Guyliner, Murses, Bromance And Femmephobia

I’m on vacation this week! This post originally appeared at Skepchick.

There’s been a lovely and adorable video circulating on the tubes-osphere the last few days that I’m sure has helped bolster a comforting sense of optimism about the next generation’s understanding of gender. A little girl named Riley gets irate about the toy store’s division into a pink section and an “every other colour” section, and the way that marketers “trick” girls and boys into liking particular kinds of products:

Notice something?

While Riley has a precociously intuitive grasp of the fact that not every girl is going to like pink, glitter and princesses, she is initially incredulous at the suggestion that some boys may, and requires coaxing from her father to grasp the concept.

The last few weeks have seen an abundance of discussion regarding the “girl toys” vs. “boy toys” debate. British toy store Hamley’s has desegregated their sections, Lego is planning a new line marketed towards girls called Lego Friends, and there was the victory of Edmund Scientifics choosing to no longer divide their science kits into a “for girls” category of pink, perfumed, pretty ones and a “for boys” category of everything else.

Although for the most part I’m immensely happy to see this conversation happening, there are a few questions and issues I’ve felt have gotten a little bit lost in the shuffle.

For one, there has occasionally been a bit of venom directed towards pink and pretty and “feminine” things themselves rather than on the way these things are forced upon girls or how girls are expected to prefer them, which can reflect both internalized misogyny (Lauren from Teen Skepchick wrote an excellent post on this) and the issue of “femmephobia”.

Femmephobia, beautifully articulated in this article, is a particular subset of sexism that suggests that femininity and things regarded as feminine are inherently inferior, bad, weak, stupid, non-preferable, valueless, disempowering, etc. It comes in a lot of different forms… such as the way that boys, men and AMAB (“assigned-male-at-birth”) individuals are scorned (and often assaulted or killed) for expressing themselves in a feminine manner, possessing feminine characteristics, or enjoying feminine things, occurs to a far more severe extent than the scorn directed towards girls, women or AFAB individuals who express or enjoy conventionally masculine things. Given the assumed preferability of masculinity, the latter is seen as natural and understandable while the former is seen is as abhorrent, crazy and pathological. For a stark example, the psychological diagnosis “transvestic fetishism” is only applied to men and this requirement is written directly into the DSM. The explanations for this (“women have broader clothing choices”, for example) only emphasize the point.

Given that femininity is only an associative, relational term, referring to things that are culturally associated with women (there is no actual inherent quality of “feminine” that anything can possess), denigration of that which is feminine is to denigrate that which is female-ish. The misogynist implications are fairly clear cut.

Femmephobia can also often show up within certain branches of feminism. A common suggestion is that femininity is strictly a creation of patriarchy and a means of subjugating and controlling women. Often times it will be forgotten that for many individuals, across many genders, femininity can indeed be a natural, comfortable, empowering and even radical or subversive identity or form of self-expression.

Along these same lines it seems that as we discuss the issue of “pink is for girls” we have seemed to forget about the corollary “blue is for boys” problem. Like Riley, we find it easy to see that not every girl or woman is necessarily going to want to stay within the strict confines of her assigned gender role, but find it a tad trickier to remember that boys and men face similar issues. As if to ask “Who could actually want to play with ponies and princesses?”

I do!

Within the framework of the gender binary and oppositional sexism, every sexist concept of what women and girls are or are supposed to be has an analogue for men and boys. As we suggest that women are best suited for domesticity and motherhood, we prop up the stereotype that men are useless and inept in domestic chores, parenting and matters of the home. This isn’t really to suggest the MRA concept of “equally but differently oppressed” or lend legitimacy to the notion of “female privilege”…where those notions fall short is failure to consider how gender binaries and oppositional sexism are not the entirety of sexism (there’s misogyny too). More on that some other time. But… this parallel set of expectations and stereotypes does mean we probably shouldn’t be focusing strictly on giving girls the option of doing boy stuff. Doing so paints the girl stuff as inferior and neglects every boy who wants more than what he’s been told to want.

For every pink science kit for girls, there is a body wash or moisturizer for men. For every pink razr phone or “Miss Army Knife” there are “macho mattresses” with “muscle recovery technology” and a bunch of cookbooks geared around opening cans and adding bacon. For every set of tools with smaller, pink handles, there is a special girliness-free brand of ultra, super-duper manly conditioner. For men. I guess with the special ingredients that keep you from growing boobs.

And Yorkie bars…. don’t even get me started on the bloody Yorkie bars.

