Effeminacy is a trait in males that generally contradicts traditional male (masculine) gender roles. It is a derogatory term frequently applied to femininity; or womanly behavior, demeanor, and appearance displayed by a man, typically used implying criticism or ridicule of this behavior (as opposed to, for example, merely describing a man as feminine, which is more neutral). The term effeminate is most often used by people who subscribe to the conventional view that men should conform to traditional masculine traits and behaviors. Generally, the description is applied to individuals, but may be used to describe entire societies as an inflammatory allegation. Although in the Western tradition, as described below, effeminacy has often been considered a vice, indicative of other negative character traits and often involving a pejorative insinuation of homosexual tendencies, in other societies men who do not conform to male gender roles may have a special social function, as is the case of Two-Spirits in some Native American groups. Furthermore, in contemporary culture, effeminacy has come to be seen by some to be simply one characteristic or trait which might be a part of a particular person's "gender role", and in this sense would not be considered a vice or indicative of any other characteristics. An effeminate man is similar to a fop or a dandy, though these tend to be archaic identities that are taken on by the individual rather than insulting labels.

Social acceptance and intolerance

In most cultures, effeminacy was traditionally considered, if not a vice, at least a weakness, indicative of other negative character traits and more recently often involving a negative insinuation of homosexual tendencies.

The definition of what constitutes effeminate behavior varies greatly depending on the social and cultural context, as well as on the time period. While some effeminate behavior evokes impressions of homosexuality in some people, others may simply view the behavior as "unmanly" without questioning the sexual orientation of the person in question.

Examples of behavior noncompliant with conventional masculinity have included:

These examples have changed over time and will always vary depending on different contextual factors. During the Enlightenment, period fashion prescribed stockings, elaborate knee-length robes and long wigs for men, things that would most certainly be considered unacceptable for men (and women) in contemporary society. During the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, men idolized the Renaissance Man who was skilled in all walks of life - a "real" man of this time was to be skilled in armed combat and knowledgeable of literature and art, among other things.

Effeminacy and gay men

In the United States, boys are often homosocial (Gagnon, 1977), and gender role performance determines social rank (David and Brannon, 1976). While gay boys receive the same enculturation, they are less compliant, Martin Levine summarizes: "Harry (1982, 51-52), for example, found that 42 percent of his gay respondents were 'sissies' during childhood. Only 11 percent of his heterosexual samples were gender role nonconformists. Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981, 188) reported that half of their male homosexual subjects practiced gender-inappropriate behaviour in childhood. Among their heterosexual males, the rate of noncompliance was 25 percent. Saghir and Robins (1973, 18) found that one-third of their gay male respondents conformed to gender role dictates. Only 3 percent of their heterosexual men deviated from the norm." Thus effeminate boys, or sissies, are physically and verbally harassed (Saghir and Robins, 1973, 17-18; Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith 1981, 74-84), causing them to feel worthless (Harry 1982, 20) and "de-feminise" (Harry 1982, 20; Saghir and Robins 1973, 18-19). (Levine, 1998, p.15-16)

Prior to the Stonewall riots, inconsistent gender role performance had been noticed among gay men (Karlen, 1978; Cory and LeRoy, 1963; Newton, 1972), "They have a different face for different occasions. In conversations with each other, they often undergo a subtle change. I have seen men who appeared to be normal suddenly smile roguishly, soften their voices, and simper as they greeted homosexual friends....Many times I saw these changes occur after I had gained a homosexual's confidence and he could safely risk my disapproval. Once as I watched a luncheon companion become an effeminate caricature of himself, he apologised, 'It is hard to always remember that one is a man.'" (Stearn 1962, 29) (Levine, 1998, p.21-23)

Pre-Stonewall "closet" culture accepted homosexuality as effeminate behaviour, and thus emphasized camp, drag, and swish including an interest in fashion (Henry, 1955; West, 1977) and decorating (Fischer 1972; White 1980; Henry 1955, 304). Masculine gay men did exist but were marginalised (Warren 1972, 1974; Helmer 1963) and formed their own communities, such as leather and Western (Goldstein, 1975), and/or donned working class outfits (Fischer, 1972) such as sailor uniforms (Cory and LeRoy, 1963). (Levine, 1998, p.21-23, 56)

Post-Stonewall, "clone culture" became dominant and effeminacy is now marginalised. One indicator of this is a definite preference shown in personal ads for masculine-behaving men (Bailey et al 1997).

The avoidance of effeminacy by men, including gay ones, has been linked to possible impedance of personal and public health. Regarding AIDS, masculine behaviour was stereotyped as being unconcerned about safe sex practices while engaging in promiscuous sexual behaviour. Early reports from New York City indicated that more women had themselves tested for AIDS than men. (Sullivan, 1987). (Levine, 1998, p.148)

David Halperin (2002), compares "universalising" and "minoritising" notions of gender deviance: "'Softness' either may represent the specter of potential gender failure that haunts all normative masculinity, an ever-present threat to the masculinity of every man, or it may represent the disfiguring peculiarity of a small class of deviant individuals."

The term effeminaphobia was coined to describe strong anti-effeminacy. Michael Bailey (1995) coined the similar term femiphobia to describe the ambivalence gay men and culture have about effeminate behaviour. Author Tim Bergling (September 1997) also coined the term sissyphobia.



Effeminacy comes from the Latin, ex which is "out," and femina which means woman; it means "to be like a woman." The Latin term is mollities, meaning "softness."

A Greek word that approaches one modern meaning of effeminate is kinaidos , which is still used in modern Greek in that derogatory sense. Furthermore, a "boy" is not generally considered to be motivated by the pleasure of penetration itself, but rather gratifying (charizesthai) the normative masculine desire of an older male (Halperin, 2002).

