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.