And what I find especially perplexing is the set of neologisms that are constantly popping up to assert that something is totally a guy thing, okay, seriously, it’s for dudes. As the Holiday skeptic-net has been awash in discussion of our dear Tim Minchin, I keep stumbling upon references to “guyliner”. Why not just eyeliner? What’s the difference? It lines your eyes. It looks hot. And the “murse”? I get that it’s likely there will be design differences between a purse meant to compliment a woman’s wardrobe and a purse meant to compliment that of a man, but is a different word necessary? And heaven forbid we refer to intimate friendship amongst men. It’s a bromance, bro!

I also believe there’s a subtle but meaningful difference in the way that products are marketed “for girls” and the way that products are marketed “for men”. The “for girls” marketing seems to have as its goal making women find the product more appealing. The “for men” marketing, and the silly neologisms (neo-bro-gisms?), seem designed to somehow protect or insulate men from the girliness of whatever you’re selling. As though it’s addressing an actual fear of “girl stuff”.  That touching it or using it will contaminate them with… I don’t know… cooties or something. Maybe turn them gay. Or trans. Gasp!

If only it were that easy.

There’s this excruciating commercial for Wiser’s Canadian Whisky airing these days. I don’t know whether our non-Canuckistanian readers get these, so if you think you can handle the ridiculousness, here it is. If not, I’ll summarize: we’ve got a guy walking around in the mall with a woman, presumably his wife or girlfriend. She suddenly sees something she wants in a store, and bolts in, asking him to hold her purse (won’t she need her wallet if she wants to actually buy something?). Anyway, the guy stands there embarrassed, sees another guy walk past, then drops the purse like a ton of bricks. He then pulls a plastic bag from his pocket, and does the inside-out pick-something-up-without-touching-it trick, like when picking up dog poop, to pick the purse back up and hold it without having to… you know… touch that awful, girly, cootie-ridden thing. Then a set of magical Manly Men appear from nowhere to applaud him on his “uncompromising”, masculine, testosterone-oozing dudeocity.

We’re to literally applaud this? Treating “women’s things” as being just as disgusting, contemptible and untouchable as feces? Grown men acting like children, terrified of the possibility that they might be seen holding a woman’s accessory for even a split second, by a stranger? It reminds me a bit of my roommates who refuse to say hi to me on the street for fear of being seen to know a trans woman by the various random strangers around who MAY clock me and make that connection.

What kind of message are we ultimately sending with this- when we rightly challenge and critique absurdly gendered marketing towards women and girls, and teach our girls to be themselves and explore the many possible iterations of gender, but neglect to offer similar challenges to male-gendered marketing? Are we at risk of confusing girls even more with them now confronted with contradictory messages of “you should like pink” and “you shouldn’t like pink”? If we focus our attentions on devaluing pink and femininity itself, are we at risk of simply swapping out one set of stringent, external gender expectations for another?

And what of our boys? Don’t they also deserve to feel free to fully explore the possibilities of gender and self-expression? What message are we sending them when it seems that the girls are free to express themselves however they wish, and choose from the entire toy store, but they’re still at risk of being seen as “sissies” and “fags” and maybe getting beaten up should they dare step an inch into the pink aisle?

The critique of gendered marketing is an extremely important conversation to have, as is the critique of gender roles and expectations. And applying critical examination to our constructs of femininity is an absolute necessity of feminism and gender theory. But it’s my hope that, like Riley, we will be able to make progress as we work through these issues towards understanding that they are multifaceted, do not only effect one gender, and that boys deserve liberation too.

(Thanks to Gwenn and BeardOfPants for some of the links!)


  1. EmbraceYourInnerCrone says

    Thank you for this, you express what I have been feeling lately, (but been unable to articulate) beautifully. I completely loathe the fact that marketing, even more strongly recently it seems, has to target products to niche markets and specifically tell you who should like/buy this product. Toys and stuff for kids bugs me the most but, there has also been the recent “Dr Pepper 10 it’s not for women” campaign, and all the “phones just for girls” ads. What if a male-presenting person wants a purple or pink phone? And why would you market a soft drink and specifically tell half the population you don’t want them to drink it?

    Same thing with toys, wouldn’t you want to show a variety of kids of different races and genders playing with toys so you would sell more of them? A lot of boys will probably grow up to (maybe) have kids and most guys EAT so why is it seen as wrong/weird for a boy child to play with dolls, or pretend to cook. Or experiment with makeup or making jewelry? And as you say, if a girl does “boy” things she may be called a tomboy or ridiculed. Boys showing interests in traditionally girl things may be risking physical abuse, as feminine is equated with weak/lesser.

