Note: Throughout this article, “women” is used to refer to cisgender and transgender women, as well as non-binary femme-identified people; this is a stylistic choice only and not intended to equate or universalize different peoples’ experiences and identities.
If I had a dollar for everytime I was told, “you throw like a girl,” or “you run like a girl” I would be on the Forbes list for Billionaires under 25 (maybe that is an exaggeration, but you get the point). While my parents fought this message, it was one that I heard from many other adults and kids. It made me feel ashamed. It made me feel like if I embraced femininity, I was somehow weaker, more fragile, and less then. So I completely rejected it. I said One Direction was for girly-girls, I thought pink was ugly, and I thought princesses were useless. I rejected the feminine because I thought that is what I needed to do, so I could achieve those big dreams.
So where does this rejection of femininity come from? Why do we still view masculinity as the ideal? The Second Wave of Feminism (also known as Women’s Liberation) fought against the roles that women were being forced into. The key word here is FORCED, but it was taken too far. We thought that the rejection of femininity was an ideal form of reclamation. That it wasn’t that masculinity was dominating, but that femininity was a sign of submission. A part of this is because of the gender binary understanding of society. As explained by Philippe Leonard Fradet, femininity and masculinity are viewed as opposites of each other. Therefore, the idea of claiming femininity is often associated with the loss of dreams. People who are feminine are destined to become JUST a wife, JUST a mother, and not see themselves as the CEO of a Fortune 500. It is not wrong to want to be a wife or a mother, and we know that these are not easy jobs, by any means, but it is the idea that embracing your femininity means choosing. You cannot be a femininie CEO, a femininie astronaut. As they say, it is a “man’s world.” We broke up with femininity long ago and now many of us are looking to make up with it.
But femininity and masculinity are not opposites of each other, and it’s important that we embrace both sets of qualities in whatever ways make us the most comfortable and feel the most like ourselves. Embracing femininity is not just about female-identifying individuals enjoying things that society tells them are “girly,” but it’s about tending to one’s emotions, perhaps getting in touch with our creative side, and connecting with each other in a collaborative and nurturing way. When we utilize our feminine side of collaboration and working together, it lends us another tool in fighting against oppression. We can break away from the binary of men needing to be strong and masculine and women need to be simple and submissive, to create a society where each individual leans on masculinity/femininity at different levels depending on what they need at that moment.
So how do we get there? How can we embrace our femininity when for so long we have been told to repress it? It’s not easy, and definitely not achieved overnight, and can start small. Setting aside time for yourself to get creative– whether that’s painting or knitting or just simple pencil drawing–and to get in touch with your imagination where anything is possible. Maybe it’s wearing something pink, even though you rejected the color when you were younger. It is learning to love what you were told to hate, because it was girly. Embracing your femininity is seeking community, and talking with close friends or family. Start where it feels natural for you, and continue from there. There is no right way or one way to embrace one’s femininity– so make it your own.
Written by Sarah Brennan, MSW, Volunteer and Activism Coordinator, and Cassidy Herberth, Education and Prevention Specialist.
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