The internet has always been on a quest to find the next big thing to normalise. From conspiracy theories to vaginal discharges, people on the internet have a growing list of accomplishments to add to their résumé. So what’s up with men in skirts on our TikTok For You page lately? What are they evidently trying to normalise and condemn? Are they just feminine soft boys? Let’s dig in.
A femboy is a slang term used to describe a young, cisgender male who displays feminine characteristics. Urban Dictionary defines the term as “a person, typically under the age of 30 years, who is biologically male. However, this person will often present himself in a very feminine manner. This behavior may be exhibited part of the time, or all of the time.”
It is important to understand that femboys are not just restricted to femininity in terms of their clothing, but that it applies to their behaviour in general.
Femboys first emerged in the 1990s as a derogatory term for men who didn’t adhere to the traditional norms of masculinity. The term was synonymous with sissy or wimp until the internet picked it up and put it under a positive light. Presently, the term is adopted as a self-descriptor for males who prefer a mix of feminine and masculine traits.
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Here’s a heads up before you start throwing the term around to label absolutely anyone in a skirt: context is crucial. Femboys are not to be confused with ‘crossdressers’—people who dress in clothes normally associated with the opposite gender, ‘ladyboys’—a slang term for transsexual sex workers, or the biggest of all, ‘transgirls’—male to female transsexuals.
It is also imperative to understand that the culture is not indicative of one’s gender or sexual identity. One can identify absolutely anywhere on the spectrum and call themselves a femboy. The only ground rule here is that they have to be biologically male.
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While there is no particular accessory or clothing on the femboy must-have list, Amazon believes oversized hoodies, skater skirts and striped thigh-high socks are the way to go. Not to mention, maid outfits.
Maid outfits, initially featured in anime, boomed in interest after it was trialed on Raymond, a popular Animal Crossing character. Since then, femboys on TikTok have become synonymous with maid outfits, catering to an increasing fan base with demands along the lines of “bless us with some maid content, senpai!”
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Though this entire section can be summarised by stating ‘Rule 34’ also known as ‘if it exists, there will be porn of it,’ I will still go ahead and attempt to explain the roots of femboy fetishisation.
PornHub introduced femboy as a searchable category in 2013 surrounding a string of sexual fantasies relating to the term at the time. The genre features slender, curvy and often cross-dressing men in leather claiming to be “the ultimate cure to incels.” Femboys are also popular on the platform’s ‘furry sex’ genre.
Further fetishisation stemmed from the concept of ‘Femboy Hooters,’ a femboy rendition of the popular restaurant chain, Hooters. “Hooters but it’s staffed entirely by femboys” is all it took for a Tweet to blow up the internet, leaving subreddits, Discord servers and a petition on change.org to “make dreams come true” in its wake. Femboy Hooters essentially fetishised scantily-clad feminine boys staffing the restaurant chain, and just like everything else on the internet, Rule 34 applied, garnering it a genre of its own on PornHub.
Despite the negative ‘Fap or Trap’ connotations the culture has been subjected to, femboys on TikTok have had a massive impact on the conversation based around toxic masculinity. #FemboyFriday is on the forefront with more than 200 million views and what once was a derogatory term is now pioneering the revolution against gender norms.
This year, and more specifically this month, the conversation around both online bullying and toxic masculinity has been incessant. For Anti-Bullying Week 2020, as part of the Not Just A Comment campaign, Screen Shot spoke to British South Asian, gender non-conforming makeup artist Zain Shah about the hate he receives, his fight against toxic masculinity through makeup and his advice for anyone else doing the same or struggling to shake off the haters.
There’s a lot of hate, from people who don’t understand what I do. These people truly don’t want to understand and are fuelled by insecurities of their own. Being a queer POC and an individual that challenges gender stereotypes makes me a target on many different levels.
I would say thank you for speaking about a topic that so many turn a blind eye to. It’s easy to get burnt out when being a social activist, so my advice would be to protect your energy and remember to take care of yourself in the process.
Differences aren’t celebrated. I realised this as a young teen who enjoyed doing things society deems as typically ‘feminine’, and being called out for it at school; not just by students, but teachers too.
I don’t engage with the hate. Often, these individuals are looking to get a rise out of you or to start an argument. Nobody has power over you unless you allow them to. I choose not to give value to their opinions or to give away my precious time to negativity.
I would say that while cultures and values can give us a sense of belonging, they don’t often care about the individuals’ happiness. Prioritise yourself, and choose your happiness first.
I’ve seen other young South Asians step into their own power and reject society’s narrow standards of beauty. A few beauty brands are on the path of championing true diversity by moving past tokenising people of colour.
To be honest, I don’t factor it in anymore but I did at the start. If you’re proud of your work, nothing else matters. Stand by your art.
As I mentioned, I don’t engage with the hateful comments and messages I receive. I also give myself frequent breaks from checking my social media, especially after I post.
You’ve got to make bad choices to learn how to make better ones. Live in the moment and enjoy every aspect of what you do. Also, don’t be so hard on yourself!
Check-in with yourself and address any negative behaviours and patterns you may have. After you’ve done that, start a discussion with your friends and family and call out any ‘bullying’ that you see.
Online bullying can affect everyone, including children, teens and adults. No one should go through the distress and loneliness that the brutality of hateful comments can lead to. With the help of Ditch The Label, we found it crucial to encourage others to open up about the hurtful comments they receive in order to knock down the idea that online abuse is acceptable.
You too, share on social media a picture or a video of the meanest comments you’ve received. Use the hashtag #NotJustAComment and encourage others to do the same. Reach out to anyone who you think might be suffering from bullying and donate if you can to help support the incredible work Ditch The Label is doing!