    As for the pink ghetto, that irks me as well because I am the parent of a 17 year old girl and her favorite things growing up were Legos, Barbies, toy tool kits, makeup, her doctor kit, her chemistry set, her easy bake oven, the cordless drill we gave her in middle school. Why should she or her male cousin who is the same age be limited to one subset of these playthings or interests? He is going to art school, she is going to study physics. He likes playing ice hockey. She likes to crochet. Nobody should be limited to one label, one cubbyhole that people can shove them into. (OK, formless rant over, just wanted to get that off my chest)

  2. Anders says

    I’m willing to go a long way towards accepting your views, but expecting me to hail an article that has Pinkie Pie associated with it… that’s just too far.


    Would I have liked to play with princesses and My Little Ponies when I was a kid? I don’t know – mostly because I have a terrible memory for personal experiences. I don’t remember how it was.I played RPGs instead.

  3. says

    Ugh… I get this, right at the heart. Not only am I in a somewhat non-traditional household (stay at home dad who does all the cooking) but I’ve got three little ones who I’m in charge of steering through this minefield. When the boy (who turned 3 yeasterday!) went through a phase this winter of carrying a baby doll around with him everywhere, I actually had a “well-meaning” grandma type exclaim “I wish I could take that away from him”. (Good luck on that btw). Like a baby doll was going to turn a 3 year old gay! (Not that there would be anything wrong with that.)

    BTW, I have an awesome purse, its made out of recycled bike innertubes and the strap is a seatbelt. It’s the perfect size for my ipad, diapers and wipes, and what not. I call it purse tyvm.

  4. embertine says

    I love this and have been thinking about this issue a lot because my BFF and her husband (who are pretty progressive people in their own estimation) have had their first child. Having discussed gender roles before he was born when they didn’t know “what they were having”, they were very keen to let their kid be whoever they wanted to be. Until they had a boy.

    Now mini-BFF is dressed in little blue onesies with tractors and space rockets on, gets blocks and trains to play with, and gets sung a stupid little song at bathtime which makes my blood fucking boil because it’s all about how mummy duck gets completely ignored and disrespected by her kids but when daddy duck comes along all the little ducklings do as they’re told.

    The conversation that happened before the birth went something like this (paraphrased and exaggerated for effect):

    BFF-in-law: Oh, we don’t mind which we have, we’re going to treat them the same way and give them the same opportunities anyway.

    Me: So you’d be happy if your daughter was a truck driver or an engineer then?

    BFF-in-law: Of course, that would be amazing! I’d be so proud of her!

    Me: What about if your son was a nursery attendant or a ballet dancer?

    BFF-in-law: *uncomfortable silence*

    Me: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

  5. Yellow Thursday says

    I have several thoughts to share. The first is an addition to you list of products “traditionally” for women but marketed to men under new names: “mantyhose.” Yes, tights marketed to men can’t be called tights. And Heaven Forbid they expect men to wear “pantyhose.” Every site where I’ve seen “mantyhose” referenced treats it as a joke. No manly man would ever think of wearing tights. *eyeroll*

    The next thought is regarding “for boys” and “for girls.” It’s true that women have far more choices with clothes. I (as a cis woman) will frequently buy shoes from the men’s section, since loafers (which I usually wear to work) are essentially the same between men’s and women’s styles and the men’s styles tend to be more comfortable. It’s unfortunate that my husband doesn’t have the same option of shopping among women’s styles.

    A friend coined the word “bronaise” for when a bromance gets especially intimate. I’m a little conflicted on this one. I like that it points out the absurdity of the word “bromance,” but it seems to be making fun of the concept, too.

    • Bryan Feir says

      Back when I was in high school (over twenty-five years ago now), I was going to a private school, and loafers were part of the dress code.

      One year when my mother and I were in getting new shoes, the sales rep checked out my feet, found a shoe size that fit, and told me the size (which seemed a bit large), then leaned over and whispered something to my mother while I was tying up the shoes.

      When I asked later what that was all about, my mother said it was that the only shoe size that fit my narrow feet at the time was in a women’s shoe size, and the sales rep wasn’t sure how I’d react to being told that.

      It didn’t bother me, but it was interesting to see such a blatant example of belief that I as a young man would have a problem with wearing a ‘woman’s shoe’ despite the fact that nobody would have known by looking at them without checking the actual described size.

      • says

        How so? Surely a size 7 (or whatever) is a size 7, irrespective of the style of the shoe? Whether it’s a girly stiletto, a manly rigger boot or a unisex loafer, it still has to fit exactly the same size foot!

        Last I checked, a metre of pink ribbon was the same length as a metre of blue ribbon, or even a metre of 75 ohm coaxial cable …..

        • says

          Clothing sizes aren’t based on actual units of measure. They’re arbitrarily established by the designers. Not only does a “size 7” or “m” mean something different for women’s stuff than men’s, it may not even mean the same thing from designer to designer.

          • Yellow Thursday says

            I find that it’s worse than that, actually. The same size designation can vary from style to style even within clothing made by the same designer.

