Thursday, September 18, 2014

E is for effeminate/F is for femininity

For the perfect buffer between  E and F, I have a concept that can be called by an E word or an F word, effeminacy or femininity.  Both words refer to the nature, attributes, behavior, mannerisms, style, and gender roles associated with women.  When referring to a woman with these traits, feminine is used, when referring to a man they are called effeminate.  This is a very broad topic and I am bound to leave a lot out so please bear with me.

I’m sure you all know this, but I would be remiss if I didn’t define and cover what is considered feminine/effeminate.  What is considered feminine/effeminate depends on social context, culture, and time (Elizabethan men wearing lace was considered masculine, for example).  That being said, gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, caring, compassion, nurturing, deference and sexual passiveness are usually considered feminine/effeminate personality traits.  To what extent these traits are inherent or learned through socialization is a matter of great debate.  Presentation and appearance such as long hair, cosmetics, female clothing, and an emphasis on physical beauty are almost always considered feminine/effeminate.  The professional feminine social role has traditionally been confined to the home or the nurturing/helping jobs like nurses, teachers, and secretaries. 

Effeminate men are usually far less accepted then masculine women.  Effeminacy is usually pejorative and implies passivity, and weakness, and homosexuality.  Saying gay men are effeminate is inaccurate.  Historically camp, drag, and swish have been part of gay culture; but so are Castro Clones and Bears, who are decidedly masculine.  Men who are interested in fashion have been called dandies and fops but those are usually labels they call themselves whereas, others call a man effeminate.           

Second wave feminists considered femininity to be an artificial social construct to keep women subordinate and objectified since power and authority are considered very masculine.  Modern, “lipstick feminists” counter that this devalues the feminine identity.  They claim the symbols of femininity are not inherently subjugating and can even be empowering.  Julia Serano writes (and I agree) that because society is sexist, femininity is seen through a male lens and interpreted as being less important or frivolous.  She feels that equality of the sexes will never be achieved until femininity is empowered rather than despised (including by some feminists).  She also claims that parts of femininity and masculinity are inherent but not biologically derived, they precede socialization and supersede biological sex.    

What does this have to do with intersex?  There are certainly feminine and masculine intersex people.  Like everyone, we have the right to identify and live as we see fit.  If you believe gendered behavior is biologically determined you would conclude that most intersex people must be fairly androgynous.  Feminine (or masculine) intersex people obviously disprove this.  That being said, I object to intersex people being used to prove some gender ideology, its dehumanizing.  Leave comments, let me know if I missed something important about femininity/effeminacy.      

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