…and I put “femmephobia” in quotes, because from where I sit this culture is structurally gynophile; not only does it value and reward conventional femininity but it values it above just about everything else, brigading men into protecting, providing for and honoring women by law, custom and social policy.
In any case the claim is made over and over again that homophobia (when it is directed at gay men) is really just another example of society’s misogyny, that femininity is hated and this is just one more expression of that truth. It’s bunk on several levels. For one thing it looks suspiciously like another feminist appropriation a la “Women and minorities”. But the other thing is it’s just an inaccurate characterization of what is going, proceeding largely from general pig ignorance of male sexuality and what a man has to do to be perceived as fully masculine in this society.
Hyperagency – Zach Howe has a post at Slate that makes some very good points about the way male heterosexuality is perceived or “constructed” which are crucial to understanding the mechanics of homophobia, and have much more explanatory power than femmephobia. Basically it comes down to hyperagency:
“Clearly, men in America have grown up learning to be scared of gayness. But not only for the reasons we typically think—not only, in the end, because of religion, insecurity about their own sexuality, or a visceral aversion to other men’s penises. The truth is, they’re afraid because heterosexuality is so fragile.
Heterosexuality’s power lies in perception, not physical truth—as long as people think you’re exclusively attracted to the right gender, you’re golden. But perception is a precarious thing; a “zero-tolerance” policy has taught men that the way people think of them can change permanently with one slip, one little kiss or too-intimate friendship. And once lost, it can be nearly impossible to reclaim.
Put another way, the zero-tolerance rule means that if a man makes one “wrong” move—kisses another man in a moment of drunken fun, say—he is immediately assumed to be gay.”
He says this is where the actual fear of gayness comes from – it is a fear of being labeled gay, regardless of a man’s actual sexuality. And as he points out, it is determined by something a man does or fails to do, even the smallest thing he might do.
The gender binary – Yet Another Commenter explains another way that homophobia is not necessarily or even primarily femmephobia – it’s not about a man being feminine at all. It’s about being non-masculine, and non-masculine is not the same as being feminine. It is a third state, neutral. After all there is more being a woman than being a non-man. The masculinity the gay man is failing at is predicated on desiring women, and not doing that is read as a failure, as for example by slipping and desiring a man for even a one-time hook-up – more hyperagency. It’s as if male heterosexuality is some fragile state of grace that requires constant effort to maintain. A man does not have to act feminine to fail at being masculine, and that is the root of homophobia.
So no, failing to be male does not instantly pop a man into the female category. He will not be able to turn on the tears and rely on the pity of men to run to his aid. He will not be able to sit in a bar and have people keep coming up to him to see if he’s interested in them. If he harms someone he will not be able to casually explain it away as self-defense and blame his victim, or blame it on something his spouse did or falied to do; he will not be able to use tears and a show of helplessness to evade accountabuility. So no, he is in no way going to be treated like a woman.
Fascinating. This would explain the problem I have when I encounter feminists asserting that “homphobia is really misogyny” and is all about “hatred of the feminine”. As a gay man I’ve never thought that was really a valid sort of argument and it tended to stick in my craw quite frankly-but I never could quite articulate why it seemed so off to me. I think your article explains it. The proposition that “homphobia is about misogyny” is based on a flawed proposition-that we must define everything in binary terms-which results in a classic either/or fallacy.
David Palmer sums up in another comment:
I always loved the one about “homphobia is really misogyny”. As a gay man, I cannot recall single case in which I was faced with being attacked based on my orientation (whether physically or verbally) in which it was “all about hating women”. It’s sort of the ultimate in feminist narcissism: If a gay man is bashed, it’s STILL all about the wimmin.
Latest posts by Jim Doyle (see all)
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