Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Social psychology: Altruism · Attribution · Attitudes · Conformity · Discrimination · Groups · Interpersonal relations · Obedience · Prejudice · Norms · Perception · Index · Outline

Drag queens like these embody femininity to an exaggerated degree.

Effeminacy is a trait in males that generally contradicts traditional male (masculine) gender roles. It is a term frequently applied to femininity; or womanly behaviour, demeanour, and appearance displayed by a man. Generally, the description is applied to individuals, but may be used to describe entire societies as an inflammatory allegation. Although in the Western tradition, as described below, effeminacy has often been considered a vice, indicative of other negative character traits and often involving a perjorative insinuation of homosexual tendencies, in other societies men who do not conform to male gender roles may have have a special social function, as is the case of Two-Spirits in some Native American groups. Furthermore, in contemporary culture, effeminacy has come to be seen by some to be simply one characteristic or trait which might be a part of a particular person's "gender role", and in this sense would not be considered a vice or indicative of any other characteristics. An effeminate man is similar to a Fop or a Dandy, though these tend to be archaic identities that are taken on by the individual rather than insulting labels.

Societal acceptance and intolerance

In most cultures, effeminacy was traditionally considered, if not a vice, at least a weakness, indicative of other negative character traits and more recently often involving a negative insinuation of homosexual tendencies. However, there have been times in history when behaviours that would now be considered effeminate were considered normal in certain parts of society (see for instance the demeanour and clothing of the minions of the court of Henry III of France).

Effiminacy and Gay Men

In the US, boys are homosocial (Gagnon, 1977), and gender role performance determines social rank (David and Brannon, 1976). While gay boys receive the same enculturation, they are less compliant, Martin Levine summarizes: "Harry (1982, 51-52), for example, found that 42 percent of his gay respondents were 'sissies' during childhood. Only 11 percent of his heterosexual samples were gender role nonconformists. Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981, 188) reported that half of their male homosexual subjects practiced gender-inappropriate behaviour in childhood. Among their heterosexual males, the rate of noncompliance was 25 percent. And Saghir and Robins (1973, 18) found that one-third of their gay male respondents conformed to gender role dictates. Only 3 percent of their heterosexual men deviated from the norm." Thus effeminate boys, or sissies, are physically and verbally harassed (Saghir and Robins, 1973, 17-18; Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith 1981, 74-84), causing them to feel worthless (Harry 1982, 20) and "de-feminise" (Harry 1982, 20; Saghir and Robins 1973, 18-19). (Levine, 1998, p.15-16)

Prior to the Stonewall riots, inconsistent gender role performance had been noticed among gay men (Karlen, 1978; Cory and LeRoy, 1963; Newton, 1972), "They have a different face for different occasions. In conversations with each other, they often undergo a subtle change. I have seen men who appeared to be normal [sic] suddenly smile roguishly, soften their voices, and simper as they greeted homosexual [sic] friends....Many times I saw these changes occur after I had gained a homosexual's confidence and he could safely risk my disapproval. Once as I watched a luncheon companion become an effeminate caricature of himself, he apologised, 'It is hard to always remember that one is a man.'" (Stearn 1962, 29) (Levine, 1998, p.21-23)

Pre-Stonewall "closet" culture accepted homosexuality as effeminate behaviour, and thus emphasized camp, drag, and swish including an interest in fashion (Henry, 1955; West, 1977) and decorating (Fischer 1972; White 1980; Henry 1955, 304). Masculine gay men did exist but were marginalised (Warren 1972, 1974; Helmer 1963) and formed their own communities, such as leather and Western (Goldstein, 1975), and/or donned working class outfits (Fischer, 1972) such as sailor uniforms (Cory and LeRoy, 1963). (Levine, 1998, p.21-23, 56)

Post-Stonewall, "clone culture" became dominant and effeminacy is now marginalised. One indicator of this is a definite preference shown in personal ads for masculine-behaving men (Bailey et al 1997).

The avoidance of effeminacy by men, including gay ones, has been linked to possible impedance of personal and public health. Regarding AIDS, masculine behaviour was stereotyped as being unconcerned about safe sex practices while engaging in promiscuous sexual behaviour. Early reports from New York City indicated that more women had themselves tested for AIDS than men. (Sullivan, 1987). (Levine, 1998, p.148)

David Halperin (2002), compares "universalising" and "minoritising" notions of gender deviance: "'Softness' either may represent the specter of potential gender failure that haunts all normative masculinity, an ever-present threat to the masculinity of every man, or it may represent the disfiguring peculiarity of a small class of deviant individuals."

The term effeminaphobia was coined to describe strong anti-effeminacy. Michael Bailey (1995) coined the similar term femiphobia to describe the ambivalence gay men and culture have about effeminate behaviour. Author Tim Bergling (September 1997) also coined the term sissyphobia.