    • says

      According to my Psych lecturer, alternative names for mantyhose include guylons and brosiery.

      I have to admit, I lolled. You have to admire the creativity at play in these neobroisms (good one, Natalie!) even as you despise the reinforcement of rigid gender roles.

  6. says

    Back when I was a lad (when I thought I was a lad,) my father would relent to every single issue of my sensitivity, my desire for girlish stuff, my “feminine” attitude with “man up.” It seriously is the major reason I’m so afraid of telling my family about my transgenderism. I’m afraid my father will react violently if not kicking me out of the family. Luckily I live on my own, but it would still truly suck.

    (Admittedly, I giggle at “bromance” cause it’s just so darn silly.)

      • Nentuaby says

        I have heard a number of people use that phrase, yes. Also “grow some ovaries.” Always from people who’ve had the problematicism of telling a woman to Man Up pointed out to them, but weren’t willing to let go of the phrases entirely; Always in the same meanings as their masculine counterparts.

        When I’m feeling energetic and crusadery (rarely) I point out that it’s still damn problematic to tell people “Conform more closely to your presumed bio-essentialist gender” as a pep talk.

  7. Sebor says

    Marketing “traditional women’s products” towards men often produces hilarious results. Not sure if it was mentioned earlier but I got a good laugh out of alphanail, nail polish for men (“guy polish”?). Be sure to check the names they assign to the colours.
    But does this even work? Are there men who think “Oh, now that there’s some tough guy wearing nail polish, it’s ok for me to wear nail polish.”? Somehow that is a sad thought.

    I love cooking and wear skirts on occasion, but holding other people’s purses still makes me uncomfortable. Although this may be related to the fact that I obsessively need to know in which one of my pockets my personal belongings are located at any given time.
    One thing I will probably never understand is the love for equines, to me they are food not friends.

    • says

      re: Alphanail.

      It’s not manly enough! Add more girls! More manly color scheme! Add some muscles on the page! Use more manly words, try to work in the word “PENETRATION”, it’s the manliest of words. Someone tell a woman to bring me another coffee, and tell her put testosterone in it instead of cream! Ah crap, I used a period and MEN only use EXCLAMATION POINTS!

    • Megan says

      My favorite? The “Cocaine” matte polish. Because everybody knows that women totally never take drugs, I suppose…

    • amhovgaard says

      As long as it’s about actually riding horses, not reading about it, I guess it may have something to do with female anatomy 😉 Plus it’s one of the very few accepted ways for a girl to express dominance.

  8. says

    I’m a cis woman. As a teenager in the 1970s, I used to get told that “I’d make someone a wonderful husband”, usually after did well on a science or maths test. Nice that I haven’t heard the expression for quite a while, but it’s given me great sympathy for male ballet dancers, midwives, etc.

    • Anders says

      I have good, strong hair and I’ve been told on more than one occasion that such hair is wasted on a boy (or man). Yes, it’s silly.

  9. Chrissetti says

    I presume the Canadian Whiskey sellers don’t really care whether you cheer for the mysoginistic protagonist so long as you buy their whiskey.

    You’re absolutely right about femmephobia and until you spelled it out in this blog I hadn’t really realised that it’s something I’ve been guilty of. I’ve been irritated by the pink girlie girls’ toys without really considering the masculinity of the boys’ range.

    • says

      It’s a fine line to walk.
      Although I consider some of the girlie-girl stuff downright disgusting and harmfull and am trying to avoid it where possible, in reverse it doesn’t make the boyish-boy stuff good.
      I won’t get my girls the war and army toxic masculinity agression violence stuff either if I can avoid it.
      I don’t care as much about the colour than I care about the message. And if the message is that you have to be pretty and stay at home while other people do stuff, that’s bad.
      And if the message is that you mustn’t ever care for how you look like and kill as many people as you can before somebody forces you to take a shower, that’s equally bad.

  10. McKenzie says

    at least in the UK, Nestle make special unmelty Yorkie bars for the army

    the wrappers have “It’s not for civvies!” written on them

    not sure why this is relevant but it’s amuzing.

    • says

      I did actually write to Nestlé UK about a supposed discrepancy with their Yorkie bars. Despite proudly proclaiming “IT’S NOT FOR GIRLS”, the wrapper also showed the guideline daily amounts ….. for a woman. I pointed out that this was an obvious mismatch.

      They fobbed me off with a generic “sorry you didn’t like the advertising campaign” letter. Not even any vouchers for free chocolate or anything 🙁

  11. says

    Well, my godson (I swear that word is better in German) got a doll for his birthday with dresses to change.
    The only issue with that is that he has to frequently fight his older brother over it.
    Their dad is manly man cop with a motorbike and a guitar and who did ballet as a kid. He also frequently outdoes all the mums when we’re crafting together with the kids.

