Fate is Chance. Destiny is Choice.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What Is Femininity?

Via Witchy Woo's Wednesday Wow, comes this comment from Anuna who commented on Twisty's post at IBTP, which I think is worth a whole post of it's own, because of it's truth.

"Dear Twisty et alia,

I’ve been a lurker here for some time, and this assignment inspired me to blame out loud for the first time. I love this place.

Femininity is the bandage society enjoins us to wear to hide the wound it has made of our womanhood. Woman is what I am. In my woman’s body I find my strength and the expression of my creativity, my sexuality, my dreams and desires. To be a woman is good. It is NORMAL. A woman is not a damaged man, or a lesser form of man, or a creature designed to take second place to man or be a slave to man. Indeed, if “man” supposedly means “human,” then a woman IS a “man.”

But this sick, crazy culture tells me that as a woman, I am somehow much less than that. A woman is less than human. My vagina is defined as dark and dirty, my vulva as smelly and messy. My sexuality is either too much or too little, and always to be controlled by men and their definitions and desires. My body is not my own, to do with as I please. It belongs to others, to the hands and eyes of others, who define, defame, deride and detain me. My body is not supposed to be a source of pride or strength for me. Instead, my body becomes an object, not only to others but also to me. It is an animal to be tamed and imprisoned, an artifact to be carved up and operated upon. I’m not allowed to feel my own body. Nor am I allowed to know my own mind. A woman has no self.

Femininity is what I am issued to replace my woman-self, which has been found dangerous to men and declared non-existent. Femininity tells me what I can like and not like. Femininity tells me what to eat and drink. Femininity tells me what work to do, and how to do it. Femininity tells me how to speak, how to look, how to stand, how to walk, even how to lie down and sleep. Femininity is a muzzle that restricts my food intake. Femininity is a set of handcuffs that restrains me from picking up a gun, or a hammer. Femininity is shackles for my feet, making sure I walk in bondage even when I seem to be free. Femininity is an abuser who crawls into every crack of my body and mind and stalks me mercilessly even in my dreams, even on my deathbed. I can never relax for a moment, because I must maintain my femininity, like a mask that has to be maintained over the hideous scar that, in the minds of the patriarchy, constitutes naked womanhood.

If I ever stop being feminine for a moment, I will be revealed as nothing but a woman, and that would be so horrible to the patriarchy that they would no longer be able to tolerate me. Femininity makes the world safe for men. It turns a free-striding goddess into a simpering slave. Through femininity, we are forced to bow to the protection racket of the patriarchy. We agree to our own diminishment, hoping that if we don’t defy them, they will pity us and let us live. We agree to divert them and be pleasing to them, hoping to buy some time. We know that time will eventually run out–old women are despised, no matter how many years they’ve spent being feminine–but we don’t know when, so we live in this uneasy pretense of security.

I say “we,” but I shouldn’t, because I both reject femininity and am excluded from it. Femininity is that which declares me, as a woman, NOT to be a woman. Femininity makes it impossible for me, as a woman, to buy “women’s” clothing or “women’s” shoes. Because, as defined by femininity, no woman could be the shape or size I am. Femininity is that which declares my woman’s arms to be “man arms” and my woman’s walk to be “walking like a man.”

Conundrum: Q: What is the only force in the world that can un-woman a woman?

A: Femininity.

If femininity pertained to being a woman, or was relevant to being a woman, then how could it be that a man could conform to its standards better than a woman?

My conclusion: Femininity is the anti-womanhood.

Anuna, Pennsylvania."

I feel, that as Women, we are expected to be Feminine. As Anuna and others have said, Femininity does not mean Woman and neither is Femininity the truth about Women. I think femininity is a mask that Women put are expected to put on, to make us less threatening to the Patriarchy, to men and the rest of the world.

So, if I were to admit that I get a thrill out of fight scenes (such as in Kill Bill) or that my one true ambition would be to fly a space ship like in StarWars, pushing warp speed, people would say I have ambitions "like a man". Why is that? Because instead of appreciating everyone as individuals with their own kind of ambitions and needs and desires, we are ascribed certain things that strip us to our Gender Roles.

It's not (just) about having the 'same equality as a man' but its about being commended and recognised as complex individuals who have more to us than our sex or gender. Yes - equality would be good because there is a looong way to go there (pay gap, etc etc) but also, women should be respected and seen as, above all, HUMAN, just like men are seen as HUMAN.

I am expected to like, say, high heels and shopping and gossiping and women's magazines. Yes, I own some high heels, but I rarely wear them (excruicating pain anyone?)..and I admit that if they didn't exist I couldn't care less.

I understand if anyone feels they enjoy certain things as mentioned above, but I wish, really wish, that Women were not slapped with labels and shackled and dismissed with such sayings as 'oh, she's just like that because she's a woman' or 'women, eh?' or 'women are so moody' or whatever.

Because, lets face it, when a man's moody, people don't say 'it must be his time of the month'. They take men seriously. Why aren't Women's feelings and emotions and ambitions and happiness taken seriously?

What happens when Women don't dress, act and look like they are 'feminine'? They are either shunned, ridiculed or called some derogatory term. Assumptions are made about their sexuality, assumptions are made about their state of mind. Women can't win when their every action is scrutinized, or feels like they are scrutinized, by other people, by expectations.

What would be absolutely fantastic would be for Women to OWN their own sexuality, to OWN their own bodies. To be FREE to be the complex, multi layered people that they are. Not be be stripped down to 'sexy or not sexy', 'feminine or not feminine', 'clever or beautiful', 'blonde or brunette', 'virgin or whore', 'submissive or dominant', 'strong or weak'. I think femininity is a mask, lies that patriarchy wants us to believe about women.

