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The Depreciated Feminity

on . Posted in Feminism.

For a woman

For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong, there is a man who is tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.

For every woman who is tired of acting dumb, there is a man who is burdened with the constant expectation of knowing everything.

For every woman who is tired of being called an emotional female, there is a man who is denied the right to weep and to be gentle.

For every woman who is called unfeminine when she competes, there is a man for whom competition is the only way to prove his masculinity.

For every woman who is tired of being a sex object, there is a man who must worry about his potency.

For every woman who feels tied down by her children, there is a man who is denied the full pleasures of shared parenthood.

For every woman who is denied meaningful employment or equal pay, there is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being.

For every woman who was not taught the intricacies of an automobile, there is a man who was not taught the satisfactions of cooking.

For every woman who takes a step toward her own liberation, there is a man who finds the way to freedom has been made a little easier.

Nancy R. Smith

A friend of mine did a simple survey for his Sociology assignment. He asked many friends (about 20 of them) this question, ‘Would you feel more comfortable with a butch in your presence, or with an effeminate gay man?’

When he asked me this question, I replied, ‘Oh the gay man, of course.’

He was astonished to hear my response. Apparently, an overwhelming majority of the people he surveyed indicated that they would feel more comfortable hanging out with a butch. Most of the surveyees are straight men and women, and all of them felt more at ease with the idea of a woman behaving in a masculine way, than vice versa.

I was not surprised at the result of this survey at all. While I shall not attempt to replicate his analysis of the result, apparently there is a strong gender bias in any subversion of gender roles. This simply means that the society does not react in the same way towards a masculine woman and an effeminate man. From my observation, the society (or rather the straight individuals) is more accepting towards masculine women than effeminate men. Obviously, the next question we would ask is, why is that so?

My unsubstantiated explanation for that is that masculine qualities are seen to be more superior than feminine qualities. Seriously speaking, I am making some generalizations here when I talk about masculine or feminine qualities, because there are major overlaps, and it could be hard to draw a clear line between the two. However, let’s just keep the analysis simple for now. When I refer to ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, I am only using the terms loosely, thus there is no need for a lot of definitions or elaboration.

When a woman behaves in a masculine manner, it is actually a kind of progress in a personal context. Although she is defying her gender role, it is more acceptable as she is attempting to acquire the more superior and desirable qualities as deemed by society, regardless of whether she consciously made the choice to do so. On the other hand, when a man behaves in an effeminate way, it is seen as a social taboo as he is giving up his superior gender role for the relatively more inferior feminine qualities.

Another contributing factor is that masculine women are significantly more visible than effeminate men, and therefore most people are more comfortable with the idea of a masculine woman, as it is more likely that they know at least a masculine woman. This contributes to the difference in comfort level with people who defy their gender roles, and thus the cycle continues.

A French writer, Simone de Beauvoir, wrote ‘In spite of everything his success in this depends upon the capricious freedom of women: he must constantly try to keep this propitious to him.’ in The Second Sex. Indeed, with the fact that women have more freedom in expressing themselves and defying gender roles, it appears that men are in the danger of becoming ‘the second sex’, as the constant need to live up to certain social expectations could be more consuming than anything else. Feminism is not any attempt to treat men as enemies, as it is a fact that men are the victims of a patriarchal society and inequality of the sexes as well, albeit in a more subtle way. In liberating women from the rigid gender roles and expectations, we liberate the men as well.

If you think feminism is for women only, think again.



# Jjin 2010-02-02 02:23

jin said,

April 11, 2007 at 12:00 am

great article Irene!
You are right to say that in a world of gender-inequality, it does appear that “upgrading” makes masculine females seems more acceptable than “downgrading” for feminine males.
I feel that very often the stereotyping of male and female traits and roles is already internalised by many of us simply because we are a product of society. I have been guilty of making remarks which seem normal to me but in retrospect are obliquely misogynistic.
I think a relevant question is “Do I see myself first as a Woman, then as a Human Being? or a Human Being first, then as a Woman?”
(analogy: are you an Asian queer woman, or a queer Asian woman?)
# AnJJ 2010-02-02 02:23

AnJ said,

April 11, 2007 at 5:09 pm

I think this is interesting for a study. =)
Whether we feel more comfortable when people “upgrade” instead of “downgrade”. With all the talk on the sensitive new age guy (a “downgrade” in this sense?), and many girls’ obsession with androgynous looks in their boys, this seems really complex. Maybe someone who has done something can enlighten us all.
# Mmint 2010-02-02 02:23

mint said,

April 11, 2007 at 11:40 pm

thank you for the article :)
# Butches over Effemi 2010-02-02 02:24

Butches over Effeminate Men? « And this… is how AnJ ticks. said,

April 16, 2007 at 11:03 am

[...] April 16th, 2007 Really? [...]
# Butches over Effemi 2010-02-02 02:24

Butches over Effeminate Men- Why so? « And this… is how AnJ ticks. said,

April 16, 2007 at 11:19 am

[...] April 15th, 2007 Really? [...]
# Jjade 2010-02-02 02:24

jade said,

April 22, 2007 at 11:45 pm

because we’ve been socialized into society that’s naturalized gender and sexuality (of the judeo-christianic kind). gender is performed, not a natural enactment of the self.

and feminism? bahahaha! i wonder what wave it’ll go into next. freaky beings, women are.
# iirene 2010-02-02 02:24

irene said,

April 25, 2007 at 4:17 pm

What wave will it go into next? How about Kallang Wave? :P

Anyway, yes Anj I do agree with you that the situation gets a lot more complicated when you bring androgyny into the picture. In my article, I only discussed the extreme cases, which might not be comprehensive enough.

A straight female friend once told me that for those girls who like androgynous boys, “They are not thinking about the sex at all.”

Food for thought. I seriously have no idea!
# Katherine 2010-02-02 02:25

Katherine said,

July 9, 2007 at 10:02 am

I hadn’t heard the take that masculine traits are considered by society at large to be superior before. It’s an interesting take. I guess I would have to agree with that.

I do, however, think it’s quite the opposite with feminine men being less visible. Is it societally acceptable for women to wear pants, formerly the trademark of male fashion in most of the western world? Yes. Is it societally acceptable for me to wear skirts? Not so much. Men who do so much as to venture to wearing a kilt, most people are more than slightly weirded out and the guy in question is likely to be at the very least made fun of. Any marks of femininity- makeup, pink, even a fashion sense that is just a bit too good, are far more noticeable than a girl who sticks to more masculine clothes.

Even if you want to ignore the physical appearance factor, a man who is slightly effeminate in the way he acts is very visible. In media at large, it is extremely rare to see butch lesbians. Why? They simply don’t stand out. There are plenty of straight tomboy women. They are, as you point out, supposedly empowered. Femme gays, however, are just glaringly obvious, and are often written satirically. You see them in tons and tons of shows on TV from Sex in the City to The Sarah Silverman Show. The show up far more BECAUSE they are so socially taboo.
# Butches over Effemin 2010-02-02 02:25
Butches over Effeminate Men- Why so? « Straight talk for LGBTs said,

March 3, 2008 at 11:30 am

[...] Butches over Effeminate Men- Why so? Read this

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