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Valuing femininity

A Queen's post-doc has won an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award for her work to measure and combat femmephobic attitudes.

Rhea Hoskins
Rhea Hoskin, a Queen's University post-doctoral fellow, has won an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award. (Supplied Photo)

You recognize the signs.

People avoiding the colour pink for fear of appearing too feminine. Crying being labelled as a sign of ‘weakness’. Holding attitudes that suggest women are less capable than men.

These are all examples of femmephobia and anti-femininity – prejudices against femininity and feminine qualities. While some examples of femmephobia can be highly overt, it can also be subtle in how it influences cultural norms.

Rhea Hoskin believes femmephobia and anti-femininity are second nature in society, and their prevalence makes it difficult to conduct research into how this mindset factors into gender-based violence and discrimination. So, her post-doctoral research at Queen’s will aim to develop scales to measure femmephobic attitudes and experiences, and to identify the most likely targets of such attitudes.

“Specifically, in this work I seek to connect different types of violence to the ways in which society views femininity,” she says. “It is my hope that this research helps us to better understand how attitudes that devalue and regulate femininity fuel other forms of discrimination. And, ultimately, I hope that this work encourages the re-valuing of femininity as a strategy to combat misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transmisogyny, and rape culture.”

This promising research topic, coupled with Dr. Hoskin’s other contributions to women’s health and to science over the past decade, recently earned her a 2019 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award. The award was established by the Council of Ontario Universities to ensure that Ontario attracts and retains pre-eminent women’s health scholars.

“I was driving when I got the call notifying me that I had received the award,” she said. “I had to pull over because I was instantly overcome with emotion. In all honesty, I broke out into an ugly cry – it was a happy cry, but it was most definitely ugly. I immediately called my mother and wife to let them know. We were all ecstatic.”

For Dr. Hoskin, who also recently received the Governor General’s Gold Medal as one of two of the top graduate students across the university based on academic achievement, this Women’s Health Scholars award means she gets to continue pursuing her passion.

“I think that many people feel relieved or excited when they finish their PhD, but I mostly felt sad by the thought that I might not get to continue with my research, and this line of research in particular,” she adds. “Not only do I love research in and of itself, but I love being able to research femme identities, femmephobia, and anti-femininity in particular.”

Working with Sari van Anders, Canada 150 Research Chair in Social Neuroendocrinology, Sexuality, and Gender/Sex, as her post-doctoral supervisor was a major draw for Dr. Hoskin, as her research requires an interdisciplinary mentor who can understand the complexity of gender and feminist theory and simultaneously work within an empirical realm.

“The opportunity to work with Dr. van Anders will uniquely set me up to continue, and strengthen, the trajectory of my research program,” she says.

Dr. Hoskin’s hope is, through her research, that she can create fresh understanding around why it is we devalue and demote people and things that are feminine, and how that affects women’s health and well-being.

“My research centers marginalized people and applies queer and marginalized perspectives to broader social analyses – thus, to have the importance of this perspective recognized and funded is meaningful,” she adds. “Personally and professionally this award allows me to continue to foster interdisciplinary research collaborations with scholars in Ontario. It is my future goal to continue this programme of research at an Ontario university.”

In addition to her research accomplishments and her ambitious agenda, Dr. Hoskin is also the co-chair of Preaching to the Choir: An International LGBTQ+ Conference and is currently the guest editor for an upcoming special issue on critical femininities in Psychology & Sexuality. She is also an invited guest editor for a special issue on femme theory for The Journal of Lesbian Studies.