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Sissy (derived from sister), also sissy baby, sissy boy, sissy man, sissy pants, etc., is a pejorative term for a boy or man who does not demonstrate masculine traits, and shows possible signs of fragility. Generally, sissy implies a lack of courage, strength, athleticism, coordination, testosterone, male libido, and stoicism. A man might also be considered a sissy for being interested in typically feminine hobbies or employment (e.g., being fond of fashion), displaying effeminate behavior (e.g., using hair products, hydrating products, or displaying limp wrists), being unathletic or being homosexual.[1]

Sissy is, approximately, the male converse of tomboy (a girl with masculine traits or interests), but carries more strongly negative connotations. Research published in 2015 suggests that the terms are asymmetrical in their power to stigmatize: sissy is almost always pejorative and conveys greater severity, while tomboy rarely causes as much concern but also elicits pressure to conform to social expectations.[2] In some communities, especially ones whose members are prominently part of Generation Z, highly effeminate males are referred to as "femboys" (feminine boy), a term which aims to provide a way to refer to effeminate males without negative connotations.

Affectionate diminutive[edit]

Sissy is also a term of endearment used as a diminutive for the female given name Cecilia. Its usage as a diminutive for Cecilia dates back to at least the late 19th century. Its usage is explicitly called out in Charles Dickens' Hard Times: For These Times.[3] However, it has since fallen out of favor, coinciding with the rise in its usage as a pejorative.

History and usage[edit]

The term sissy has historically been used among school children as a "relentlessly negative" insult, implying immaturity and gender or sexual deviance.[4] It has been identified as sexist in guidance issued to schools in the United Kingdom[5] and described as "just as unacceptable as racist and homophobic language."[6] The terms gender creative,[7] pink boy,[8] and tomgirl[9] have been suggested as polite alternatives. The Japanese word bishōnen (literally "beautiful youth") and the Korean word kkonminam (literally "flower boy") are also polite terms for a man or boy with gentle or feminine attributes.

The word sissy in its original meaning of "sister" entered American English around 1840–1850 and acquired its pejorative meaning around 1885–1890; the verb sissify appeared in 1900–1905.[10] In comparison, the word tomboy is approximately three centuries older, dating to 1545–1555.[11]

By the 1930s, "there was no more damning insult than to be called a sissy" and the word was widely used by American football coaches and sports writers to disparage rival teams and encourage ferocious player behavior.[12] The use of the word sissy was "ubiquitous" among delinquent American youth of the 1930s; the term was used to provoke boys to join gangs, demean boys who violated group norms, force compliance with the mandates of masculinity, and justify violence (including sexual violence) against younger and weaker children.[13] Good students were taunted as sissies and clothing styles associated with higher social classes were demeaned as sissified. Among members of a Detroit, Michigan youth gang in 1938–39, sissy was "the ultimate slur" used to tease and taunt other boys, as a rationalization for violence against rivals, and as an excuse for not observing the dicta of middle-class decorum and morality.[13]

By the late 1980s, some men began to reclaim the term sissy for themselves.[14] The spelling variation cissy was used in British English, at least prior to the mid 1970s.[15] In the United States, the Comedy Central television series South Park inverted its meaning in a 2014 episode titled "The Cissy", which lampooned the controversy over transgender students' use of school restrooms;[16] in the episode, a restroom initially designated for use by transgender students is later re-designated as "the cissy bathroom" for use by transphobic cisgender students.

As threats to masculine dominance[edit]

Men who display feminine characteristics are sometimes perceived as threats to masculine power. For example, in 2018, official Chinese state media derided "sissy pants" young men (who use makeup, are slender, and wear androgynous clothing) as part of a "sickly" culture that threatened the future of the nation by undermining its militaristic image.[17][18] In 2021, China's Ministry of Education issued guidelines for the "cultivation of students' masculinity" to "prevent the feminization of male adolescents" through sports, physical education, and "health education" in schools.[19][20]

In 2021, the National Radio and Television Administration of China added a ban on "sissy men and other abnormal esthetics" to its rules using the offensive term niang pao.[21]

In gender and LGBT studies[edit]

