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e·mas·cu·late

  1. Deprive (a man) of his male role or identity

Is there a female equivalent? I came up with "efemulate" but this sounds strange.

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How about "defeminize", which however, only defines one aspect of emasculate. –  Thursagen Jul 2 '11 at 0:20
    
Bearing in mind that "emasculate" also carries the connotation of "making less effective or strong", an exact feminine equivalent for would be hard to find. That is, if you are going to use it in correspondence with "emasculate". –  JeffSahol Jul 2 '11 at 16:42
    
@Jeff: The probable connotation would be "making less empathic", to parallel the meaning of "making less strong". –  Ben Voigt Jul 2 '11 at 22:02
    
Associating an abstract noun like "power" with gender is what forms the nonsensical basis of the misogynist word "emasculate". –  user30330 Nov 3 '12 at 20:03
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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Found this:

William Safire in The San Francisco Chronicle, This World, Nov. 16,1986, p.19, discusses the possible opposites for emasculate. He concludes that defeminate is best, after also considering effeminate, spay, hysterectate, demulierize, gyneclate, degynify, and exogynate.

Seems he got it from Dr. Mary Stopes, described here in Margaret Jackson's The Real Facts of Life: Feminism and the Politics of Sexuality, c1850-1940:

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Emasculation is not primarily about lack of sexual satisfaction. Accordingly, this is a poor analog. –  Marcin Jul 2 '11 at 15:35
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Like Ham and Bacon, I would have chosen "defeminise" as the closest analogue of "emasculate" in the sense of "Deprive (a man) of his male role or identity". It also has the advantage of not being completely obscure.

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The verb emasculate has at least three related but distinct meanings, given by the OED as:

  1. trans. To deprive of virility, to castrate (a male person or animal).

  2. transf. and fig. To deprive of strength and vigour; to weaken, make effeminate and cowardly; to enfeeble, impoverish (language).

    b. esp. To take the force out of (literary compositions) by removing what is supposed to be indecorous or offensive.

To find a “feminine equivalent” requires a different treatment for each of these.


The obvious answers

Before looking at each of the three senses separately, let me note that the OED does attest both defeminize and unfeminize.

The first, defeminize, is given as:

defeminize /diːˈfɛmɪnaɪz/, v. trans. To deprive of femininity. So defeminiˈzation; deˈfeminized ppl. a.

  • 1900 Amer. Jrnl. Psychol. July 546 ― The most defeminized of these specimens, who are so prone to diminutives suggesting endearment.
  • 1905 Daily Chron. 25 May 3/6 ― He thought this was ‘monstrous and de-feminised’.
  • 1907 Daily Chron. 9 Mar. 4/6 ― The so-called Feminism tends in reality to the ‘defeminisation’ of women.
  • 1907 Standard 23 Mar., ― There was no need for women’s suffrage, which would defeminise women.

And the second of the two, unfeminize, has no distinct definition given, only citations:

  • 1886 Miss Mulock in Gd. Words 313/2 ― These young students seem to go through the ordeal··without being unfeminized.
  • 1895 F. Adolphus Mem. Paris 296 ― The example offered by the English is unfeminising France.

The less-obvious answers


1. To unsex

The principle sense, sense number 1, requires removing the reproductive organs. Wikipedia takes a slightly different take on this, whereby emasculation is distinguished from castration:

Emasculation is the removal of the genitalia of a male, both the penis and the testicles. Removal of the testicles alone is castration.

A castrated male can still have sex, but he cannot conceive children. To the extent that there is some difference to be had here, an emasculated male can not only no longer conceive a child, he can longer have sex at all (well, apart from receptive anal sex, which probably does not count for these purposes).

So in a very real sense, there can be no possible female equivalent of emasculation, only of castration. After all, even a woman who has undergone an oöphorectomy, meaning the excision of her ovaries, or a hysterectomy, meaning the excision of her uterus, nonetheless remains capable of having sex, just not of conceiving a child.

On the other hand, a woman who has undergone a clitoridectomy (the excision of the clitoris) is still able to conceive a child, but is unlikely to enjoy the act in the same way as a woman who has not been similarly mutilated.

