Travis Sky Ingersoll, PH.D., MSW, M.ED. - Social Work & Sexual Health Education/Consulting/Research
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Why do so many girls call their female friends “my wife”, ”Honey”, etc, but boys think it’s sick. What make girls do that? Does it mean they changed their sexual orientation?

Question:            
 
Why many girls call their female friends “my wife”, ”Honey”, etc, but boys think it’s sick.
What make girls do that? Does it mean they changed their sexual orientation?
 
Answer:
What makes girls do that? Doesn’t it mean they changed their sexual orientation? I find these to be interesting questions.  All stereotypical “male” and “female” behavior has to do with socially-constructed gender roles and gender-based ideologies. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a female calling her female friends “my wife” or “honey”.  Just as there is nothing wrong with males calling their male friends a “man crush” or saying that they love each other.  However, we live in a very sexist, homophobic world where people automatically assign a sexual orientation label to people depending on how much they conform to the dictated rules and roles assigned to their gender.
 
When the term “homophobia” was first coined in the 1970s, it was described as a mental disorder, a condition relating to the irrational fear of homosexuality or homosexual people. Over the decades, this definition of homophobia has evolved to include all of the negative feelings and attitudes that people have about being gay or bisexual.  Although common among both sexes, men and women have been found to experience homophobia for slightly different reasons.  According to Basow and Johnson (2008), women who scored high on homophobia tended to disagree with sex role egalitarianism, held authoritarian attitudes, and perceived stereotypical feminine attributes as being of great importance to their personal sense of femininity.  Homophobia among men, on the other hand, is mostly related to the cultural expectations of masculinity. Homophobia plays a significant role in maintaining patriarchal power structures.
 
In U.S. culture (and in cultures throughout the world including China), the social construction of masculinity and femininity has been formulated and promulgated in a way that highly values “masculine traits,” while devaluing “feminine traits.”  To be masculine is often seen as being strong, powerful, dominating, unemotional and violent, whereas being feminine is often viewed as being sensitive, maternal, submissive, passive, and weak.  American males are pushed to separate themselves from all that is feminine in order to prove their “manliness”.  This societal pressure often manifests into violence against women, gay-bashing and homophobia. In fact, being homophobic and participating in gay-bashing is often viewed as a rite of passage into “manhood” by many young males. Because male homosexuality is often erroneously associated with femininity, it violates the strict gender norms of traditional masculinity.  Homophobic bullying destroys lives.  Avoiding discussions of homophobia, homosexuality, and sexist gender ideologies can help foster a culture of intolerance and non-acceptance, thereby allowing violence against non-heterosexuals and women to flourish.
 
So, NO, females calling females “my wife” or “sweetie” or saying “I love you” doesn’t necessarily have any connection to sexual orientation.  I mean it could have, but just as likely may not have. And NO, people don’t change their sexual orientation; their decision to hide or show their sexual orientation is often based on how safe they feel they are in doing so.  Heterosexual females often express such “terms of endearment” to other heterosexual females, but so do homosexual and bisexual females.  In both Chinese and North American societies, same sex affection is often something tolerated among women, however, same sex affection among men, regardless of their sexual orientation is rarely tolerated, and is often attacked. 
 
It’s sad to me that people, especially men, are forced into tiny, oppressive, and extremely limited gender boxes.  In my opinion, it robs men of their freedom to be who they truly are.  Women are imprisoned by their gender boxes as well, however, they are often given more freedom to be affectionate with other women, or even to be sexual with other women.  But of course, that’s often for the sole benefit of a man's sexual fantasies.
 
References
Basow, S. A., & Johnson, K. (2000).  Predictors of homophobia in female college
     students. Sex Roles, 42(5/6), 391-404.
Claassen, C. (2000).  Homophobia and women archaeologists. World Archaeology, 32(2),
     173-179.
Finlay, B. & Walther, C. S. (2003).  The relation of religious affiliation, service
     attendance, and other factors to homophobic attitudes among university students.
    Review of Religious Research, 44(4), 370-393.
Kimmel, M. (1996). Manhood in America: A cultural history. New York: Free Press.
Mills, M. (1996).  ‘Homophobia kills’: A disruptive moment in the educational politics of
     legitimation. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 17(3), 315-326.
O’Neil, J. M. (1981).  Patterns of role conflict and strain: Sexism and fear of femininity
     in men’s lives. Personnel & Guidance Journal, 60(4), 203-210.
Szymanski, D. M., & Carr, E. R. (2008).  The roles of gender role conflict and
     internalized heterosexism in gay and bisexual men’s psychological distress: Testing
     two mediation models. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 1, 40-54.
Van Der Meer, T., & Herdt, G. (2003).  Homophobia and anti-gay violence:
     Contemporary perspectives (editorial introduction). Culture, Health & Sexuality, 5(2),
     99-101.
Wickberg, D. (2000).  Homophobia: On the cultural history of an idea. Critical Inquiry,   
    27(1), 42-57.

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