Nail Polish and Polos: The Workplace Experiences of Out Femme and Butch Lesbians




Hudson, April M.

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Despite recent promising changes in laws and attitudes about gay and lesbian workplace inclusion, sexual orientation discrimination persists. Sociologists have documented that lesbians face discrimination in the workplace, such as a lack of support and respect by bosses and peers, being refused promotions, and encountering hateful and derogatory speech. It is likely that femme and butch lesbians experience sexual discrimination, prejudice, and bias differently. Femme lesbians present themselves as stereotypically feminine. Stereotypical feminine presentation includes wearing dresses or skirts, exposing cleavage, wearing jewelry, wearing high heels, carrying purses, and applying make-up, while often engaging in nurturing and subordinate behaviors (Crawley 2001; Moore 2006; Rifkin 2008). Femme lesbians are often able to pass as heterosexual. Conversely, butch lesbians may not be able to pass. Butch lesbians often present themselves as stereotypically lesbian (i.e., wear men’s clothing, a short haircut and no face makeup). This research includes similar and different experiences of “out” femme and butch lesbians. I conducted semi-structured qualitative in-depth interviews with out lesbians who self-identify as femme and butch. I found that femme and butch lesbians negotiate their sexual identity differently, and experience sexual harassment differently. Femmes commonly experience varied forms of harassment, while butch lesbians frequently responded that they do not allow it to happen. Both femme and butch lesbians experienced discrimination, but felt the discrimination was most likely due to their gender, not their sexuality. Although there has been progress in local, state and federal policies and legislation, there needs to be further research on the issue of workplace discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation as experiences differ based on a lesbian’s sexual identity.



Sexuality, Workplace, Inequality, Lesbian


Hudson, A. M. (2015). <i>Nail polish and polos: The workplace experiences of out femme and butch lesbians</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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