Girl TalkFeminist or Feminine? Oh Wait, They Aren't Mutually ExclusiveJulia Gazdag

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

  • Sarah Rose

    I think it is also important to remember that the concept of ‘femininity’ is a male invented set of traits that are used to define a person’s identity. I, of course, agree women, no matter what type of behaviour/trait you identify with, should be allowed to be/do whatever the hell they want to do, but it is important to remember that we still exist within a patriarchal framework – even our ‘liberated ideas’ are still existing within this society – and there is a specific ‘rule set’ as to what is femininity is allowed to be presented as (and what masculinity is allowed to be). I mean, you can’t very well, wear pigtails and track pants and be ‘classified’ as feminine. I am all for embracing what ever expression you desire, but I don’t think it serves us well to forget why we feel these things make us ‘feminine’… If that makes sense..

  • Audra Butler Hankins

    This is great. Feminism (womanism) is for all women. Defining a feminist by some masculine standard, by a lack of femininity, defeats the purpose. I would love to add a link to this post on my blog. Women face unrealistic expectations, we must be the perfect mother, Susie Sunshine, and feminine, while also being strong, masculine leaders. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to fall prey to labels. All women should be feminists.

    • Zǝɯoƃ Oıɹ Iʇuɐɥs

      I totally agree, however, I would say that all people should be feminists. Not just women!


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  • Rhiannon Richards

    As a girl geek Joss Whedon is my feminist icon :)

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  • Monica Murphy

    You read my mind. Thank you for writing such an amazing piece. I 100% agree, and feel like this is why I’ve struggled with feminism lately. I also was a tomboy when I was younger, and have naturally (for me) segued to more “feminine” styles and behaviors as I’ve aged. I am being myself, but a lot of times I feel pressure to act more masculine to be taken seriously. I hate that. I absolutely believe in what we’re fighting for, but I do not want to adopt masculine traits to do so. Feminism needs to be more inclusive. Girly girls know their rights too.

  • Snoozeri Lostio

    Female idiocy knows few boundaries:

    • Quinn O’hara-brantner

      You’re an idiot. Emasculation is not an issue.

  • Marissa Wagner Oehlhof

    Thank you! My raging feminist personality shouldn’t be questioned because I like pink and wear victory rolls.

  • Fernanda Mariscotti

    Nothing more to add but I’ll quote my favorite comment on this list: “Saying that womanly women are a threat to feminism is the same as saying that you need to be a manly woman to be a feminist”.
    I too am shocked that this needed to be said. I wonder where the “feminine isn’t feminist” myth/bias comes from. It “could” be another divisive tactic by the MRAs.
    I think I missed some of the subtext so I’ll further my comprehension with the links provided in the comments.

  • Michelle Carrère Seizer

    I really liked reading this!
    I believe the whole pont of feminism is femininity to be taken seriously, and not as some second-rate degrading quality! With all this advances in women’s rights femenine women are still looked down on, and all the traditionally female roles (such as looking after children) are considered second class. Without defending femeninity many women still have to become men to be respected and to gain a position of power. Also, I think men will benefit from the “reivindication of femininity” too for instance being given a role of greater importance in the upbringing of children AND embracing their sensitive side (leaving behind the absurd myth that “boys don’t cry”)

  • Colleen Beaty

    Yes, this. So much this.

    There is no reason that feminine can’t equal strong, or hell that submissiveness can’t equal strong. It’s all in how you execute it, and how others respond to the way you present yourself.

  • Lupi Nini

    I love it so much, it filled my heart and my soul with an explanation about how I feel daily and what I think about being a woman <3 <3 <3 ty!

  • Nicolas Courchamp

    “If you’ve ever worked in childcare or have children you KNOW that girls and boys behave differently. Girls mature faster, we learn quicker, we are generally more compassionate/nurturing as kids, teachers put boys at tables with girls because the girls tell the boys to be quiet, etc. Boys are often more goal-driven, girls are often more talkative. Girls develop language skills faster than boys, boys are often more physical and rough with each other than girls. These are facts. They are because of the different chemicals in our brains.”

