- Alisha Grech
What is "Femmephobia"? Unearthing the bad soil of the Binary
Since my first real blog post last week, I've been thinking more and more about femininity. Firstly, because I'm not sure if I really understand that word (weird — considering I should if I'm looking to involve it in my studies) and secondly, because of the overwhelming number of other women who reached out to me, expressing similar discomforts with femininity.
So, I did what any good Virgo with a busy brain would do.
I turned to the library.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines femininity as: "the quality or nature of the female sex: the quality, state, or degree of being feminine or womanly." This definition left me with more questions than answers, especially because words like "womanly" or "female" can mean a plethora of different things, to different identities.
Two cups of coffee, one slice of toast and an hour later, I came across an article written by Rhea Ashley Hoskin, a scholar based out of (my Alma Mater) Queen's University. The title immediately struck me: "Femininity? It's the Aesthetic of Subordination": Examining Femmephobia, the Gender Binary and Experiences of Oppression Among Sexual and Gender Minorities
This is going to be good. Or, at least eye-opening anyways.
In this article, Hoskin seeks to analyze the devaluing of femininity. Which, she explains as a social issue with serious and violent consequences for persons who are culturally read as feminine. Large targets for femmephobia. Femmephobia essentially is the hatred or prejudice against persons or communities who are perceived as femme or feminine regardless of their gender identity. Hoskin suggests that perhaps, this is an issue that is specific to gender performance (femininity) than it is to actual gender identity (woman).
I'm not entirely sure what I think about that just yet. But already, I do have a lot of questions:
Are acts of misogyny and gender violence really acts against the feminine?
Or, are acts of misogyny and gender violence acts against those who identify as women and women only?
Is the word feminine perhaps more inclusive to those facing gender violence than the word woman?
Is feminism far too exclusive, in relation to this issue of femmephobia?
Regardless of these, Hoskin points out a very important fact. Femmephobia is an intersectional issue that moves in pervasive and overarching ways, manifesting in anti-LGBTQQIP2SAA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, androgynous, and asexual) hate crimes, incel attacks, sexual violence, and transgender attacks.
Rather than a separate issue, I think that femmephobia is just one gear that runs a larger, meaner, machine of inequality, fitting in between other parts of transphobia, homophobia, and racism.
In order to understand the intersecting nature of femmephobia in experiences of oppression among sexual and gender minority groups, Hoskin proposes two frameworks:
The first relating to masculinity. Masculinity as an expression of privilege, protection, and masculinity as the norm in society.
The second relating to femininity. Feminine inferiority, femininity as a target, and femininity as inauthentic.
This divide demonstrates the relationship that femmephobia shares with the gender binary, thus reinforcing harms such as toxic masculinity, the sexualization of feminine persons, the subjugation of violence to feminine bodies, and the commodification of feminine bodies (just to name a few).
This was when I, like Hoskin, had a big A-HA moment. 🤯
The gender binary isn't just a way to divide people who prefer pink to blue, or who have one set of reproductive organs or the other—it is a hierarchy. And femmephobia is helping force that hierarchy down on the shoulders of those it seeks to oppress.
According to participants of Hoskin's study, which you can find in full here:
( https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-020-01641-x )
When femininity is perceived, prejudice manifests, thus affecting the way that feminine coded persons are treated within communities, relationships, social settings, etc.
Similarly to gender, femmephobia is produced through language, behaviors, and identity. Femininity is performative. As briefly touched on in my last blog post, it becomes uncomfortable to express yourself femininely when you're told that doing so is weak or inferior. Not to mention, you learn later in life as you grow into adulthood, that femininity is inherently sexualized and victimized. On top of that, it feels like a bit of a double-edged sword, because once you (an individual) steps outside of your feminine coded box, you can become something that is dispensable to the male gaze.
All of this results in a strong sense of destabilization for those who do want to express themselves femininely.
I'm going to wrap this up into a neat (and sort of messed up) thought.
If society is a garden and the gender binary is bad soil, then femmephobia is a dandelion. Sure, in order to deal with the problem, you need to get rid of the weeds. But that won't solve the issue entirely. Not until you address the problem of the bad soil you've planted everything else on top of.
Hoskin, R.A. “Femininity? It’s the Aesthetic of Subordination”: Examining Femmephobia, the Gender Binary, and Experiences of Oppression Among Sexual and Gender Minorities. Arch Sex Behav 49, 2319–2339 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01641-x
Rhea Ashley Hoskin's website: https://www.ashleyhoskin.ca/femmetheory