It’s a disease that spreads throughout our language and culture, if you throw badly you throw ‘like a girl’, we tell men to pull themselves together to ‘be a man’ and to ‘stop being pathetic, stop acting like such a girl’. ‘Girly’ , ‘Womanly’; these are used to imply things and people that are weak, insubstantial, fluffy, throw away and inconsequential. It’s been said that the worst thing a man can be called is a woman, and the worst thing a woman can be called is a woman. I would argue that the worst thing a woman can be called is ‘un-feminine’. To decry a woman as ‘not feminine’ , an insult often applied to feminist or any women who dares speak up for herself or challenge the narrow confines of what a woman should be. This goes beyond a negative perception of femaleness to imply weakness and flaw, it seeks to deny us an identity, it not only seeks to belittle women but denies us any association with our womanhood. It goes so deep into misogyny and touches the very core of it; it is something that seeks to divorce us from what we are, the deny us to ability to be ourselves. Female. Feminine. Women. By calling us ‘un-feminine’ someone not only implies we are ‘wrong’ for breaking the mould of ‘acceptable’ womanhood but seeks to deny us any association with our gender and identity as women.
Women sometimes don’t want to identify as feminist because ‘I like to be feminine’. Female sports stars get ridiculed for their ‘un-feminine’ appearance. Their broad shoulders strong thighs; things which makes them so amazing at what they do, features earned as the result of head work and dedication, they get poured over and insulted. We have this paradoxical pressure upon us to be both feminine whilst the very idea of ‘feminine’ seeks to deny us the reality of being female.
This myth of the ‘feminine ideal’ that is wheeled out every so often in these sorts of arguments is all pervading and poisonous. It seems to be less about celebrating what is wonderful about femininity and womanhood and more about presenting some airbrushed vacuous ideal of ‘femininity’ that has nothing to do with reality. It’s an ideal imposed upon us from outside, it’s impractical and stifling. It implies a weakness and submissiveness, things which are implied as an ideal that should be looked up to and replicated.
It presents women as ‘Female Eunuchs'; cutting us off from our essence, from what we are and making us void shells. The idea of the ‘female eunuch’, sterilised and sanitised to the point of being ‘Stepford’ women is an image that is so strong and so resonant. It illustrates the idea that this ideal is depriving us of something vital and real; It’s trying to destroy us by divorcing us from our very essence, cutting off what makes us women.
This is what ‘feminine’ has come to mean; a paradoxical image of femininity that is nothing but smoke, mirrors and a hollow core. The words we associate with ‘feminine’: weak, passive, dependent, fragile, superficial. What is implied by this is submissiveness, a ‘seen and not heard’ a sit down look pretty don’t bother your brain. It’s the passivity that’s implied that irks me; physical and mental. ‘Feminine’ women and girls don’t get sweaty playing sports, don’t dirty themselves playing in the mud, don’t tax their ‘delicate’ brains with ‘difficult’ books. They stay inside, they play home or make home. It’s a passivity that has constrained and sent so many women to madness and misery. A Barbie doll with plastic tits with no nipples and plastic pants with no cunt. That’s what we ‘should’ be if we’re ‘feminine’. A mannequin. A vacuous void, but one that looks pretty on someone’s arm like a status handbag made of living breathing flesh. It is sold to us as ‘feminine hygiene’ products which are designed more to mkae us ashamed of our bodies than for hygiene, most in fact the are downright unhygienic with their chemical scents triggering irritation and infection.
Maybe we should reclaim the word? ‘Feminine’ should not be about passivity and superficial vacuous ‘beauty’ feminine should be redolent of strength; the blood sweat and tears we emit our whole lives, the scars we gain from puberty, pregnancy and life in general. A sharp mind and a quick intellect. The strength we have in endurance, to endure hardships; the women throughout history who have had to endure endure endure, the women who still do, the women who are belittled for the colour of their skin, their social status and for the fact they are women. It is no coincidence that women of colour, women of lower social status, women who do not appear to fit the stereotypical appearance of ‘female’ and those who do not fit in the painfully narrow ‘norms’ of rich able bodied heterosexual whiteness are vilified and seen as ‘un-feminine’ a lot more.They keep going, they endure, the create wonderful things, they are so goddamn strong, a strength that is used against them when it should be celebrated. They are the ‘true feminine’. Strong. Enduring. Intelligent. Challenging. Headstrong. Bold. Courageous. Heroic. These words describe the women I know, these words describe what is really feminine, not some scented waxed and airbrushed simulacra woman.
Insulting women who do not fit this mould by decrying us a ‘not feminine’ is denying us our womanhood, our gender, our whole identity as women, as females as ‘feminine’. It is casting us out as aliens, as unnatural and as ‘wrong’. It seeks to undermine us and deny us the very thing we are.
I wish to reclaim the word and celebrate femininity for what it really is, not celebrate a white washed, bleached out restrained and damaging fantasy. I’m feminine and proud.