Femininity is a set of behaviors, presentations and roles which are culturally associated with being a woman and/or possessing female sex characteristics.[1] People of any gender identity or sexual orientation can be feminine, as femininity is not designated by biological sex or gender. It is labeled as possessing many traits, including "empathy, sensitivity, and gracefulness", which many individuals are capable of feeling.[2][3]

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Femininity is a noun meaning in the 14th century to be, "feminine quality, womanliness, female nature". In 1832 it was updated to mean, women collectively, with the 1853 definition being character or state of being a woman".[4]

As an adjective, the modern understanding of the word is recorded from mid-fifteenth century meaning, "woman-like, proper to or characteristic of women".[4]


Femininity is shaped by socio-cultural settings, and is not reliant on biology—it is plural and dynamic; it changes with culture and individuals. Defining traits belonging to femininity are subject to change based on an individual's culture, class, religion, national culture, and other societal influences. Moreover, many individuals regardless of gender identity or gender expression , partakein forms of femininity consciously or unconsciously.[5]


This is a term used to describe the exaggeration of stereotypical behaviors associate with being feminine.[6] Some queer people celebrate the use of hyperfemininity in communities such as drag.[7]



Femininity is different from the gender expression of femme. The core difference is that femme is an intentional relationship between femininity as it relates to queerness. It rejects the idea of masculinity being the only form of queer expression for women, instead, embracing the stereotypes or desired look entirely. For example, a straight woman cannot be femme, but can be feminine.[8][9]

Perceptions and discrimination[]


Due to the stereotypes surrounding femininity and its believed assigned gender of female, bias and accepted judgement has grown, causing unfair treatment due to feminine traits. Because a gender stereotype ties into the idea of femininity, one might expect an emotional, accommodating, caretaker, and nurturing roles to belong to individuals identifying as female. This is also called sexism, as any individual is capable of exhibiting these factors regardless of their gender or gender identity.[5][10]


Femmephobia is the devaluation of femininity, which leads to a social issue directly correlated to a rise in violence against women, men, transgender people, and racial minorities. Femininity can be seen as inferior, a target, and inauthentic by some people. A recent study also showed a symbiotic relationship between femmephobia and the gender binary.[11] Moreover, femmephobia is particularly problematic in the queer community, as many queer men experience a combination of femmephobia and homophobia. In the lesbian community, it erases femme-aligned people. The act of being femmephobic is tied to insecurity in one's own femininity and not feeling "femme enough" in either a relationship or social setting.[12]

Femininity in queer men[]

The use of increasingly problematic terms such as "no femmes", "no queens", and "masc4masc" on gay dating apps is designed to exclude femme men from certain relationships. While a preference in partner and natural turn-ons or turn-offs is natural and acceptable, many challenge the idea of prejudice against feminine gay men from members of the LGBTQIA+ community. The idea that all gay men must exhibit feminine traits, or that men who exhibit classically feminine expressions are queer, is a growing reason for both closeted gay men and effeminate straight men. Many feel the need to hide their femininity to avoid these clichés and stereotypes.[13]

In a Brazilian study, queer men who harbor negative beliefs about effeminacy suffered from internalized homophobia more often than those who do not view effeminacy as negative. The study divided these self-identifying gay or bisexual men into three groups - those who wanted to be less feminine, more feminine, or were happy where they were. Researchers found the issue to be not with individual tastes or preferences, but rather, the societal constructs surrounding femininity and presented the idea of how the rejection of femininity is tied to the rejection of the gay or queer identities. This study, while widely accepted, did contain blind spots as it only examined Brazilian self-identifying men, as these beliefs may vary between cultures and ethnicities.[14]

Femininity in queer women[]

The Radical and Lesbian Feminists of the 1970s had suspicions of femininity being taboo outside of any gender expression that did not comply with feminine norms. They characterized expressions of femininity as 'tools of the patriarchy' and popularized the idea that feminine gender expressions were simply oriented toward men and the male desire. Many lesbians rejected conventional femininity norms by refusing to wear makeup among other forms of rebellion. As such, growing critiques of butch and femme couples rose, as they were accused of 'copying' straight couples. The 1980s and 1990s saw a resurgence of both masculine and feminine lesbian re-embracing their gender expressions. Simultaneously, the idea that queer women were butch or androgynous in appearance also surfaced and became mainstream. It sidelined queerly feminine individuals, seen in social circles as experimenting straight women instead of the inherently queer people they are.[15]

Simultaneously, the devaluation of femininity and social policing of feminine characteristics became more popular. This has a direct connection to lesbians who are more feminine in their attire or expression being disregarded as "too pretty to be gay" or others perceiving their femininity as meant for the male gaze. One study explored how queer feminine women were perceived as being straight as opposed to their queer identity and faced gatekeeping by LGBTQ+ spaces.

They needed to continuously "come out" in social circles or queer space to justify their inclusion, as opposed to the assumed acceptance found by some butch or masculine-presenting queer women. Outside of specific cultures, the use of femininity in queer spaces was viewed as a "joke" to justify a submissive queer woman, insinuating that femininity is embarrassing when it is not.[16]



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See also[]


  1. "Feminine" by Merriam Webster on <>(no backup information provided)
  2. Gale Researcher Guide for: The Continuing Significance of Gender by Constance L. Shehan. Published 2018-08-30 by Gale, Cengage Learning, 2018. ISBN 1535861177, 9781535861175.
  3. Encyclopedia of Women and Gender, Two-Volume Set: Sex Similarities and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender by Judith Worell. Published 2001 by Academic Press. ISBN 0122272455, 9780122272455(web archive)
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Femininity" by Etym online on <>(no backup information provided)
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Femininities & Masculinities" by Stanford university on <>(no backup information provided)
  6. Hyperfemininity is defined. as an "exaggerated adherence to a. stereotypic feminine gender role" (Murnen & Byrne, 1991, p. 480).
  7. "Hyperfemininity and the realistic representation of gender" by Harry Evans on <>(no backup information provided)
  8. "What Is Femme Invisibility?" by Ariane Resnick, CNS. Fact-checked by Aaron Johnson and medically reviewed by Margaret Seide, MD on <>(no backup information provided)
  9. The new lesbian aesthetic? Exploring gender style among femme, butch and androgynous sexual minority women by Audrey Gunn, Rhea Ashley Hoskin, Karen L. Blair. Published by Women's Studies International Forum. (web archive)
  10. "What are gender roles and stereotypes?" on <>(no backup information provided)
  11. ""Femininity? It's the Aesthetic of Subordination": Examining Femmephobia, the Gender Binary, and Experiences of Oppression Among Sexual and Gender Minorities" by Rhea Ashley Hoskin, National Library of Medicine on <>(no backup information provided)
  12. "Everything You Should Know About Femmephobia" by Pride on <>(no backup information provided)
  13. "Embracing Male Femininity in the Gay Community" by James Harris, LGBT Foundation on <>(no backup information provided)
  14. "Brazilian study regarding the celebration of femininity and ties to internalized homophobia" by Julie Compton (magazine) Ramos, Angelo B. Costa, Elder Cerqueira-Santos (initial study) on <>(no backup information provided)
  15. "Lesbian femininity: Understanding the legitimacy and erasure of queer femmes" by Archer Magazine on <>(no backup information provided)
  16. ""Too Pretty to Be a Lesbian"" by Sarah Hunter Murray Ph.D. on <>(no backup information provided)