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Author Topic: Different types of masculinity/femininity
oneboikyle
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I was having a discussion with a friend the other day, about attraction, and they said they were attracted to feminine men (regardless of sex assigned at birth) but not feminine women, and they didn’t mention non-binary folk. This got me thinking a lot about how masculinity/femininity works within different genders, and whether there is a difference between the “type” of expression between genders, or whether that is purely down to perception and social cues.

My instinct said there can’t be an inherent difference, because expression is unique to the person, but on reflection, I realised that I tend to say that I like being feminine, but in a “man’s way”. I don’t know entirely what I mean by that, but I have found myself using the phrase a lot, especially over the last couple of weeks when defending some of my feminine habits to people after coming out as trans. So, maybe there is a difference between different genders being feminine. I don’t know.

So, basically, I was wondering what other people thought. It’s an interesting topic, and it might’ve been discussed before (I did do a cursory search through old topics, but I suck at that kind of thing). I know a lot of people post in here with more serious stuff than this, but this was just something that made me think, and it’d be interesting to see a discussion about it. So, thoughts?

(P.S. Dear moderators, I hope this kind of thing is acceptable! Sorry if it's not.)

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Heather
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Great topic! Thanks for bringing this up! [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Heather
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You know, thinking initially on this, for a long time, when asked my gender identity -- though no one ever used to ask about gender identity expressly like people will sometimes do or talk about now -- I'd say I was a broad.

When asked to describe what that was, a friend of mine once piped up and said "A woman who can throw a punch."

And that was basically it, in the sense that for me, it was my way of expressing, with very limited language to express it, a version of what you are, I think.

In other words, it was kind of my way of saying that for me, as someone assigned female sex at birth, who mostly identified (and mostly does still, but again, we have so much new language now to use! Yay!) as a woman, that while I identified as a woman, in a lot of ways, maybe most ways, I identified more with masculinity than with femininity.

We (still, alas) are so locked in binaries so much of the time, where there's this pervasive idea that woman or female = feminine, and man or male = masculine, even though I think that for a lot of people, always, including many people who do and always have identified their gender on the binary, their gender never matched up like that with the -inities or felt that way, you know?

Mind you, even with new frameworks and language, it's all pretty murky. I mean, I'm immersed in these topics every day to some degree, and the people in my personal and professional life have had a wonderfully wide range of gender identities, and I'm in my 40's and I *still* don't feel clear about all of this personally. Sometimes, now that we have more frameworks, I think perhaps agender or genderqueer suits me better. Then other times, most times, really, I'd probably still basically say I'm a broad. [Smile]

(Slightly OT, but I'd suppose the vice-versa of being a broad, if there is one, is likely being fey.)

[ 04-24-2013, 07:52 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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moonlight bouncing off water
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This is a great topic! I think that, by virtue of the fact that someone is identifying as something like a feminine man or woman or masculine man or woman, there is a difference. Identities are complex and layered and to me it seems like one way some people might express this is like this. For instance a masculine woman could have the underlying identity of woman with masculine as a layer on top. Kind of like a vanilla cake with chocolate icing. It's like a double chocolate cake because of the icing, but the really big identifier is vanilla. The cake really, truly is both chocolate and vanilla but one is more central to identifying the cake.

If masculinity or femininty were not different when expressed by someone identifying as male versus female, then I don't think we'd have people identifying with these double worded identities (ie feminine male). (If masculine were the same expressed by anybody male female or otherwise, then that would make all masculine people male. But clearly this is not the case so there must be something different about being a masculine male or a masculine female. They aren't the same thing, hence the fact the masculine female identifies herself as a woman).


I really like the idea of this more complex gender identities, because although I'm most often okay with being a woman, using the womens' washroom (not that I don't think unisex bathrooms would rock), and having female pronouns used for me, my gender is so much more than woman or female.

