In the course of conversation the other day, an acquaintance said what was probably meant to be a passing comment. I had said I am not fashionable (she didn’t realize I abhor fashion and firmly believe it is detrimental to society and the individual). Her response to me was “you don’t have to be afraid to be feminine”. She said it in that way that showed she felt assured that this was empirical fact, like it wasn’t news to anyone. It reminded me that someone else had once told me I don’t always have to be “tough”.
Not many folks think I’m afraid of very much in this world. Because I’m not. I almost laughed right in this woman’s face when she said it because it seemed surrealistically hilarious. Afraid? I’m not afraid to walk in the worst part of town alone at night or talk back to bullies twice my size or go above my boss’s head when I need to. Why the hell would I be afraid of being feminine?
But that’s not really my issue with the statement. My issue is with her definition of femininity. She and I have discussed gender roles, gender normalization, and sexism in the past-and she largely agrees with me. But she also comes from a culture entrenched in machismo and marianismo; the two sides of the gender coin are established and reinforced daily in almost everything they do. She may be all for equality and respect, but she still thinks femininity is dominated by sexuality, insecurity, and vanity; all parts of man pleasing.
The funniest thing for me is when I bring up the definition of femininity and watch even those on the far left try to carefully explain to me how it’s broadly accepted that the definition of femininity is associated with nurturing, forbearance, pleasing appearance or demeanor, and moderation. These aspects are actually a quite narrow definition that comes from an even narrower subset of humans in the scope of history.
The concept of the “tiger mom” may be familiar to you, but if not, do look it up to get some context for what’s next: femininity in my world has always been and always will be associated with strength, resilience, independence, and self-assurance. Where I come from women are fierce, and proud of it. We own our femininity in its totality, without bowing to some notion of subordinacy.
Where I come from, being feminine means protecting your family, your way of life, and your resources. It means providing for many and sacrificing for the greater good through determined and committed action. The women who raised me taught me that femininity was taking responsiblity for our own lives and making decisions based on what needs to be done to make this life better for everyone. For us, being feminine means being a competent and contributive member of society.
I hear rebuttals and rationalizations buzzing and I haven’t finished typing yet. But would we argue over a definition of masculinity that transcends their sexual role and discusses their societal role? the definition of masculinity seems to have already avoided being confined to the realm of sexual roles, and is dominated by the male role in society as a whole – why shouldn’t the definition of femininity do the same?
This topic touches the culture wars in a significant way because “western” or “modern” culture is an amalgamation of and collaboration between ancient cultures, it takes elements from other culture groups in fits and spurts, and disregards the pieces that are deemed unnecessary. The result is that we do, as contributing members, absolutely have a say in the definitions we use for our own roles in society. The roles of children, the elderly, outliers, and misfits have all changed drastically in the last generation. Gender roles have continued to evolve and grow as sexual identity and self actualization have become more important to society.
My femininity is not up for debate because I define femininity every day that I live my life. My contribution to the betterment of society starts with defining myself as I see fit, and then showing the next generation that we need not be afraid to be feminine, because we decide what that really means anyway.