Ask Sanityville: Is THIS effeminate?

(Fr. Bill Mouser) #1

I just reread the article at Desiring God on effeminacy. Also, relevant portions of The Grace of Shame. I was looking to see if either source tried to lay out a comprehensive and precise definition of effeminacy (i.e. one that covered all the bases). Had I utterly failed to find anything like it, this would not have discredited the idea of effeminacy as a flaw in the male character. As someone somewhere else in this discussion has already noted, Justice Potter long ago opined that pornography is difficult to define precisely, but it was easy for him to recognize when he saw it.

I was actually thinking of this problem (defining effeminacy, Justice Potter’s observation) when a striking incidental scene materialized in front of me, and I thought to myself “Yikes! Is that a picture of effeminacy?”

Pondering what I saw prompts this post, and a question I throw out to all of you: is what I saw an incidence of effeminacy? If so, what does it suggest about the nature of effeminacy, and its manifestation in areas outside an overtyly homosexual milieu?

What I Saw . . .

I was in Gold’s Gym, having completed my allotted number of laps in the pool. I was just about finished dressing and packing up in the locker room. A few others around me were doing the same.

One of these was a young man - early 20s perhaps? - who’d donned his form-hugging briefs. As I stood to depart, he was about 10 feet away, facing squarely to my right, posing in a mirror another 10 feet from him. He struck careful poses, turning slightly this way and that, adjusting the angle of his torso to his legs, as if seeking some optimal posture.

To what end? Surely so that he could present to the world a vision of himself, one which he most approved (or supposed that the world would most approve).

Was I looking at effeminacy in action? There was nothing else I saw to suggest homosexuality. Whether the young man was gay or not, he certainly could have been heterosexual as well as male. And, this raised in my mind the elaborations in the Desiring God blog and also in The Grace of Shame that effeminacy has no necessary connection with homosexual acts or the stereotypical features in behavior that generate Wilson’s “gay vibe.”

Here’s the question that popped up in my mind - can effeminacy encompass the sort of self-referential fussiness that one sees in . . oh, say, male television news anchors? Is, for example, Jim Acosta effeminate?

Both the Desiring God blog and The Grace of Shame emphasize the concept of softness as a core element of effeminacy. Well and good - there’s abundant lexical support for this. And this aspect of effeminacy makes it easy to recognize it where the softness in the man is redolent of what is ordinary in a woman.

But, there’s something else that’s ordinary in a woman - James alludes to this in James 1:23-24. A man [ordinarily, we are to suppose, right?] looks in the mirror and goes on, immediately forgetful of what he saw. Is this the way of women? I think not! Quite the opposite.

And, if this is ordinary behavior in a woman, if it is typically womanly to be focused intently on how she looks, is it effeminate in a man who matches her in the attention he devotes to self-adjustments and embellishments?

Again - I’m not trying to correct or replace the basal notion of malakos in the Greek literature, or the idea of softness in our understanding of effeminacy. I’m merely wondering out loud (and asking you to puzzle over this with me) whether a fastidious infatuation with his own perfections is, at least, a symptom, if not also another aspect, of effeminacy in a man.

(Joseph Bayly) #2

Yes, absolutely. Or put more simply, vanity is effeminate. And that vanity can be focussed on his personal appearance (as it often does with homosexual men) or on his writing style, as it often does with academics.

(Tim Bayly) #3

In ancient world, a man looking in a mirror was the definition of malakoi. What is hard work for woman is vanity for man, and vanity is the epitome of malakoi. Love,

(Bnonn Tennant) #4

Tim, that’s very interesting. Do you have any sources to hand that talk about this?

(Tim Bayly) #5

Sorry, would almost certainly have been primary sources, which sadly I read on paper only switching to Kindle a little over a year ago.

(Alex Costa) #6

Another thing to add to (or remove from) the definition of effeminacy. When I debate people about this, they always want me to nail something down. They want me to say that a man who wears pink shirts or drinks La Croix or listens to Celine Dion is automatically effeminate and I’m never willing to do so although I’d ask some questions about Celine. Instead, I’m going to see those as signs that maybe I should keep my eyes open. There are some men in my church who I wouldn’t think twice about if I saw them drinking La Croix. There’s plenty of man there that I’m most likely not going to be concerned about what he’s drinking.

On the other hand is the guy who wears pink shirts looking at himself in the mirror too long? Do his pajamas look better than my church clothes? Does he have perfectly groomed hair? Etc. One preference may be nothing. Or it could open doors to a whole bunch of other things.

I like a couple early 90s Michael Bolton songs. Yeah, I know. I also don’t think of myself as effeminate enough that you’re going to sit down with me and have serious discussions on that particular topic. But if you find out that I like a couple Bolton songs and you want to look at other areas of my life just in case, be my guest.

(Jeremy Vander Galien) #7

I believe this is the point a previous post made. These things are rather obvious. Scripture doesn’t go into detail because they are obvious. A man posing in front of a mirror is gross (and I’ve done it…and I’m 5’6" without much a physique). You saw this immediately. You felt it.

Just for fun, we’ve got a man at our local Y who lifts weights in a skin-tight, pink, spandex outfit and he often strikes poses right there in weight room.

(John M. ) #8

What if he mixes the lime La Croix with gin? Asking for a friend.

(Alex Costa) #10

Ha! The only thing worse than an effeminate man is a man who mixes his effeminate with his masculine. I mean, what could be worse than a man chopping wood while wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and a tutu? It would be better if he didn’t chop would at all.