Effeminacy comes from the Latin, ex which is "out," and femina which means woman; it means "to be like a woman." The Latin term is mollities, meaning "softness."

A Greek word that approaches one modern meaning of effeminate is kinaidos (cinaedus in its Latinized form), a man "whose most salient feature was a supposedly "feminine" love of being sexually penetrated by other men." (Winkler, 1990) However, "cinaedus is not actually anchored in that specific sexual practice. It refers instead to a man who has an identity as gender deviant." (Williams, 1999). The Greek word for an effeminate man is μαλακός – malakos (literally "soft"), which is still used in modern Greek in that derogatory sense. Furthermore, a "boy" is not generally considered to be motivated by the pleasure of penetration itself, but rather gratifying (charizesthai) the normative masculine desire of an older male (Halperin, 2002).

"A cinaedus is a man who fails to live up to traditional standards of masculine comportment. Indeed, the word's etymology suggests no direct connection to any sexual practice. Rather, borrowed from Greek kinaidos (which may itself have been a borrowing from a language of Asia Minor), it primarily signifies an effeminate dancer who entertained his audiences with a tympanum or tambourine in his hand, and adopted a lascivious style, often suggestively wiggling his buttocks in such a way as to suggest anal intercourse....The primary meaning of cinaedus never died out; the term never became a dead metaphor." (Williams, 1999)

Other contemporary words for effeminacy include: "pansy", "nelly", "pussy", and "girl" (when applied to a boy or, especially, adult man). Contrastingly, a masculine girl would be called a "tomboy" or anti-gay slurs. The word effete similarly means effeminacy or over-refinement, but comes from the Latin effetus, from ex- + fetus (fruitful).

Ancient Greece and Rome

See main article Classical definition of effeminacy.


Greek historian Plutarch recounts that Periander, the tyrant of Ambracia, asked his "boy", "Aren't you pregnant yet?" in the presence of other people, causing the boy to kill him in revenge for being treated as if effeminate or a woman (Amatorius 768F).

As part of Greek politician Aiskhines' proof that a member of the prosecution against him, Timarkhos, had prostituted himself to (or been "kept" by) another male while young, he attributed fellow prosecutor Demosthenes' nickname Batalos ("arse") to his "unmanliness and kinaidiā and frequently commented on his "unmanly and womanish temper", even criticising his clothing: "If anyone took those dainty little coats and soft shirts off you ... and took them round for the jurors to handle, I think they'd be quite unable to say, if they hadn't been told in advance, whether they had hold of a man's clothing or a woman's." (Dover, 1989)

Demosthenes is also implicated in passive homosexuality and the prostitution of youth (Aiskhines iii 162): "There is a certain Aristion, a Plataean..., who as a youth was outstandingly good-looking and lived for a long time in Demosthenes' house. Allegations about the part he was playing [lit., 'undergoing or doing what'] there vary, and it would be most unseemly for me to talk about it." (Dover, 1989)

The late Greek (possibly c. fourth century), Erôtes ("Loves", "Forms of Desire", "Affairs of the Heart"), preserved with manuscripts by Lucian, contains a debate "between two men, Charicles and Callicratidas, over the relative merits of women and boys as vehicles of male sexual pleasure." Callicratidus, "far from being effeminised by his sexual predilection for boys...Callicratidas's inclination renders him hypervirile... Callicratidas's sexual desire for boys, then, makes him more of a man; it does not weaken or subvert his male gender identity but rather consolidates it." In contrast, "Charicles' erotic preference for women seems to have had the corresponding effect of effeminising him: when the reader first encounters him, for example, Charicles is described as exhibiting 'a skillful use of cosmetics, so as to be attractive to women.'"


Over-refinement, fine clothes and other possessions, the company of women, certain trades, and too much coitus with women were all deemed effeminate traits in Roman society. Taking an inappropriate sexual position -- passive or "bottom" (kinaidos, see above) -- in same-gender sex was considered effeminate and unnatural. Touching the head with a finger and wearing a goatee were also considered effeminate (Holland, 2004).

Roman consul Scipio Aemilianus questioned one of his opponents, P. Sulpicius Galus: "For the kind of man who adorns himself daily in front of a mirror, wearing perfume; whose eyebrows are shaved off; who walks around with plucked beard and thighs; who when he was a young man reclined at banquets next to his lover, wearing a long-sleeved tunic; who is fond of men as he is of wine: can anyone doubt that he has done what cinaedi are in the habit of doing?" (fr. 17 Malcovati; Aulus Gellius, 6.12.5; cited/translated by Williams 1999, p.23)

Roman orator Quintilian described, "The plucked body, the broken walk, the female attire," as "signs of one who is soft [mollis] and not a real man." (Institutes 5.9.14, cited/translated by Richlin, 1993)

