On Femmephobia

Trigger warning for mentions of rape and violence.

When I was a freshman in high school, I and my friends were Cool Chicks.

We weren’t like those other girls, the ones who were passive and weak and giggled and watched romantic comedies and thought about their hair and makeup. Those girls were stupid and frivolous and vapid, and we made fun of them. No, we were Cool. We liked fantasy novels and action movies and anime! We laughed at “that’s what she said” jokes and “make me a sandwich” humor and South Park quotes! We fake-fought with each other and laughed off pain and never cried! We were just like the guys in every way!

Around this time, I was also beginning to really get into feminism. I was proud of myself. I defied convention and gender roles. My adoption of male gender norms wholesale was truly a feminist act. After all, all the stuff girls did was stupid, and the stuff boys did was fun, and–

…hey, wait a minute.

Julia Serano, in Whipping Girl (which is, in my opinion, a book that should be read by everyone interested in gender issues) discusses the concept of “femmephobia” in our society. Femmephobia is the devaluation, fear and hatred of the feminine: of softness, nurturance, dependence, emotions, passivity, sensitivity, grace, innocence and the color pink.

To a large degree, our culture has replaced the fear and hatred of women, with the fear and hatred of things commonly associated with women. I think this is… not so much progress, actually.

To see femmephobia in our society, it’s only necessary to look at the differences between how we treat masculine girls and feminine boys. A masculine girl is a “tomboy,” likely to be approved of by her parents; there are many programs to encourage girls in sports and in the sciences, stereotypically male fields. A feminine boy is a “sissy,” likely to be bullied by other boys and by girls; there are no programs to encourage boys in dance and in the humanities, stereotypically female fields.

As we get older, masculinity continues to be more acceptable for women than femininity for men. I own boxer shorts and ties, and I have short hair; at worst I’m considered to have a mildly eccentric fashion taste. A guy who dressed in as feminine a way as I dress masculine would have Transvestic Fetishism, a clinical mental illness. Men are encouraged not to cry, because it’s girly, but women are not discouraged from getting angry because it’s masculine. As I pointed out to one of my Cool Chick friends, “if any guy tried to act as girly as we act dudely, he’d get beaten up.”

Femmephobia can also be seen in marketing. We have diet soda, and we have diet soda FOR MEN; we have loofahs, and we have loofahs FOR MEN; we have canned soup, and we have canned soup FOR MEN. Men cannot be expected to consume feminine things like body care items or diet food or soup in cans (!?) unless it is specifically marked out as Not Girly, and therefore Not Bad. With a few obnoxious exceptions, such as tools for girls (they’re pink) or video games for girls (they’re pink and have Barbie), women who like traditionally masculine hobbies get to have the same fishing poles, golf clubs and bad Trekkie novels as the boys– because, since masculinity is valued, it doesn’t matter if a woman tries to become masculine.

The form of femmephobia most annoying to me occurs in feminist communities. It’s a difficult line to walk, because it is often necessary for feminism to critique femininity, the same way it is often necessary for masculism to critique masculinity. However, it is possible to critique femininity without critiquing feminine people. Choosing to be a stay-at-home mother, to abstain from sex until marriage, to remove body hair or to wear makeup and the other accourtrements of femininity does not somehow make you a bad feminist. That is ridiculous.

Perhaps the most tragic consequences can result when femmephobia intersects with homophobia and transphobia. The source of much homophobia against gay men, I think, is femmephobia: consider the association between having sex with men and a feminine gender performance that many homophobes claim exists. As for transphobia, well, there isn’t a single thing more girly than wanting to be a girl. And since being feminine is, for men, the worst thing possible (and even for women it’s a little disreputable), well…

Of the streak of gay teen suicides in 2010, the majority were men.

Of the trans people murdered in 2010, the overwhelming majority were trans women.

Femmephobia kills.

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Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.

Comments

  1. okelay: Of course women get shit for being tomboys! However, women get shit for defying gender roles, and men get shit for defying gender roles AND being feminine, which is icky and evil. It is far worse in most circumstances to be a feminine boy than a masculine girl.

  2. ozymandias:

    I second that. I’ve long been a tomboy fan. Boys who are effeminate , on the other hand, get the perjorative “sissy” and get beat up and socially excluded a lot by both other boys and girls though a substantial minority of girls seem ok with it.

  3. “so I don’t think being a tomboy is that easy.”

