Queer men are often relegated to supporting roles in the story of humanity. We play the silly best friend, the catty neighbor, or the untrustworthy uncle. Limp-wristed actors sashay through pop culture as comic relief because, c’mon – how could we possibly be taken seriously?
But pop culture has a pesky way of infecting actual culture. We should be celebrating femininity in all of its splendor, but instead we dismiss it. Sitcom audiences often equate calmness and consideration with irrelevance, so why wouldn’t they dismiss those same qualities in the workplace?
This is the thesis of a recent study at the University of Sydney. Researcher Ben Gerrard sought to identify implicit discrimination against men with higher voices, flamboyant body language and general “non-masculine” behavior.
Gerrard cast six male actors to read the exact same script aloud. Three of the performers donned feminine traits while the other three were more “straight-acting.” Then, the actors switched roles and read the same script a second time.
The results were illuminating, but sadly predictable.
Viewers of the video identified the classically male actors as stronger leaders, even though they were essentially applying for roles as tourism representatives. Call us crazy, but wouldn’t you want a playful, engaging person to guide your vaycay?
“We operate in teams-based workplaces now where effective leadership qualities – warmth, empathy and good communication – are all considered feminine traits, and a more feminine-presenting gay man might be an ideal candidate for a leadership role,” Gerrard assessed. “And yet we still value traditional masculinity at a senior leadership level as a measure of the capacity to lead, because traditional feminine traits are considered too soft or not authoritative enough.”
Even more shocking, the gay men who took part in this study consistently held the same position as straight men: that womanly whimsy was unwelcome in the upper echelons of the professional world.
“Gay men are potentially blocking each other from positions of power and leadership due to this implicit bias,” explains Gerrard. “Men are still expected to conform to more traditional masculine styles of leadership and if they fail to sufficiently project masculine traits they are at risk of status penalties. This is an example of internalized homophobia among the gay community and it impacts opportunities for these gay men.”
So, what’s the remedy, as Ben Gerrard sees it?
“What we need is an increase in authentic representation of empowered feminine-presenting gay men – especially in the media.”
There you have it: let’s slay in a defiantly gay way.
Image: Screenshot University of Sydney
Last modified: March 16, 2023