"A cinaedus is a man who fails to live up to traditional standards of masculine comportment. Indeed, the word's etymology suggests no direct connection to any sexual practice. Rather, borrowed from Greek kinaidos (which may itself have been a borrowing from a language of Asia Minor), it primarily signifies an effeminate dancer who entertained his audiences with a tympanum or tambourine in his hand, and adopted a lascivious style, often suggestively wiggling his buttocks in such a way as to suggest anal intercourse....The primary meaning of cinaedus never died out; the term never became a dead metaphor." (Williams, 1999)

Other contemporary words for effeminacy include: "pansy", "nelly", "pussy", and "girl" (when applied to a boy or, especially, adult man). Contrastingly, a masculine girl would be called a "tomboy" or anti-gay slurs. The word effete similarly means effeminacy or over-refinement, but comes from the Latin effetus, from ex- + fetus (fruitful).

Ancient Greece and Rome

See main article Classical definition of effeminacy.


Greek historian Plutarch recounts that Periander, the tyrant of Ambracia, asked his "boy", "Aren't you pregnant yet?" in the presence of other people, causing the boy to kill him in revenge for being treated as if effeminate or a woman (Amatorius 768F).

As part of Greek politician Aiskhines(Aeschines)' proof that a member of the prosecution against him, Timarkhos(Timarchus), had prostituted himself to (or been "kept" by) another male while young, he attributed fellow prosecutor Demosthenes' nickname Batalos ("arse") to his "unmanliness and kinaidi? and frequently commented on his "unmanly and womanish temper", even criticising his clothing: "If anyone took those dainty little coats and soft shirts off you ... and took them round for the jurors to handle, I think they'd be quite unable to say, if they hadn't been told in advance, whether they had hold of a man's clothing or a woman's." (Dover, 1989)

Demosthenes is also implicated in passive homosexuality and the prostitution of youth (Aiskhines iii 162): "There is a certain Aristion, a Plataean..., who as a youth was outstandingly good-looking and lived for a long time in Demosthenes' house. Allegations about the part he was playing [lit., 'undergoing or doing what'] there vary, and it would be most unseemly for me to talk about it." (Dover, 1989)

The late Greek (possibly c. fourth century), Erôtes ("Loves", "Forms of Desire", "Affairs of the Heart"), preserved with manuscripts by Lucian, contains a debate "between two men, Charicles and Callicratidas, over the relative merits of women and boys as vehicles of male sexual pleasure." Callicratidus, "far from being effeminised by his sexual predilection for boys...Callicratidas's inclination renders him hypervirile... Callicratidas's sexual desire for boys, then, makes him more of a man; it does not weaken or subvert his male gender identity but rather consolidates it." In contrast, "Charicles' erotic preference for women seems to have had the corresponding effect of effeminising him: when the reader first encounters him, for example, Charicles is described as exhibiting 'a skillful use of cosmetics, so as to be attractive to women.'"


Over-refinement, fine clothes and other possessions, the company of women, certain trades, and too much coitus with women were all deemed effeminate traits in Roman society. Taking an inappropriate sexual position -- passive or "bottom" (kinaidos, see above) -- in same-gender sex was considered effeminate and unnatural. Touching the head with a finger and wearing a goatee were also considered effeminate (Holland, 2004).

Roman consul Scipio Aemilianus questioned one of his opponents, P. Sulpicius Galus: "For the kind of man who adorns himself daily in front of a mirror, wearing perfume; whose eyebrows are shaved off; who walks around with plucked beard and thighs; who when he was a young man reclined at banquets next to his lover, wearing a long-sleeved tunic; who is fond of men as he is of wine: can anyone doubt that he has done what cinaedi are in the habit of doing?" (fr. 17 Malcovati; Aulus Gellius, 6.12.5; cited/translated by Williams 1999, p.23)

Roman orator Quintilian described, "The plucked body, the broken walk, the female attire," as "signs of one who is soft [mollis] and not a real man." (Institutes 5.9.14, cited/translated by Richlin, 1993)

For Roman men masculinity also meant self-control, even in the face of painful emotions, illnesses, or death. Cicero says, "There exist certain precepts, even laws, that prohibit a man from being effeminate in pain," (Fin. 2.94) and Seneca adds, "If I must suffer illness, it will be my wish to do nothing out of control, nothing effeminately." (Epist. 67.4)

In his commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar wrote that the Belgians were the bravest of all Gauls, because "merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind". (Commentarii_de_Bello_Gallico, I,1)

The Bible

Malakos is listed among other vices in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians. 6:9. Translations use different terms to express this: "The JB (1966) chooses 'catamite,' the NAB (1970) renders arsenokoités and malakos together as 'sodomite,' others translate malakos as 'male prostitute' (NIV 1973, NRSV 1989), and again some combine both terms and offer the modern medicalised categories of sexual, or particularly homosexual, 'perversion' (RSV 1946, TEV 1966, NEB 1970, REB 1992)." (Martin, 1996). The word malakos, #3120 in the Greek Dictionary of The New Testament of James Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to The Bible translates: "of uncertain affinity".

United States

To strengthen the argument of the "mechanics", Thomas Jefferson said something similar to Xenophon (see above):

"The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body. I consider the class of artificers as the panderers of vice, and the instruments by which the liberties of a country are generally overturned." (8)

Being friends with women, having limp or loose wrists, a high and/or lispy voice, a swaying walk, occupations such as hairdressing, and hobbies and interests such as theater, musicals, or "domestic" activities such as design, sewing, or cleaning, are all often considered effeminate within various historical contexts in the United States.

See also


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This article is based on "Effeminacy" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Effeminacy&action=history