The Threat of Butch Women?
Those who are gender non-conforming are often targeted for ridicule or worse. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) a whole campaign is being waged against the threat of “masculine women” (Read the text of the article here or at the end of this post). From the standpoint of a different culture this may seem almost humourous. But is it really all that different elsewhere? Even in the lesbian or queer ( queer being a more inclusive term that some in the LGBT communities are embracing) communities masculine or butch women are often ridiculed or discriminated against.
Most cultures have subtle and overt ways of policing and reifying maculine and feminine gender roles; deviate too much and there are often social sanctions.
How liberating would it be to allow for a broad range of expression of what it means to be a woman or a man?! Furthermore, it is important to not conflate gender expression with sexual orientation. Not all “masculine women” are lesbians. And the reverse is also true! Not all lesbians are masculine. Rigidity in terms of expectations of gender roles and understanding of gender hurts us all.
Women who behave, speak, or dress in a masculine manner are seen as deviant and threatening. In fact, masculine women aren’t considered women at all. They are described as the “fourth gender” a euphemism that is used to refer to lesbians.
Viewed by society as deviant, it is widely believed that these women are menacing because of their sexual orientation and pose a threat to “normal” women who they are said to allegedly harass in schools, universities, and workplaces.
Last week the UAE ministry of social affairs took matters into their own hands, launching a campaign called “Excuse me, I’m a girl” to protect society from such women. The campaign involves a series of workshops, lectures, and TV programs to raise awareness of the “problem” and find ways to counteract it. The goal is ultimately to help women avoid such behavior, but there is no mention of finding a solution for the alleged “harassing” that is being done (Wouldn’t harassment trump cross dressing anyway? I guess not).
“The phenomenon of manly women has become apparent in society … These women are against the normal nature of females. Their deviant behavior threatens other normal girls. This is why we had to launch this initiative to protect society from this menace.”
The notion that a woman is deviant, threatening, or menacing because she is masculine, and therefore a lesbian, is ridiculous. The fact that being masculine automatically creates the assumption that a woman is a lesbian is ignorant and simply perpetuates the tired stereotype that lesbians are manly or butch. This campaign is just another attempt to (1) glorify heterosexuality and define it as “normal,” (2) give lesbians (or masculine women) a bad name, (3) instill fear in society in an effort to reject homosexuality.
The situation in the United States isn’t much better either. Anti-gay hate attacks here have increased since 2006, the last year statistics are available, even though overall hate crime have decreased.
Ostracizing, raping, or assaulting a person based on their sexual orientation is wholly unjust. Just like your gender or race, sexual orientation is not something you can control. Unfortunately, we live in a world where homophobia, not to mention sexism and racism, often triumph.