Why Are Men Still Making Fun of Femmes?
It was a regular Monday.
I got up, showered, fed and walked my dog, and sat down for my usual iced-coffee-and-TikTok-scroll session.
Yeah, yeah, I know, not a great way to start off my day (screen time, blah blah blah) but we all have our own ways of coping with early Monday mornings.
I was on TikTok, flicking past an influencer, to land on another legendary Drew Afualo video. If you're not sure who Drew Afualo is, she is a Samoan TikToker known for roasting bigots, misogynists and grade A a**holes alike. Some even call her the "Misogyny Watchdog" -- which I really like, she should get that on a t-shirt.
Anyways... Drew was in the middle of knocking yet another horrible white man down a few pegs when I realized something: I had heard his complaints before. I'd heard them here, here, and here. It all sounded the exact same -- this incoherent wall of noise aimed at stripping women of their individual interests and identity; some of the key things that make them human.
In watching these TikToks (and relishing in Drew's amazing clapbacks), it became clear that femmes are still not allowed to have independent thoughts, beliefs or genuine interests.
Everything from our clothing choices, to our hobbies, educational backgrounds, interests, or jobs, are scrutinized. We are either doing things for sexual attention, or for social media clout. Even when our interests, or identity are acknowledged, it is then trivialized, fetishized, or becomes the whole of our entire personalities. We are put into boxes and are told that our interests not only define us but also determine our worth.
She puts on makeup because she is insecure.
She wears short dresses because she wants attention.
She doesn't remove her body hair because she is lazy or doesn't take care of herself.
There is a kind of insidious, degrative violence in this language. A kind of violence that leads many men to believe that they have full, unfettered access to feminine bodies. After all, we are renderings of sexual objects, rather than whole, human beings.
All of this makes me think about my time in high school, and university as an undergraduate student. I would try so hard not to stand out, to make myself appear smaller, thinner, sometimes, I would even try to change my personality--all to make myself blend in like a chameleon. God forbid if anyone saw me as the loud girl, the annoying girl, the girl who tries too hard, the fat girl.
God forbid if anyone saw me at all.
The older I got, the more hoops I had to jump through appeared. I had to somehow navigate being comfortable with my body, without "showing it off" and being labelled a slut or a whore. I had to be relaxed with what I ate, but also maintain a small figure. I had to be physically active, but not muscular. I had to be smart, but of course, never show it in front of my male counterparts. I had to have an opinion, so long as it aligned with the thoughts of men. I had to be "one of the boys" and never forget to wax every hair off my body.
It was dizzying.
And it made me feel like I wasn't a person.
Not a whole one, anyways.
Many moons ago, I wrote a blog post about femmephobia, referencing the brilliant Ashley Hoskin. In that post, I focused on femininity and the relationship that performances of femininity and feminine interests has with femmephobia.
In "Femininity? It's the aesthetic of subordination": Understanding the role of femmephobia in experiences of discrimination among sexual and gender minorities, Hoskin writes:
The devaluing of femininity is a social problem with serious consequences. Violence against women, men, transgender people and racial minorities is often exacerbated when elements of femmephobia are present. Femmephobia refers to the devaluation and regulation of femininity...
Femmephobia can appear in many different ways, such as in the policing of feminine qualities to ensure that femme presenting persons all demonstrate feminine qualities in the white--excuse me--the right way.
In doing so, the desire to control feminine interests or aesthetics stems directly from a patriarchal need to shift femininity (or what is understood as traditionally feminine) into a subordinate position. This is done for two reasons 1) to place traditionally masculine people into dominant positions, and 2) to maintain restrictive, stereotypical sex and gender roles.
In Guys Are Just Homophobic, C.J Pascoe explains that through the dominant, hegemonic presence of (toxic) masculinity, a sociological method of gender is developed. Essentially, through the constant devaluation of femininity, violence and negativity towards femme-presenting persons, increases--causing an imbalance. This can be seen very clearly through the language that is used to discuss feminine interests, or even persons, as stupid, trivial, slutty or dumb.
The devaluation of feminine bodies and their interests presents a kind of violence that not only reinforces the patriarchy but also destroys aspects of feminine individuality and personhood. In other words, femininity is not just debased, it is also standardized and re-coded into a kind of aesthetic that caters to the patriarchy. So, femininity can only appear one way, in one aesthetic, performed by bodies that are considered worthy or appealing to the patriarchy.
Okay, so let's go back to TikTok.
For continuity purposes, I swear.
On my TikTok, I get a lot of feminist-geared content--or at least, content that revolves around gender expression, bodily autonomy, reproductive, health, etc.
This is where TikTok user Big Bro Bear, or Barrette Pall comes in. Similarly to Drew, a lot of Barrett's videos interrupt harmful misogynistic content with comedy (and artful sarcasm).
In this TikTok, Barrett places himself over a video of who I can only describe as an angry misogynist. In this video, the misogynist analyzes and belittles women, based on the kind of DOG they have.
Take a minute.
Breathe that in.
We're not allowed to just, have a dog anymore. Now, just being a dog owner says something fundamental about who we are as people--or, should I say, sexual objects. As the misogynist continues to belittle femmes whose interests are brunch and reading books, and "doing nothing", Barret interrupts: "Is getting brunch and reading books doing nothing? Just a warning, it gets worse, and it's not a joke... Not only is your dog a problem, but your self-expression is also a problem."
This is where Barrett Pall gets to the fundamental core of the issue. At the root, the problem isn't dog breeds, ways of dressing, or what you even like to do on the weekend. The core issue, for misogynists such as user @noah_fox_e is that women (and femmes in general) have interests, desires or aesthetics that are not meant for the pleasure or the gratification of men. The problem, for people like this, is that femmes have agency, and that cannot stand.
This is where the friction appears; resistance surrounding the mere possibility that femmes do not exist merely as sexual objects. That is among many reasons why femmes are rendered down to a stereotype, trivialized and degraded. This process is one that makes other violent processes, such as rape culture, possible.
Because, ultimately, who are femmes if not objects for the toxic, masculine to control?