This post will be kind of scattered and unpolished, because I’ve been neglecting my blog for like two weeks, disappointing my immense legions of followers who hang from every word that drops from my perfectly outlined, naturally full lips. (okay, I’ll just stop.) So I’m going to just post it, and if I want to add more later, I’ll do a different post.
I don’t like carrying too much stuff in my pockets (it ruins the line of skinny jeans), so throughout my undergraduate career I used one of those black, heavy-duty cotton messenger bags, which I covered with buttons with all kinds of subversive and inappropriate slogans. (Sadly, the bag bit the dust some time ago, but I still have all the buttons.) I also had a similar but smaller bag with a shoulder strap that I used for going out, and a couple of other messenger bags.
From time to time I offhandedly referred to whatever bag I had at that time as my purse. I mean, it had my wallet, my keys, my cell phone, and whatever other crap I was routinely hauling around. And frequently I would get someone (men and women alike) who would reflexively correct me. “Your bag.”
I would usually blink a few times and say something witty and articulate, like, “Um, yeah, my purse.”
And they would often get very agitated and twirly and insist that this thing of mine that belonged to me and theoretically was mine to name was a bag, or a man-purse, or a murse, or even a European carry-all. I was even once prevented from bringing it into a club, where women were allowed to bring their purses, which were the same size and fulfilled the same function as mine, on the grounds that mine was a “bag,” not a purse. It was just completely unacceptable that I should have a purse and call it a purse, and it drove some people completely bananas. MEN DON’T HAVE PURSES!!
There’s an amazing kind of insecurity related to any manifestation of effeminacy in men, or anyone identified by others as a man, that seems far disproportionate to that related to masculinity in women. As we all know, girls can wear pants, but boys can’t wear skirts. It’s okay to be a tomboy, it’s not okay to be a sissy.
I think it’s a kind of transmisogyny, as Julia Serano explained in the quotes I gave in the last post: a combination of oppositional and traditional sexism. If men and women are different, and men are superior to women, anyone “moving down” by rejecting the “ideal” masculine for the “weak” feminine, whether in mannerisms, appearance, or identity, is doubly a traitor. We cast the whole edifice into suspicion: if men really are superior to women, why would anyone “choose” to be feminine when they could be masculine, and how can someone do that in the first place if masculinity is so natural?
You may have heard of research that showed that violently homophobic men had a higher rate of unconscious homosexual tendencies than non-homophobic straight men. Interestingly, another study I found (and have temporarily misplaced) suggested that men who had negative attitudes to women and to effeminate men scored higher on an inventory of unconscious feminine traits than men who didn’t have such attitudes (an interesting counter to the idea that masculinity has to include misogyny and femmephobia).
The education of men to be ideally masculine is often brutal. Could it be that the most femmephobic men were those who suffered at the hands of other men for their minor feminine tendencies, and learned most intensely to hate and fear those tendencies in themselves and others? After all, if another man can be feminine, you might be, too, despite your best efforts not to be. So they learn to fixate on feminine behaviour in other men as a source of basic terror.
(I’m also mildly interested in the use of “magic words” to stave off scary effeminacy. It’s okay to have a purse as long as it’s a “bag,” or even a “man-purse.” It’s okay to wear a skirt, as long as you don’t call it that. Just like it’s okay for a straight guy to have a crush on another guy, as long as it’s a “man-crush” or a “bromance.” No homo.)
Of course, it’s not fair to talk about effemimania as though it’s only practised by men; Serano reels off a list of effemimanic comments that she received before she transitioned, and points out that they were all made by women. I want to say that they reproduce the patriarchal attitudes of men, but that seems a bit facile and agency-denying a conclusion to leap to. It’ll take more thinking.