On Friday I thought I was going to my mom’s to confirm the pattern I wanted the contractor to make with the tiles and accent pieces in the kitchen, then maybe having lunch, and heading home “not too late.” Instead I stayed until it was almost midnight! So, my apologies for this late post.
We ended up moving stuff (including heavy furniture!) all over the house, revising my plan for how to arrange a couple of rooms, creating our own pattern with the tiles and accent pieces, leaving a note to explain that pattern is what we want in a specific area, talking, laughing, and being quite silly. We agreed while talking about politics (that’s at best a very rare occurrence). I even dusted! (something I usually hate and almost never do). There were a few times when she seemed stressed or uncertain about a decision when I found myself going into “problem solver and supporter mode” and feeling masculine. But, otherwise, I felt very feminine.
It’s hard to get more girly than making patterns with tiles, getting rid of things you think are ugly because you don’t trust the contractor not to put them on your wall, and giggling with your mom. But I’ll be the first to admit I’m not really an expert on femininity; to be honest most of the time when I’m around feminine women I just feel very out-of-place and confused. So, I thought it might be better to look at what different people around the Internet have to say about femininity …
The first definition of “feminine” in the Urban Dictionary is basically “whatever a woman does.” I like that definition, and I’ll explain why. It follows logically that a possible definition of “masculine” is “whatever a man does.” Since most behaviors are shared by humans regardless of gender (e.g. eating, sleeping, fornicating, answering the call of nature, using a phone, blogging, playing video games, watching TV, shopping, care giving, arguing, compromising, exercising, listening to music, cooking, reading, etc.), then most behaviors are both masculine and feminine. We just decide that behaviors we see women doing are feminine; we’d call the same behaviors masculine if we saw men doing them. If I do these behaviors, does that make them queer?
Other definitions on the same page (link above) include the terms: understanding, empathetic, sensitive, submissive, gentle, modest, willowy, pretty, nurturing, demure, playing with Barbies, watching romantic movies, swaying hips while walking, sweet, inoffensive, passive, and (I’m paraphrasing here) intellectually challenged. One definition points out that women can be strong, direct, and independent.
Erm, okay, so how do I pull all that off? Well, wikiHow has advice for How to Be Feminine. The article is worth a read; for the most part it gives a positive view of femininity and some suggestions that could be fun to try. Some of them include: recreating the conditions of times when you felt feminine, loving your body (including curves), being graceful, dancing, being playful, making yourself look good by wearing certain types of clothes and (optionally) makeup, and being confident. I like the focus on enacting positivity toward yourself, no need for perfectionism, and finding what fits you (literally). I’m not crazy about the images in the article because all of the women in them are young, light-skinned, and relatively thin. I’d be happier if more diverse ages, skin tones, and body shapes & sizes were represented.
Caroline Turner describes leadership styles that can be described as feminine in her article, Can ‘Feminine’ Women Make It To the Top? They include a focus on relationships and community in the workplace, egalitarianism, collaboration, focus on process and synthesizing input from different people to make decisions, persuading instead of commanding, and sharing. These strategies are used effectively by both women and men. In feminine leadership styles, there seems to be more of a focus on collective effort and success, rather than on individual competition to rise to the top and lead through force or dominance.
Finally, the TV Tropes Gender Dynamics Index provides an overview of how gender is portrayed in fiction. Such portrayal not only reveals cultural perceptions of femininity (and masculinity), but also shapes them.
Female characters are objectified, reactive, relational, and motivational. Their value is based on passive attributes such as physical sex, appearance, vulnerability, and chastity. What they are is more important than what they do. Their reactions to other characters, locations, events, etc. are used to engage the audience emotionally and indicate how the audience should feel about these things. They gain significance based on their relationships to others (especially men and family), rather than their own actions & merit. Family is the most important thing for women and they’ll sacrifice pretty much everything for it. Female characters exist to motivate other (male) characters.
According to this portrayal, femininity is about being passive support for men. Support for their actions, their ego, their sexual fantasies, their success. Not one’s own. This is the message people are internalizing every day.
I’d much rather join in World Femininity Day and be fabulous.
And visit Miss Representation.org to learn about how misrepresentation of women in the media hurts us all (yes, including men) – as well as what people can do about it!
How would you define “feminine” and “femininity”?
When do you feel the most feminine? Is there anything you do intentionally to feel or be more feminine?
What are your thoughts regarding portrayal of women and femininity in the media?
Do you have any questions about this post? Ask away! Anything you disagree with? I’d love to hear from you!