Here's an interesting paper documenting some scientists' efforts to develop a computer program that can identify the relative masculinity/femininity of human faces as accurately as humans can. It's a great article to read or skim for a quick exposure to the world of "subjective gender scoring" in scientific research.
Overall, human raters tend to agree about how masculine or feminine any given face is.
Human raters are also pretty good at determining whether someone is a man or a woman based just on the face, although a large minority of faces are ambiguous enough for raters to disagree about their sex.
(There is actually some evidence that people perceive these androgynous faces as more beautiful, but that's another post.)
All of which is to say, "masculine-looking" and "feminine-looking" are things. They are qualities humans perceive, and they're fairly objective, inasmuch as people (even across cultures) mostly agree with each other about them.
Although human biological sex is binary, masculine and feminine appearance is a dimension, not a binary.
In other words, it's not the case that the most feminine-looking male face is still perceived as more masculine than the most masculine-looking female face.
Instead, both men and women vary in how masculine or feminine their faces appear to others, and there is a lot of overlap.
You have probably noticed that I use the words "masculine" and "feminine" quite a bit in my system, to describe what faces look like.
This sets me apart from some other theorists who use euphemisms like "yang and yin," or "sharp and soft," to describe exactly the same differences. (There are plenty of other euphemisms in use as well.)
I could use words like "sharp" and "soft" where I mean "masculine" and "feminine," and it wouldn't necessarily be inaccurate. I know that some women just don't like having the word "masculine" applied to them in any way.
But I prefer to use the words "masculine" and "feminine," even so, for four main reasons.
1. The first reason I use the terms "masculine" and "feminine" as descriptors is accuracy.
In my system, the terms "masculine" and "feminine" are literally accurate. I use them to describe traits that characterize members of one sex more than the other, and that therefore signal biological sex to human raters.
It's just a fact, for example, that a short nose bridge is more common in women than in men, and that human raters perceive a short nose bridge as feminine.
I care about facts, and about reality, and I assume you do too. I don't care to pretend things aren't true when they are. I prefer to accept the truth, and proceed from that acceptance.
2. The second reason I use "masculine" and "feminine" as visual descriptors is that the seven style archetypes largely depend on gender for their meanings. They derive in large part from our culture's pre-existing ideas about certain archetypal men and certain archetypal women.
For example, features that read as both youthful and feminine tend to communicate sweetness and innocence, and that's because, as a culture, we have a pre-existing idea that "girlhood" is synonymous with innocence and sweetness. The Ingenue archetype is the physical embodiment of this assumption.
(Of course, little girls are neither more innocent nor more sweet than little boys, and to proceed as if they are is to proceed on a stereotype. But we can acknowledge the existence of these obviously sexist archetypes, and use those archetypes to communicate meaning in fashion, without mentally swallowing the stereotypes. I am aware that girls aren't more innocent than boys, but I also know that other people interpret girlish visual cues as signaling innocence, so I am going to use that knowledge.)
3. The third reason that I think it's important to say "masculine" and "feminine" is that understanding your balance of masculine and feminine elements is key to looking your most beautiful.
Almost all of us women have a mix of masculine and feminine elements in our visual appearance. Yet we are choosing clothes and accessories made for women, so they tend to be feminine choices. This can result in us looking less beautiful, because when our clothes or accessories are more feminine-looking than we are, we go from looking "chiseled" or "striking" to looking actually mannish -- which is quite different, and unlovely, because it's jarring.
Consider Jamie Lee Curtis, one of my favorite examples of a woman with a lot of masculinity in her features. Is she her most gorgeous with longer, feminine, hair, or with shorter, more masculine hair?
In the picture on the left, her hair is more feminine than she is, and the result is that her face looks mannish, rather than striking or majestic, by comparison. She's more obviously a woman in the picture on the right; the relative masculinity of her hair is directly proportional to the relative masculinity of her features, and she's a striking, powerful-looking woman -- her best look.
I talked about this phenomenon -- that an appropriately masculine context actually makes a woman with masculine elements look more lovely -- with regard to Winona Ryder, in my blog post about Gamines. Google pictures of this objectively pretty woman: the more feminine her clothing and hair are, the less lovely she becomes. The same is true for Cher, for Hilary Swank, for Jennifer Aniston, for Sandra Oh, for Whoopi, for Frances McDormand, for Elisabeth Shue, and for tons of other women celebs with a lot of Natural or Dramatic or Gamine: when their context becomes too lacy and ruffly -- too feminine -- they are less lovely, not more lovely. The same is true with me! I have a huge helping of Natural, and too-feminine looks are unpretty for me. Messy hair, some gloss, and an unconstructed top, on the other hand -- gorgeous. If I do say so myself. :-)
IMO, we have to talk about "masculine" and "feminine" in order to achieve the proper masculine-feminine balance in our clothing context, to allow us to look our most beautiful.
4. The final reason I prefer using "masculine" and "feminine" to using euphemisms is this:
To change my language would be to say that I think it's right or appropriate for the word "masculine" to be insulting as a descriptor of women's features.
To change my language would be to say that I agree that masculine features are somehow inherently unlovely in women.
I won't agree that it's an insult to describe women's features as masculine, because I simply don't believe that's true. Women with more masculine features are beautiful. Women with more feminine features are also beautiful.
To say otherwise is like saying a circle is somehow inherently more attractive than a square. It's all about context. A woman with more masculine features is gorgeous when her context is more masculine; a woman with more feminine features is gorgeous when her context is feminine. (I mean, just compare the makeup in the two pics above: matte finish, neutral colors, high contrast, and straight lines suit the woman on the left; shimmer, gloss, curving lines, and pinks and reds suit the woman on the right. Each would be less lovely in the other's makeup. In their proper context, each is gorgeous.)
Some people won't be comfortable having the words "masculine" and "feminine" applied freely to both men's and women's physical appearance. For those people, another style system may be a better fit.
I intend Truth is Beauty to be a value-free zone, where we can objectively discuss physical features without applying any positive or negative judgment to the fact that they appear masculine or feminine.
My long-term vision is of a world where neither of those words has a positive or negative connotation associated with it.
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