In his The "Sissy Boy Syndrome" and the Development of Homosexuality (1987), the sexologist Richard Green compared two groups of boys: one group was conventionally masculine; the other group, who Green called "feminine boys" and other children called "sissy", engaged in doll play and other behavior typical for girls.[22] In his 15-year longitudinal study, Green looked at cross-gender behavior in boys who later turned out to be transgender, or homosexual as well as a control group, and analyzed such features as interest in sports, playroom toy preferences, doll-play fantasy, physical behavior ("acting like a girl" vs rough-and-tumble play), cross-dressing, and psychological behavior,[22]: 21–29  using tests, questionnaires, interviews, and follow-ups. He also looked at the influence of parental relationships[22]: 353–369  and reaction to atypical behavior. Later follow-ups found that, ultimately, 34 of the feminine or "sissy" boys developed into gay or bisexual men, whereas only one of the control group did. Analysis of the nature/nurture issue was inconclusive.[22]: 385 

The term sissyphobia denotes a negative cultural reaction against "sissy boys" thought prevalent in 1974.[23] Sissyphobia has more recently been used in some queer studies;[24] other authors in this latter area have proposed effeminiphobia,[25] femiphobia,[26] femmephobia, or effemimania[27][28] as alternative terms.

Gregory M. Herek wrote that sissyphobia arises as a combination of misogyny and homophobia.[29] Communication scholar Shinsuke Eguchi (2011) stated:

The discourse of straight-acting produces and reproduces anti-femininity and homophobia (Clarkson. 2006). For example, feminine gay men are often labeled "fem," "bitchy," "pissy," "sissy," or "queen" (e.g., Christian, 2005; Clarkson, 2006; Payne,2007). They are perceived as if they perform like "women," spurring straight-acting gay men to have negative attitudes toward feminine-acting gay men (Clarkson, 2006; Payne, 2007;Ward, 2000). This is called sissyphobia (Bergling, 2001). Kimmel (1996) supports that "masculinity has been (historically) defined as the flight from women and the repudiation of femininity" (p. 123). Thus, sissyphobia plays as the communication strategy for straight-acting gay men to justify and empower their masculinity. (p. 38).[30]

Eguchi added, "I wonder how 'sissyphobia' particularly plays into the dynamic of domestic violence processes in the straight-acting and effeminate-acting male same-sex coupling pattern." (p. 53).[30]

In sexual subcultures[edit]

In the BDSM practice of forced feminization, the male bottom undergoing cross-dressing may be called a sissy as a form of erotic humiliation. Another common theme is the use of a chastity belt, compounding the male bottom's humiliation by restricting the size and access to their genitals.

