Girl Talk

Feminist or Feminine? Oh Wait, They Aren't Mutually Exclusive

Apparently this is a conversation we need to have, so fine. Let’s have it. There is a question that keeps popping up, like a mosquito zooming around the room when you’re trying to sleep:

Is a woman who embraces her femininity harmful to feminism?

. . .

And all the townspeople LOL-ed. We can talk about this for hours, but the simple answer is: of course not, that’s ridiculous.

Being feminine is not harmful to women – the idea that femininity is synonymous with submissiveness, is, though. Asking whether women being themselves is harmful is perpetuating a problem instead of moving past it. As Caitlin Moran wrote, “the purpose of feminism isn’t to make a particular type of woman.” It’s all inclusive – the only thing you need to be is on board with feminist ideals, and the great thing about abstract ideas is that they lack aesthetic definition.

If I fight for my belief that I have the right to be an equal citizen without being gendered, if I reject the male gaze and challenge patriarchy, it doesn’t make a difference if I do it in jeans or polka dots, while listening to electronica or twee, eating a burger out or baking vegan cupcakes at home in the pretty ceramic muffin tray I got on sale last month. When we’re battling a rape culture that tries to tell us that women who wear short enough skirts deserve to be sexually assaulted, it is really, really counterproductive to talk about whether the dress I’m wearing is too archetypically feminine for my ideas to be valid.

The idea that women cannot express their femininity and be autonomous is really saying that women must emulate men to have a voice, when in fact, the goal of feminism is for every woman to feel empowered as a person instead of feeling gendered. My femininity is my preference – I was a tomboy well into middle school, have always refused to match my aesthetic to anyone’s expectation, and didn’t really wear dresses until after college, when I realized how much money I could save on combing a handful of dresses and cardigans instead of buying components of entire outfits.

More importantly, I don’t owe anyone this explanation, because it has nothing to do with the validity of my ideas and intellect as a person, a feminist, and as a woman. The bow on my belt should not need to have a sign attached, explaining that I have a degree in Cultural Studies from a reputable New York liberal arts college, despite my love of nail art (because it’s not in spite of it, the two can happily cohabit my mental space). There is no such thing as a feminist aesthetic, and trying to exclude any women from feminism goes against its very tenets.

So no. There is no such thing as a harmful feminist. You’re either a feminist or not. You either believe in female empowerment and gender equality, or you don’t. I believe I deserve equal rights and equal pay, I believe I have a right to bodily autonomy, I challenge the male gaze, body image, and rape culture daily, and reject patriarchal dominance, and if I have to do it with a f*cking bow in my hair in a Betty Draper dress surrounded by puppies eating the cupcakes shaped treats I home-baked them, just to prove the point that any and every woman should be taken seriously regardless of bullsh*t stereotypes, then I will. Come at me.

**Update on 4/2/2013 — As pointed out by a commenter below, I would like to add that in referring to “femininity” I refer to the traditional Western definition, which does not take into account issues surrounding gender norms and the gender binary. In defining femininity, there is an inherent urge to define what “female” is — this is harmful both to feminism, and the choice of each individual to self-identify in any way without gendered definitions being imposed on them.

Featured Image via Tumblr

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