Tangled Up in Femininity

If femininity came naturally, women wouldn’t need to tie themselves up in knots.

Some can barely walk in spiked heels that hurt. Some relentlessly guard against short skirts offering a quick flash. Some shift their weight around in corset-like contraptions. Others rearrange their faces, breasts and thighs under the knife.

Many squirm into a one-size-fits-all prescription that a husband and children will be 100% fulfilling.

Or, how about twisting yourself into Howcast’s rules for free drinks at a bar?

  • Dress sexy, but not slutty, or you’re asking for it. How do you know if you’ve crossed the line? Well, if any men act inappropriately toward you, you must have shown too much boob. Better luck next time!
  • Buy yourself one drink right off the bat, so it looks like you’re an independent-minded woman who isn’t trying to get free shit in return for being pretty. I mean, you are doing that, but you don’t want to make it obvious. Men might be turned off if the gendered exchange were made explicit.

In other words, don’t be who you are, be as you are expected, and walk a fine line on top of egg shells.

It all reminds me of a scene from “Brave,” as Natalie Wilson over at Ms. describes it:

Brave also offers a funny take on gender as performance when the very prim and proper Elinor is transformed into a hulking bear with a decidedly non-feminine body. Despite her new furry form, Elinor still “performs” femininity, prancing and posing and doing her best to have “good manners” with her unwieldy claws as she eats berries and fish.

So many of us jam ourselves into straightjackets. But why?

This is the “patriarchal bargain” that Lisa Wade, over at Sociological Images, calls a choice to accept roles that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power they can wrest from the system. They gain advantages but leave the system intact.

And in fact, Howcast (mockingly?) instructs women to do just that:

Don’t ever stop to question a system that tells women that trading on our appearance, faking interest in people, excluding friends from social outings because they might be annoying to random men you’ve never met, and being manipulative are all totally empowering and socially-acceptable ways to behave as long as ladies get a fairly low-cost item for free in return for our efforts.

Yes. Never question the system.

Because the free drinks are so worth it.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 5, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I love the first line of your post – so true.

  2. Ohhhhh–I will buy my own drinks, thanks…my own house, my own clothes, pay for my own nails…Georgia, you started me on another poetry tear, my friend 😉

  3. But that’s *a* system. What about places like Iran or Saudi Arabia where the knots are even tighter and there is literally never a free drink at the end? Which system does one question first – the one that can slowly but perceptibly change or the one that simply kills anyone who questions it?

  4. ”Femininity” doesn’t come naturally because it ISN’T natural. It is neither biological nor inherent nor necessary to femaleness, any more than ”masculinity” is to maleness.

    Femaleness is sex and is biological. There’s no ”how” about it. It is inherent.

    ”Femininity”, on the other hand, is arbitrary and cultural, and varies across time and cultures. It is ”gender”, not sex. It is assigned to and associated with female human beings, but there’s nothing inherent nor necessary about it.

    ”Femininity” consists of all the little gender props that emphasize and ”prove” our sex, as if our sex needs any proof any more than our humanity does. No one ever admonishes us to ”act human”, lest someone mistake us for dogs, for example.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with the gender props for males and females (masculinity and femininity), though, taken in isolation. What IS wrong is associating these behaviors, personality traits, personal taste, etc with one sex or the other and making people believe such things are necessary in order to be a ”bona fide” man or woman.

    Being a man or a woman is something like being pregnant — you either are or are not. There’s no such thing as being “more” or “less” of a woman or a man.

  5. Being a woman isn’t easy! Loved this post 🙂

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