In paraphilic infantilism, a sissy baby is a man who likes to play the role of a baby girl.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dalzell, Tom (2009) [1st pub. 1937]. The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English. London, New York: Taylor & Francis. p. 885. ISBN 978-0-415-37182-7. OCLC 758181675. Retrieved 19 March 2017. an effeminate boy or man, especially a homosexual; a coward. US, 1879.
  2. ^ Compton, D. and Knox, E. (2015), "Sissies and tomboys." The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, pp 1115–1354
  3. ^ Dickens, Charles (June 2021). "Chapter IX, Sissy's Progress". Hard Times: For These Times.
  4. ^ Thorne, B. (1993). Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. Rutgers University Press, pp. 115-116. ISBN 978-0-8135-1923-4.
  5. ^ Goodfellow, M., "New guidelines released to 'counter gender stereotyping' in UK schools". The Independent, 19 October 2015.
  6. ^ Institute of Physics, "Opening Doors: A guide to good practice in countering gender stereotyping in schools" Archived 2020-02-14 at the Wayback Machine. www.iop.org, 2015.
  7. ^ Duron, L. (2013), "Raising My Rainbow".
  8. ^ Hoffman, Sara "My son, the pink boy". Salon. February 22, 2011. Retrieved 10-Mar-2016.
  9. ^ Jeremy Asher Lynch. "About Tom Girl Movie". www.tomgirlmovie.com. Retrieved 10-Mar-2016.
  10. ^ Random House Dictionary, p. 1787.
  11. ^ Random House Dictionary p. 1993.
  12. ^ Oriard, M. (2001), King Football: Sport and Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807855454.
  13. ^ a b Grant, J. (2014), The Boy Problem: Educating Boys in Urban America 1870-1970. Johns Hopkins University Press, New York, pp. 143-144. ISBN 978-1-4214-1259-7.
  14. ^ Pronger, B. (1990), The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, Homosexuality, and the Meaning of Sex, New York, St Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312062934
  15. ^ The World Book Dictionary (1976 Edition), Chicago, IL, Doubleday & Company, Inc., pp. 376 and 1951. ISBN 978-0-5290-5326-8.
  16. ^ Steinmetz, K. (2015). "Everything You Need to Know About the Debate Over Transgender People and Bathrooms". Time.
  17. ^ Kilbride, Jack; Xiao, Bang (14 September 2018). "China's 'sissy pants phenomenon': Beijing fears negative impact of 'sickly culture' on teenagers". ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Archived from the original on Jan 24, 2019. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  18. ^ Dixon, Robyn (2019-04-26). "To fight K-pop's influence in China, a club teaches young boys to be alpha males". Los Angeles Times. Beijing. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  19. ^ Allen, Kerry (4 February 2021). "China promotes education drive to make boys more 'manly'". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 21 Feb 2021.
  20. ^ "关于政协十三届全国委员会第三次会议第4404号(教育类410号)提案答复的函 - 中华人民共和国教育部政府门户网站". moe.gov.cn. Archived from the original on Nov 30, 2022.
  21. ^ Elliott, Josh K. (September 3, 2021). "China bans 'sissy' and 'effeminate' men under new macho media rules". Global News. Archived from the original on 15 November 2021. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  22. ^ a b c d Green, Richard (1987). The "Sissy Boy Syndrome" and the Development of Homosexuality. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-03696-1. OCLC 898802573. Retrieved 21 March 2017. Other children called them 'sissy.' ...Our boys would have preferred being girls. They liked to dress in girls' or women's clothes. They preferred Barbie dolls to trucks. Their playmates were girls. When they played 'mommy-daddy' games, they were mommy. And they avoided rough-and-tumble play and sports, the usual reasons for the epithet 'sissy.'
  23. ^ Oliven, John F. (1974). Clinical sexuality: a manual for the physician and the professions (3rd ed.). Lippincott. p. 110. ISBN 0-397-50329-6.
  24. ^ Bergling, Tim (2001). Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior. Routledge. ISBN 1-56023-990-5.
  25. ^ Fellows, Will (2004). A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. p. 280. ISBN 9780299196837. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  26. ^ Bailey, Michael (1995). "Gender Identity", The Lives of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals, p. 71–93. New York: Harcourt Brace.
  27. ^ Harrison, Kelby (2013). Sexual Deceit: The Ethics of Passing. Lexington Books. p. 10. ISBN 978-0739177051.
  28. ^ Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping Girl. Berkeley: Seal Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-1580051545.
  29. ^ Wilkinson, Sue; Kitzinger, Celia (1993-02-08). Heterosexuality: A Feminism & Psychology Reader. SAGE. p. 164. ISBN 9781446229576.
  30. ^ a b Eguchi, S. (2011). "Negotiating Sissyphobia: A Critical/Interpretive Analysis of One "Femme" Gay Asian Body in the Heteronormative World". The Journal of Men's Studies. 19: 37–56. doi:10.3149/jms.1901.37. S2CID 147257629.
  31. ^ Taormino, Tristan (2002-08-13). "Still in Diapers". Village Voice. Archived from the original on Aug 31, 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-10.


Further reading[edit]

  • Padva, Gilad and Talmon, Miri (2008). Gotta Have An Effeminate Heart: The Politics of Effeminacy and Sissyness in a Nostalgic Israeli TV Musical. Feminist Media Studies 8(1), 69–84.
  • Padva, Gilad (2005). Radical Sissies and Stereotyped Fairies in Laurie Lynd's The Fairy Who Didn't Want To Be A Fairy Anymore. Cinema Journal 45(1), 66–78.
  • Jana Katz, Martina Kock, Sandra Ortmann, Jana Schenk and Tomka Weiss (2011). Sissy Boyz. Queer Performance. thealit FRAUEN.KULTUR.LABOR, Bremen.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of sissy at Wiktionary