No femmes: Gay guys prefer “masc” men in leadership roles at work, alarming study finds

A queer man in makeup shouts through a loudspeaker
(Photo: Shutterstock)

As if we didn’t already guess this from the reaction to Sam Smith’s latest music video, a new study has found that both gay and straight men can be femme-phobic.

This study looked at men in higher-status job roles. It found that traditionally masculine men were judged as more suitable candidates for high-profile positions.

Surprising? Perhaps not from straight guys, but it turned out plenty of gay men felt the same.

The study was carried out by the University of Sydney. It polled 256 men, half of whom identified as gay and half as straight.

Promoting Sydney to overseas visitors

It showed participants six videotapes of candidates. Each was auditioning for a lead role in a mock Sydney tourism campaign.

They explained they wanted to cast a gay man to highlight the city’s diverse appeal.

“In the videos, the actors delivered a script related to the tourism campaign in a manner where their voice and body-language was manipulated to come across as either masculine or feminine-presenting,” says the study.

You can check out some of the tapes below. They all read the same script but presented in slightly different ways. All the actors provided two videos – one more masculine and one more feminine.

The flipside videos, where the same actors butch or camp it up, are here.

The results were clear. Both the gay and straight men indicated “a significant preference for the masculine videoclips.”

And, “in most (but not all) cases each actor’s masculine presentations received more votes compared to their feminine presentations.”

Butch boss level

The researchers say that butch and masculine characteristics bring advantages “in the pursuit of high-status opportunities.”

They note that as signs of gender nonconformity can result in discrimination or bullying when younger, many gay men go to lengths to act traditionally masculine. We often carry some element of internalized homophobia.

“Policing of masculinity among gay men is not only self-directed; there is also evidence of prejudice toward more feminine gay men from within the gay community.”

Most of us will have come across examples of this “policing”. It can include the “no femmes” requests on Grindr to sneering at super-femme or camp gay guys.

This study said such attitudes can add to the “gay glass ceiling” some in the LGBTQ+ community face in the job market. Other studies have found that many still see leadership roles as more suitable for masculine males. In other words, the more “flamboyant” one is perceived, the less competent you’re judged to be by some people.

As gay men, we should know this isn’t true. However, this study says otherwise.

“Such a connection suggests that the extent to which gay men internalize societal stigma about being gay may influence their treatment of individuals who possess stigmatized traits.”

In this case, even when participants are told a marketing campaign wants to use a gay man, they still opt for the more masculine guy.

The researchers suggest that even though diversity quotas ensure more gay men are hired by organizations, those job hires are often the ones who present in a more traditionally masculine way. That gay men themselves often perpetuate this practice is “troubling”, say the authors.