    But I hate that princess stuff.
    Because those fucking princesses never do anything except being pretty and an excuse for a prince to do some cool stuff.
    Seriously, that’s not a role-model for anybody and I’m more than worried about this being taught as appropriate to my daughters.

    I noticed how my daughter suddenly “discovered” pink when she started kindergarten. It’s not like she didn’t have pink stuff before. Believe me, it’s impossible for them not to have pink stuff, even if you don’t buy a single item.
    Because everybody seems to think it original to give a baby girl a pink onesie. And it’s hard to find anything neutral anyway.
    But then she started kindergarten and suddenly there were “girl colours” and “boy colours”.
    Does this affect boys as well? Of course. In terms of individual expression probably even more so because girls are at least allowed to have the “better boy stuff”.

    • says

      Well to be fair, during WWII Queen Elizabeth (then Princess Elizabeth) did operate an anti-aircraft gun in London.

      But generally speaking, yeah the whole princess thing is deeply problematic.

      • says

        Thing is, those toys and stories aren’t anywhere grounded on what actual princesses and queens might have done.
        I swear there have been more known female pirates in the history of mankind (not to mention those who lived and died disguised as men) than there are in all pirates playsets of this world combined.

        Hey, if they wanted to take Elizabeth I or Isabela de Aragon as an example (except for the religion and monarchy thing), that would be role-models!

        • Dalillama says

          I’m personally extremely fond of Granuaile (Graine Mohl, Grace O’Malley, a few others that I can’t recall at the moment). She inherited a castle, several ships and an armed band from her father, and turned it into political control of nearly a third of Ireland at her peak, when she negotiated on equal terms with Queen Elizabeth. There was an opera written about her, but it doesn’t seem to have ever been staged, which is a shame.

    • Rasmus says

      I wonder if the obligatory ‘princess phase’ is basically just a socially gendered version of a more general and biologically inherent ‘bling phase’ that happens to most kids.

      I for one remember collecting shiny stuff at some point (age 5-7 approximately). I mean manly shiny stuff, of course! Mostly. [Makes manly grunts.]

  12. Eric D Red says

    I noticed that even you seem to fall for the assumptions, or at least fail to point them out. Many times you refer “girl things” and “men things”, or expressions like that, in your comparisons. Not “girl”/”boy”, or “woman”/”man”. There’s an overlapping ageism, where young is idealized for females, and mature is idealized for males.

    • says

      I’m using quote marks, though, indicating I’m referencing a concept external to myself. I don’t believe in “girl things” at all anyway, so why would you assume I believe in the ageist assumption beneath how it’s articulated?

      • Eric D Red says

        I wasn’t so much assuming you were actually believing that yourself. That would be somewhat surprising, considering everything else you see through, and the way you used the quotes.

        I was just noticing the difference in the idealization of age between genders that overlays the gender roles. I assumed you either didn’t notice while dealing with the other aspects, or, in hindsight, didn’t mention it to not distract from the central point.

        So, not an attack or disagreement, but noticing another layer to it.

  13. says

    The funny thing about “bromance” for me is that in New Zealand and Australia at least we’ve had a word for close platonic relationships between men for ages – mateship. A man who considered another man a close friends doesn’t have to try to insert “bro” into every word like some kind of fratboy lexicographer, he’d just call him a good mate.

    The notion that close friendships were exclusively for women would be considered strange around these parts.

      • Carlie says

        “Carloe”? Stupid screen-based keyboard. Takes a lot of talent to misspell one’s own name, what it does.

    • Louis says

      Agreed. In fact, until today I thought “bromance” meant having a crush on another man but being too repressed in your sexuality to admit it.

  14. Anders says

    Princess Peach, April from TMNT, Diana from the Phantom… they exist to become hostages to the dastardly villain.

    I like queen Dido from the Aeneid. At least she get’s off a kick-ass curse before dying from unrequited love.

