femininity & heterosexism

March 4, 2008  |  essays

Figleaf did an interesting experiment with Google over on Real Adult Sex, putting in “attractive,” “beautiful,” and “worthy” along with “man” or “woman” and comparing results.

He wrote about what sparked this idea, saying he noticed a particularly attractive woman:

I thought it must be inconvenient to attract so much attention, and then wondered what it would be like if I could attract that kind of corner-of-the-eye attention, and then I started thinking about the old “men first initiate, women then decide” courtship convention and wondering about how that creates a perhaps unnecessary imposition on women to attract attention (since they weren’t allowed to simply ask for phone numbers). [...]

[G]rowing up male it’s unspoken but totally obvious that women are about attracting us; meanwhile we grow up blind to the also-unspoken molding to be worthy. The climax of the Sleeping Beauty fable says it all: she’s not only beautiful but *in a coma!* He needs his shining armor to reach her through the thorn-overgrown castle. His kiss awakens her.

Man o man. Very well said. This makes my head spin a little, and strikes me as relevant to this discussion about femmes passing that we’ve been having lately – particularly, to answer the question of why femmes attract male attention, which leads to the sometimes-necessary conversation of outing onesself, which leads to the potentially dangerous situation of having been seen as ‘deceptive.’

Of course, it’s because femininity is seen as an invitation, a deliberate request for male attention.

(And this is precisely why using femininity to attract other women is a subversive identity. It messes with the entire premise, the entire purpose, of gender roles.)

Even though we’ve come a long way, baby, and women can now ask for phone numbers, can come on to men, can wear trousers! can vote!, some of these old subscriptions about how men and women must work are still carved deep into our subconsciousnesses. And one of those things is that the purpose of femininity is to attract men, male attention, the male gaze, the general hetero mating process.

So really, hitting on a feminine girl – queer or married or otherwise – taking how she looks as an invitation – is a form of heterosexism. It’s the foundation of the “she asked for it” defense.

Of course, some girls want to be hit on. I don’t mean to discount that femininity is used for attention – it’s a powerful tool that women (and some men, yes?) have in this heterosexist society. And most people are flattered to be noticed if the hitting on is done with respect, right? I mean, it’s a compliment – the problems arise when the guy (or whomever is doing the hitting-on) is relentless, won’t let up, pushes boundaries and doesn’t take hints. I suppose this is the place where the hit-ee needs to be firm and direct, as opposed to kind, though of course that doesn’t always work.

Maybe this small insight seems obvious – sure seems obvious to me, now that I am writing it out – but I appreciated the sociological perspective Figleaf added to my explorations of the subject.

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3 Comments


  1. “I mean, it’s a compliment – the problems arise when the guy (or whomever is doing the hitting-on) is relentless”

    i think that says it all. if everyone know how to back of when someone says “no,” then being hit on would simply be a compliment, not something to worry about. if this were generally accepted procedure in our society, maybe straight guys wouldn’t be so scared of gay bars, too.

    i also think this has very little to do with sexuality, it’s really just a gender issue – because “i’m not interested in you” should hold the exact same weight when a straight girl says it to a guy as when a lesbian does (contrary to popular opinion, being attracted to one gender does not mean you are attracted to everyone of that gender).

  2. Funny…I came to the comments to respond to the same line, lady brett.

    Except that I was going to say…sometimes the problems arise for me long before relentless. Sometimes, it's when I get that look–the look fat, old men have in their eyes as they judge BBQ at the city's annual rib-off.

    Men in this neck of the woods occasionally look at me–t-shirt, levis, minimal make-up me–that way. And that is where the problem arises because, for me, it's not flattering. It just makes me want to wear baggier clothes.

    Sorry, sinclair, is that a bit off topic? Perhaps, I'm ranting more than I'm commenting.

  3. "So really, hitting on a feminine girl – queer or married or otherwise – taking how she looks as an invitation – is a form of heterosexism. It’s the foundation of the “she asked for it” defense."

    that's the bit that catches my attention

    i'd only say that hitting on a girl is a form of heterosexism, only in that heterosexuality is the prevailing wind. if homosexuality were the standard, then it would be just as easy to declare hitting on a girl an act of homosexism. (is that a word?!)

    fact is, part of why we preen is to attract sexual attention; hetero, homo, pomo, or otherwise. it's not the only reason, but it's a big one.

    if one feels better, righter in her skin, wearing lip stick, it serves her to know that beyond her just feeling righter, lip stick was created to mimic a look of sexual arousal. if one feels prettier with cleanly shaved legs, it bears remembering that body-hair removal is in part an artifact of a cultural call to appear youthful and untainted. remember that juilet was merely 13 …

    i defend your rights to walk around dolled up, all you lovely femmes out there! i defend your rights to walk around all handsome, you butchy dykes, too! i only admonish to remember that the signs & signals you are playing with are, among other things, also sexual, whether you are seeking to attract sex or just feeling like you're putting your most authentic self out there.

    ["Part of why we preen is to attract sexual attention" -- absolutely! I was definitely trying to say that, in that post, to explore this idea of why femmes get hit on (by men), and why femininity attracts attention. It seems really obvious to me now that I'm saying it, but it added a new understanding when I read that thing by Figleaf. And likewise - "if one feels better, righter in her skin," to beautify femininely, then "i defend your rights to walk around dolled up" too! Absolutely, 100%. Anyway, thanks TT for the comment! --ss]

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