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Female Masculinity

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  2,090 ratings  ·  87 reviews
Masculinity without men. In Female Masculinity Jack Halberstam takes aim at the protected status of male masculinity and shows that female masculinity has offered a distinct alternative to it for well over two hundred years. Providing the first full-length study on this subject, Halberstam catalogs the diversity of gender expressions among masculine women from nineteenth-c ...more
Paperback, 329 pages
Published October 26th 1998 by Duke University Press Books (first published October 5th 1998)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  2,090 ratings  ·  87 reviews

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Barry Pierce
Halberstam is name that'll always drag me back to my university days. His writings on gender theory were always pitched as more readable (and fun) than Butler's since he generally read gender through culture rather than Butler's impenetrable poststructuralist lens. Female Masculinity was a gospel but I never actually got around to reading it.

A couple years later and I can finally call myself a Halberstan. Female Masculinity is a thorough exploration of the history of the masculine female and eve
Emma Sea
Wow, fifteen years old. In many ways it’s kind of depressing that, in general, our culture hasn’t moved beyond a gender binary.

I always had three main peeves with Halberstam. One is zir insistence that “masculinity” is not a synonym for “men or maleness” (p. 13). Well, yes it bloody is. No matter how much we want to challenge language and forge reclaimings, masculinity is, in our culture, a synonym for maleness. Therefore as soon as one talks about female masculinity, one is talking about women/
Jan 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Halberstam makes some generalizations about the slippage between butch dyke and FTM identity that come off as troubling (even though her blurring of butch/transman resonated strongly for me personally). Perhaps it was her style or her lack of "theory power" as writer, but I remember that her tone towards female masculinity - "trans guy, butch dyke, we're really all the same!" - bothered me at times. I did benefit, however, from her discussion about female masculinity and film.
Stef Rozitis
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book at times irritated me, but often interested me. I learned a new word "tribadism" (google it but not in a public place like I made the mistake of doing). Many of the observations are true, and as she reaches what seem like conclusions she seems to trouble them enough to add complexity, depth and honesty- there are no answers.

At times it seemed to me the idea of "female masculinity" was built upon essentialist assumptions (although at other times Halbestram deconstructed that). I thought
Sep 21, 2019 added it
Halberstam’s inclusion of loving, wishful interpretation of often lesbian-free (at best; lesbian-hating at worst) media encourages us to settle for scraps made by others instead of creating what we need. Queer theorists continually amaze me with the way “sex positivity” mandates celebration of every other form of sexual behavior (no matter how genuinely damaging it is!) yet does not keep them from scornfully mocking any feminist attempt at relating sexually without eroticizing oppression; Halber ...more
Sara Jaye
Feb 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer-studies
Groundreaking, awesome, and unfortunately, subtly (and on occasion not-so-subtly) less than glowing about femmes! Get with it, people: you CAN glorify one identity without putting others down.
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterful analysis of the masculine woman throughout history and culture; from Ann Lister to Radclyffe Hall to Greta Garbo to Queen Latifa—Halberstam uncovers a layered and textual history of mannish lesbians, transgender butches, male impersonators and more.
I think that part of the reason that I didn't love this book as much as I had hoped is because it's a bit outdated. It was published in 1998, and certainly the queer and gender equality movements have changed dramatically over the past decade. Had I read this book closer to when it had been written, it may have resonated with me more.

Female Masculinity is incredibly well-researched and includes a lot of fascinating information about the history of female masculinity. Several chapters focus on pr
Jamie Bernthal
Feb 01, 2013 rated it liked it
It was hard to find an appropriate star rating, because this book was timely and important, and I like citing it, but at the same time it's disappointing and I don't like reading it. Halberstam is an excellent figurehead for queer theory, a genderf*cking barely academic professor who sometimes tries too hard to get down with the kids. She is famous for writing accessibly and for using unconventional primary sources - usually children's films and TV, which has led to wonderful lines in later book ...more
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've taken months to read this one, and taken the time to watch a number of the movies and read a few of the other books Halberstam references. This book is equivalent to a graduate/PhD level semester long class. It's dense, it's logical, it's no-nonsense at the same time as being masterfully written, it takes into consideration past writings (both of the author and others), and it offers a few bold insights. Even though it was first published in 1998, the vast majority of the book remains compl ...more
May 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
Basically, "Where's my phallus?" Butch, please. ...more
M. Ainomugisha
Jan 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
This books touches base on almost every curiosity we might have surrounding the idea of a female masculinity.

Halberstam explains with precision the points of divergence and congruence between sex assignment and conscious gender adoption.
Halberstam also presents a good case for the Stone Butch revealing how valid and full of an identity the Stone Butch is even as it is the only sexual and gender identity that’s defined by what the beholder will or will not do intimately; by the fact that the be
Mary Rose
Like most theorists, Halberstam sometimes comes across like a person who has never interacted with other humans. This book regularly falls back on using the passive voice (for example, that 'butchness is seen as being XYZ' or similar) to avoid having to give more concrete evidence that a particular notion exists at all, let alone is as wide-spread as Halberstam would have you believe. One segment that had me flabbergasted was in the first chapter in which he asserts that men's restrooms are not ...more
Sep 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sd-fem-bookclub
To anyone in technical or hard science fields, "social science" is a contradiction at best, and sociology and queer studies are social science's less rigorous younger siblings. At one point near the beginning, Halberstam debates whether the more scientific approach to studying female masculinity is surveying people in a nonrandom way and subjectively interpreting the results--and here you say, OK, finally someone is rejecting this completely flawed methodology as legitimate research--or, wait fo ...more
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theory, queer
canonical! fun/sad/sexy/opening up possibilities in language/queerness
B. Jean
"Next came gender-appropriate clothes and all manner of social prohibitions. I personally experienced adolescence as the shrinking of my world." (BIG MOOD)

"Whether we are confronted with the hormonally and surgically altered bodies of transgender men or the tattooed and pierced and scarred skin of the butch dyke, we look at bodies that display their own layered and multiple identifications."