I agree that gender is so diverse it really is hard to make generalizations like this, but I do think they can be useful, especially when they help someone better explain their gender for themselves or others.

Interesting thought: sometimes it seems like woman presenting feminity in a masculine way would be a good but convuluted description for my gender. Or man presenting as handsomely androgenous.


I think that there is not limit to the way that we can string together these words as long as they are true for someone.

So, in summation, while I don't think these differences in similar identities are inherrent, I do think they are real. (Inherrent feels too resptictive of people's expression).

Once again kyle, great topic. (And congrats on coming out!)

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~moonlight

I am ME and that is the only label I need.

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Heather
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quote:
Kind of like a vanilla cake with chocolate icing. It's like a double chocolate cake because of the icing, but the really big identifier is vanilla. The cake really, truly is both chocolate and vanilla but one is more central to identifying the cake.
This is awesome. [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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oneboikyle
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Wow guys, reading your perspectives was really interesting! (Bit OT, but Heather, I just have to say, the British heritage in me painted a lovely picture of you as a wiry Scottish girl running over moors, complete with an awesome accent, when you said broad. Bit inaccurate, possibly, as your profile says you're American, but it made me smile (and that's totally meant as a compliment!).)

I don't know if this is what you were getting at, Heather, but if so, I do agree that the fact we view masculine as the default man, and feminine as the default woman, tends to make the whole thing a lot more complex. Plus the fact that people can be both masculine and feminine at the same time in different ways, and yeah.. I see it's not as clear as my original post seemed to make it sound.

From what you've both said, it seems clear that (at least) to the individual acting, the underlying identity does inform the "feel" of the -inity in play, but does that change how other people perceive it? Especially those who are unaware of your personal identity. To run with the cake analogy, if you can only see the icing on the surface, does it change the look of the whole cake depending on what is underneath, or would the cakes with the same icing all look the same?

I mean, personally, I've noticed this a lot in my day to day life; I am very self conscious of feminine expression (and indeed have had issues with accepting that part of me), especially as it is coupled with a female body, because many people assume I identify as a woman because of it. So, even though "man femininity" feels different to "woman femininity" to me, it doesn't seem to look any different to those around me. Thoughts?

Oh, and moonlight, your analogy is literally inspired, I love it, but you've made me hungry for cake now.

[ 04-24-2013, 08:46 PM: Message edited by: oneboikyle ]

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moonlight bouncing off water
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Well I think if we keep rolling with the cake analogy, let's pretend that most square cakes are chocolate and most round cakes are vanilla. So if you have a round chocolate cake with vanilla icing, most people will assume the cake is vanilla, even though the biggest identity is cholate, but the baker simply had only a round pan and not a square pan to choose from.

So I think that if someone's biological sex is apparent or seemingly apparent and that person is presenting in a way that people assume to be the default for people of that sex, then no matter the person's actualy gender, the average person will assume that person is cisgender. Because although masculine femininity is different from feminine femininity, most people won't get that. Of course, if we become less black and white with this, and the person is displaying a more complex gender this does become more complex.

BUT, non binary gender really isn't on most people's radar. Most people simply look and seem man or woman. Gender is so much more that physical and no one, no matter how well versed in all of this, can know the psycological aspects of someone's gender just by looking at them.

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~moonlight

I am ME and that is the only label I need.

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Redskies
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I think moonlight's imagery here is awesome [Smile]

I don't think I really grasp what femininity or masculinity are, as I don't personally relate to either one, even though I'd say pretty definitively I'm a woman. But if I understand you correctly, oneboikyle, a large part of what you're originally thinking about here could also be asked as "are masculinity and femininity some kind of essence, or are they each a collection of traits/behaviours?", which is mostly what I wonder about them.

