This page outlines my work in defining, exploring and applying Femme Theory.
Femme Theory: Refocusing the Intersectional Lens
This paper seeks to develop a theory of subversive femininities or femme theory. It argues for the inclusion of femmephobia in intersectional analyses and provides the theoretical groundwork necessary for feminist theorists and researchers to incorporate an analysis of femmephobia into their studies of oppression.
Femme Interventions and the Proper Feminist Subject: Critical approaches to decolonizing Western feminist pedagogies
As it currently stands, little academic attention has been paid to the systematic devaluation of femininity or femmephobia. By adopting “femme” as a critical analytic, this paper dislocates femininity from its ascribed Otherness and demonstrates how empowered femininities have been overlooked within gender studies. Femme, as the failure or refusal to approximate the patriarchal norms of femininity, serves as the conceptual anchor of this study and is used to examine how femmephobic sentiments are perpetuated within Contemporary Western Feminist (CWF) theory. This perpetuation is propped up by the thematic marginalization of empowered femininities from the texts chosen for gender studies courses, revealing a normative feminist body constructed through the privileging of identities that maintains femininity as white, middle-class, normatively bodied, and without agency. The excavation of an empowered feminine subject from the margins reveals the foothold of normative whiteness embedded within feminist pedagogies. Using a thematic analysis of how femininity is taken-up within textbooks used in gender studies courses, the current paper demonstrates how intersections of femininity have yet to be addressed within dominant Feminist theories. The femme—as a queer potentiality—offers a way of (re)thinking through the limitations of CWF theory and the paradoxical preoccupations with the absented femme.
"Femininity? It's the aesthetic of subordination": Understanding the role of femmephobia in experiences of discrimination among sexual and gender minorities
Sissies. Ladies. Princess. Fag. Whether directed at men, women, or diversely identifying individuals, these words are viewed as biting pejoratives. Why are some of the most painful insults based upon identifying an individual with feminine qualities? To feminize is to subordinate; to fail to comply with the norms set out by patriarchal femininity is to risk further subjugation. What do derogatory terms such as bitch, slut, diva, whore, prude, tomboy, sissy, fag, and pussy have in common and, in drawing connections between these terms, what insight can be developed into systems of oppression? Using in-depth interviews with sexual and gender minorities (N=38), the current study utilizes thematic analysis and thematic networks to explore the intersecting role of feminine devaluation (i.e. femmephobia) in experiences of discrimination and oppression. The current paper presents two thematic networks. The first network pertains to masculine themes: masculine privilege, masculinity as protective, and masculinity as the norm. The second network pertains to femininity: feminine signifiers and symbolism, femininity as target, and femininity as inauthentic. The connection between these two thematic networks illustrate the symbiotic relationship between femmephobia and the gender binary. Finally, patterns identified from the thematic analysis were used to generate a model of femmephobia, which theorizes five points at which femmephobia is enacted, providing insight into the mechanics of feminine devaluation.
Femme Resistance: The fem(me)inine art of failure
Using femme theory, Foucault, and queer failure as analytical frameworks, the current paper demonstrates the role of feminine failure in resisting and subverting systems of oppression, subsequently providing the minute shifts in power necessary to expand the terms of patriarchal femininity. More specifically, the current paper draws on contemporary modes of art and aesthetics to examine the productive potential of failing to embody patriarchal femininity, positing this failure as a form of femme resistance. By hijacking cultural signifiers of adornment, femme and feminine failure celebrate that which is culturally shamed (queer, fat, disabled, variant, poor, and racially minoritised bodies), expose systems of erasure, challenge binary systems of meaning, and promote feminine growth. Examining each of these themes in turn, the current paper argues that feminine failure challenges the pillars of patriarchal femininity and discursive systems of normativity. To this end, femme as a theoretical framework demonstrates the freedom of failure by exposing the heterogeneous multiplicities of femininity, and offering possibilities that normativity never could. This critical discursive essay contributes to the emergent application of femme as a theoretical framework.
