Effeminacy is the manifestation of traits in a boy or man that are more often associated with feminine behavior, mannerism, style, or gender roles rather than with traditionally masculine behavior, mannerisms, style or roles. Historically, it has been used to imply criticism or ridicule feminine behavior in men.
Effeminate comes from Latin effeminātus, from the factitive prefix ex- (from ex 'out') and femina 'woman'; it means 'made feminine, emasculated, weakened'. Another Latin term is mollities, meaning 'softness'.
In ancient Koine Greek, the word for effeminate is κίναιδος kinaidos (cinaedus in its Latinized form), or μαλακοί malakoi: a man "whose most salient feature was a supposedly 'feminine' love of being sexually penetrated by other men".
"A cinaedus is a man who cross-dresses or flirts like a girl. Indeed, the word's etymology suggests an indirect sexual act emanating a promiscuous woman. This term has been borrowed from the Greek kinaidos (which may itself have come from a language of Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, primarily signifying a purely effeminate dancer who entertained his audiences with a tympanum or tambourine in his hand, and adopted a lascivious style, often suggestively wiggling his buttocks in such a way as to suggest anal intercourse....The primary meaning of cinaedus never died out; the term never became a dead metaphor."
Other vernacular words for effeminacy include: pansy, nelly, pretty boy, nancy boy, girly boy, molly, sissy, pussy, tomgirl, femboy, and girl (when applied to a boy or, especially, adult man). The word effete similarly means effeminacy or over-refinement, but comes from the Latin term effetus meaning 'having given birth; exhausted', from ex- and fetus 'offspring'. The term tomgirl, meaning a girlish boy, comes from an inversion of tomboy, meaning a boyish girl. The term girly boy comes from a gender-inversion of girly girl.
Main article: Classical definition of effeminacy
Greek historian Plutarch recounts that Periander, the tyrant of Ambracia, asked his "boy", "Aren't you pregnant yet?" in the presence of other people, causing the boy to kill him in revenge for being treated as if effeminate or a woman (Amatorius 768F).
As part of Greek politician's (Aeschines') proof that a member of the prosecution against him, Timarchus, had prostituted himself to (or been "kept" by) another man while young, he attributed fellow prosecutor Demosthenes' nickname Batalos ("arse") to his "unmanliness and kinaidiā" and frequently commented on his "unmanly and womanish temper", even criticising his clothing: "If anyone took those dainty little coats and soft shirts off you... and took them round for the jurors to handle, I think they'd be quite unable to say, if they hadn't been told in advance, whether they had hold of a man's clothing or a woman's."
Demosthenes is also implicated in passive homosexuality and the prostitution of youth: "There is a certain Aristion, a Plataean..., who as a youth was outstandingly good-looking and lived for a long time in Demosthenes' house. Allegations about the part he was playing [lit., 'undergoing or doing what'] there vary, and it would be most unseemly for me to talk about it."
The late Greek[a] Erôtes ("Loves", "Forms of Desire", "Affairs of the Heart"), preserved with manuscripts by Lucian, contains a debate "between two men, Charicles and Callicratidas, over the relative merits of women and boys as vehicles of male sexual pleasure." Callicratidas, "far from being effeminised by his sexual predilection for boys... Callicratidas's inclination renders him hypervirile... Callicratidas's sexual desire for boys, then, makes him more of a man; it does not weaken or subvert his male gender identity but rather consolidates it." In contrast, "Charicles' erotic preference for women seems to have had the corresponding effect of effeminising him: when the reader first encounters him, for example, Charicles is described as exhibiting 'a skillful use of cosmetics, so as to be attractive to women.'"
Over-refinement, fine clothes and other possessions, the company of women, certain trades, and too much fondness with women were all deemed effeminate traits in Roman society. Taking an inappropriate sexual position, passive or "bottom", in same-gender sex was considered effeminate and unnatural. Touching the head with a finger and wearing a goatee were also considered effeminate.
Roman consul Scipio Aemilianus questioned one of his opponents, P. Sulpicius Galus: "For the kind of man who adorns himself daily in front of a mirror, wearing perfume; whose eyebrows are shaved off; who walks around with plucked beard and thighs; who when he was a young man reclined at banquets next to his lover, wearing a long-sleeved tunic; who is fond of men as he is of wine: can anyone doubt that he has done what cinaedi are in the habit of doing?"
Roman orator Quintilian described, "The plucked body, the broken walk, the female attire," as "signs of one who is soft [mollis] and not a real man."
For Roman men masculinity also meant self-control, even in the face of painful emotions, illnesses, or death. Cicero says, "There exist certain precepts, even laws, that prohibit a man from being effeminate in pain," and Seneca adds, "If I must suffer illness, it will be my wish to do nothing out of control, nothing effeminately."
Emperor/philosopher Julian the Apostate, in his Against the Galileans, wrote: ''Why the Egyptians are more intelligent and more given to crafts, and the Syrians unwarlike and effeminate, but at the same time intelligent, hot-tempered, vain and quick to learn?''
In his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar wrote that the Belgians were the bravest of all Gauls because "merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind".
Emperor Marcus Aurelius evidently considered effeminacy an undesirable trait, but it is unclear as to what or who was being referred.
Malakos is listed among other vices in the New Testament book of I Corinthians 6:9. Translations use different terms to express this.[b] The online Greek Interlinear Bible uses Strongs concordance (last corrected in 2008) translates Malakoi as "Catamites", and Arsenokoitia as "sodomites". The word malakos, #3120 in the Greek Dictionary of The New Testament of James Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to The Bible states: "of uncertain affinity".