I think that people's perceptions are notoriously duff and incorrect, and based on the most tenuous of things. My partner is a physically disabled, cis, straight man, and people's assumptions are fascinating... or frustrating or offensive, occasionally. Due to the physical disability, my partner immediately loses the option to project many conventional representations of masculinity. Partly because of the effects of growing up with that, and partly through being raised by an alternative and feminist mother, my partner also rejects most of "masculinity" as a concept and rejects any notion that men Should be or automatically are "masculine". It's clear from my partner's presentation that he is a man, but often, there is very little or nothing that suggests "masculine", and that applies to his body language too. Overwhelmingly, people assume my partner is gay.

... Clearly, something fundamental about the way we construct our world and ideas does not make sense.

People often assume weakness or softness about my partner, and if they're looking to exploit that, they're in for a shock. My partner is steely-minded and will forcefully show up any harmful or bigoted argument in record time; he's also trained in a martial art. On the protector/protectee axis that's often linked to masculinity and femininity, I'd say we protect and defend each other.

With my partner being physically unable to perform some "masculine" traits, I notice differences. It mostly suits me, because I do not feel "feminine" and dislike being put in that box, and I enjoy doing things that show my independence and abilities. Within our partnership, if something heavy or awkward needs doing, moving or carrying, it's me who does it. That means I have to be prepared to be practical and maybe get slightly sweaty in my day-to-day life in ways that some women partnered with men don't. My partner will also never pick me up and hug me, pick me up and carry me, or pick me up and put me on a bed.

I'm trying to keep this focused on the "gender" aspects rather than the dis/ability aspects, but for me, I guess dis/ability has become an essential and instructive point within masculinity/femininity considerations.

Even though my partner strongly rejects "masculinity", and for good reason - why would a person try to be masculine when they're repeatedly told or indicated they can't be a "real" man or "enough" of a man? - , there are still areas where I think it comes through strongly. From my perspective, at least, how my partner approaches discussions and arguments is quite strongly "masculine". I'm often more outspoken and more strongly spoken than is considered "feminine", but my overall approach is usually more collaborative while my partner's is more combative, and I, at least, think there's a gender difference there - one that's because of social training and expectations, not "innate".

I'm not even sure what overall point I'm trying to make - sorry that this is more a string of thoughts than a point! Still, I hope that perhaps there's something interesting or useful for someone to grasp here.

I'm a woman, and I don't think there's much fuzziness about that. However, I find most woman-gender roles and expectations and "femininity" - or "masculinity" as an opposite or alternative to femininity - pretty oogy and totally not fitting me. From what I understand, my partner feels similarly about being a man.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

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WesLuck
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Wow, what a great topic! I'd like to say I identify as a man but I like talking, understanding and talking about feelings and being kind and considerate (note I am not saying that only one gender identity is kind and considerate, just that I am not very combative). I've always been my own soul, just as unique and special as each individual is, no matter what labels we, or others, put on us. [Wink] [Smile]
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Molias
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I love this discussion!

Circling back to the initial idea of attraction, I've certainly known people who are specifically attracted to masculine women or feminine men, but not feminine women or masculine men; the attraction is in the contrast of expected/actual presentation, or something similar. I'm attracted to a pretty large range of gender presentations but I think something that's an instant attraction killer to me is someone being really worried about self-policing their actions/behaviors to keep in line with some idea of what's gender-appropriate. I don't necessarily need someone to be the most rule-breaking gender-destroyer in the world (although that's fine!) but some flexibility there is a big part of me feeling comfortable with and attracted to someone else.

I remember that when I told a friend I would be taking testosterone and medically/socially transitioning, she got kind of upset and said "I don't know why you can't just be a butch woman, all the butches leave the community." Which was weird in a few ways; she was talking about the lesbian community (and was a butch lesbian herself), which I had never been or felt a part of, and... I'm not butch. I never have been. And I realize that "masculine" and "butch" are not analogous here, but I don't consider myself very masculine either. I tried to play up masculine cues in the first few years of my medical transition because changes came very slowly, but right now I'm probably more "feminine" acting than I have been in the past ten years. So I felt kind of lost in that conversation, because my only answer to the question of why I couldn't "just" be a butch woman is that I never was that in the first place! I felt like this person hadn't really been seeing me all along.

