Feminine or Feminist?
In the beginning there was man and there was man’s wife (woman). And man was brave and strong and clever, and man’s wife was weak and emotional, and cared for pretty things like skirts and sparkles. Or something like that.
Unfortunately, but not really surprisingly, we are still influenced by this picture of gender and the stereotype of what is means to be a man, or a woman. Women are still marketed for clothes and cakes, and men’s aftershave is advertised in a way that is ‘tough’ and ‘manly’. And unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the definition of women is such that we are left with the paradox that one of the most natural things for women, standing up for women, is not perceived as natural. Feminism, it was decided, was simply not feminine.
For that matter, it wasn’t going to be masculine either.
This is something I’ve long been aware of, but there is a consequence that I have failed to notice until recently. In the structures and societies where people that accept feminists, where women can have jobs and are allowed to step up the rungs of the ladder, women shrug off the weakness and stupidity in what it means to be ‘feminine’, and so have to get rid of all the other traditions: the pink and the sparkles. This can mean that the women who succeed are the ones that have the attributes that are traditionally seen as men’s. Now I’m not really a pink and sparkles person, and I certainly don’t think that women particularly are naturally drawn towards them, but there is the argument that they are a symbol of femininity, and that women should be allowed to explore this without compromising their competence. That by proclaiming yourself a woman, this does not mean you are proclaiming that you are weak and stupid.
The other argument to this, is that the stereotypes should be destroyed, and that women, and men, should not see femininity as a symbol of sex but of choice, because the genetic differences between men and woman, apart from physically, are negligible. What this boils down to is, in my mind, the same. If men didn’t shun pretty things because they are a symbol of women’s incompetence, and the women who didn’t like them didn’t feel pressurised to display them, then across society, you’d have a random mix of people who would today be categorised ‘feminine’. So even then, a woman shouldn’t be judged because she likes frills and skirts, because it’s nothing to do with anything. Apart from the fact you like frills and skirts that is.
So, the main line of my argument is that we should either be able to incorporate feminism within femininity, or do away with femininity altogether. I don’t think the latter’s going to happen, so I’m sticking with the first. That is, that a woman who is interested in the things that have traditionally been associated with women isn’t presenting herself as incapable. If you want to bake cakes and decorate it with pink icing and flowers, it probably means that you want to decorate a cake, not that you are forfeiting your right to be taken seriously.
That last goes for men too, by the way.
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Interesting post. I think it’s definitely a necessary part of feminism to open up society to the idea that not everything coded ‘feminine’ is inferior. Apart from the harmlessness of sparkles, there’s also the fact that things like caring and listening are socially good things that women and men alike should value and cultivate.
But I would rather break it down into baking, sparkles, caring etc. rather than lump it all in one category of ‘femininity’ to be hung onto, when that also includes harmful things like self-doubt and deference. Same as how there are some ‘masculine’ values that are worth keeping, but also a whole load of crap mixed up with it.
I think an even better idea would be incorporating ‘feminine’ women into feminism. I don’t think that feminine women like myself are particularly left out, to be honest, but the stereotypical image of a feminist is not feminine.
I’m not even that feminine, I don’t think, but among my feminist friends I’m told I am. Among my other friends I’m the angry pansexual feminist.
Alyson’s post on baking on this site a while ago was good, as was an article on feminist baking in the Guardian. Traditionally ‘feminine’ work should be valued equal to ‘masculine’ work, as well as women being able to pursue any line of work they choose.
I think we should do away with femininity and masculinity – we should just be people, where some individuals are better at certain pursuits and pothers are better at other pursuits/careers. I don’t know how realistic that is though. Maybe one day.