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“Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam


The modern world is more unchained than it was even 50 years ago. People allow themselves an unpredictable behavior, which sometimes frightens them, and does not shame of it. It became to be a norm that we have homosexuals and lesbians in modern society. And more attention is given to female men than to masculine women. There is no tendency about it; people have just decided that it is more important to pay much attention to homosexuals.

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Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam

We are going to discuss female masculinity in this critical paper relying on the experience of Judith Halberstam in her book “Female Masculinity”. She writes in it, “I was a masculine girl, and I am a masculine woman” (Halberstam 2000). Everywhere, on TV and in newspapers, we read that we have no sexual discrimination, but many cases show that it is not true. Everything depends on people’s attitude to the problem, their points of view and outlook. Everybody has their own attitude to this question. It is very difficult to be different in the modern world.

The book shows that female masculinity appeared not in this century that it existed before, developed and prospered. She gives some analyses of the books of other authors in order to give a more detailed and understandable description of female masculinity.

The philosophical concepts of the book

The book under consideration (“Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam) reveals the philosophical concepts about what does it mean to be a woman and at the same time a man. Judith Halberstam is a male woman by herself and she knows how it is difficult to enter this society with such an outlook, changed views and perception of the world. The book gives a number of examples of literary and cinematography works, the other visions of this question and other points of view.

The author of the book explains the modern understanding of female masculinity with such words:

Female masculinity is a particularly fruitful site of investigation because it has been vilified by heterosexists and feminist (womanist) programs alike, unlike male femininity, which fulfills a rational function in male homosocial cultures, female masculinity is generally received by hetero- and homo-normative cultures as a pathological sign of misidentification and maladjustment, as a longing to be and to have power that is always just out of reach (Halberstam 2000, 9).

The question discussed in the previous quotation is that female masculinity is often regarded as a part of the feministic movement, but it is not the same thing. Feminists want to avoid the influence of men in their life, they want to reduce it to a minimum or even to get rid of it. The aim of a male woman is to become a man, as she thinks so as men do, as she wants to behave as men do, and all this because she thinks as men.

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Judith Halberstam writes about female masculinity as “a specific gender with its own cultural history rather than a derivative of male masculinity” (Halberstam 2000, p. 77). Men and women have absolutely different, we would even say opposite, points of view, different visions and acceptations of the world, so our attitude to one and the same time cannot be the same.

Male and female masculinity

Male and female masculinity is something different in its very nature, it is impossible to compare these two notions. Halberstam also explains this in such a way, “this widespread indifference to female masculinity, I suggest, has clearly ideological motivations and has sustained the complex social structures that wed masculinity to maleness and to power and domination” (Halberstam 2000, 2).

Female masculinity was found widespread in the nineteenth century, and Halberstam made some researches and “offered two examples of female masculinity from the nineteenth century” (Halberstam 2000, 46), that is the literature works of George Chauncey and Lisa Duggan. She also uses these examples “to show that masculine women have played a large role in the construction of modern masculinity” (Halberstam 2000, 46). She writes that there is much more evidence of lesbian historiography’, “I am certain that other… letters and diaries if discovered, would provide a rich record of cross-identifying women in the nineteenth century; indeed, each category of cross-identification, from passing women to cross-dressing sailors and soldiers, deserves its own particular consideration” (Halberstam 2000, p. 52).

Film “Monster”

The topic of female masculinity is observed in many types of works of people that is literature, poetry, music, drama, film and others. We want to discuss the film “Monster” based on the story about Aileen Wuornos, in the light of the discussed question.

The plot is taken from the real life of one prostitute, who was convicted in 1990 for killing several men who ordered her, and she was executed in 2002. The story is rather depressing and horrible, it is about a tragedy in a person’s life. Aileen Wuornos meets her love, a lesbian, and their relations are showed very careful and detailed.

The film tells us the circumstances of how Aileen was growing, when she was raped and began to hate men, how she wanted to be powerful and independent, and at last how she began to kill. Aileen Wuornos kills those men only because she thinks it was the only way out. It comes out at the end of a film that you have some tender, attractive feelings for the killer, Aileen Wuornos. The film shows the first female serial killer, strong, masculine and at the same time that which causes sympathy. Life, especially indifferent society, made her such as she was: a woman with masculine character.

The general notion of masculinity

Women did much during the last hundred years to make “their own unique contributions to what we call modern masculinity” and one more contribution is “that what we recognize as female masculinity is actually a multiplicity of masculinities, indeed a proliferation of masculinities, and the more we identify the various forms of female masculinity, the more they multiply” (Halberstam 2000, p. 46).

