This article on Everyday Feminism was recently bouncing around Tumblr. There are many critiques that can be made of it (feminism absolutely does not require that you stop thinking about cute girls naked!), but the one I want to make is about the category ‘masculine people’, opposed to ‘feminine people’ (sometimes also referred to as ‘femmes’).
I can see what this terminology is aiming at. Nonbinary people are neither male nor female; however, nonbinary people are often treated in ways similarly to binary people. A nonbinary person assigned female at birth who passes for male may experience male privilege; a nonbinary person assigned male at birth may experience transmisogyny; nonbinary people who continue to live as their assigned genders at birth have experiences similar to those genders. “Masculine people” may seem like a way to include us.
However, it is also dumb.
The central example of a masculine person is someone who experiences gender-related feelings which they express through our cultural ideals of masculinity: perhaps they prefer to be dominant in relationships, have a lot of sexual partners, are planning to start their own business, like lifting weights, or have sought employment as a lumberjack. I know many people like this.
Importantly, not everyone who expresses their gender-related feelings through our cultural ideals of masculinity is a man! There are many, many women who feel comfortable expressing their gender through wearing a suit and lifting weights. (And not all of them are cis women, either.) It seems to me that if you are putting cis men and butch women in the same category when you’re talking about sexism, your analysis has probably gotten confused somewhere. In general, cis men’s masculinity is rewarded, while women’s masculinity is punished; they are simply not the same thing on a sociological level.
But ‘masculine’ also includes people who aren’t really very similar to the first group. For instance, there might be a man who has no particular feelings about his gender whatsoever, but he’s the primary earner in his household, he’s naturally stoic and calm, and everyone expects him to wear a suit so when necessary he does so. Or there might be a woman who wears tanktops and works construction because she likes wearing tanktops and working construction. I do not really think it makes sense to put in the same category “people who value being masculine for its own sake” and “people who happen to like some things our culture puts in the ‘masculine’ box.”
Even worse, assigned female at birth trans people are generally considered to be ‘masculine of center’ by virtue of our gender identities– particularly if we medically transition. I am masculine, because I got my breasts chopped off, but I am literally the least conforming-to-the-male-gender-role person in the world. I’m literally a submissive homemaker who wears miniskirts and cries all the time! Even worse, many trans people value having gender presentations different from our identified genders: there are a lot of butch trans women and flaming trans men out there. I’m not sure if this article just doesn’t realize we exist or thinks that a trans man’s male privilege is negated by his fondness for glitter.
And there are lots of people that don’t fit in the masculine/feminine binary at all. For instance, what if the woman who wears tanktops and works construction also knits and cries at every single kitten video? Is she ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’? Or is she just a person? Furthermore, some people simply aren’t able to fulfill the expectations associated with either gender. Anecdotally, a lot of neurodivergent people fall into this category, such as an autistic person whose body language reads as neither masculine nor feminine or a depressed person who cries all the time and can barely shower much less put on makeup.
The Everyday Feminism article assumes a special obligation on ‘masculine’ people to unlearn their sexism. Do I deny that ‘masculine’ people may internalize different sexism than ‘feminine’ people? Of course not! A woman who likes a lot of masculine things may very well internalize that things considered feminine are frilly and stupid; a butch woman may try to affirm her masculinity through having sex with a bunch of other women she treats as interchangeable things whose feelings don’t really matter.
However, ‘feminine’ people internalize sexism too. Masculine people have no monopoly on internalizing sexism in a way that harms others: a feminine woman may very well call her partner a wimp for having feelings, make her daughters wear dresses that make it difficult for them to play outside, or think that women who have too much sex are worthless. Being a feminine woman is not a Get Out Of Thinking About Your Sexism Free Card. There is absolutely no evidence that a masculine woman is any more likely to be sexist than a feminine woman. No gender presentation causes you to have any sort of special moral obligation.
And ‘masculine’ versus ‘feminine’ is only one axis affecting how people internalize sexism– and not even the most important one. If you feel like the people around you encourage you to be masculine, that’s a different experience from feeling like you had to fight for it. (Of course, not all men– particularly men of color, disabled men, and men with a trauma history– feel like their masculinity is socially acceptable.) Being raised a man is a different experience from not being raised a man. Identifying as a man is different from identifying as a woman, identifying as nonbinary, or not really identifying as anything at all. All of these affect how you internalize sexism.
And, frankly, ignoring these subtleties is incredibly insensitive. A butch trans woman is likely to take great offense to the idea that she’s in the same category as men just because she likes whiskey and cigars and cufflinks. A woman who struggled for years to admit to herself that she wanted to have sex with women and that’s okay and it doesn’t make her disgusting or perverted is unlikely to respond well to the idea that she needs to make sure all her sexual fantasies are happening in the Approved Politically Correct PC Way; while in my comment section there are many men who struggled for years to admit to themselves that they wanted to have sex with women and that’s okay and it doesn’t make them disgusting or perverted, this is a less common experience among men as a whole. And if a woman has experienced the marginalization gender-non-conforming people all too often face– from street harassment to workplace discrimination to well-meaning comments of “but you’d look so PRETTY!”– we should cut her a little slack; she’s already experiencing enough burden from being gender-non-conforming without Everyday Feminism adding to it. Since cis men rarely experience street harassment for being masculine, this is not a consideration for them.