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At the time of the picture, the sight of an able-bodied adult male carrying an umbrella for himself in an English city or town still had some of the connotations of excessive dandyism or effeminacy that it had earlier in the 18th century.

Effeminacy is the manifestation of traits in a boy or man that are more often associated with feminine nature, behavior, mannerism, style, or gender roles rather than with masculine nature, behavior, mannerisms, style or roles. It is a term frequently applied to womanly behavior, demeanor, style, clothing and appearance displayed by a boy or man.

Until the modern period,[according to whom?] effeminacy in the Western tradition referred to a complicated intersection of both social (or civic) and sexual identities typically associated with women. The ancient Greeks, for example, described whole societies as effeminate (malakia) if they were characterized by a slavish, deferential, or autocratic political culture. Here, it was the form of sexual relationships, but not the fact of homosexual relations (which were not uncommon among Greek citizens who were men) which was critical to the sexual dimension of the term. And among early modern partisans of the republican tradition, the term might be applied to those who were preoccupied with "womanly" concerns, such as the accoutrements of appearance, which were often associated with trappings of nobility or aristocratic aspirations, such as ostentatious dress, decadence in consumption habits, and rigid adherence to the proprieties or manners of social hierarchy. The reach of this "civic" understanding may be best illustrated in the work of early feminist and republican thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, who described as "effeminate" the behavior of women who refused to embrace a more active presence in public life.

Since the 18th century, the civic dimension of gender identity has been eclipsed by the sexual dimension of gender identity, and, today, effeminacy has often been considered a vice, indicative of other negative character traits and often involving a pejorative insinuation of homosexual tendencies in boys or men. In other societies, by contrast, effeminate boys or men may be considered a distinct human gender (third gender), and may have a special social function, as is the case of Two-Spirits in some Native American groups. Furthermore, some see effeminacy to be a characteristic or trait, 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 boy or 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.



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

In ancient Koine Greek, the word for effeminate is κίναιδος kinaidos (cinaedus in its Latinized form), or μαλακοί malakoi: a man "whose most salient feature was a supposedly "feminine" love of being sexually penetrated by other men."[1]

"A cinaedus is a man who cross-dresses or flirts like a girl. Indeed, the word's etymology suggests an indirect sexual act emanating a promiscuous woman. This term has been borrowed from the Greek kinaidos (which may itself have come from a language of Ionian Greecs of Asia Minor, primarily signifying a purely 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."[2]

Other vernacular words for effeminacy include: "pansy", "nelly", "pretty boy", "nancy boy", "molly", "sissy", "pussy", and "girl" (when applied to a boy or, especially, adult man). Contrastingly, a masculine girl or woman would be called a "tomboy", "butch", or "dyke". The word effete similarly means effeminacy or over-refinement, but comes from the Latin effetus, from ex- and fetus "fruitful".

Ancient Greece and Rome[edit]


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's (Aeschines') proof that a member of the prosecution against him, Timarchus, had prostituted himself to (or been "kept" by) another man 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."[3]

Demosthenes is also implicated in passive homosexuality and the prostitution of youth:[4] "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."[5]

The late Greek[a] 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." Callicratidas, "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 fondness with women were all deemed effeminate traits in Roman society. Taking an inappropriate sexual position, passive or "bottom", in same-gender sex was considered effeminate and unnatural. Touching the head with a finger and wearing a goatee were also considered effeminate.[6]

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?"[7]

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."[8]

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,"[9] and Seneca adds, "If I must suffer illness, it will be my wish to do nothing out of control, nothing effeminately."[10]

Emperor/philosopher Julian the Apostate, in his Against the Galileans, wrote: ''Why the Egyptians are more intelligent and more given to crafts, and the Syrians unwarlike and effeminate, but at the same time intelligent, hot-tempered, vain and quick to learn?''

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".[11]

Emperor Marcus Aurelius evidently considered effeminacy an undesirable trait, but it is unclear as to what or who was being referred.[12]

The Bible[edit]

Malakos is listed among other vices in the New Testament book of I Corinthians 6:9. Translations use different terms to express this.[b] The online Greek Interlinear Bible uses Strongs concordance (last corrected in 2008) translates Malakoi as "Catamites", and Arsenokoitia as "sodomites".[13] The word malakos, #3120 in the Greek Dictionary of The New Testament of James Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to The Bible states: "of uncertain affinity".[1]

Possible biological causes of effeminacy in men[edit]

The effects of chemicals[edit]

One of the more demonstrable causes of effeminacy in men is the effect of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) especially during the gestation period and early childhood. EDCs interfere with or disrupt the proper functioning of human hormones.