    That’s actually another stereotype in a way of gender equality. Boys and girls are mostly different because they are educated by parents and people who make them different and support the stereotype of the “sensitive girl” vs. the “tough physical guy”. It’s the simple things like giving barbies to girls and cars and plastic guns to boys (and telling them that dolls are for girls) that support those differences and forbid kids to develop a personality in a “non-gender attached” way. Kids are like that because they emulate adults behavior and that’s why, in order to support gender equality, it’s important not to support those clichés.

    As for “Girls mature faster, we learn quicker Boys are often more goal-driven, Girls develop language skills faster than boys” those are not as much facts as they are generality and statistics. (and you say it yourself when you use the word “often”). I know such arguments are often used by women in order to prove than women have great capacities as well but frankly I always thought it was quite counter-productive because it also support the idea of competition between boys and girls emphasizing on gender differences and on the idea that one or the other is superior.

    • Rosemarie Parks

      I’m sorry but science has shown that nature is a large factor in this one.

      A study with chimps has shown that females gravitate towards “girl” toys and the males gravitated towards “boy” toys.

      This comes up again and again in my child behaviour and psychology sessions at my college on my teaching degree course. The fact is, the socialist argument – yours, that it’s the parents who bring boys up to like Action Man instead of Ken etc – is not the only reason for children to have the preferences they have.

      The only thing that is wrong is to deliberately package toys in gender-specific ways and to enforce pink and blue straight away – let children make their own minds up, and try to ignore shameful advertising. But don’t be upset if your toddler prefers playing with trains to that one doll you got him.
      Don’t put a boy down if he *does* play with dolls sometimes or the toy oven, and don’t applaud the girl for making “better” choices and play with guns and stuff. (Or act horrified – whichever gender role you prefer them to have). But do remember there *is* (unfortunately, or fortunately, whichever way you see it) an element of pure nature there.

      Where personality traits come in – being quiet, or shy, or whatever. That probably has just as much to do with nature as nurture, tbh.
      There are always exceptions to rules, though.

    • Kathy Steel-Smith

      They behave differently because you *expect them to behave differently. The very act of putting one sex at a table because they will tell the other to “be quiet” is perpetuating stereotypes. Shame.

    • Hilary June

      I’m sorry but no. It’s not a stereotype so much as it is fact. Girls and boys don’t behave differentlt “mostly” because of how they are educated, yes, that may be a factor in some cases but it is most certainly not the primary reason children of different genders behave differently.
      But you’re right, I do say “often” because that is often the case, not always, but often. I had a girl who was most comfortable getting dirty with the boys and there are some boys who play very nicely and nurturing with dolls but most often that is not how it is. You don’t seem to have read and/or understood my comment. I am saying definitively that neither is better, we are simply different and we need to embrace those differences because they both genders are valuable and important.

      “such arguements are often used by women to prove than women have great capacities as well.” …. really? Just …. really?

      • Nicolas Courchamp

        @Hilary June. I did read and understand your comment. I just disagree with the all “we should embrace or differences” idea when you actually point out differences that are, at least in my opinion, simple sexist clichés. I’m not saying the behaviors you observed aren’t true and effective, i’m saying you’re mistaken about the nature of such behavior and the reality of the influence adults have on children. I sincerely don’t think a girl will naturally or genetically be quieter simply because she’s a girl. I think a girl will be shy because she lives in an environment that implicitly makes her believe that girls are supposed to be shy, and I’m saying we shouldn’t artificially create differences at such an early state of development and we should encourage children to develop their personality instead of encouraging them to embrace gender stereotypes through some kind of passive-sexist attitude.

