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Definition and derivations
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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 conform to "standard male" gender stereotypes. Generally, sissy implies a lack of courage, strength, athleticism, coordination, testosterone, male libido, and stoic calm, all of which have traditionally been associated with masculinity and considered important to the male role in Western society. A man might also be considered a sissy for being interested in traditionally feminine hobbies or employment (e.g., being fond of fashion), displaying effeminate behavior (e.g., using hair products or displaying limp wrists), being unathletic, or being homosexual.
|Look up pansy, nancyboy, or poofter in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
Similar in meaning to pansy, or to nancyboy or poofter outside the United States.
"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 normative gender roles. Applied to an individual, these terms become a form of social control, enforcing normative gender roles and often drawing on the unfounded link of gender nonconformity with homosexuality.
Term of affection toward women
Sissy (or sis) can also be a relationship nickname formed from sister, given to girls to indicate their role in the family, especially the oldest female sibling. It can also be applied to girls as a term of affection from friends who are not family members.
History and usage
The term sissy has historically been used among schoolchildren as a "relentlessly negative" insult implying immaturity and gender or sexual deviance. It has been identified as "sexist" in guidance issued to schools in the United Kingdom and described as "just as unacceptable as racist and homophobic language." The terms gender creative, pink boy, and tomgirl have been suggested as polite alternatives. The Japanese word bishōnen is also a polite term 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. In comparison, the word tomboy is approximately three centuries older, dating to 1545-55.
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. 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. Good students were taunted as sissies and clothing styles associated with higher social classes were demeaned as sissified. Among members of a Detroit 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 dictums of middle-class decorum and morality. Thus, it appears that sissy served as a multi-functional insult, which was used not only to harass the person or group at whom it was directed, but also to reinforce gender stereotypes and gender binarism, assert men's dominance over women, disparage the weak and shy as well as the homosexual and transgender, penalize behavior that varied from gender norms, encourage aggressive behavior, and critique members of higher socioeconomic strata.
The spelling variation cissy was used in British English, at least prior to the mid 1970s. 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; in the episode a restroom initially designated for use by transgender students is later re-designated as "the cissy bathroom" for use by trans-phobic cisgender students.
In gender and LGBT studies
In his 1987 "Sissy Boy Syndrome", Dr 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. In his 15-year longitudinal study, Green looked at cross-gender behavior in boys who later turned out to be transsexual, 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,:21–29 using tests, questionnaires, interviews, and follow-ups. He also looked at the influence of parental relationships :353–369and reaction to atypical behavior. Later follow-ups found that 3/4 of his feminine or "sissy" boys became gay or bisexual men, whereas only one of the control group did. Analysis of the nature/nurture issue was inconclusive.:385
The term sissyphobia denotes a negative cultural reaction against "sissy boys" thought prevalent in 1974. Sissyphobia has more recently been used in some queer studies; other authors in this latter area have proposed effeminiphobia, femiphobia, femmephobia, or effemimania as alternative terms.
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 gay feminine 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).
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).
In sexual subcultures
In the BDSM practice of forced feminization, the male bottom undergoing cross-dressing may be called a sissy as a form of erotic humiliation, which may elicit guilt or sexual arousal, or possibly both, depending on the individual.
- 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.
- Compton, D. and Knox, E. (2015), "Sissies and tomboys." The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, pp 1115–1354
- Thorne, B. (1993). Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. Rutgers University Press, pp. 115-116. ISBN 978-0-8135-1923-4.
- Goodfellow, M., "New guidelines released to 'counter gender stereotyping' in UK schools". www.independent.co.uk, 2015.
- Institute of Physics, "Opening Doors: A guide to good practice in countering gender stereotyping in schools". www.iop.org, 2015.
- Duron, L. (2013), "Raising My Rainbow". raisingmyrainbow.com.
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- Jeremy Asher Lynch. "About Tom Girl Movie". www.tomgirlmovie.com. Retrieved 10-Mar-2016.
- Random House Dictionary, p. 1787.
- Random House Dictionary p. 1993.
- Oriard, M. (2001), King Football: Sport and Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807855454.
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- Steinmetz, K. (2015). "Everything You Need to Know About the Debate Over Transgender People and Bathrooms". Time.com.
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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.':5
- Oliven, John F. (1974). Clinical sexuality: a manual for the physician and the professions (3rd ed.). Lippincott. p. 110. ISBN 0-397-50329-6.
- Bergling, Tim (2001). Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior. Routledge. ISBN 1-56023-990-5.
- 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.
- Bailey, Michael (1995). "Gender Identity", The Lives of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals, p. 71–93. New York: Harcourt Brace.
- Harrison, Kelby (2013). Sexual Deceit: The Ethics of Passing. Lexington Books. p. 10. ISBN 0739177052.
- Serano, Julia (2007). Whipping Girl. Berkeley: Seal Press. p. 133. ISBN 1580051545.
- Heterosexuality: a feminism & psychology reader - Sue Wilkinson, Celia Kitzinger - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. 1993-04-14. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- 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.
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- Random House Dictionary of the English Language - Second Edition - Unabridged, Random House, New York (1987). ISBN 978-0-3945-0050-8
- 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. http://www.sissyboyz.de
- The dictionary definition of sissy at Wiktionary