to put the (self) into brackets. Since the 1980ies it was used as a self-description, so I write it without.

Bindner, Jasmina/Spyra, Svenja (2017): Body Politics – political Bodies? Zur Normalisierung und Repräsentation von (weiblichen) Körpern in Mainstream- und subkulturellen Medien. In: Quer – Das Gendermagazin der ASH Berlin, (23/2017), p. 20-22.
Bohnsack, Ralf (2014): Rekonstruktive Sozialforschung. Einführung in qualitative Methoden. Opladen, UTB.
Butler, Judith (1990): Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge.
Engel. Antke (1996): Verqueeres Begehren. In: Hark, Sabine (Ed.): Grenzen lesbischer Identitäten. Berlin, Querverlag, p. 73-93.
Fuchs, Sabine (2009): Femme ist eine Femme ist eine Femme … Einführung in den Femme-inismus. In: dies. (Ed.): Femme! radikal – queer – feminin. Berlin, Querverlag, p.11-45.
Grisard, Dominique (2009): Die Femme als Doppelagentin. Ein Plädoyer für Tarnung und Täuschung. In: Fuchs, Sabine (Ed.): Femme! radikal – queer – feminin. Berlin, Querverlag, p. 127-140.
Hark, Sabine (1989): Eine Lesbe ist eine Lesbe, ist eine Lesbe … oder? – Notizen zur Identität und Differenz. In: Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung & Praxis für Frauen e.V. (Ed.): Nirgendwo und überall. Lesben. beiträge zur feministischen theorie und praxis. 12. Jahrgang Heft 25/26. p. 59-67.
Lenz, Ilse (2004): Frauenbewegungen: Zu den Anliegen und Verlaufsformen von Frauenbewegungen als soziale Bewegungen. In: Ruth Becker/Beate Kortendiek (Ed.): Handbuch Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung. Theorie, Methoden, Empirie. Wiesbaden, VS Verlag, p. 665-675.
Schader, Heike (2004): Virile, Vamps und wilde Veilchen. Sexualität, Begehren und Erotik in den Zeitschriften homosexueller Frauen im Berlin der 1920er Jahre. Königsstein/Taunus, Ulrike Helmer Verlag, p 7f., 107-136.
Schader, Heike (2009): Zwischen Mädi und Femme fatale. Das Bild der femininen homosexuellen Frau in den 1920er Jahren. In: Fuchs, Sabine (Ed.): Femme! radikal – queer – feminin. Berlin, Querverlag, p. 107-126.
Schoppmann, Claudia (2007): Rahmenbedingungen und Anfänge der Organisierung seit 1900. Vom Kaiserreich bis zum Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges – Eine Einführung. In: Dennert, Gabriele/ Leidinger, Christiane/ Rauchut, Franziska (Ed.): In Bewegung bleiben. 100 Jahre Politik, Kultur und Geschichte von Lesben. Berlin: Querverlag, p. 12-24.
Schorn, Ariane (2000): Das ‚themenzentrierte Interview‘. Ein Verfahren zur Entschlüsselung manifester und latenter Aspekte subjektiver Wirklichkeit. In: Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung. Vol. 1, No. 2, Art. 23.
Spyra, Svenja (2020, in press): Butch/Femme als Figuration von Gleichheit und Differenz (nicht-)heterosexuellen Begehrens in lesbischen, queeren und feministischen Zusammenhängen in Deutschland. In: Promotionskolleg Gender Studies Vechta (Ed.): tba. Leverkusen, Budrich-Verlag. (in press)

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