Date of Award

7-16-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Ralph LaRossa - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Elisabeth O. Burgess

Third Advisor

Dr. Wendy Simonds

Abstract

In a heteronormative society where hegemonic masculinity prevails, beauty is often synonymous with, and presented as, feminine. For example, pictures of tall, thin women with perfect teeth and perfect skin gloss the covers of magazines and other forms of media as representative of some beauty ideal. This “ideal” is the barometer by which, on many levels, all women are judged. While some women may choose to ignore these messages, few women can always escape comparison. Our society constantly informs us that appearance matters. More specifically for women, a feminine physical appearance is often considered “ideal.” But what exactly does this construct, feminine, signify? Fundamentally, femininity is not static. To speak of it as a logical, simple construct is problematic for it means different things and is expressed in different ways in different environments. Furthermore, to assert one definition by which all others will be measured is difficult in that it presumes a homogenous population and/or idealizes one specific representation. In this research project I conducted in-depth interviews with 43 non-heterosexual women to discern how they constructed “femininity.” What did it look like? What meanings did it connote? When was it important and how was it negotiated? Applying a cognitive sociological lens and using grounded theory methods, I describe what femininity, or arguably femininities, look(s) like within this subpopulation. This project contributes to and extends the literature on gender, sexuality, and appearance. It does this by demonstrating the importance of analyzing non-heterosexual women’s experiences and understandings of femininity within a patriarchal society that valorizes hegemonic masculinity. Most literature contemplating appearance and related misogynistic messages emphasizes a heteronormative perspective. However, feminine and femininity uniquely impact non-heteronormative women. Non-heterosexual women must negotiate both misogynistic and heterosexist messages concurrently. By simultaneously addressing this “double” subordination or marginalization, this research endeavors to provide a more comprehensive overview of meanings and ramifications of appearance choices.

Included in

Sociology Commons

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