The Question: How do you define “femininity”? What does “feminine” mean to you?
Maybe it’s all the “feministing” I’ve been participating in within the classroom lately as a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality minor and all, but I seem to always have gender, sexes, femininity and masculinity on the brain. Seriously. This is becoming increasingly evident to me as I continue my studies. I’m constantly asking myself, “What does feminine even mean? And why do I enjoy representing my own version of “feminine” on a day-to-day basis.
I know in my heart of hearts that gender is a learned experience; that we all participate in and “do” gender every day, but for me, femininity is always something that’s come as naturally as anything else in my personality. When I was a little girl, I insisted upon wearing dresses – even to soccer practice – while my mom tried and tried to get me into pants and shorts. I even had to have skirted bathing suits. It’s always been that way, for me. I recently read an essay in one of my Feminist Theory books that talked about how nothing about gender is black and white. It’s not something that’s as clearly defined as we often try to make it – even in feminist settings.
With all of this (often subconscious) thought about femininity and my own “gender participation,” I wanted to find out more about other women-identifying females’ experiences in their efforts to “do” feminine. Since gender is such a grey area, I knew there would be a lot of differing opinions, especially among my feminist peers and classmates.
Thus, I took to Facebook and asked my burning question: “How do you define ‘femininity?’ What does ‘feminine’ mean to you?”
Click “Read More” to find out how real women (and men) responded!
Surprisingly, one of my very first responses was from my boyfriend’s cousin, Cody Powers, who is male and identifies as a masculine man. The answer fit pretty perfectly into the “normal” stereotype of what it means to be feminine.
“A girly girl is feminine,” Powers said.
I was excited to see what kind of conversation this would spark. I was so glad he had left a comment that would prompt more discussion than my simple, somewhat boring question could.
Sharene Hill, also a cousin of my boyfriend’s, was next to chime in.
“Someone who is feminine is put together in whatever her style may be,” Hill said, “But the ‘put together’ part is what makes it feminine.”
This statement was often echoed by my Facebook friends, but Cortnie Owens – who happens to be one of my favorite feminists – took the question a bit deeper.
“Femininity means whatever the person wants it to mean,” said Owens, who is a blogger at That Cortnie Girl. “If someone feels feminine wearing no makeup or wearing makeup, that’s their deal. If they want a skirt, or leggings, or jeans, that’s the same thing. Anyone of any gender has a right to be feminine, and should feel comfortable doing it. I feel feminine most of the time, whatever I wear. I guess it’s more if an attitude to me.”
I think this comment was pivitol in the discussion. Before Owens offered up her two cents, we had only been discussing the skin-deep version of femininity without answering why something or someone is feminine and why we think this way.
I have no problem with feminininity and, as I’ve said, enjoy being feminine. I strive toward being feminine without really questioning it on a day-to-day level – that is, before I started taking classes for WGSS. Now, I’m constantly asking “why” this and “why” that for all gender norms without even thinking about it. It’s nice to have some comrades like Owens who do the same thing both consciously and subconsciously. I think my boyfriend probably gets a little annoyed with it though. I can’t even get through an episode of “Family Guy” without commenting on its sometimes-feminist undertones.
I really liked my friend Emily Hensley’s explanation of her “own personal feminine.” I think it’s really important to clarify and acknowledge that your “feminine,” my “feminine,” and her “feminine” don’t always match up and that’s OK! Our differences should be embraced and encouraged.
“I think ‘put together’ is what I think of too,” Hensley said. “Whenever I want to look my best aka feel feminine I don’t leave anything unfinished from head to toe. Nails painted, all jewelry in place, full makeup application and an outfit that makes me feel confident. But that’s my own personal ‘feminine.’ I think the whole key is whatever is yours that makes you feel confident in yourself.”
Owens was quick to add some insight yet again – it was clear to me that this girl knows her stuff. I loved that she kept her commentary personal, conversational and friendly, though. That’s so important when discussing potentially touchy subjects.
”Very masculine people in suits can be put together, too though y’all,” Owens said.
