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Why I'm Afraid to Look at Men

Why I'm Afraid to Look at Men

Why I'm Afraid to Look at Men

And why it makes it hard to be in public.


I've always been afraid to look at men. More specifically, I'm afraid that if I look at them, I'll see them looking right back at me. This isn't about shyness nor is it about one specific incident wherein a man hurt me. It's about who I am and how I (and many other femmes) survive in a masculine, male-dominated, femmephobic world.

Femmephobia is sort of difficult to discuss and research, as male-dominated society makes it so that the gender expectations that it sets seem "normal," and that anything outside of that is (by default) open to attack and criticism. In a post for The Good Men Project, simply entitled "Femmephobia," Noah Brand and Ozy Franz break down femmephobia, and what it means for a men.

"For men, both in the separate-spheres model and the femmephobia model, being feminine is bad. Once they combine, being feminine is clearly the Worst Thing Ever.

A masculine girl is a “tomboy,” likely to be tolerated by her parents and peers, although often in a condescending and limited way[2]; a feminine boy is a “sissy,” likely to be bullied by other boys and by girls[3]. The American Association of University Women and the Girl Scouts both have programs to encourage girls to join the sciences and mathematics, which are historically male-dominated; the Boy Scouts have a glaring lack of programs to encourage boys to join dance or the humanities, traditionally female-dominated.

As we get older, masculinity continues to be more acceptable for women than femininity for men. A woman who wears ties and boxer shorts has an eccentric fashion sense; a man who wears skirts and panties has Transvestic Fetishism, a clinical mental illness.[4] (The proposed revisions of the DSM-V are more gender-neutral, although it is reasonable to believe that Transvestic Disorder will still primarily be diagnosed in men.)

In fact, femmephobia is one of the most important aspects of hegemonic masculinity. A real man can’t cry, because women cry. A real man can’t like Enya or Tori Amos, because women like Enya and Tori Amos. A real man can’t watch what he eats to make sure that he gets enough vegetables, because women watch what they eat. One of the defining aspects of masculinity in our society is that masculine things are those which are not feminine."

(If you're still a bit confused about femmephobia looks like, here's a short comic about it.)

Without a doubt, the headline of my article alone will probably place me in the uncomfortable, unforgiving gaze of men, and I will undoubtedly be accused of undermining humanity's perceived forward stride of progression towards worldwide, identity-spanning equity despite the valid points people have been making about femmephobia for years now.

But it doesn't bother me. My existence alone invites critique from all ends, because a world that is simultaneously controlled by men through forceful displays and insidious choke holds still deems freedom, difference, and non-compliance with gender and sexuality norms to be grounds for attack. After all, people's choices and identities have always been other people's business for some unfathomable reason or because people simply don't respect people who are different from them.

The point is, men make me uncomfortable, so I try not to look at them. That becomes difficult when you're out in public because men are sort of a worldwide epidemic. I'm not looking for approval or understanding, because my reality is my reality whether it's validated or not. My only hope is to support fellow femmes who feel afraid too because the world has given us plenty of reasons to be afraid. The effects of femmephobia speak for themselves. Is it just a coincidence that of the 22 trans people killed in 2015 ALL of them were trans women? That's femmephobia at work, and few people can explain it better than Gender Theorist Judith Butler:

"Killing is an act of power, a way of re-asserting domination, even a way of saying, ‘I am the one who decides who lives and dies.’ So killing establishes the killer as sovereign in the moment that he kills, and that is the most toxic form that masculinity can take. Trans women have relinquished masculinity, showing that it can be, and that is, very threatening to a man who wants to see his power as an intrinsic feature of who he is."

These fears, feelings, and thoughts have made it so my gaze is generally cast to the ground. I guess there's part of me that thinks they can't see me if I can't see them. Maybe they won't notice how skinny I am for a "boy." Maybe they won't notice the swish in my hips. I hope they won't notice how fast I'm walking, having always been the type of person who wants to get safely from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. I try to blend in when so much of me stands out, whether the fit of my pants, the color in my hair, or the music playing in my headphones that may or may not be heard by those nearby (I don't know, I haven't asked).

As much as it sucks to be so skittish and nervous, in a public world that should be as much mine as anyone else's, I know I'm one of the lucky ones. Simply walking about as feminine can call unwanted attention, cat-calling, and stalking, that the victim traditionally has little support for because society decides that we should be grateful for even piggish, aggressive, and unwanted gestures/compliments. In some parts of the world, a look from someone visibly queer and feminine is grounds for violence, either physically or verbally (or both), so that the masculinity of the man looked at is clearly asserted in front of everyone around. The thought being that men need to show that they're not interested in anything other than good old fashioned cis women and that they're nothing like us.

This, of course, represents only one aspect of femme oppression, as this situation presents only a brief picture of what it's like to be a femme boy, or femme who is perceived as a boy. It's sad really, how masculinity hijacks the lives of so many men. This space within which male-identified people are often stuck, is best summarized in this passage from an Everyday Feminism article, originally published on Medium, entitled "Dear Men: Toxic Masculinity Is Imprisoning Us, and It’s Time to Set Ourselves Free."

"Consider, oh male reader, someone you disagree with: a climate change denier or Ku Klux Klan member, maybe. Aren’t they clinging to an old idea of the world, one they can control, one that isn’t new or different or equal or, let’s just say it, actually happening?

As a feminist, I know that breaking down the toxic social expectations around women is work intended to free them. To allow them to experience life and been understood as the whole and complicated people we all are.

I know that men are just as trapped and just as much in need of liberation. That is, if they can face their fears of anything coded as feminine, gay, or merely different.

Aren’t men supposed to be brave?

Men don’t have to be anything. You just have to be you. Fuck defining that."

It's hard to say where I or others can go from here, and/or how things can or will ever change. I'll probably always be nervous and I'll probably always create my own reality with my own soundtrack and eyes to the floor so I can pretend I'm safe and alone. I wonder how long it will take until femmes can pass through life without being thought of as sexual, lusty, vulnerable, weak, or lesser than.

Femme means so much to so many different people, but rarely do people look at femmes and think about the power and the courage it takes simply to live. People can deny all they please and shame me for feelings I never really chose, but ultimately the oppressors — society and those who passively watch oppression or get angry when they're not leading the conversation — don't get to tell the oppressed how to feel. People can't tell me that I'm wrong. People can't change my thoughts to validate their own. I don't hate men, but if it makes anyone feel better to sum all of this up with something so baseless, they can be my guest.

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Buffy Flores

Aries/Taurus cusp, Latinx, vegan, femme person, and the biggest Buffy fan you know. Now writing for Bustle, PRIDE, Everyday Feminism, and The Rumpus. Passionate, deeply feeling, sometimes angry, mostly emotional. Wants to make people feel less lonely in the world. Follow them on Twitter @buffyonabudget.

Aries/Taurus cusp, Latinx, vegan, femme person, and the biggest Buffy fan you know. Now writing for Bustle, PRIDE, Everyday Feminism, and The Rumpus. Passionate, deeply feeling, sometimes angry, mostly emotional. Wants to make people feel less lonely in the world. Follow them on Twitter @buffyonabudget.