    I can see that, and not just from the bit you mention here. While it may be that tomboys don’t get the same amount of physical violence that feminine boys get (and that may not be true either for all I know) I am sure they come in for quite a bit of emotional violence from peers. And even when they get accepted and approved of by men, it seesm to be in a kind of a mascot role. It’s like Annie Oaklwey, who was treated like an entetaining oddity. When Sarah Palin does her Mama Grizzly schtick, she is working this angle.

  4. I’ve been reading this and I think some people are missing the point here.

    First off I’d like to say that I’m coming from a perspective that is sceptical of “Masculism” and a little bemused as to why people here think they compliment each other – in theory, yes, but most “Masculist” discussion I see online drifts very quickly towards complaining about feminists. Feminism may drift towards “man hating” in the more extreme fringes, but it has very noble roots and serves a purpose.

    However, I feel the need to explain a little with regards this concept of “Femmephobia”, as a femme transwoman. I think this article and replies may have taken a more “Masculist” outlook on it, but I do support the notion that it exists and is a serious issue for men who wish to express themselves as they see fit.

    But it’s a problem for women too. I want to make my main point here – there is a degree of “Femmephobia”. Things traditionally associated with women are seen as weak and silly. People then say “But people don’t bully women for being feminine, aside from radfems”. But the thing is – they don’t *because women are already seen as weaker*.

    Now there’s a degree of contradiction here, and the point has been made that a lot of effort has been put into fighting women’s rights and women’s battles since traditionally they were quite poor, and men are still privileged compared to women. That is a factor bringing women up – but the fact that they’re women still brings them down.

    And one way in which people resolve this contradiction is to associate traditional, feminist imagery with female “Weakness” and masculine women as being “strong”.

    My main worry especially when I read about the new trend of tomboy-ish trans(which I of course wholly support in theory) is that we’re simply as a global culture getting out of being “pretty”. I don’t just mean in terms of hair removal, make-up etc. but that we’re becoming stylistically plainer and I don’t think that’s a noble goal at all. I think this is something feminism sometimes over-looks. I think that having diverse and “pretty” presenting people is a very positive thing in terms of cultural mentality. Many studies have been done in terms of aesthetics and their effect on the mood.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Reminder: “Femmephobia kills.” [...]

  2. [...] originally wrote this as a comment to a post called On Femmephobia, on the blog No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz? I've revised it slightly here, for your reading [...]

  3. [...] This is a really nice intro into gender in our society as well as internalized misogyny. [...]

  4. [...] On Femmephobia – Your daily dose of gender anger. Although I don’t quite agree with tomboys as being generally approved of; like yes there’s femmephobia, but for a woman to not be feminine is also pretty frowned upon. And other things, but you can think for yourself. [...]

  5. [...] the hell is femmephobia? What do they mean when they say “strong female characters” in a story? Gloria Steinem on [...]

  6. [...] essay on Femmephobia reminds us to love all of womankind, including the “sissy” ones (via [...]

  7. [...] When I was a freshman in high school, I and my friends were Cool Chicks. We weren't like those other girls, the ones who were passive and weak and giggled and watched romantic comedies and thought about their hair and makeup. Those girls were stupid and frivolous and vapid, and we made fun of them. No, we were Cool. We liked fantasy novels and action movies and anime! We laughed at "that's what she said" jokes and "make me a sandwich" humor and S … Read More [...]

  8. [...] On Femmephobia: Femmephobia can also be seen in marketing. We have diet soda, and we have diet soda FOR MEN; we have loofahs, and we have loofahs FOR MEN; we have canned soup, and we have canned soup FOR MEN. Men cannot be expected to consume feminine things like body care items or diet food or soup in cans (!?) unless it is specifically marked out as Not Girly, and therefore Not Bad. [...]

  9. [...] http://noseriouslywhatabouttehmenz.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/on-femmephobia/  Share this:FacebookStumbleUponEmailTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  10. [...] is simply femmephobia, attacking feminine qualities rather than women in general. The “natural” femininity advocated [...]

  11. [...] is simply femmephobia, attacking feminine qualities rather than women in general. The “natural” femininity advocated [...]

  12. [...] there are other dynamics at play as well. For example, another project organizer, Morgan Page, has previously written about [...]

  13. [...] go, but that’s another post altogether).  BUT, there seems to an unfortunate side effect.  Some people refer to it as femmephobia.  Rather than traits and behaviours that are assigned feminine [...]

  14. [...] video roots the problems with male-female friendship from the male side in two issues: one, femmephobia; two, men being treated as hypersexual. Obviously, if society looks down upon generally on feminine [...]

  15. [...] of the assumptions of femmephobia is that masculinity is natural and normal and femininity is artificial, fake, a put-on. A feminine [...]

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