"Femininity? It's the Aesthetic of Subordination": Examining Femmephobia, the Gender Binary, and Experiences of Oppression Among Sexual and Gender Minorities

Arch Sex Behav. 2020 Oct;49(7):2319-2339. doi: 10.1007/s10508-020-01641-x. Epub 2020 Mar 20.


The devaluing of femininity is a social problem with serious consequences. Violence against women, men, transgender people, and racial minorities is often exacerbated when elements of femmephobia are present. Femmephobia refers to the devaluation and regulation of femininity and suggests a separate, perhaps overlapping, phenomenon specific to gender (e.g., femininity), rather than gender/sex (e.g., woman) or sex (e.g., female). Yet, despite growing evidence warranting the consideration of femmephobia, little research has considered femininity as an intersectional axis. Femmephobia has been examined in a fractured manner, isolating its various manifestations in specific, rather than overarching ways. The current paper explored how these systems are interrelated and argues that sources of oppression underlying many forms of violence today (e.g., anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, Incel attacks, sexual violence, transgender murders) are all symptoms of the same underlying social prejudice: femmephobia. While sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and racism also play a role, previous research tends to overlook or conflate the role of femmephobia in fueling prejudice and violence. Using in-depth interviews and thematic analysis, the current paper explored the intersecting role of femmephobia in experiences of oppression among sexual and gender minorities (N = 38). Two thematic networks are presented. The first network pertains to masculine themes: masculine privilege, masculinity as protective, and masculinity as the norm. The second network pertains to femininity: feminine inferiority, femininity as target, and femininity as inauthentic. The connection between these two thematic networks illustrates the symbiotic relationship between femmephobia and the gender binary. Finally, patterns identified from the thematic analysis were used to generate a model of femmephobia. This paper suggests that the gender binary is not merely a division; it is also hierarchical and regulated by femmephobia.

Keywords: Femininity; Femme theory; Femmephobia; Gender binary; Gender hegemony; LGBT+ prejudice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Femininity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / psychology*
  • Violence / psychology*