Femininity is a set of behaviors, presentations and roles which are culturally associated with being a woman and/or possessing female sex characteristics. 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.
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".
As an adjective, the modern understanding of the word is recorded from mid-fifteenth century meaning, "woman-like, proper to or characteristic of women".
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 partakes in forms of femininity consciously or unconsciously.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here you can place useful resources relevant for the described topic.
- Femininity on Wikipedia
- Butch (a masculine female gender presentation coming from the bi/lesbian community)
- Femme (a feminine gender presentation coming from the bi/lesbian community)
- a list of tropes around Femininity from tvtropes
- Constance L. Shehan. Gale Researcher Guide for: The Continuing Significance of Gender. Gale, Cengage Learning, 2018, 2018-08-30. ISBN 1535861177, 9781535861175.
- Judith Worell. Encyclopedia of Women and Gender, Two-Volume Set: Sex Similarities and Differences and the Impact of Society on Gender. Academic Press, 2001. ISBN 0122272455, 9780122272455. (web archive)
- Hyperfemininity is defined. as an "exaggerated adherence to a. stereotypic feminine gender role" (Murnen & Byrne, 1991, p. 480).
- Audrey Gunn, Rhea Ashley Hoskin, Karen L. Blair. The new lesbian aesthetic? Exploring gender style among femme, butch and androgynous sexual minority women. Women's Studies International Forum. (web archive)