One of the more demonstrable causes of effeminacy in men is the effect of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) especially during the gestation period and early childhood. EDCs interfere with or disrupt the proper functioning of human hormones.
One of the major classes of chemicals that are cited as contributing to male feminisation consists of certain plasticisers, notably phthalates. In 2009, Shanna Swan (professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Rochester) and her colleagues published a study on the effect of the phthalates DEHP and DBP on expectant mothers and their unborn children. It shows that the boys born from mothers with the highest concentration of these two chemicals were five times less likely to show behaviour typically associated with young males of similar age: 'If the mother's MEHHP concentration [one of the phthalate metabolites] was high, in the upper quartile, the odds that her boy had a score that was less masculine [in play behavior] was five times greater than mothers whose MEHHP was in the lowest quartile." A possible link to sexual orientation is yet to be established.
In addition, certain plants can produce chemical compounds that have a similar effect as human estrogens, hence the term "phytoestrogen", thanks to their structural similarity with estradiol (17-β-estradiol). Vegetable foods with the highest relative phytoestrogen content are nuts and oilseeds, followed by soy products, cereals, breads, and legumes. It has often been assumed that the frequent ingestion of such phyoestrogens contributes to male feminisation (including the condition of Gynecomastia) or the disruption of male reproductivity. It is unclear however under which conditions this may occur (and to which extent), i.e. whether it depends on the daily dose, the age (of the male consumer) or even genetic disposition. A 2010 meta-analysis of fifteen placebo-controlled studies said that "neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements alter measures of bioavailable testosterone concentrations in [adult] men."
In the United States, boys are often homosocial, and gender role performance determines social rank. While gay boys receive the same enculturation, they are less compliant. Martin Levine summarizes: "Harry (1982, 51–52), for example, found that 42 percent of his gay respondents were 'sissies' during childhood. Only 11 percent of his heterosexual samples were gender-role nonconformists. Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981, 188) reported that half of their male homosexual subjects practised gender-inappropriate behaviour in childhood. Among their heterosexual men, the rate of noncompliance was 25 percent. Saghir and Robins (1973, 18) found that one-third of their gay man respondents conformed to gender role dictates. Only 3 percent of their heterosexual men deviated from the norm." Thus effeminate boys, or sissies, are physically and verbally harassed (Saghir and Robins, 1973, 17–18; Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith 1981, 74–84), causing them to feel worthless and "de-feminise".
Prior to the Stonewall riots, inconsistent gender role performance had been noticed among gay men: "They have a different face for different occasions. In conversations with each other, they often undergo a subtle change. I have seen men who appeared to be normal suddenly smile roguishly, soften their voices, and simper as they greeted homosexual friends [...] Many times I saw these changes occur after I had gained a homosexual's confidence and he could safely risk my disapproval. Once as I watched a luncheon companion become an effeminate caricature of himself, he apologized, 'It is hard to always remember that one is a man.'" Pre-Stonewall "closet" culture accepted homosexuality as effeminate behaviour, and thus emphasized camp, drag, and swish including an interest in fashion and decorating. Masculine gay men were marginalised and formed their own communities, such as the leather subculture, and/or wore clothes that were commonly associated with working-class individuals, such as sailor uniforms.
Post-Stonewall, "clone culture" became dominant and effeminacy is now marginalised. One indicator of this is a definite preference shown in personal ads for masculine-behaving men. The avoidance of effeminacy by men, including gay ones, has been linked to possible impedance of personal and public health. Regarding HIV/AIDS, masculine behaviour was stereotyped as being unconcerned about safe sex practices while engaging in promiscuous sexual behaviour. Early reports from New York City indicated that more women had themselves tested for HIV/AIDS than men. David Halperin compares "universalising" and "minoritising" notions of gender deviance: "'Softness' either may represent the specter of potential gender failure that haunts all normative masculinity, an ever-present threat to the masculinity of every man, or it may represent the disfiguring peculiarity of a small class of deviant individuals."
The term effeminiphobia (sometimes effemiphobic, as used by Randy P. Conner) was coined by Will Fellows to describe strong anti-effeminacy. Michael Bailey coined the similar term femiphobia to describe the ambivalence gay men and culture have about effeminate behaviour in 1995. Gay author Tim Bergling popularized the term sissyphobia in Sissyphobia: Gay Men and Effeminate Behavior, although it was used before. Transgender writer and biologist Julia Serano has coined the similar term effemimania. Feminist Sociologist Rhea Ashley Hoskin suggests that these terms can be understood as relating to a larger construct of femmephobia, or "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone who is perceived to identify, embody, or express femininely and toward people and objects gendered femininely." Since the 2000s, Peter Hennen's cultural analysis of gay masculinities has found effeminacy to be a “historically varying concept deployed primarily as a means of stabilising a given society’s concept of masculinity and controlling the conduct of its men based upon the repudiation of the feminine”.
Femboy (alternatively spelled femboi) is a modern slang term generally used to refer to a young person who identifies as male or non-binary who displays traditionally feminine characteristics, such wearing dresses and skirts. It is a portmanteau of "feminine" and "boy". The term femboy is used in both sexual and non-sexual contexts. In 2013, Pornhub introduced the term as a searchable category on its site. Recently, femboys have become increasingly visible due to their popularity on social media platforms, such as TikTok.
While the term can be used as an insult, it is also used as a positive term within the LGBT community.