Femmephobia

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If you’re a femme in any way possible, people think you can’t be dominant. You lack leadership skills, you’re emotional. All these stereotypes that used to be employed against women as a whole during the last 50 years

—Heather Sosa[1]

Femme presenting people are seen as weaker, inferior, and less able; part of the damaging stereotypes that lead to femmephobia.

Femmephobia (or femme-phobia) is the fear and hatred of all people who are perceived as femme, feminine, effeminate, and/or twink regardless of their gender. A direct result of femmephobia is the oppression of anybody whose gender presentation is in any way classified as being on the female-end of the gender binary due to their fashion sense, behaviour, or mannerisms. It reinforces and is reinforced by transmisogyny and misogyny. Femmephobia can manifest on any level from internalised misogyny to externalised shaming, policing, and violence. For example, most trans people murdered in the USA in 2015 were femme.[2]

Origin

The word "femmephobia" was used by Julia Serano in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity[3], which was one of the first uses of the term in relation to trans women explicitly. This is not the first usage of the term however, as it appears in earlier works such as The Femme Mystique[4] and Becoming Visible: Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan[5] describing issues of femmephobia within queer communities.

Types

Childhood

"A little girl named Riley gets irate about the toy store’s division into a pink section and an “every other colour” section, and the way that marketers “trick” girls and boys into liking particular kinds of products"[6]

One way that femmephobia manifests itself is through mocking and bullying people, especially boys and children designated male at birth, who like things that are classified as "feminine" under the gender binary, e.g., the colour pink, glitter, princesses, Hello Kitty merchandise, and so on.[7][6] They are also made to feel lesser for expressing specific emotions, especially crying.

LGBT community

Femmephobia is also rife within the LGBT community, usually as a form of respectability politics in which effeminate, twink, camp, etc., men are held as responsible for the "bad" image of the gay rights movement.[1] This is a very harmful way of understanding any potential failures or areas of improvement since the real forces harming queer activism are heteronormativity, cisnormativity, homophobia, and femmephobia itself, as opposed to femme people within the movement. To add to that "the gay male community employs a practice of shame and shaming in order to consciously reject, suppress and oppress effeminacy".[8] Extreme examples include personal ads that include the phrase: "No femmes, queens or flamers!".[8]

Within lesbian spaces, a similar type of respectability politics occurs with respect to lipstick (i.e., femme) lesbians:

I don’t want to be viewed as any less radical or representative of my community than my butch sisters just because I’m in a skirt. And I resent being considered the “right” kind of lesbian, because obviously there is no right or wrong way to be a woman who loves women. I think that it is this kind of thinking by heteronormative society that breeds a lack of respect for femme women within the LGBT community. Femme is seen as pandering.[9]

This culminates in femme invisibility within lesbian spaces:

Femme invisibility has been a longtime struggle for the LGBT community. It’s a problem experienced by feminine lesbians; by bisexual and trans women (both are assumed to be straight by default); and by queer and questioning women whose early romantic relationships with other women are almost always seen as a “phase" or “for attention.” The confusion of gender expression with sexual orientation is just as rampant within the LGBT community as outside of it—in fact, it may be even worse.[10]

Intersections with non-binary identities also results in spaces where trans people are subjected to femmephobia.[11]

Feminism

A child with typical femme clothes (as part of a Halloween costume) and bag.[12]

Feminism also has a history of femmephobia and gender policing, specifically directed at women. The third wave of feminism, as well as transfeminism, have both made attempts at addressing femmephobia.[13]

Male-dominated spaces

In traditionally male-dominated spaces like the tech industry, programming, and so on, femme people tend to be policed and even police themselves in order to cope with the worst aspects of the sexist, toxic, masculine culture they have work in. To follow is an extract from an interview with femme women Maddy Myers and Christine Love detailing their experiences:

Based on your experiences in tech/games, where lies the line dividing “misogyny” from “femmephobia” in how it manifests in these male-dominated, faux-meritocratic spaces?


Maddy Myers: I feel like so much misogyny is rooted in femmephobia that separating them is hard for me to do. I did write something about presenting femme in tech and trying to get away from wearing masculine clothing. I had noticed this femmephobia in myself and realized I was dressing in specific ways because I had seen feminine clothing as representative of weakness, which is something so ingrained in society in general and obviously in the tech industry as well—it's just everywhere. Everything around us is about how femininity is weakness.

So it’s hard to negotiate wanting to dress that way—in my case in ruffles and tutus and that kind of thing. Wearing that kind of clothing to a tech conference or a games conference specifically is an act of rebellion for me, at this point, because it’s so unusual and marking yourself as something different.

As for misogyny though, honestly, even when I wore jeans and t-shirts to tech conferences people still treated me like crap. It’s not like the women who aren't wearing ruffles to tech conferences are getting worse or better treatment, per se. But honestly what I would try to say to women on this topic is: It’s a sort of respectability politics thing.

If you dress to try to fit in with the guys, with the jeans and t-shirts, people are still not going to take you seriously. At least they didn't take me seriously.

Christine Love: A lot of the femmephobia you encounter in tech spaces feels like an extension of what I’ve felt in queer spaces. It’s actually mostly self policing, it’s this misogyny you’ll often find in queer spaces where misogyny is justified because it’s not privileging men, it’s privileging masculinity and that “makes it okay.” It’s functionally identical. It just replaces gender essentialism with looking at identities—it still shits on women, on femininity in the exact same way. My experience has not been fundamentally different, except that it’s coming from queer women, who you think would know better.[14]

Intersectional

See the main article on this topic: Intersectionality
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Trigger warning!

The following section might be triggering for some people depending on past experiences.

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Femmephobia, like any oppressive axis, has the potential to manifest intersectionally both by creating "hybrid" oppressions and marginalisation, e.g., femmephobia specifically directed at people of colour, and by appearing in spaces that are dramatically different in nature (but directed at the same subset of people) as mentioned above in the previous examples.[15] A common theme that runs through different manifestations of femmephobia is that femme people are rendered invisible, weaker, more objectified, infantalised, and so on.[16]

Based on research, women, transfeminine and other gender variant femme people are especially vulnerable to their gender presentation causing them to experience worse levels of sexual and other types of abuse later on in life after childhood. This is especially the case if they are lesbians, and even more so if they are non-monosexual, e.g., bisexual, pansexual, or another polysexuality:

Lehavot’s team reviewed data from the Rainbow Women’s Project in the U.S. — a national, web-based survey of adult women who identify as lesbian/gay and bisexual.


From this review researchers examined whether reported experiences of childhood abuse and adult sexual assault differed among sexual minority women of varying gender identity (butch, femme, androgynous, or other) and gender expression (more butch/masculine vs. more femme/feminine).

As part of the research, an anonymous Internet survey posted on various listservs and website groups. A total of 1,243 adult sexual minority women completed the survey informing researchers on self-perceptions of gender identity.

From the survey, researchers learned that 40 percent of participants identified with the term “femme” and 15 percent with the term “butch.”

“The sexual minority women in our sample reported high rates of childhood abuse and neglect and adult sexual assault,” noted Lehavot. “Women who described themselves as more butch reported significantly greater childhood emotional and physical neglect.

“Those who identified themselves as more femme reported significantly more forced adult sex. Given the gravity of this widespread problem, identifying the most vulnerable among this group is critical.

“Clinicians and providers working with sexual minorities should consider the role of gender identity and expression in targeted assessments and interventions.”[17]

See also

External links

References

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