This is Part 1 of 2 on challenging our conceptions of feminism and femininity. Stay tuned for Part 2 in the next day or so…
I read an article the other day that I found through Feministing that has brought to mind a lot of questions about femininity. The article written by Karen Salmansohn is titled ‘Are You a Feminist, or a Feminine-ist?’. The title of the article immediately set off some warning bells, but I gamely read on. Salmansohn is basically highlighting her theory behind and solution for the modern discomfort with the word feminism. Here’s how I read the article:
“…Almost from the introduction of the word “feminism” into our world, the definition has become corroded to mean something less than complimentary than its original intent. Somewhere along the line, to be a feminist started to mean a woman who’s basically unattractive both in looks and spirit.”
Okay, I would strongly disagree, but I understand that this perception exists…
“I find this negative connotation to be shameful and highly unhelpful. Women could truly benefit from finding a more inspiring word than “feminism” to stand by, as well as stand for, when seeking to become our most powerful and successful selves.”
Really? I agree with the unhelpful negative connotation, but ‘feminism’ is pretty damn inspiring to me…
“We don’t have to make a choice between feminine or powerful and successful. We can be all those things.”
OOH! OOH! Bingo! I definitely agree with this point! Okay keep going…
“With this in mind, I’d like to put forth that starting today, the word ‘feminism’ be updated to become the new word ‘feminine-ism.’”
Wait, WHAT!?!? Eff that.
And so the article goes on. I mean, I understand where the writer is coming from. In our exploration of independence as women, the sacrifice/rejection of traditionally feminine things was necessary at times in order to challenge society to redefine its norms. It also opened up incredible new avenues for women who felt restricted by these gendered roles and images. Today, we are in a much better place to reclaim some of these so-called ‘feminine’ practices.
Personally, I’m an avid knitter and cupcake-enthusiast. I’m a dancer and a bookworm. I also like pretty things and pretty boys. I’m a pretty feminine feminist truth be told. Basically, I like to be feminine, as long as I’m not forced to be. I may own multiple copies of Pride and Prejudice, but my other bookshelf is stocked with International Relations, Political and Feminist theory. I like to drive fast cars, I often wear jeans and chucks, and I throw a damn good football. So what does femininity mean today?
I would challenge Salmansohn’s conception of feminism. Firstly, it is not, NOT, an ugly term and neither is it the antithesis to femininity. Being feminine does not require you to reject feminism, but it does challenge you to look deeper into your choices and identity. As feminists, we’re confronted by little things every day. (What does it mean that I still shave my legs? Why am I spending this money on make-up? Am I still feminist when I’m wearing heels?) Feminism at its most basic level is a commitment to the equal worth and dignity of both sexes. So whether I’m in heels, flats, sneakers or flip flops, my ideology does not change. What’s most important is that you feel comfortable in your own identity.
I would argue that the modernization of femininity means that we can keep the parts we like without resorting to the dependence or infantilization that used to come with it. We can be strong, complete beings. We can balance the female and male within us. As Salmansohn later points out, “All of us—both men and women—need to consciously try to get in better touch with our feminine energies. When we deny the existence and the benefits of either our male or female sides, we exhaust our spirits since each side is the shadow of the other.”
Or as I read it, we need to de-stigmatize femininity as weakness or passivity and re-cast it as something of value for both sexes. (Guys out there who knit/bake/do yoga, please stand up and be recognized. Props.)
My favourite feminist picture is of my 4-yr old cousin dressed as a fairy in striped socks and sandals with crooked wings, spiking a football into the mud. To me, feminism means you can be a fairy princess and a pro-footballer too. It means eliminating restrictive gender roles for women AND men. It means, as Gloria Steinem pointed out at the Omega conference in September, that we can just be whatever we want to be. And if that means redefining femininity, I’m all in, just as long as I get to keep my feminism too.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Challenging Perceptions!