To be honest, my gender identity is so squishy and vague right now (I will generally say something like "not-very-male-identified trans guy" if I have to be specific) that I sometimes have a hard time really nailing down what makes something "masculine" vs. "feminine" in the first place. Am I wearing nail polish because I like doing something feminine? Or am I just enjoying having pretty hands that I don't feel are particularly gendered at all?

I get a kick out of a lot of the beard/moustache/monocle/lumberjack imagery that's floating around US popular culture right now, but I like it because I find that sort of hyper-masculine stuff hilarious. I don't think that's the response I'm supposed to have but that's the angle I approach it with. I grew a beard a few years back because I thought it would help people to use the right pronouns for me, but I've kept it because I think me with a beard is so funny that I can't bear to get rid of it. It's not a sign of masculinity at all, to me, although I suppose some people might read it that way.

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Cricket
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This is a really cool topic to explore!

One thing I've noticed in my own life is that even though my partner and I frequently wear very similar clothing, it gets interpreted differently on each of us because of differences in our bodies. Nail polish looks more dramatic on her than on me because she usually gets read as male, and my men's department cargo shorts are seen as a bigger deal than hers because I get read as female. For me, the nature of masculinity and femininity is distinct in relation to different genders mainly because it will be socially interpreted so differently. There are also differences in my internal relationship to masculinity and femininity, but I'm less clear on what they mean since I only have my own feelings to work off of. I like some feminine things, but on me they feel like drag. That's a cool and fun feeling to me, but I doubt that all cisgender women feel quite that way about things like makeup or bras.

Also, (and this is rather fortuitous timing) I talked to a class at my college about gender identity today, and one student asked me what traits I had that made me feel like a certain gender. I said that while I liked embroidery, the kind of projects I enjoy doing are making patches that say things like "butch boi" and sewing them onto the pockets of men's jeans, so what does that then say about the supposedly gendered nature of embroidery? I think there are probably a lot of ways of exploring and expressing masculinity and femininity that I haven't even imagined yet.

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Burdened with glorious booty
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This topic basically brings up the bane of my life - if I'm a woman, then I'm a masculine one, and if I'm a man, then I'm a feminine one. And I know most people read me as a lesbian, even though I'm not definitively butch or femme. Ah well, I've started to not care, but that's just me.

I find it interesting that you mention how disability can alter how people perceive you in terms of masculinity and femininity. As a girl with Asperger's Syndrome, most of the stuff I've read about women with AS is that it's not uncommon for women with AS to either be a lot more masculine than their neurotypical counterparts, or for them to be transmen or with an otherwise "half male/half female" gender identity, even if their presentation is more femme. Now, finding this out puts me in an odd position - it makes me happy to know that this has been an observed and that I'm not alone in being ambiguously gendered and an aspie, and that it's not seen as a bad thing...but on the other hand, it's still making assumptions about masculinity and femininity that I don't agree with, it's stereotyping, and some "experts" have even taken it to mean that some autistic transmen should have therapy to see if they're REALLY transmen because they might be wrong and it might be a quirk of their AS making them believe that they're men when they're not. It makes me feel both like I have a community to go to, but like I'm being stereotypical and therefore bad and damaging to other people (which makes no sense, but I worry anyway).

In the context of having AS, the "expert" opinion spins things like empathy, social graces and other things that we're apparently bad at as being feminine qualities, and that women who lack these qualities end up being more masculine. The "expert" opinions I've read have equated emotions with femininity and logic with masculinity, so being analytical and detail-oriented and loads of other stuff that should really have nothing to do with gender are apparently masculine traits. And that REALLY bothers me, because it's pretty much the fancy medical equivalent of "pink is for girls, blue is for boys." So yeah.

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Ta-da!

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