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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Martin

What's The Issue With Femininity?

*Edited by Dr. Rhea Ashley Hoskin

Femininity comes with an onslaught of expectations, rules, and stereotypes… But is there more to the “story” when it comes to femininity? Follow along as we read some highlights from the Psychology Today article written by Dr. Karen L. Blair, discussing this issue:

"...second-wave feminists saw femininity as a patriarchal tool intended to keep women in a permanent status of subordination to men. Anything done to accentuate or celebrate femininity, either through fashion or makeup, was (and in some cases still is) seen as evidence of women being ‘duped’ into making themselves sex objects for men. But is that the whole story of femininity, or could there be more?"

And so, in an effort to free women from patriarchal powers, femininity took the blow. Julia Serano calls this the “scapegoating of femininity.” Of course, women do not, and should not, have to wear make-up, or pink, or want to become a mother, or be feminine-centered as a person. Where the issue takes hold is the assumption that anyone who likes feminine things is doing so to please men, is a bad feminist, and has been brainwashed by the patriarchy. And, as a result, those who enjoy outward expressions of femininity, are judged, whether they are a man, woman, or nonbinary.

The goal should be choice; the right to choose how to express yourself, the things you enjoy, the freedom to be fluid with those choices and your self-expression, all free from bias, discrimination, or gender-policing.

In fact, Dr. Blair points out that there is an entire area of research, referred to as Femme Theory and Critical Femininities, that has demonstrated how feminine subordination is a result of how society treats feminine qualities and people.

Dr. Blair expands on this issue by discussing how ."femininity is often understood as signaling an availability to men – such as in the case where it is argued that women only wear makeup or dress a certain way to attract the attention of men. But how does such a conceptualization of femininity explain femme lesbians who relish in high heels and immaculate makeup, but have absolutely no interest in the attention of men?"

Since femininity is usually only considered under a cis, heterosexual light, the diverse experiences behind it are often missed. This one version of understanding femininity hides the reality that femininity, like masculinity, is a normal piece of who a person is, that the two exist together to compliment each other, and that we need not create a hierarchy.

This hierarchy of masculinity being treated as superior to femininity is a product of femmephobia, which all people can experience in some way, Dr. Blair explains:

"Femmephobia helps to identify the many ways that “unacceptable” forms of femininity can result in negative responses from society. The most obvious of which involves the expression of femininity by individuals from whom femininity is not expected or condoned. For example, when men are too feminine, it places them at risk for violence, even when they are young boys."

The issue of femmephobia applies to all people, whether cisgender, transgender, women, men, or nonbinary , and intersects with "race, disability, body size, sexuality, class, and age", meaning that each person experiences femmephobia in their own way and with their own set of obstacles.

So what can be done? We can only control our own actions: so we self-reflect our own expressions and interests and stop judging others. Level-up by sharing this knowledge when someone is clearly discriminating against someone else.

And, perhaps most of all, name femmephobia. Society has a tendency to naturalize and overlook the way femininity is treated. When we do recognize a problem, we chalk it up to sexism, transphobia, homophobia, or rape culture, sometimes we just call it a “harmless joke” – meanwhile the treatment of femininity goes unchallenged. Join Femish in naming and challenging femmephobia!

Check out the article here to read more of Dr. Blair's post on this issue, including other research related to femininity.

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