For Roman men masculinity also meant self-control, even in the face of painful emotions, illnesses, or death. Cicero says, "There exist certain precepts, even laws, that prohibit a man from being effeminate in pain," (Fin. 2.94) and Seneca adds, "If I must suffer illness, it will be my wish to do nothing out of control, nothing effeminately." (Epist. 67.4)

In his commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar wrote that the Belgians were the bravest of all Gauls, because "merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind". (Commentarii_de_Bello_Gallico, I,1)

The Bible

Malakos is listed among other vices in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians. 6:9. Translations use different terms to express this: "The JB (1966) chooses 'catamite,' the NAB (1970) renders arsenokoités and malakos together as 'sodomite,' others translate malakos as 'male prostitute' (NIV 1973, NRSV 1989), and again some combine both terms and offer the modern medicalised categories of sexual, or particularly homosexual, 'perversion' (RSV 1946, TEV 1966, NEB 1970, REB 1992)." (Martin, 1996). The word malakos, #3120 in the Greek Dictionary of The New Testament of James Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to The Bible translates: "of uncertain affinity".

United States

To strengthen the argument of the "mechanics", Thomas Jefferson said something similar to Xenophon (see above):

"The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body. I consider the class of artificers as the panderers of vice, and the instruments by which the liberties of a country are generally overturned." (8)

Being friends with women, having limp or loose wrists, a high and/or lispy voice, a swaying walk, occupations such as hairdressing, and hobbies and interests such as theater, musicals, or "domestic" activities such as design, sewing, or cleaning, are all often considered effeminate within various historical contexts in the United States[How to reference and link to summary or text].

Fictional effeminates

Over the years, effeminate characters have appeared in various forms of media including Television, Video games, Novels, and Movies. As the "butt of jokes" in many fictional works, some of these characters are often ridiculed for there chosen life-styles.

Template:List to prose (section)

  • Masumi, a timpanist in the anime and Manga Series Nodame Cantabile is effeminate
  • Bridget, a character in the Guilty Gear series
  • Cecil, played by Patrick Tull, in Parting Glances (1986)
  • Charles "Helena Handbasket" Bing, played by Kathleen Turner, in Friends
  • Arnold, played and written by Harvey Fierstein, in Torch Song Trilogy
  • Him, a evil character in The Powerpuff Girls.
  • Doctor N. Gin from the Crash Bandicoot series.
  • Blaine and Antoine, played by David Alan Grier and Damon Wayans, in In Living Color
  • Durcent, in The 120 Days Of Sodom, by Marquis De Sade.
  • Stanford Blatch, played by Willie Garson, in Sex and the City
  • Boom in the film For Da Love of Money
  • Albel Nox in the game Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
  • C-3PO of the Star Wars series
  • The Caterpillar, in Disney's Alice in Wonderland
  • Chan, played by Gedde Watanabe, in Booty Call
  • The choreographer in Fear of a Black Hat
  • The choreographer for the Party Posse on The Simpsons's episode "New Kids on the Blecch"
  • The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz
  • Archibald Cunningham, played by Tim Roth, in Rob Roy
  • Dean's Secretary, played by Leland Crooke, in The Party Animal
  • Dennis, played by Ian Abercrombie, in The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood
  • Douzi, played by Leslie Cheung, in Farewell My Concubine
  • George Downes, played by Rupert Everett, in My Best Friend's Wedding
  • Duc d'Anjou, played by Vincent Cassel, in Elizabeth
  • Edward II, played by Peter Hanly, in Braveheart
  • Emory, played by Cliff Gorman, in The Boys in the Band
  • Envy, a manufactured human (or homunculus) from the manga/anime series Full Metal Alchemist.
  • Fiona, a prisoner in the Oz series
  • The "girliest cadet of Company L" in The Secret War of Lisa Simpson
  • Albert Goldman, played by Nathan Lane, in The Birdcage based upon La Cage aux Folles
  • Harome, the male hairdresser, played by Lawrence Petty, in Soul Food
  • Buzz Hauser, played by Jason Alexander, in Love! Valor! Compassion!
  • Holiday Heart, played by Ving Rhames, in a film of the same title
  • Prince Herbert, played by Terry Jones, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Hollywood in the Mannequin film series
  • Grand Vizier Jafar, voiced by Jonathan Freeman, in Disney's Aladdin
  • James (Kojiro) of Pokémon
  • Kyle, a leading character in "Invisible Life" and "Just as I Am" by E. Lynn Harris
  • Lamar, played by Larry B. Scott, in the Revenge of the Nerds film series
  • The Skeksis skekEkt in the movie The Dark Crystal
  • Ludovic, played by Georges Dufresne, in Ma vie en rose
  • Donald Maltby, played by Phillip Charles McKenzie, in Brothers (TV Series)
  • Anthony Marentino, played by Mario Cantone, in Sex and the City
  • Jack McFarland, played by Sean Hayes, in Will & Grace
  • The Master, as seen in Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death
  • Milo, played by Taylor Negron, in The Last Boy Scout
  • Monroe, played by JM J. Bullock, on Too Close for Comfort
  • Martin Prince of The Simpsons
  • Waylon Smithers of The Simpsons
  • Ruby Rhod, played by Chris Tucker, in The Fifth Element
  • Rick, played by Rik Mayall, in The Young Ones
  • Risley, played by Mark Tandy, in Maurice, based upon the E.M. Forster novel
  • Roger, in the animated television series American Dad!
  • Julian Rogers, played by John C. McGinley, in Wagons East
  • Dr. Zachary Smith, played by Jonathan Harris, in Lost in Space
  • Snagglepuss of Hanna Barbera cartoons
  • Sterling, played by Patrick Stewart, in Jeffrey
  • Stewie Griffin, in the animated television series Family Guy
  • Reuben Tishkoff, played by Elliott Gould, in Ocean's Eleven
  • Tracy, a gay, black teen on a 1996 episode of Moesha
  • Dr. Mo Vandekamp, played by Paul Bartel, in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills
  • Vanity Smurf of The Smurfs
  • Versace Salesman, played by Jeremy Piven, in Rush Hour 2
  • Max Whiteman in Down and Out in Beverly Hills
  • Hooper X, played by Dwight Ewell, in Chasing Amy
  • Rusty Zimmerman, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in Flawless
  • Richard Richard, played by Rik Mayall, in Bottom
  • Kadaj and Yazoo from FFVII Advent Children
  • Donut from the machinama series Red vs Blue
  • Justin Suarez from Ugly Betty
  • Sean Garrity from WIT
  • Tommy Shafter from the tv show Titus(while the other characters are based on real people, Tommy is based on an amalgam of Christopher Titus' "normal" friends).
  • Okita Souji from Peacemaker
  • Steven Gerrard from Liverpool FC
  • Ernest, played by Tyrell Davis, in Our Betters
  • Anthony Blanche, in Brideshead Revisited (played by Nickolas Grace in the 1981 miniseries)