If to neuter a man is to castrate or geld him, then to neuter a woman is to spay her. However, we usually reserve that word for non-human animals.


2. To weaken

The second sense of emasculate is essentially to weaken someone, to enfeeble them. This is not restricted to men, and so no “feminine” version is needed. Weakening a woman and weakening a man are the same thing.

If the thought that to make someone less of a man is to make him more of a woman, then a corresponding feminine equivalent may be possible. We use the word unman for doing this to a man; it turns out that a corresponding unwoman exists.

Please Note: This one — meaning to unwoman — may well be the best choice out of the several offered in this answer to suit what appears to be the OP’s desired sense.

The word has been around for a quite a long time in this sense. The OED gives this definition and citations:

  1. trans. To deprive of the qualities or traits of a woman; to remove from the category of women. Occas. refl. Also const. of.

    • 1611 Florio, ― Disdonnare, to vnwoman.
    • 1614 T. Adams Divells Banket 5 ― A degenerate woman, unwomaned··of both modestie and chastitie.
    • 1621 G. Sandys Ovid’s Met. ii. (1626) 37 ― Shee, whose wicked deeds Vnwoman’d her.
    • 1631 Brathwait Eng. Gentlew. 123 ― One weary of her sexe, forbore not to vnwoman her selfe, by assuming not onely a virile habit, but a virago’s heart.
    • 1744 Eliza Heywood Female Spect. No. 5 (1748) I. 263 ― There is nothing··so shocking to the··modesty of our sex,··that we may not··degenerate into, if we proceed to unwoman ourselves.
    • 1839 Mrs. Browning Romaunt Page xxv, ― My love··shall requite No woman, whether dark or bright, Unwomaned if she be.
    • 1863 Mrs. Oliphant Salem Chapel xxi, ― Not all her personal wretchedness could unwoman the minister’s mother so much as to make her forgive··Phœbe’s presumption.

Unlike the case with unman, the secondary sense of unwoman meaning to unsex her is quite rare. The OED provides only one citation of this sense:

  • 1827 Lancet 20 Oct. 71 ― Taking away the ovaries altogether··would unwoman her.

So it seems that to unwoman is used virtually always in the figurative sense. Given that, it seems the best choice for a corresponding figurative sense of to emasculate.

Another possibility would be to masculate or masculinize her, both of which are preferable to any other suggestion given in other answers to this question. The former term, masculate, the OED describes as “very rare”:

trans. To make masculine.

  • 1623 Cockeram, ― Masculate, to make strong.
  • 1812 Southey Omniana II. 56, ― I am not sure (he adds) whether in time it may not perfectly masculate the sex.

In contrast, masculinize is a much more common term, and is often used for making a female more like a man. In this way, it serves as an feminine opposite for emasculate; it just may not be politically correct. Here are relevant citations from the OED:

  • 1927 Daily Express 28 Sept. 8/7 ― The second type of masculinised female is the politically-minded woman.
  • 1928 Sunday Express 19 Aug. 5 ― ‘The Cinderella Man’··was a masculinised version of the old story.
  • 1961 M. F. A. Montagu Genetic Mechanisms in Human Dis. xii. 113 ― Completely masculinised genetic females are almost common, forming something like 1 in 40 of the masculine population.
  • 1970 Nature 3 Oct. 94/2 ― In the glow-worm Lampyris the apical cells of the testis produce a masculinizing hormone.

Thinking of the virility aspect, there are plenty of antonyms to invigorate, such as for example to enervate or to vitiate. However, none of these is especially feminine in connotation.


3. To bowdlerize

The third sense of emasculate, meaning to remove the saucier or meatier bits of a literary composition by bowdlerizing it, is perhaps the most difficult to find a female equivalent for.

The intransitive verb harlot is sometimes used for someone who is acting like one, but as it is intransitive, it does not work well with an object. There is a transitive version of whore, so you might get a way with whoring it up.

Strike that. You probably would not get away with that one. The PC police would be all over your case. Best not use it.

Moving right along, you might simply want to sex, spice, sauce up the work. You could also debauch it. Or, if you think of the literal meaning of emasculate, then by transference its opposite might be to put some meat into the composition.

On the other hand, it might be safest to leave the sexual arena altogether and simply uncensor the work.

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