Pro-Choice Legislation for Once

I was very pleased to learn that U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the “21st Century Women’s Health Act” today! It is a bill intended to protect and expand access to reproductive health care.

Please contact your Senators and urge them to support this bill. It might not hurt to do the same with your Representative in the House. Hopefully, with enough public pressure, this bill might actually get passed!

source: Female Senators Introduce Pro-Choice Bill to “Fight Back Against Those Who Miss the ‘Mad Men’ Era”



First Feminine Friday … erm, Saturday: What is Femininity?

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 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!

Challenging Cultural Assumptions About Sex and Gender – Part 1

For easier reference, I’m re-posting the previous post‘s list of assumptions that are generally taken for granted in American (and other) culture(s):

  • There are two biological sexes, male (penis) and female (vagina). All humans fit into one of these two categories.
  • Social roles and behaviors, attributes and capabilities, interests, etc. are determined or at least heavily influenced by biological sex. In other words, males naturally adhere to a set of norms considered “masculine” and females to a set of norms considered “feminine.”
  • Masculinity is inherently better than femininity. It is acceptable and even necessary for a woman or girl to exhibit some masculinity, as long as she ultimately remains “in her place” as a proper female (sex object and caregiver). Men and boys are severely limited in the amount of femininity they may exhibit; an effeminate male is the greatest offense against mankind.
  • Males must be sexually attracted to females and vice-verse. It is very important for a man to be successful sexually (as well as in other areas) and for a woman to be in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man. Pursuit of these goals is a key factor in social interactions, especially between the sexes.

But in reality …

Biological Sex

Biologists have found that sex cannot be accurately understood exclusively in terms of someone being “male” or “female.” Sex is fluid and can even change over time based on an individual’s experiences.

There are a variety of factors that influence a person’s biological sex, including chromosomes (genetics, X & Y), hormones (testosterone vs estrogen), prenatal influences, and changes in one’s anatomy. The sex chromosomes can take on more than two possible configurations. Relative hormone levels vary among individuals. Sometimes a baby is born with genitals that cannot easily be labeled as “male” (penis & scrotum) or “female” (labia, clitoris, vagina). Combinations of these factors may influence an individual to identify as “intersex.” I have even watched a film in which an individual shared the experience of being neuter (no genitals).

Therefore, an accurate understanding of biological sex needs to go beyond putting people into one of two mutually-exclusive categories.

Gender Identity and Expression

People vary greatly in their gender identity and expression – the gender they perceive themselves to be and how they dress, act, etc. to communicate that to others. All people act in ways that can be labeled “masculine” or “feminine” to varying degrees; no one is exclusively masculine or feminine. Our systems based on assumptions about sex and gender limit the ability of gender-nonconforming and non-heterosexual people to participate fully and feel respected as equals in society.

Even people who “play by the rules” – that is, according to the assumptions listed at the beginning of this post – are limited by gender norms in their ability to: express themselves fully; develop their full range of abilities; effectively address intra- and interpersonal problems; avoid being perpetrators and/or victims of violence; have genuine relationships with other people; and contribute to positive political, legal, economic, and social change.

Therefore, I believe everyone can benefit from an expanded understanding of gender that takes into consideration and normalizes the experiences of people with diverse sexes, gender identities, and sexual orientations. (Please note that gender and sexual orientation are two different things; a person with any gender identity may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc.)

Some variations are listed below:

Cisgender individuals identify as the biological sex and gender they were assigned at birth.

Transgender individuals challenge cultural assumptions about gender in a variety of ways:

  • Transsexual individuals identify as men and women, but their gender identity is the opposite of the sex and gender assigned to them at birth. They often use hormone therapy and may undergo surgery to make their physical bodies (biological sex) conform to their gender identity.
    • A trans man was born with a vagina and raised female, but identifies as male.
    • trans woman was born with a penis and raised male, but identifies as female.
  • Gender queer individuals are diverse and may or may not identify as men or women. Some prefer to be identified as a third gender, while others would rather avoid labels entirely. Some gender queer individuals prefer to be referred to using the gender-neutral pronouns ze, zir, and hir.
    • An androgynous person consistently exhibits both masculine and feminine characteristics in approximately equal proportions.
    • A gender fluid person experiences change in hir gender identity and expression, depending on the situation ze is currently in.
    • Similarly, a bi gender person alternates between a masculine gender identity and a separate, feminine one. It is also possible to be trigender or pangender.
    • Gender queer individuals who identify as men or women do not conform completely to the expectations for their gender. They may be flexible in their gender roles and expression.

Transvestites identify with the gender they were assigned at birth and that matches their biological sex, but sometimes dress in clothes associated with the opposite gender.

Gender and Sexual Orientation

Some lesbian women exhibit more masculine traits than are generally expected of women. This does not mean that all lesbian women are masculine, nor that all masculine women are lesbians.

Similarly, some gay men exhibit more feminine traits than are typically expected of men. This does not mean that all gay men are feminine, nor that all feminine men are gay.

Masculinity vs Femininity & Sexuality will be addressed in Part 2.


Kelly, S., Parameswaran, G., & Schniedewind, N. (2012). Women: Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology (5th ed.). New Yoark: McGraw Hill.

Sedgwick, E.K. (1991). How to bring your kids up gay: The war on effeminate boys. Social Text, 29, 18-27. [PDF]

Teich, N.M. (2012 April 18). Transgender 101: 15 things to know. The Huffington Post.