One of the major classes of chemicals that are cited as contributing to male feminisation consists of certain plasticisers, notably phthalates. In 2009, Shanna Swan (professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Rochester) and her colleagues published a study[14] on the effect of the phthalates DEHP and DBP on expectant mothers and their unborn children. It shows that the boys born from mothers with the highest concentration of these two chemicals were five times less likely to show behaviour typically associated with young males of similar age: 'If the mother's MEHHP concentration [one of the phthalate metabolites] was high, in the upper quartile, the odds that her boy had a score that was less masculine [in play behavior] was five times greater than mothers whose MEHHP was in the lowest quartile."[2] A possible link to sexual orientation is yet to be established.

In addition, certain plants can produce chemical compounds that have a similar effect as human oestrogens, hence the term "phytoestrogen ", thanks to their structural similarity with estradiol (17-β-estradiol). Vegetable foods with the highest relative phytoestrogen content are nuts and oilseeds, followed by soy products, cereals and breads, legumes. It has often been assumed that the frequent ingestion of such phyoestrogens contributes to male feminisation (including the appearance of "manboobs") or the disruption of male reproductivity. It is unclear however under which conditions this may occur (and to which extent), i.e. whether it depends on the daily dose, the age (of the male consumer) or even genetic disposition. A 2010 meta-analysis of fifteen placebo-controlled studies said that "neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements alter measures of bioavailable testosterone concentrations in [adult] men."[15]

Gay men[edit]

In the United States, boys are often homosocial,[16] and gender role performance determines social rank.[17] 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 men, the rate of noncompliance was 25 percent. Saghir and Robins (1973, 18) found that one-third of their gay man 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[18] and "de-feminise".[19][20][21]

Prior to the Stonewall riots, inconsistent gender role performance had been noticed among gay men:[22][23][24] "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 suddenly smile roguishly, soften their voices, and simper as they greeted homosexual 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.'"[25][26]

There is a definite prejudice towards men who use femininity as part of their palette; their emotional palette, their physical palette. Is that changing? It's changing in ways that don't advance the cause of femininity. I'm not talking frilly-laced pink things or Hello Kitty stuff. I'm talking about goddess energy, intuition and feelings. That is still under attack, and it has gotten worse.


Pre-Stonewall "closet" culture accepted homosexuality as effeminate behaviour, and thus emphasized camp, drag, and swish including an interest in fashion[28][29] and decorating.[30][31][32] Masculine gay men were marginalised[33][34] and formed their own communities, such as the leather subculture and Western,[35][clarification needed] and/or wore clothes that were commonly associated with working-class individuals,[36] such as sailor uniforms.[37][38]

Post-Stonewall, "clone culture" became dominant and effeminacy was at the time marginalised. One indicator of this is a definite preference shown in personal ads for masculine-behaving men.[39]

The avoidance of effeminacy by men, including gay ones, has been linked to possible impedance of personal and public health. Regarding HIV/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 HIV/AIDS than men.[40][41]

David Halperin 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."[42]

The term effeminiphobia (sometimes effemiphobic, as used by Randy P. Conner, or femmephobia) was coined by Will Fellows to describe strong anti-effeminacy.[43] Michael Bailey coined the similar term femiphobia to describe the ambivalence gay men and culture have about effeminate behaviour in 1995.[44] Gay author Tim Bergling popularized the term sissyphobia in Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior,[45][46] although it was used before.[47] Transsexual writer and biologist Julia Serano has coined the similar term effemimania.[48][49]

Since the 2000s, Peter Hennen's cultural analysis of gay masculinities has found effeminacy to be a “historically varying concept deployed primarily as a means of stabilising a given society’s concept of masculinity and controlling the conduct of its men based upon the repudiation of the feminine”.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ possibly c. fourth century
  2. ^ "The JB (1966) chooses 'catamite,' the NAB (1970) renders arsenokoités and malakos together as 'sodomite,' others translate malakos as 'male prostitute' (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)."