    “Thou Sun, who view’st at once the world below;
    Thou Juno, guardian of the nuptial vow;
    Thou Hecate hearken from thy dark abodes!
    Ye Furies, fiends, and violated gods,
    All pow’rs invok’d with Dido’s dying breath,
    Attend her curses and avenge her death!
    If so the Fates ordain, Jove commands,
    Th’ ungrateful wretch should find the Latian lands,
    Yet let a race untam’d, and haughty foes,
    His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose:
    Oppress’d with numbers in th’ unequal field,
    His men discourag’d, and himself expell’d,
    Let him for succor sue from place to place,
    Torn from his subjects, and his son’s embrace.
    First, let him see his friends in battle slain,
    And their untimely fate lament in vain;
    And when, at length, the cruel war shall cease,
    On hard conditions may he buy his peace:
    Nor let him then enjoy supreme command;
    But fall, untimely, by some hostile hand,
    And lie unburied on the barren sand!
    These are my pray’rs, and this my dying will;
    And you, my Tyrians, ev’ry curse fulfil.
    Perpetual hate and mortal wars proclaim,
    Against the prince, the people, and the name.
    These grateful off’rings on my grave bestow;
    Nor league, nor love, the hostile nations know!
    Now, and from hence, in ev’ry future age,
    When rage excites your arms, and strength supplies the rage
    Rise some avenger of our Libyan blood,
    With fire and sword pursue the perjur’d brood;
    Our arms, our seas, our shores, oppos’d to theirs;
    And the same hate descend on all our heirs”

    That is a curse. Try to imagine Princess Peach saying that.

    But, yeah, MLP:FIM for the win.

    (We should have a thread where we can post our favorite poems)

  15. says

    I don’t always buy hair color, but when I do, I buy the real L’Oreal stuff. Because every time you see hair color “FOR MEN,” your choices are exactly black, brown, and blond.

  16. angelina says

    I find the whole blue is for boys, pink is for girls thing ridiculous. As far as I know, until recently, it was somewhat reverse, it is a 20th century shift the other way.

    As a female who wears mens clothes all the time (They look and fit better…try getting decent baggy combat pants for women!), and hasn’t worn a skirt since I was 6, I have always found it wierd the difference in reactions to men who wear skirts/tops/whatever.

    If I am not a transvestite because of my clothes and hair (Usually I just either get called a lesbian or have people think that me and my boyfriend are two guys), then why is a man who prefers womens clothes?
    Why is it more acceptable for me to be running around pulling cars to bits, climbing trees and digging stuff up in fields than for a man to be interested in “female” pursuits?

    Of course people still try to “girlify” me, work colleagues saying “We will take you to the make up place and get you looking all pretty” (Not in this lifetime), or boyfriends trying to buy me female clothes (Usually they do this once..), but luckily I am with someone now who complements me nicely, he is the opposite 🙂

    As a society we need to realise that gender is just something we decide “That is girly, that is male”, and is not fixed, or even relevant. I think part of the reaction towards males who prefer “girly” hobbies, tv programmes, clothes etc is that people do not run into it as often as the other way round. I do admit that I do a double take if I see a man in a skirt, but as just mentioned, we do not see it often, and when we do, it is often in a derogatory sense on TV etc.
    We need to move beyond classifying inanimate objects by gender, but I feel we are still a way off that.

  17. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I’ve read this article on Skepchick way back when, but I’m glad I dropped by to reed the comments: “mantyhose” and the Alphanail website made me LLOL (the first L is for “literally”).

  18. Pen says

    Very true in general and I have known little boys who have struggled with their desire to express femininity and had to put up with older girls hand me down fairy dresses.

    On the other hand I do feel that in many cases ‘girl’s things’ are worse quality than ‘boy’s things’. It’s particularly true of clothes where girl’s clothes tend to fall apart the first time they see a rock or tree, and be in non-washable colours anyway, whereas boy’s clothes are more enduring. It gets worse when you’re a woman, the men’s clothes don’t fit you and the women’s section contains nothing of adequate quality for what you want to do.

    And chemistry sets?? Making perfume is the equivalent of cooking to a recipe. Both are fine activities, but they only teach chemistry in a peripheral kind of way. It’s the un-feminised chemistry sets that actually do chemistry.

  19. says

    Wow. Alphanail. I had no idea. The marketing is ludicrous.

    So I wasn’t much into typically femme stuff when I was a kid, except for when I hung out downstairs with my mom and older sister while my mom was sewing. There was a box of my mom’s old 60s/70s glam clothes and I remember seriously having a lot of fun with my sister.

    But one thing that put me apart from “mainstream” boyness was that I was kind of a sensitive kid. I was way more into the technical aspect of toys I had, even the toy guns. Modular toys were my favorite. Anything I could take apart and put back together I loved. But the important thing is that I liked to do it calmly, and it stressed me out a lot to play physically.

    That physical play is still expected apparently. We haven’t, as a culture, created a place for kids who want to just build stuff. Even the marketing for Lego has a really aggressive bent when it shows boys. It just goes to the idea that lack of physicality equates somehow to weakness.

  20. Louis says

    Mostly I find attempts to market “girly” stuff to men hilarious (see Alphanail. I can’t even type that word without the rest of the office wondering what’s so funny.) But yes, it is as much of a problem to enforce male gender stereotypes as it is to enforce female ones.

