Friday, November 04, 2005

Real Femininity

Ok, so here's one that's been bugging me for a while now - what does it really mean to be a woman? Or what should it mean? Or i guess maybe the real question is: what is real and appropriate femininity?

First, let me explain what i usually think of as feminine things: frills, fancy clothes, jewelry, makeup, perfume, trying to look pretty, and avoiding things like dirt, active sports, and assertiveness. And i've always thought of these traits as useless. In fact, i usually think of them as counterproductive to leading a meaningful life.

And here you can see why i think of myself as a philosopher. While most women, even women i respect, have no qualms about wearing makeup, i'm always hesistant about it because i ask "what does this mean?" We are changing our appearance to earn more approval from people. does this make sense? I mean, every culture does it. It just seems like more of a vice than a virtue. But i still wear it sometimes, but i still don't really know what to think of it. Of course makeup itself isn't that big of a deal - but what are we really saying when we wear it?

Frills, fancy clothes, jewelry: although i have some jewelry i really like and like some nice clothes, any more than a minimum of these thing seems like a waste of money. Money that could be helping other people or buying practical things that we enjoy - like skis. Plus, the nicer you dress, the harder it is to do anything physical. You're more afraid of spilling things on yourself. You can't touch anything messy without a second thought, whether it be a kitchen counter or a child. When we dress up, we become decorative, not functional. Is that what we want? But of course i do it some. But i wonder.

The thing is, it seems that everything "feminine" is geared toward this idea of a nice, pleasant, decorative woman who is incapable of doing a lot of important things. You can't cry - ruins your makeup. You can't play tag or catch without changing clothes into something less "feminine," and shedding your excess jewelry.

Of course i've been influenced by many things. My religious and family background emphasized wise use of money and inward beauty over outward beauty. Two strikes against expensive clothes, jewelry, and makeup. However, i did end up with a really good self-esteem and body image idea. :) I felt beautiful, even without makeup. but now i'm not sure what to do in a world where not wearing makeup isn't so much a bad fashion choice, as much as just "weird."

Leadership also isn't thought of in feminine terms. Just think about the words "man of God" and "woman of God." At least to me, they bring up two completely different images. A man of God was like David, bold, and faithful. He fought wars and danced madly in worship. His faithfulness set the example for all of Israel. Or John the baptist, preaching in the wilderness and living off locusts (i don't really know why he did this. Did he not have anything else to eat or was this some weird spiritual discipline.)

Woman of God? Sweet sister sue who dresses in long skirts and teaches the kids in sunday school. Always has a soft voice. Would never be expected to lead the church in a new direction. She just keeps things running smoothly, does her job quietly, doesn't shake up the status quo.

Manhood is identified with bravery, courage, willingness to make sacrifices, strength. Womanhood: pretty, dainty, pleasant.

Can you see why it's difficult to understand what i should grow up to be? I'm not a man, i'm not supposed to be a man. But I really don't like the idea of femininity as this culture defines it. So what do i have? Lots of women reject stereotypical "femininity," womeon who work in traditionally male professions, join the military, or play sports. But most of us still have this idea that as women we have a lot of work to do to take care of our appearance.

I guess what i'm asking is, is my only alternative to a poor idea of femininity to copy masculine traits? Or were those traits really masculine to start with? Have we just ascribed strenth and valor to men? Am i as a woman supposed to be different from men in cultural ways - not just biological? and if so, what are those ways? Or is there a noble lifestyle both men and women can work toward, without being thought of as less of a man or less of a woman?

If there is, i hope it doesn't involve makeup.


ChristianNerd said...

Well, speaking as someone who knows you from real life, I suppose you've destroyed my security in my definition of femininity. I now don't know what it is. Or at least, I can't word it. Because I've always looked to you as being very feminine, yet you're not most of those things that you've listed as feminine. Hrm. There is one thing that I do consider to be a feminine trait, which is the "mother" thing. You're not a mother -- at least to any human children -- yet you do still have that trait, like most women. You care, you nurture, you encourage. I know it's something that guys can do too, but I think that it is the main "feminine thing" really.

Joy said...

Yeah, motherhood is definitely a feminine thing. But then, am i denying my femininity by not having any children? I hope not. I don't every woman should be automatically put in the "supposed to be a mother" group. But of course that's going farther than what you said.

You're right that most women are better at the nurturing thing than men are - which i guess makes it feminine by definition. But if men can do it too, does that make them feminine when they do? Surely it shouldn't mean they are neglecting their manhood.

Back to the question of an appropriate understanding - should women be better at it than men, or is this a cultural thing?