  1. ^ Winkler, 1990
  2. ^ Williams, 1999
  3. ^ Dover, 1989
  4. ^ Aiskhines iii 162
  5. ^ Dover, 1989
  6. ^ Holland, 2004
  7. ^ fr. 17 Malcovati; Aulus Gellius, 6.12.5; cited/translated by Williams 1999, p. 23
  8. ^ Institutes 5.9.14, cited/translated by Richlin, 1993
  9. ^ Fin. 2.94
  10. ^ Epist. 67.4
  11. ^ Commentarii de Bello Gallico, I,1
  12. ^ Meditations, Book 4.
  13. ^ Martin, 1996
  14. ^ Swan, S. H.; Liu, F.; Hines, M.; Kruse, R. L.; Wang, C.; Redmon, J. B.; Sparks, A.; Weiss, B. (2010). "Prenatal phthalate exposure and reduced masculine play in boys". International Journal of Andrology. 33 (2): 259–269. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2605.2009.01019.x. ISSN 1365-2605. PMC 2874619. PMID 19919614.
  15. ^ Messina, Mark J.; Kurzer, Mindy S.; Phipps, William R.; Duval, Sue J.; Vazquez, Gabriela; Hamilton-Reeves, Jill M. (2010-08-01). "Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis". Fertility and Sterility. 94 (3): 997–1007. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.04.038. ISSN 0015-0282.
  16. ^ Gagnon, 1977
  17. ^ David and Brannon, 1976
  18. ^ Harry 1982, 20
  19. ^ Harry 1982, 20
  20. ^ Saghir and Robins 1973, 18–19
  21. ^ Levine, 1998, p. 5–16
  22. ^ Karlen, 1978
  23. ^ Cory and LeRoy, 1963
  24. ^ Newton, 1972
  25. ^ Stearn 1962, 29
  26. ^ Levine, 1998, p. 21–23
  27. ^ Interview with RuPaul, David Shankbone, Wikinews, October 6, 2007.
  28. ^ Henry, 1955
  29. ^ West, 1977
  30. ^ Fischer 1972
  31. ^ White 1980
  32. ^ Henry 1955, 304
  33. ^ Warren 1972, 1974
  34. ^ Helmer 1963
  35. ^ Goldstein, 1975
  36. ^ Fischer, 1972
  37. ^ Cory and LeRoy, 1963
  38. ^ Levine, 1998, p. 21–23, 56
  39. ^ Bailey et al. 1997.
  40. ^ Sullivan, 1987
  41. ^ Levine, 1998, p. 148
  42. ^ David Halperin, 2002
  43. ^ Fellows, Will (2004). A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 280. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  44. ^ Michael Bailey, 1995
  45. ^ Dylan Vox, "Would Life Be Better if You Were Straight?", Gaywired.com, Dec 20, 2007, also appeared in Edge, Boston
  46. ^ Bergling, Tim (2001). Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior. Routledge. ISBN 1-56023-990-5.
  47. ^ Oliven, John F. (1974). Clinical sexuality: a manual for the physician and the professions (3rd ed.). Lippincott. p. 110. ISBN 0-397-50329-6.
  48. ^ Harrison, Kelby (2013). Sexual Deceit: The Ethics of Passing. Lexington Books. p. 10. ISBN 0739177052.
  49. ^ Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping Girl. Berkeley: Seal Press. p. 133. ISBN 1580051545.
  50. ^ Hennen, Peter (2008). Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen: Men in Community Queering the Masculine. The University of Chicago Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780226327297.


  • On Virtues and Vices, Aristotle, trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1992. 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. [3]
  • 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.
  • Darryl B. Hill, "Feminine" Heterosexual Men: Subverting Heteropatriarchal Sexual Scripts? (The Journal of Men's Studies, Spring 2006, Men's Studies Press; ISSN 1060-8265)
    • 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: Indiana University 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.

Further reading[edit]

  • Padva, Gilad. "Claiming Lost Gay Youth, Embracing Femininostalgia: Todd Haynes's Dottie Gets Spanked and Velvet Goldmine". In: Padva, Gilad, Queer Nostalgia in Cinema and Pop Culture, pp. 72–97 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, ISBN 978-1-137-26633-0).

External links[edit]