Man Up: The moderating role of femmephobia in predicting aggression toward gay men
Despite the positive gains in law and social attitudes, violence and discrimination toward LGBTQ+ communities continues, and anti-gay hate crimes remain a prevalent problem. Although research is beginning to understand the predictors of both aggression and sexual prejudice, respectively, little is known about predictors of aggression fuelled by sexual prejudice. Consequently, the current study examined both worldviews (e.g., narcissism, social dominance orientation, right-wing authoritarianism) and attitudes (e.g., old-fashioned homophobia, homonegativity, and femmephobia) as predictors of self-reported homophobic aggression. Using a sample of heterosexual men (N= 554), the current study found that negative views of femininity in men (femmephobia) was the most salient predictor of past aggression towards gay men, over and above the contributions of the more traditional predictors of aggression and homophobia. Further, negative views of femininity in men also moderated the association between other predictors (social dominance, narcissism, and modern homonegativity) and self-reported past aggression towards gay men, such that without holding negative views of femininity in men, many of the traditional predictors were not associated with self-reported aggressive behaviour. We argue that future research into anti-LGBTQ violence should take into consideration attitudes towards femininity in addition to other attitude and worldview constructs.
Femmephobia: The Role of Anti-Femininity and Gender Policing in LGBTQ+ People’s Experiences of Discrimination
Since the 1970s social science researchers have documented the cultural devaluation of femininity and its impact on experiences of discrimination among sexual and gender minorities. Yet, despite the continued and accumulating evidence demonstrating the role of anti-femininity (or femmephobia) in these experiences, little research has specifically examined femininity as an intersecting component of discrimination. Using in-depth interviews with sexual and gender minorities (N = 38), the current study explores the intersecting role of femmephobia in experiences of discrimination. Under the global theme of “femininity as target,” 5 key sub themes were identified: femininity and passing, regulating sexualities, masculine right of access, biological determinism, and the feminine joke. Participants illuminated femmephobia as a regulatory power within LGBTQ+ communities and society at large, as well as how femininity itself operates as a target in their experiences of gender policing and discrimination. By turning attention toward femininity, the current paper provides a clearer understanding of what may possibly lay at the heart of many social issues surrounding discrimination and violence. These findings have implications for the study of social inequalities, as well as strategies for remedying the pervasive devaluation of femininity.
Although recent advances in understanding gender have acknowledged multiple dimensions of masculinity, femininity is commonly construed as a unitary concept. Existing unilateral measures have led to false assumptions about the association between femininity and psychological adjustment, and neglected key conceptual differences between self-actualized versus assigned/essentialized femininity. The Femininities Scale was developed based on Femme Theory’s description of multiple femininities. It allows for a more accurate assessment of the varied ways respondents might enact their own femininity, or construe the concept of femininity.
A qualitative analysis of 146 femme-identified individuals’ responses to questions about sexual identity, femme identity, gender expression and experiences of discrimination were examined in an attempt to better understand the experiences of femme-identified individuals. Specific emphasis was placed on the process of self-identifying as femme, as opposed to being categorised as femme on the basis of gender expression. Femme-identified participants described experiences of coming out femme in contrast to coming out as sexual minorities, processes of femme-identity development that were largely shaped by the prevalence of masculine privileging within queer communities and related experiences of discrimination based on their femme identity or femmephobia. The occurrences of four different types of femmephobia were explored and comparisons were made between participants as a function of their sexual identities. The study demonstrates that femme identity is not limited to individuals in exclusively butch–femme relationships or communities and that there is an important element of agency and self-actualisation associated with femme identity. Furthermore, participants of diverse sexual and gender identities self-identified as femme, indicating that femme is an identity that transgresses gender and sexuality and is not limited solely to cisgender lesbian and bisexual women.
Although the term ‘femme’ is most often used to describe feminine lesbians or bisexual cisgender women, recent femme theorists have argued that this definition is insufficient and fails to account for the sexual and gender diversity of those who self-identify as femme. The current study sought to examine the multiplicities of femme identity by exploring who identifies as femme and whether femme-identified individuals experience in-group discrimination as a function of their femme identity (i.e., femme-negativity). Femme-identified individuals in the study were diverse with respect to both gender and sexual identity, and queer identification was highlighted as an important element of femme identity. Many of the femme-identified individuals reported experiences of femme-negativity and femme-related stigma consciousness. In contrast to previous research, femme-identified individuals in the current study were not found to have higher levels of internalised homophobia or identity concealment when compared to butch and androgynous identified sexual minority participants.