        As for your quote ““such arguments are often used by women to prove than women have great capacities as well.” …. really? Just …. really?” you should” you should not take my sentence out of its context. I’ve never said it was a bad thing for women to point out that they are as intelligent as men, I’m saying that turning such arguments into a men vs. women competition is still sexist and counter-productive when one wants to show that we are equal.

        And yes we are different, but gender equality is not reached by pointing out differences and asking people to accept them (even though it’s still a good accomplishment, that goes without saying), it’s reached by explaining people that such differences are irrelevant in the end, therefore it should not affect our perspective.

  • Heather Redmore

    yes thankyou, this is because femine is seen as weak and masculine strong. We need to change these ideas and treat both equally. Just because im into nail art, pretty things and cute animals dosnt mean that i dont also have important things to say and am capable of doin DIY. Also im fed up of getting funny looks when i tell people that my brother bakes. ” youre brothers bakes and he does it well !” it dosnt mean that he’s odd or gay it’s just one of his skills. ( FYI he made an raspberry and white choc cake this weekend for my sisters birthday and it ws amaaaazing)

    • Kelsey Holt

      I have a guy friend back home that loves to knit, and he’s always very open about it. Thanks to all of the stereotypes and assumptions, I expected that he too would receive strange looks every time he wore his “I knit” shirt. But, much to my surprise, people respect him for it and it seems everyone thinks it’s awesome that he knits (especially because he knits scarves and small stuffed animals as birthday presents).

  • Maritza Alva

    Perfect!!!! Thank you!!!

  • Hilary June

    Yes. It bothers me that “feminine” seems to be equated with weak, less-than, unimportant, “cute”, not-taken-seriously, emotional, stupid, blah, blah, blah. Men and women are different. If you’ve ever worked in childcare or have children you KNOW that girls and boys behave differently. Girls mature faster, we learn quicker, we are generally more compassionate/nurturing as kids, teachers put boys at tables with girls because the girls tell the boys to be quiet, etc. Boys are often more goal-driven, girls are often more talkative. Girls develop language skills faster than boys, boys are often more physical and rough with each other than girls. These are facts. They are because of the different chemicals in our brains.

    We are different. We are built differently, our brains are built differently. I totally embrace those differences because they are important. I like feminine women and I like masculine men. I believe women and men are both completely capable of all things job-wise (childbirth excluded) however some jobs may be more difficult for women, some jobs may be more difficult for men because of the way we are built but that does NOT mean they aren’t possible.

    I have recently started wearing dresses more and more. I like the way they look, I like feeling pretty and feminine, and I like people to think I am pretty and feminine. I am a feminist and I want to look feminine. My personality hasn’t changed. I go out and drink, have one-night-stands, work in childcare, spend days at libraries, I take photographs and like shopping, I study history and pride myself on being nice. I am smart and politically-aware and have passionate interests and I am polite and I am sensitive. I believe that what I do with my vagina is my own business and does not define me as a person – nor do my pretty floral dresses.

    Being vulnerable does not mean being weak. It takes courage to be gentle and kind. Being a strong woman does NOT mean acting like a man.

    I am an intelligent, strong, self-aware, confident young woman. I am capable of anything I set my mind to and don’t you dare tell me otherwise.

  • Kristen Haynie

    Yes! Thank you! I’ve been trying to explain this very thing for a long time, and many people just don’t seem to get it. It’s as if my painted nails are perceived as my personal declaration that I’m a submissive female. People are usually quite surprised when I speak out about my opinions and voice my support for equality. I often get “oh wow, you didn’t strike me as that kind of girl.” It’s ridiculous!

  • Jessica Jeffers

    Feminism should be about being whatever the hell you want to be as long as you’re happy.

  • Robert Sumbland

    I believe in equal rights but I would never call myself a ‘feminist’, in fact some of my friends (who are girls) wouldn’t either. I suppose they fall in to the ‘feminine’ category and like the stereotypical ‘girly’ things, but they’re also confident, open minded people living in the 21st century, so I guess they don’t need to call themselves anything!

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