Masculinity and Femininity are seen as polar opposites, and if they weren't ascribed by sex (ie. Men=Masculine, Women=Feminine) then maybe there wouldn't be much of a problem. But when they've been polarised by sex (ie. male/female) and gender (ascribed traits given to male/females at birth), then there is a problem - no room to move, no room to change, to grow, to learn.

Personally, I feel I'm a multi-layered individual. I hate it when people assume things about me based on my sex. I like clothes, and colourful makeup and jewellery, and I make no apologies for that. But I do it for me, to revel in my favourite colours, to express myself, to create moods. What I DON'T do it for is to say something about my sexuality. Which is, after all, what society expects.

Another fantastic post which Witchy has mentioned is worth a read because it also explains the difference between Womanliness and Femininity: Hedonistic Pleasureseeker.

Have a good weekend - I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow to see my Manfriend and I'm going to Chickenshed's captioned Vanity Fair tonight!

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  • Wow what a great post! And a great piece from Anuna. I can't say much more than how right she is. What she says about other people owning a woman as an object rings so true to me and I hate the concept of 'feminity' but then worry that I am being 'feminine' and going against what I believe if I wear make up and a skirt or do like traditionally 'girly' things. But like you, I enjoy make up and clothes, I enjoy making my own style, even if it looks close to the norm on the outside I know the difference is I did it for me.

    Thought i'd comment anyway after my sporadic periods of lurking! Well done on getting onto the MA by the way =)

    By Blogger Grace, At 7:55 pm  

  • Wow! What a depressing post! You guys must know some really crappy people if you've been made to feel this way! I am female and thirty and not awfully girly, as a child I was a total tomboy and will still attempt to do ridiculous and dangerous things (like tree skiing) in order to prove I can do anyhing that a boy can. That said I love sequins, always sit with my legs crossed, flirt shamelessly, like pretty floaty dresses, kittens, children and romance. Now from where I'm standing I wouldn't say that I'm the most feminine of creatures but on occasion I really do love to let out my more feminine side and float around looking girly and glamorous and flirting outrageously with people... this has never to my knowledge caused any major confusion or crisis for anyone I know when coupled with my tendancy to hanker after extreme sports equipment, handguns, motorbikes, doc martens, James Bond's gadget collection a flight in a fighter plane or better still the millenium falcon! I am me and I just am the way I am. Get a grip, femininity should be embraced and enjoyed and had fun with, it's not a cage or a shackle or any other ridiculous victimized concept. It's a generalised viewpoint of female behaviour and I seriously doubt whether anyone would expect a modern woman to conform to a Jane Austen style vision of femininity. As women we are all capable of femininity - the degree to which you embrace it is entirely up to you! Oh and for the record I have a cousin who is female, a mother of two, stands 6'2" in her bare feet (size nines I believe) and makes an incredibly striking and very feminine picture when out of her customary jeans and dressed in her girly glam get up. Just a point!Wouldn't it be worse to be a bloke trapped by all those unforgiving concepts of masculinity? I personally think we're lucky to be able to play.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 2:44 pm  

  • Hi Grace, I lurk on your site too!

    Thanks, I just wrote stuff off the top of my head. I'm thinking about developing it further, maybe!

    I agree, people do own woman as an object because they don't see the concept of woman as a whole, complete human being, if that makes sense? Like with porn and men seeing women as a collection of body parts and not a whole, unique body.

    There is nothing wrong with enjoying makeup and clothes and skirts! I think its fun to play around with expressing ourselves, especially when we know we are doing it for ourselves.

    I am taking offense at the male, patriarchal definition of femininity I think.

    By Blogger FallingStar, At 5:57 pm  

  • Anonymous:

    My post is not the least bit depressing. It appears that you have not exactly read my post or that you have misunderstood it in some way.

    The aim of my post was to examine the problems within the rigid definition of femininity. You say that "It's a generalised viewpoint of female behaviour and I seriously doubt whether anyone would expect a modern woman to conform to a Jane Austen style vision of femininity." but my view is that this modern idea of femininity - the way in which women feel they must look and act in order to please men (ie. 'look good'; 'maintain themselves' etc) is neither here nor there.

    Because the issue at stake is the REASONS behind why women 'do' femininity. So many women DO feel like femininity is a cage, ergo, a pretty cage that they may feel they have chosen, but doesn't make them truly happy. Real womanliness doesn't have anything to do with 'femininity'. You say that we are able to 'play' but I disagree.

    If by playing you mean conforming to certain different ideas of femininity - which have all been constructed and sanctioned by men, fashion and patriarchy, such as one of the following: a) floaty, flowery virgin girl b) hawt leather clad temptress c) sexaay rock chick d) glamourous femme fatale etc etc. There are too many stereotypes that patriarchy has sanctioned as the 'proper' example in certain categories or groups in society. Women are seen as sex objects.

    My intention is to examine certain things within a feminist context. If you don't like it then you have no business coming to my blog.

    What you do is up to you but my intention is to look at the larger picture - and your comment suggests that you are not thinking about other women in terms of what harm constructs of femininity may do to other people.

    I'm sorry, but I believe that YOU should get a grip and look at the world around you, and pull the wool from your eyes. Also, if you are going to comment here, please at least leave a name or an ID.

    By Blogger FallingStar, At 3:31 pm  

  • I myself don't have a problem with the label 'feminine', just as long as one remembers that it's not synonymous with 'being a proper woman' (as if there's such thing anyway). And like you and Grace, I like clothes and pretty things, and would be putting myself in a cage of Being a Good Feminist if I started restricting myself to wearing jeans and plaid shirts all the time - whilst that works for many women, it wouldn't work for me.

    By Anonymous Anna, At 7:11 pm  

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