Whose Femininity Is It Anyway?

By: Adriana Miranda

Have you ever thought about how, like, femininity is SO strongly tied to men? Hear me out!

Yeah, femininity is traditionally associated with women. BUT! Think about what kind of women are afforded femininity. It tends to be straight women, or white women, orrrr thin women, or just women that fit into the cishet male gaze of desirability in one way or another. So if femininity (at least to a cishet world) means “desirable to men” has it ever really been ours to begin with? And what if our performance of femininity ISN’T for men, what happens then?

Now we all perform gender, right? I personally present very feminine, i’m talking almost-strictly-wears-dresses feminine. I also happen to be a lesbian. And plus-size. And a person of color. This for some reason sometimes confuses (and angers) cisgender heterosexual people.

Either my femininity is called into question or my sexuality is called into question: “Are you sure you’re not at all attracted to men? You dress so cute! I bet you secretly do like us.” Or…“Do you just dress this way because you’re not comfortable being your true self?”

Why does it need to be one way or another? Why does my femininity have to be me trying to attract men or make up for my fatness for men or appear more “soft” for men? What if I just want to present feminine? And even if I was if I was doing it for anyone other than myself, it’s definitely for other lesbians. Femininity can and DOES exist entirely on its own, completely separate from men.

From Dolls to Degrees: How gender norms can be hard to see

by Thea Voutiritsas

A close friend of mine is expecting, and she told me she would be raising her daughter as a feminist. On one hand, I thought, “Well, of course!” And on the other, I thought about what it would be like if I had been raised with that in mind. Don’t get me wrong, my mom has always told me I could do whatever I wanted. She always told me to be strong, to be independent. She always told me I shouldn’t have to rely on anyone, but myself. I should never feel stuck. Those words are beautiful and they are true.

So, why didn’t they stick? Why did I scale back my aspirations, my career options, my degree? Because my mom raised me to be a strong woman, but she believed that raising me to be a woman meant I had to first act like a “girl.” I had hundreds of dolls, hundreds of shoes, toy kitchens, toy beauty shops, and so on. But I never had Legos, I never had a Gameboy, I never had a toolkit or a doctor’s kit. I never believed I could build, create, heal, or save anything. I never got the chance to pretend. I got older, and I believed that girls weren’t good at math and that boys should pay for dates. I believed makeup was a girl thing and videogames were for boys. My high school boyfriend had an Xbox, and a game that he let me borrow. I loved it so much, I asked for one of my own. My mom said no. She said those were for boys, and I was a girl. I didn’t need it and I wouldn’t use it. And my boyfriend must be bored without his game.

From my first year at the Women’s Center

So I never played it. I never got good. I never even got to try. I think about all the things I could have been interested in, every stone left unturned. I let it go, and I accepted the idea that there were things I couldn’t have because they belonged only to men. I thought I couldn’t ask for them, either. The careers, the interests, the freedom – they weren’t meant for me. I tailored my interests to what would be marriage material, because that was my end goal: to be married. I thought that was where my life would both end and begin. My meaning would be defined by my position as a bachelorette, and then by my position as a mother. I started college, and this is where my ideal world began to slip away from me.

I wanted to be a teacher because the salary wouldn’t be threatening, but I found I didn’t like teaching. I thought, well, I’m already an English major, so I’ll just stick with that. That’s still an approachable major. I didn’t talk in class. I didn’t talk back. I got good grades and I smiled. Then I worried that I might be missing something, maybe I should explore something else. Then I thought it could wait. Then I believed it was too late. Then I realized the job market didn’t look so good, because I didn’t like the jobs. And all this time, I never believed I was limited. I argued that men and women were treated equally. I thought feminism was too strong of a word.

In fact, feminism was one of the best things that ever happened to me, because I found freedom and choice. I had the option to be funny, to speak loudly or to whisper. I had the option to frown instead of smile, and to wear the clothes that made me feel powerful, or comfortable, or both. But it also made me afraid that I became a feminist too late. Maybe if I would have known sooner, I would have chosen my passion instead of choosing a norm. But then I remember, being a feminist is about having choices. I will always have choices. My gender, my age, my education and my ability do not have to define my possibilities. I get to choose those, and I get to choose not to let those norms limit me.