Femininity is not a Weakness

In 2019, women are widely accepted in the Western world as equally valuable in potential, ability, and rights relative to men, in contrast to men’s history of privilege. But is this only a formality?

‘I am this’ and ‘I believe this’ are not the same thing. You cannot label yourself a feminist and at the same time deride those who choose to mentally or physically distance themselves from stereotypically masculine traits. Femininity in all genders should not be spurned.

Gap recently launched a ‘gender neutral’ kids collection which actually set masculinity as the standard of neutrality. It completely eradicated any vestige of ‘girly’ products. ‘Gender neutral’ apparently doesn’t include pink or dresses, but it does include blue and trousers.

Femininity is simultaneously cherished and dismissed: it sells like sex but is rarely taken seriously. Exaggerated curves, pouty lips, and Rapunzel-esque hair are lavished plaudits by the media. Young girls are socially conditioned to mould their appearance into some version of the ‘feminine ideal’ which models, actresses, and now influencers drip-feed down their throats. Digital and traditional media representations condition us to associate the feminine with the beautiful. 

In this third wave and post-Weinstein feminism, we’re pursuing the dream of solidarity across intersections more successfully than ever before. We’re challenging the view that cis, straight, white men are the default, and women and nonbinary people have made vast amounts of progress, but masculinity is still seen as the norm. 

What’s worse, this view is often perpetuated by women, breeding animosity between feminists. Some will support women irrespective of the gendered traits they exhibit but others believe they must appear as ‘serious’ as possible to navigate a world dominated by masculinity.

Political figures are expected to dress smartly in order to hold a firm ground of respect against their masculine counterparts. Female politicians are given the impossible task of hiding any traces of their physicality under the least ‘provocative’ (i.e. the driest and the baggiest) pantsuits known to tailors. The goal is to appear as masculine as possible whilst also managing to adhere to commonly accepted heteronormative standards of attractiveness.

According to The Atlantic, during the 2016 US Presidential Elections 42 percent of Americans said they believe the United States has become “too soft and feminine.” Yet, when Hillary Clinton turned up on national television wearing scant makeup, she was ridiculed for not keeping up appearances: The Telegraph read this ‘move’ as some kind of deliberate symbolic message. Women need a sexless image in order to hold their own but they still have to be attractive: they need to be gender neutral without being too masculine looking. Let’s not forget the time when Angelina Jolie’s nipples got more attention than her UN conference speech. 

Yet, at award shows and charity galas, women celebrities are encouraged to weaponize their femininity to compete for media acceptance. In pop culture, a physical display of traditional girliness remains a coveted tool to gain sexual attention and money, desired both by the mass media, and the powerful men who control it. The line between appearing vulgar and possessing ‘acceptable’ feminine traits isn’t simply blurred, it has already been erased. 

Women are strongly discouraged from projecting these same qualities in professional environments. It’s the same reason people find fashion and makeup easy to dismiss as superficial expressions of vanity, but are less likely to call hobbies involving cars or sports meaningless. Likewise, ‘camp’ men are the bullseye of many jokes in films and TV. We’re conditioned to only think of masculine activities as worthwhile.

It’s why young women use the phrase “I’m not like other girls”: in order to derive some illusory power by moving closer to the realm of masculinity. The aim is to be taken seriously by separating themselves from the perceived weakness of feminine people. Those women don’t want to be ‘like other girls’ because femininity is associated with shallowness, narcissism, decadence, bitchiness, being ‘boy crazy’… the list drags on. When we keep attributing such characteristics to femininity we contribute to its social devaluation.

Why must femininity be eradicated for a woman to measure up to a man in the political sphere and general society?  “I’m not like other girls” is a humblebrag that we shouldn’t indulge in. It solidifies the notion that masculinity deserves a superior place in the world. 

Women can wear lipstick and read; cook and work in an office; be ‘down to earth’ and wear short skirts. There’s no mutually exclusive relationship between capability and ‘girly’ interests. Femininity does not make you weaker. Masculinity does not make you stronger. The phrase ‘one of the boys’, tossed around by hipsters and bad feminists alike, needs to die.

In 2019, women are widely accepted in the Western world as equally valuable in potential, ability, and rights relative to men, in contrast to men’s history of privilege. But is this only a formality?

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