In all seriousness, your “friend” is a okay in my books… assuming of course that he’s not spending too much time in front of the mirror

(Joel Norris) #11

I think I am man enough to say this… in my single days, I should have been more effeminate (along the lines described in this post).

Why? Women care about appearance, more so than I ever realized, and I think my shabby clothes, shabby car, shabby housing, shabby haircut, etc. were a major disattractant in the mating game. What I cared about was functionality, and since my job did not require otherwise, I regarded it as a waste of money to spend on appearance. But now I am thinking that was a big mistake and would advise any young man not to do as I did. My wife is quite down-to-earth, but seeing her (largely suppressed) desires to have things that look good (and for me to look good), I shudder to think what a typical woman is like.

How much effeminacy in our society arises from the need for men to cater to the feminine?

(Zak Carter) #12

I don’t think caring about appearance at all makes a man effeminate. In fact, having a shabby haircut and shabby clothes may be more so if that signals that the man can’t take care of himself without his mother around to fuss over him.

Vanity is something very different than signaling a competent masculinity with your appearance.

(Zak Carter) #13

One of the things my wife has expressed (and I’ve heard other women express this as well) is jealousy at how little time and money it takes for men to look attractive. Most men look as good as they need to with a decent pair of jeans and a collared shirt from Costco. Add a $20 haircut every month or two and remember to run a comb through it half the time and you’re usually good to go.

(Lucas Weeks) #14

I really appreciate that quote, and I think it bears on what you’ve said here, @Joel. It is not easy to suss out the particulars here, and the fact that our entire culture has embraced effeminacy makes us more likely to throw the good out with the bad in response. I think a very similar dynamic is going on when we discuss our entertainment: movies, music, etc.

That said, I don’t think it’s true to say that you needed to become more effeminate to get a wife. I think there is a manly way to consider one’s appearance, and not considering it at all – not putting any thought into it or taking responsibility for how you present to others – is not manly.

I, too, am very grateful for the way my wife improves the “look” of both me (tough job) and everything around me.

(Joel Norris) #15

Well, I guess I should have known better than to attempt humor in this medium.

Yes, I think it is manly to take basic care of one’s appearance, and I was reflecting on how I had been wrong to deprecate this in my younger years.

That being said, I do wonder how much general effeminacy arises from the widespread catering to the feminine in our society. I see a lot of younger men these days who strike me and my wife as soft and effeminate (though still heterosexual).

(Christopher Thomas Miller) #16

I remember my mom sitting me down once and saying something like, “Chris, do not think they will love you for your brain. Women like muscles!” Made an impression, although I still don’t work out and can only boast a scholar’s tan.*

*Library white

(Christopher Thomas Miller) #17

I remember a helpful analogy from Antagonists in the Church. Haugk pointed out that signs of antagonism (or effeminacy in our case), can be thought of like red flags of which you should take note. Frequently they mean nothing, especially in isolation. When you should paying attention is when they aggregate. “A man wears a pink shirt.” is a meaningless sentence in isolation but “A man wears a pink shirt and enjoys figure skating and knits and looks at himself in the mirror a lot and wears skinny jeans and always has perfect hair” is not. Oh, and you got a vibe. Total tonnage is really important here, which is why dishonest folk want to focus on individual flags.

(Brandon Myers) #18

If that guy in the gym were a member of my church I would question him on it for sure. Maybe I’d wait to see if it happened more than once (maybe) but that kind of public display of effeminacy is pervasive and wrong (and yes I would say effeminacy in action for sure). It also likely means he is even more self-absorbed in private if he shamelessly does that in public.

I am glad Morse (in the DG article) referenced The Grace of Shame and hope more people read the book. However, I am also so annoyed that it is only now DG or any other “major evangelical” website (as far as I can tell) referenced the book. I cannot say it’s surprising though given evangelical thought leaders timidity on and around sexual sin.

I spoke about this subject at a men’s breakfast at our church last year (The Grace of Shame and the sin of effeminacy from 1 Cor. 6), and after the talk many older men said (or in subsequent weeks emailed me saying) they wish someone told them this years ago. Some of the men were even offended or outraged not by the content of the talk but by the fact that they had been in church for decades and no pastor or man had said anything to them about the sin of effeminacy. One gentleman in particular in his 70s had tears in his eyes and said, Why have I have never heard of this? I have been in solid evangelical churches for over sixty years and have heard that passage (1 Cor. 6) preached many times but that sin was never mentioned…why?! I have known young men like this in church and no one confronted them or apparently really loved them." I will never forget this. It was very telling on the state of the church and infuriating and sad.

Related to this subject Steven Wedgeworth had a pretty good piece a while back elaborating on effeminacy:

The book Unchanging Witness also goes into many primary sources on effeminacy and is helpful. Though one comment: note who does not endorse this book on the inside: none of the “big evangelical” thought leaders save Dockery who I don’t think most count among this group. Very telling.


(John M. ) #19

I wonder this too.

Twenty characters.

(Zak Carter) #20

I’m reminded of the pastor of the church I grew up in. He was not a very personable guy, but he tried. Every time I would talk with him (which was only a handful of times, mostly in college) I would end up making a sarcastic, usually self-deprecating joke which he would take as a serious comment and become very concerned for my well-being. Somehow those would always go over his head, even though I know that sarcasm was his type of humor in other contexts.

Not sure why I was reminded of that. Anyway, I’ll be praying for you, @Joel, that God would help you repent of your effeminacy. Please hear that I am very concerned for your well-being.

Great question, worthy of exploration. I’d bet @bnonn and @michaelfoster have many thoughts on this.

(Michal) #21

This made me laugh out loud.