Those were my favorite lines of the book. This was published in the 90s, and now people say that using the
Jan 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, non-fiction
I learned quite a bit from this book, especially the distinction between androgyny and masculinity. These two presentations of being are not equal, and for me this was an important point in understanding female masculinity. Halberstam excellently explains the power and politics that keep masculinity toxic, violent, and heavily policed by society. This is a straightforward read. I always appreciate Halberstam for being detailed in their philosophical reasoning and explanation without making me fe ...more
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
In my original review from when I first read this, I was extremely uncharitable. I took Halberstam to task for something that is really the fundamental question of the book--how we define and understand masculinity. He argues that the best way to understand maleness is not actually by looking at the behavior or activity of biological men, but by looking at the experience of those on the fringes of maleness, particularly masculine women, whose social performances of gender throw into sharp relief ...more
Sep 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars. This book is important as a groundbreaking exploration within the sociological landscape. While some of the theories may be a bit forced (like the theory that female masculinity has heavily influenced the development of male masculinity--personally, I think many men are inclined to ignore, avoid, or attempt to render it invisible), the multifaceted and detailed analysis of female masculinities (plural) warrants serious consideration. Halberstam arcs through time, attempti ...more
Jul 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Halberstam does an excellent job of writing a book which is academic in tone but readable. She chronicles female masculinity in both historical and contemporary manifestations, and deftly describes labels and supposedly monolithic identities as variable, contextual, intersectiional, and open to critical analysis. She references texts ranging from the scholarly to the popular (her reading of the movie Babe [yes, the pig one] as an example of denaturalized identity is fabulous) and as a result, my ...more
Aug 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Given the fact that this book was published in 1998, Halberstam does a great job discussing masculinity among women, dykes, transsexual men. It stroke a chord with me when I read it.

Some don't like her operating of the language when discussing trans identity, but I think this was a result also of the time when the book was written - since then, the language and discourse has much progressed and Halberstam's subsequent book on transgender/transsexuality (2005, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgen
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"The butch resists the position of becoming an object of scrutiny and returns the stare with hard resolve. In my introduction, I talked about the relay and looks between artist, viewer, and subject in the photographs of Grace and Opie, and in my chapter on queer cinema, I discussed the possibility of the butch gaze. This look, the look of a raging bull, the stare down, the challenge, lets the viewer know that this is the stage where this bull can rage, and though she can fight... she'd rather re ...more
Kythera Anevern
Dec 28, 2011 is currently reading it
Shelves: lgbt
Thus far, this title is extremely heavy reading. Halberstam's style is brutally academic and dense (sometimes such that I wonder if there was a word count that the author was striving desperately to meet). It's rather off-putting to have to slog through such heavy-handed writing to try and get at a subject I'm desperately curious about, but I'm determined to finish this book. ...more
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading a used copy of this book, that had been heavily marked up with exclamation points and comments like "I do this!", was a wonderful decision on my part. Along with the content of the book itself, it was so, so validating to my experience. I'm glad I read it, despite the difficulty of the academic language. ...more
Jess P
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
sometimes, (subversive) gender scholarship feels like drinking too much coffee: i know maybe i should slow down, but it just tastes too good!
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a prescient book. Published in 1998, in this work Halberstam correctly predicts the importance of the bathroom as a representation of "the crumbling edifice of gender in the twentieth century." The author (who uses both he and she as pronouns) insists on female-embodied masculinity as a valid and compelling thing, and then proceeds to read female masculinity in a dazzingly myriad ways: in history, in literature, in film, and in the drag king shows of the late 90s. While this book is in some ...more
Jules Bertaut
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, queer
This book purported to examine and explain masculinity through the lens of female masculinity (like butches and stuff), in order to distinguish between masculinity and man-ness. And it's an interesting book! But I still have no damn clue what masculinity is. The most interesting part to me was the history, both from a couple hundred years ago and more recent, of masculine women/cross dressing/passing as men/etc. I had hopes for the chapter comparing and contrasting butches and trans men, but it ...more
Sabit Apellido
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it
It's a not so easy to read book. There are lots of interesting theses. But i don't like, that the theses are mixed up with new information. So i more like to read a summary of different theses of different authors and then Halberstams opinion. I dont like the picture in front of the book. For me the person doesnt look like female masculinity. that's why it took me years to just to take a look into the book..
It's the only academic book with this topic i know so far. it's with very easy language.
J Knoblach
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My first foray really into academic gender/queer studies (language based and not visual-art-based).

Author relied on both copious nonfiction resources & also un-ashamed self-disclosure.
Author reflects/explains phobias leading to this being an under-researched topic.
Author's writing is intersectional--with Blackness/race & transness & class & history/future.

In the top three books I've read in the past half-decade.

Read it.

*Bring back the drag king contest!*
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Met the author in grad school when this book came out. Androgeny was becoming a thing long before the current generation broke down gender binaries to "they" and "them." However at the time, this shattered ideals I thought were truths and it was very refreshing and changed my perspective forever. ...more
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Jack Halberstam (born December 15, 1961), also known as Judith Halberstam, is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies, and Comparative Literature, as well as serving as the Director of The Center for Feminist Research at University of Southern California (USC). Halberstam was the Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at the University of California at San Diego be ...more

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