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.