A fellow writer put out a challenge for March: to “Spring into Femininity.” She has the goal to write daily about femininity. The challenge is to see our femininity, to acknowledge it and to make it work in our lives. Though I don’t plan to write daily about this, I am intrigued by the concept and want to explore my thoughts and feelings about the word and the meaning behind it.
Merriam-Webster defines femininity as “the quality or nature of the female sex.” The Oxford Living Dictionary definition differs slightly: “Qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of women.” And Urban Dictionary gives us: “Feminine means ‘What pertains to a woman.’ There are no qualifications. Whatever a woman does is feminine, because they are a woman, and they are doing something that pertains to them.” They then go on to add, “The only thing that can really be called “feminine” are ovaries.”
Of course this is not what most people are thinking when they use the word feminine. If pressed to come up with synonyms, most people would use words such as soft, delicate, gentle, and dainty.
But these words don’t really work. Think about women’s role throughout time. The one thing that women can do that men cannot is give birth. Anyone who has been through or witnessed this knows that this experience is difficult and painful and frequently includes sounds and actions that would be seen by most as very “un-ladylike.”
Consider jobs that are traditionally seen as “women’s work.” Though smart men do not dare to use this term today, think of the daily lives of our great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers. I think it is safe to say that most of them spent their days at hard manual labor: scrubbing – floors, clothing, dishes; hauling – wood, water; and preparing meals (which may have included harvesting and slaughtering). This was all done while also making sure that their children survived to adulthood. Are you picturing a dainty, delicate damsel in distress here?
While I was a child who hated all things “girly,” I grew into a teen who appreciated her softer side and actually enjoyed opportunities to put on a pretty dress. While my early experiences with feminism made me believe that the movement was anti-men and therefore not something I wanted any part of, I have grown to see that true feminism benefits us all.
As defined, femininity is complex, as women (and men for that matter) are. We are much more than what we wear, say or do. We can be both tough and soft, both strong and vulnerable, both adventurous and refined, just not all at the same time.
I think this will be an interesting topic to ponder this month. I hope it will start a conversation. I, for one, am starting to think about it differently already.