  21. says

    Given that femininity is only an associative, relational term, referring to things that are culturally associated with women (there is no actual inherent quality of “feminine” that anything can possess), denigration of that which is feminine is to denigrate that which is female-ish. The misogynist implications are fairly clear cut.

    This does not follow. If the “things” culturally associated with women are bad things, then it’s perfectly reasonable to denigrate those things.

    Things culturally associated with women: weakness, passivity, deference, submissiveness, being bad at maths and science and mechanics, confining and even crippling clothing, cleaning equipment, vanity, being decorative, being the moral police XOR a slut, subservience, non-seriousness, a “natural” affinity for domestic work, fickleness, deceit, gold-digging.

    You might with equal logic say that despising slavery makes you anti-black. Pickin’ cotton: it’s a traditional black activity!

    Now of course there are certain activities which are actually valuable, but are downgraded because of their association with women. The necessary work of child rearing, cleaning, nursing etc. Artistic pursuits, like most fibre arts. And there are symbols associated with compliance – the whole pink aesthetic – which in and of themselves are just neutral. If that’s what you’re arguing, go for it – but don’t forget about the rest of the package!

    • runmattrun says

      This comment doesn’t make sense to me. I’m reading it as more offensive than you may have intended.

      None of the things you list are exclusive to women, and most of them aren’t things that should be denigrated. There really isn’t anything wrong with being bad at math.

      From a Canadian/American perspective, slavery is culturally associated with black people because it is a part of recent history. History that we are exposed to in school and in the media. So when somebody talks about slavery this is generally the first example that comes to mind. But slavery is not assumed to be a integral part of a black person (that doesn’t even make sense). A more appropriate comparison would be to make a list of characteristics that you assume are inherent to a black person, then separate them into categories to denigrate or not, and finally discourage non-black people from buying products or toys that are in some way related. This is clearly racist, applied to the topic at hand this logic is clearly misogynistic.

      If I’m straw-manning you, I’d be interested in being corrected. Like I said, this didn’t make sense to me.

      Also logical-aside, it is entirely possible to be promiscuous and have some kind of internalized shame that causes you to act as the moral police. So your XOR would be fine as an OR.

    • says

      Artistic pursuits, like most fibre arts.

      Ahh, but didn’t you know? Those are not arts, they’re crafts. Because our fuzzy pink lady-brainz aren’t equipped for real artistic pursuits, that’s what menz do.
      Unless women paint, in which case they merely imitate.
      A guy takes inspiration from Picasso or Dalí, a woman just copies their style.
      Women also just cook. Guys engage in l’arte culinaire. Mothers care for their children, fathers babysit.

      But I agree: some of the “girl” things are simply bad. So are some of the “guy” things. We better get rid of all of them.
      The world won’t become any better if more women engage in bar fights and more guys start crying helplessly waiting to be rescued because of a flat tyre.

    • says

      It’s invalid to associate general concepts like weakness and passivity with being inherently bad or morally wrong. Weakness, passivity, and so forth exist in a context. What is good or bad, right or wrong, are actions within that context. You can’t arbitrarily divorce the two; doing so is declaring moral universals.

      Declaring weakness and passivity bad can easily lead to victim blaming. We must examine what conditions caused someone to be the way they are, and what reasonable options they had in the situation, to know whether they even had a choice about their weakness to begin with.

    • amhovgaard says

      Since I personally find submissiveness very sexy, I’m certainly not going to call it bad 😉 As for the rest of it – I think the problem is mainly that girls/women, as a group, are expected to be bad at almost everything except housework, childrearing and looking pretty. And girls will say (and think!) they are bad at math even if they are really good at it, because they are supposed to be. I’ve had girls who can work out probabilities in their head tell me they’re bad at math!

  22. Carlie says

    This is timely for me, because my hometown high school just denied a student the right to wear a kilt to prom. To make it worse, it’s being reported everywhere as discrimination against the Scottish, when the principal supposedly said “We teach men to dress like men”. Methinks it’s not exactly the Scottish aspect of it that the principal and the entire school board are bigoted against.

    • Pen says

      You suddenly reminded me how gender stereotypes do seem more rigidly enforced in the US in some ways. I’m thinking how drag is a mainstream part of British culture (even though it’s always supposed to be comedy), and how many specific instances I can think of in the US of boys and girls being prevented from playing together by adults lest one or the other catch cooties.