At that point, I knew it was time to allow our discussion to delve a little deeper. I posed a new question for my “comment-ers.”
I asked what makes femininity and masculinity different, which I knew would be a loaded yet important question for this discussion. Like I said before, we all “do” gender, even if we aren’t in the mindset to think about or analyze our actions and gender choices, so thinking about these differences and discussing them often makes people…for lack of a better word, think.
Powers was quick to add another comment to the thread. “Well, for starters, they apply to opposite sexes,” he said.
I was worried this would anger the femininists! We are a group that is often stereotyped as angry, even if that stereotype is sometimes unwarranted. Owens wrote a response that was both insightful, kind and reflective. I love reading her blog, so it was pretty cool to have her input on a discussion that I cared so much about!
”Women can be masculine, men can be feminine, and people can be androgynous,” Owens explained. “Pretty much the difference is loaded with stereotypes of what masculine or feminine is…which is loaded to begin with! My feminine is different from another’s, so it’s tough to define it. I feel most feminine when I’m feeling sassy and wearing lots of makeup and tight dresses. But I also feel feminine right now in lounge clothes and not much makeup.”
My “feminine” feelings echo Owens’. I often feel most feminine in a dress and red lipstick – I truly believe in the femininity of red lipstick, even though I know it doesn’t apply to all versions of “feminine.” It is a cornerstone for mine!
Elese Daniel, who is a friend and often a classmate, too, was next to answer. She is someone who I definitely feel is feminine, but in such a unique way! At one of the meetings for a magazine we both write for, a fellow staff member referred to Daniel as “macho.” I couldn’t tell if this offended her or not, but I took it as something that was definitely cool. I remember telling her she was a bad ass, feminine, girly version of macho. I think she smiled and laughed. I hope so, at least!
“These are tough questions,” Daniel said. “This is, like, my inner turmoil—something I consider everyday. I wish I had an answer for you. I don’t know if this sounds ridiculous or whatever, but every morning when I put on the clothes I want to wear I consider whether or not what I’m wearing is feminine. I think, ‘Do I look like a girl? A lady? A woman?’ This stems from being mistaken as a guy, more often than I should. I don’t feel like a lady, woman most of the time, but I leave the house anyway wearing whatever I feel best in…I guess I could attempt at answering now: To me, femininity is simply knowing your a woman (biologically or not) and both appreciating it and expressing it, whatever way you see fit.”
I admit to totally fan-girling over Daniel’s answer. I admire this chick so much. I think she is so cool and uber feminine, even if it doesn’t always present itself in a stereotypical way that fits the conventions of our society. I wish I was more of Daniel’s version of feminine. See? Definitely a fan girl. Her response was so raw and honest. I love stream of consciousness when it comes to this type of discussion. It’s the most honest way of answering, in my opinion.
Hensley chose to respond with a photo of Charlotte from Sex in the City. The screenshot was from a scene in an episode called “Boy Girl Boy Girl.”
“This picture of Charlotte from Sex and the City kind of sums it all up from me,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what gender you are and someone can be capable of pulling off both at the same time, which can be a beautiful thing. She is, in my opinion, the most feminine of that group but can still put on a mustache and a suit and portray masculinity!”
Hensley made such a good point here. Gender does not equal sex. There are men who are women and women who are men. And we, as a society, need to accept this more easily. I know that seems like a high stakes bargin for some – even most – Americans, but I think hosting these types of discussions and forums helps lower these stakes. Maybe, on a small scale, it chips away at people’s stereotypes and prejudices just a little.
My best friend, Corinne Zachry, concluded the discussion, with a statement I wholeheartedly agree with and speaks volumes for what feminism means to me: strength and equality. Liberty. Equality for anyone and everyone.
“I associate femininity with basically just being a badass,” said Zachry, who is studying theater at Ohio University. “This probably has a lot to do with feminism, but I feel like strong, proud women are very feminine to me.”
What do you think of how these women (and men) responded? Has reading this article changed your point of view? Would you definite feminine differently? Respond below!