See also


  • On Virtues and Vices, Aristotle, trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, l992. Vol. #285
  • The Eudemian Ethics, Aristotle, trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library. Vol. #285
  • Oxford English Dictionary, 20 vol. It has 75 references in English literature of over 500 years of usage of the word 'effeminate'.
  • Davis, Madeline and Lapovsky Kennedy, Elizabeth (1989). "Oral History and the Study of Sexuality in the Lesbian Community", Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay & Lesbian Past (1990), Duberman, etc, eds. New York: Meridian, New American Library, Penguin Books. ISBN 0-452-01067-5.
  • Winkler, John J. (1990). The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece. New York: Routledge.
  • Williams, Craig A. (1999). Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Martin, Dale B. (1996). "Arsenokoités and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences", Biblical Ethics & Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture, Robert L. Brawley, ed. Westminster John Knox Press. [1]
  • Holland, Tom (2004). Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-50313-X.
  • Halperin, David M. (2002). How To Do The History of Homosexuality, p.125. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31447-2.
  • K.J. Dover, (1989). Greek Homosexuality. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-36270-5.
  • Levine, Martin P. (1998). Gay Macho. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-4694-2.
    • Gagnon, John H. (1977). Human Sexualities. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman.
    • David, Deborah S. and Brannon, Robert (1976). The Forty-Nine Percent Majority: The Male Sex Role. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
    • Harry (1982). Gay Children Grown Up: Gender, Culture and Gender Deviance. New York: Praeger.
    • Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981). Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.
    • Saghir and Robins (1973).
    • Karlen, Arno (1978). "Homosexuality: The Scene and Its Student", The Sociology of Sex: An Introductory Reader, James M. Henslin and Edward Sagarin eds. New York: Schocken.
    • Cory, Donald W. and LeRoy, John P. (1963). The Homosexual and His Society: A View from Within. New York: Citadel Press.
    • Newton, Esther (1972). Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
    • Stearn, Jess (1962). The Sixth Man. New York: MacFadden.
  • Bergling, Tim (2001). Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior. New York: Harrington Park Press. ISBN 1-56023-990-5.
    • Bailey, Michael; Kim, Peggy; Hills, Alex; and Linsenmeier, Joan (1997). "Butch, Femme, or Straight Acting? Partner Preferences of Gay Men and Lesbians.", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73(5), pp.960-973.
    • Bergling, Tim (1997). "Sissyphobia", Genre, p.53. September.
    • Bailey, Michael (1995). "Gender Identity", The Lives of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals, p.71-93. New York: Harcourt Brace.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).