      • Lena says

        The whole idea of drag as comedy comes over as pretty denigrating in itself. (Especially since it’s practically always a “guy in a dress” sort of drag.) The majority of drag-related comedy seems to rely on the “hilarious” idea of a guy in a dress. Because obviously a guy humiliating himself by dressing as a woman” is just side-splitting. It’s not even good comedy; it’s just the concept that’s supposed to be incredibly funny by itself. :/

    • Dunc says

      But what could be more manly than a kilt? You try suggesting that it’s not, here in Scotland, see how far you get. 😉

      As for whether gender stereotypes are more strictly enforced in the US, I’d certainly say it’s a possibility. For example, here in the UK (and I think the rest of Europe), no-one (except perhaps the most pathetically insecure teenager) would think that there’s anything unmanly about wearing a pink shirt or tie, yet I’ve encountered the idea that pink in any form is an absolute no-no for a straight man a number of times on the internet, presumably from Americans. (It’s just not my colour. Shame really.)

      I do call my chic little leather shoulder bag my “manbag”, but it’s meant ironically. 😉

      The drag thing is just weird. I think it all stems from pantomime and music hall, but yeah, weird…

  23. NoApologetics says

    It’s going into the absurd at how far this sort of marketing extends. There was a sponsor bump for a carbonated beverage, that’s copy went along these lines “_____ is for dudes. Ladies hands off.” How the hell is soda pop gender specific? What are the consequences if a women were to accidentally or purposefully indulge in said product?

  24. Lena says

    It always remind me of how fragile the supposed monoliths of masculinity and (male) heterosexuality as put forth by society are. If expressing interest in something that just hints at being “girly” is enough to cause one to be “unmasculine” than how weak are these labels really?

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone says

      Very true, it’s also fascinating to see how uncomfortable people are with not being sure which gender one is, there is a couple in Canada who have chosen not to reveal to anyone outside the family which gender their third child, Storm is:

      I really understand their thinking, a lot of people treat babies and small children differently depending on whether they think the child is a boy or a girl. It was also interesting to see the amount of outrage and consternation from many people about this. Some people apparently are not comfortable if they don’t have that label to apply from the outset. If one don’t know a persons gender, one might be forced to treat them as a person first not as a set of the supposed default traits of their supposed gender, oh the horror!

      The Canadian parents aren’t the first to attempt this either, there is a couple in Sweden who are also attempting to raise their child without revealing zir gender:

    • Kizzy says

      Thanks for the Feminist Frequency links. I’ve been unhappy with LEGO for a while now and this really gets down to the root of the issue. My sister (cis woman, as far as I know) and I (trans woman) both enjoyed playing with LEGOs as kids. We were into the Town theme and every once in a while, broke it down to create an animal sanctuary where we created our creatures from scratch. We had awesome times…

  25. Anders says

    Brossip – when men talk about their friends

    Han Mantana – series about a young boy who lives a double life as a car mechanic (what could be more manly than that)

    Manstrosity – a man who does girly stuff

    Manimize – going through your attire so that it is as manly as possible

    Any more suggestions?

  26. says

    Natalie: In a similar vein (the often-tragic results of toxic masculinity and gender stereotyping), did you come across the horrific case of the six-year-old boy in Sweden who, last year, was stabbed in the neck by another child at his pre-school, after being bullied by his classmates for wearing pink clothing and nail polish and for liking ballet? The original news article can be found here, and I also wrote about it on my blog at the time.

      • says

        Ah, it came back (@#28). No worries. It must have gone into moderation automatically.

        (I’m used to Pharyngula where one is allowed up to six links, but I know policies vary across different Freethoughtblogs.)

      • says

        It’s ok, the comment has reappeared now. @#28 on this thread. I erroneously thought it had been deleted because it disappeared yesterday (normally it says This post is awaiting moderation when it’s in the filter).

  27. Pira says

    One of the things I saw touched upon here is how these ideas of gender roles are so rigidly enforced right from a very young age, especially into boys. I think more people are getting the idea that there is no inherent reason why girls can’t do things that guys can, and we see more and more examples of that every day. I think that’s a great thing, but at the same time, it’s like a new movement of masculinity is sweeping across guys everywhere. It’s bad when it’s even seriously taking root in the gay community, who seem increasingly willing to abandon those that they feel make them look effeminate. It’s like people don’t realize that Duke Nukem is a parody

  28. Sarah says

    I’ll confess.

    I’m a woman and I find feminine things mostly stressful and annoying. I have never taken well to fashion or makeup. It provokes a sense of “that is not who I am can you please let me be normal?” The whole message that women have to be beautiful drives me nuts (I can approximate the standard if I try; my problem is with the *obligation.*) Most people who know me describe me as “like a guy” because of my interests and attitude, and I feel far safer and more comfortable in my own, non-pink milieu.

    It’s hard *not* to see the frilly stuff as just plain inferior. And to wonder ‘why would anyone WANT to be a girl’? I do try to be careful to mind my own business and not tell anybody else how to live their lives, even if I can’t entirely empathize.


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