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The idea is that the world is changing: women do not want to be housewives anymore, they want to work, they want to gain some definite respect in the male society, and they want to gain some authority in men’s eyes. What is the result? Women became more masculine, we are not talking about courage and power, no. That is an example of masculinity in women.

Masculinity in this society, in general, “inevitably conjures up notions of power and legitimacy and privilege; it often symbolically refers to the power of the state and to uneven distributions of wealth” (Halberstam 2000, p.  2). It is very easy to find woman nowadays that could be described by these words.

Judith Halberstam in her book shows us an example of masculinity in the film with James Bond. Bond is a hero, a great powerful man, but his chief is an old woman who calls him a dinosaur, his secretary “accuses him of sexual harassment… and women seem not to go on his charm” (Halberstam 2003). As the author of the book writes, “masculinity, in this rather actionless film, is primarily prosthetic and has little of anything to do with biological maleness and signifiers more often as a technical special effect” (Halberstam 2003).

Female movement

The feministic movement is rather widespread nowadays. Some people think that it is a burden to be masculine, on these statements Judith Halberstam writes, “it is hard to be very concerned about the burden of masculinity on males, however, if only because it so often expresses itself through the desire to destroy others, often women. Indeed, this dual mechanism of a lack of care for the self and a callous disregard for the care of others seems to characterize much of what we take for granted about white male masculinity” (Halberstam 2000, p. 274).

Some scholars investigated female masculinity without taking into consideration men. It is wrong; we cannot talk about masculinity without considering all aspects of this problem, male and female masculinity. It is a universal truth that men are the basis of masculinity. But many years passed and masculinity in modern conditions is formed with the presence and direct participation of women.

When we speak about female masculinity we mean not only sexual views and preferences but also the state of the soul, persons inside the world. When people are eager to meet masculine women they think about “psychologically disturbed, male-identified women so filled self-loathing that it had even spilled into their physical selves, leading them to self-mutilating, self-punished surgery” (Halberstam 2000, 158). The clothes may be male, but the face is female and some thoughts may appear in your mind. But actually, you see a man, a real and a masculine man without any signs of women.

Judith Halberstam tries to show masculine girls and women that there is nothing to be shame and afraid of, the author’s aim is to start the discussion “on masculinity for women in such a way that masculine girls and women do not have to wear their masculinity as a stigma but can infuse it with a sense of pride and indeed power” (Halberstam 2000). Judith came through those people’s attitudes, misunderstanding and disgust. But she lived in not so free and democratic country, she was alone in her lifestyle.

The psychological aspect of female masculinity

Nowadays lots of research establishments are opened to follow the psychological changes in the minds of transsexuals, as the number of them grows every year. Some people do not afraid to show their inner world to others, even if it does not correspond his birth sex. These people are protected from violent attacks of people, who cannot understand the way of their thinking, by the law in some countries.

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The last two chapters of the book, which are about drag kings performances and raging bull (new masculinity), almost show the catalog of types of masculine within the drag subculture. “Specificity is all” (Halberstam 2000, 173) she says, and with these words, she wants to show that the inner world of the person and his or her satisfaction with life is more important than that what people can think. People should be different, it should be some specific features in everybody.

The author wants to lighten the problem of racial and ethnic differences in the book, but sometimes she comes to very easy answers, without taking into consideration sexuality, eroticism and gender aspects of the question.

Here comes a question, why do people do this? Why are they not satisfied with the gender signs they were given during their birth? The answer is in psychology. Every man has a part of a female in his soul, and every woman has something from a male.

People’s personality is a combination of male and female qualities. And when male qualities become dominant in the female body, a person feels the necessity to change something in her life. A woman becomes a man, she wants to get all qualities a modern man has.

The changes inside the woman in the present world may be not so obvious. Women want to dominate, they want to show the power of their character. The changes are only on the level of thinking; the way of behavior and lifestyle does not change. This is one more sign of modern female masculinity, when we see a woman, and she was born as a woman, but she thinks like a man, and the decisions she makes are more like those which a man could do.


So, the inner world of every person is very different and in some cases it is unexplained. It is just other people’s right whether to accept other’s points of view or not. Female masculinity is a very up-to-date question as many women want to be independent, powerful and self-assured. Some women try to prove their power by their work and others prefer to change everything in their life: beginning with their thoughts and behavior and ending with their appearance and lifestyle.

The book of Judith Halberstam “Female Masculinity” is a big contribution to the intellectual and personal philosophical world. The researches she made are of great value.

Works Cited

Halberstam, Judith. 2000. Female Masculinity. Duke University Press.

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StudyCorgi. "“Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam." November 19, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "“Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam." November 19, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '“Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam'. 19 November.

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