I was discussing with my former boss my observation that, while women are praised for taking up masculine interests and hobbies, boys are reprimanded for taking up feminine interests and hobbies. For example, if a woman joins a fantasy football team, she’s seen as cooler than the average woman, whereas if a man were to pick up knitting, he’d be seen as odd and less cool than the average guy. The reason for this is that things deemed masculine are viewed by society as being good (smart, strong, fun) and that things deemed feminine are viewed by society as bad (dumb, weak, frivolous). My boss challenged the premise by raising the fact that his daughter is often mocked for being an accomplished athlete. Specifically, she feels pressured to act hyper-feminine because people will otherwise assume she is gay.
The question then becomes: if things that are feminine are viewed by society as bad, why would society promote the performative femininity? The answer is simple: homosexuality threatens traditional gender identity. Homosexuality, like feminism, is an assertion of power over the patriarchy.
It is my belief that what homophobes are actually responding to, and what is actually threatened by homosexuality, is traditional gender identity, which is, incidentally, also what is challenged by feminism. Therefore, and what I think is a kind of proof for my theory, it is not surprising to find that homophobia is also often paired with “anti-feminist” attitudes. Therefore, the pressure that my boss’ daughter feels to perform femininity is merely society upholding masculinity (and the power associated with it) as the exclusive right of men. It is another manifestation of society trying to keep women oppressed, not an endorsement of femininity.
Gay Rights and Feminism are natural allies: both groups are fighting for the right to defy traditional gender norms. While feminism should promote the value of femininity, it must promote individual freedom above all else. This means that both men and women should be able to embrace whatever aspects of femininity they feel work for them, and reject those that don’t. Likewise with cherry picking from masculinity. Both gay rights and feminism actively subvert traditional understandings of gender and sexuality, and seek to divorce femininity and masculinity from sexual organs.
Homophobia isn’t about sex, homophobia is gender insecurity. What does it matter what someone does in the bedroom? What does it matter if a man wears pink? How does any of it effect anyone else’s life? It doesn’t. But for some men, their power is defined by their masculinity, and when one man opts out of masculine behaviour, it is seen as undermining the power and authority of masculinity. The women who are homophobes and anti-feminists? Their power is derived from being allied to traditional masculine authority. Homophobia and anti-feminism make life simpler by not forcing any self-reflection or empathy; by reinforcing a blueprint for success that demands only conformity.
If one does something for the sake of not being thought of as “gay”, one is buying into homophobia and anti-feminism, if unintentionally. I am not trying to say anything disparaging about my colleague’s daughter, because everyone wants to be seen for who they are and to not be typecast. But, having become aware of it, we need to accept that the choice is clear: we can either choose the side of individual rights, gay rights, and feminism, by being true to ourselves, or we can choose the side of homophobia and anti-feminism by submitting to the patriarchy.