Sunday, October 15, 2006

So, about those patriarchal constructs of femininity. . .

I was reading an article about Amy Lee of Evanescence this morning. I don't know why I was reading it, I don't particularly like Evanescence, but I guess I was just bored. It was semi-interesting (for instance, I didn't know she was only 21 when "Fallen" came out), until I got to this paragraph:

It takes only a few minutes in Lee's presence to see what drew them: Her porcelain skin and shimmering, pale blue eyes are set off by a mane of black hair, and she seems to embody both confident strength and a delicate femininity.

I hate the juxtaposition of those qualities. They're not opposing characteristics by any means, and proposing that they're hard to balance is so incredibly sexist and wrong, it's hard to imagine that no one sees this. Apparently, author Melissa Rayworth doesn't. Why is it that femininity apparently means not being confident or strong, or that if you are those things, you seem to have a hard time being feminine? Hell, no wonder feminist are seen as hairy, masculine, carpetmunchers. Strength and confidence are not thing that one must juggle with femininity, as they are as inherently female as they are inherently male. I have to ask, if strength and confidence is not a feminine trait, what is? Weakness and insecurity? What a lovely way to portray women! Thanks again, Patriarchy!

24 comments:

Emily said...

It's nice to see the press finally embracing androgyny *rolls eyes*

Stephen said...

Megan, sometimes I think you're going to become one of those femininists that lose touch with reality.

She was giving her a compliment, for christs sake! YES I realize what you were saying, that it was implied that confidence and strength exclude femininity, but that's just not the case.

First off, she said "DELICATE femininity", take that any way you want.

But also, since we ARE arguing semantics, let's dig deeper.

Femininity, by DEFINITION would entail the more gentle, nurturing characteristics of personality. Are you thinking, now, that it gives the wrong message for femininity to be associated with these things? Too bad. Women, or I should say, females, are supposed to be nurturers, speaking biologically. I don't think any reasonable person would make the claim that ALL women or ALL men act the way males and females are "supposed" to act traditionally, but the fact of the matter is the words masculine and feminine are just used to describe these characteristics.

Please don't become a fanatic. :/

Megan said...

Steven (I refuse to spell your name a any other way. "ph" make is Stefen :P):

This is simply not the case. Why do you think it doesn't take strength to be a nurterer if things are even as you claim they are biologically? It takes a tremendous amount of strength, and I wouldn't say there's a bit of delicacy in femininity unless it's constructed by the patriarchy to imply that female must equal subservient or else a woman is not "female" enough and thus is unacceptable. There's no fanaticism involved here. This is honest analysis of patriarchal language designed to imply that femininity is of course inferior to masculinity. Are you under the impression that women are not strong beings, or if they are, they're somehow not as feminine? Do you consider me to be unfeminine, or better yet, not delicate? Do you consider all men to have no traces of delicacy in them? I can most certainly tell you that, no matter what you tell yourself and what others tell you, that's simply not the case. No one's supposed to mention it, but that doesn't make it untrue. The fact of the matter here is that the two qualities the author tried to make a juxtaposition with were not good choices if she truly wanted to present opposing qualities.

Also, just for reference, if we're talking about things by definition, let's not make up definitions.

Femininity:

1. the quality of being feminine; womanliness.
2. women collectively.

Anyone can tell you what "womanliness" is. I'm saying that the patriarchy constructs it to be something it's not, which is delicate, untouchable, and on a pedestal. Biology only makes up part of what "femininity" is. I mean, think about it. I may have been born white, but I damn well grew up in "white" culture as well. There's a cultural and a biological side to these descriptions and portrayals, and I wouldn't think it would be fair to say "Corinne Rae Bailey has wonderful catchy tunes in her songs and smart lyrics, but she still manages to stay black" anymore than I appreciate what the author of that newspiece did to femininity. It's socially constructed, so don't try to pretend like a pedestal was under my ass from the moment I was born, because it's just not that way, and don't try to throw me back into the "feminist as the crazy assed bitches of society" category either, because it CERTAINLY isn't that way, and I figured you would know it.

Stephen said...

fem‧i‧nine 
–adjective
1. pertaining to a woman or girl: feminine beauty; feminine dress.
2. having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness.
3. effeminate; womanish: a man with a feminine walk.
4. belonging to the female sex; female: feminine staff members.

There are certain traits associated with being feminine, and certain traits associated with being masculine. They are NOT mutually exclusive, and they don't even necessarily refer steadfastly on the gender of the individual; I could be more feminine than you.

Take strength, this is a masculine trait. My mom, however, is AMAZINGLY strong, much stronger than myself, in fact. The reason these words mean what they do is because women TEND toward these traits (sensitivity, gentleness, nurturing) more often than men, generally. This is NOT saying that women can't abhor children, or be football players, it's only referring to traits normally associated with the gender.

Megan said...

Does your mom have trouble balancing her strength with her femininity, or do you consider her to be unfeminine? What I'm asking you is to see that the two aren't opposing traits. You don't have to juggle femininity and strength. You can certainly have them both and not constantly be in a balancing act. THe author of the article was suggesting the opposite.

Megan said...

P.S.- My definition came from Dictionary.com. Where'd yours come from? Just out of curiosity.

Drew said...

This is something about I've been wondering for a couple weeks now. Which is a goal of feminism: to redefine traditional notions of masculinity and femininity (and, if so, redefine them as what) or to promote acceptance of gender expression (not changing notions of masculinity and femininity but rather making sure that people can express both)?

Emily said...

The author of this article makes feminity and masculinity to be opposites when they are not. Anyone can embody such characteristics despite sex. Biology has nothing to do with gender, and it's rather bold to state that it is with such conviction. Boys and girls are handled differently from the moment they're born, when their brains are far from fully developed; there are parents out there who would rather their newborn boy die of hypothermia in the nursery than be seen with a pink knit cap by strangers admiring all the cute new babies from the other side of the glass (and vice versa). The only reason people believe the genders are opposite from each other is because normalcy is defined by a masculine ideal, and everything that isn't obviously masculine must be feminine, and that's how we treat people from birth. In reality, woman is the opposite of man as much as dog is opposite the opposite of cat; there are millions of organisms that are not dogs and there are millions of personality traits that can't be defined exclusively as female or male.

Instead of debating the definition of femininity, what is the definition of strength? Stephen identifies strength as a masculine trait, even after reading Megan's rebuttal stating that one must be very strong to be a woman in a patriarchy. I can't even say that strength in our society is defined physically. If that were the case, women would be considered the stronger sex, since they endure the most horrible pain of child birth, something a man can't do (which is probably why strength isn't defined that way). Our definition of strength came after our definition of masculinity, resulting in holding back tears after dropping bombs being a sign of strength, while crying at the sight and stench of burning flesh while saving the surviving civilians that were just bombed is just sissy shit. What is stronger than allowing others to witness you in your most vulnerable state? Lifting a couch? Give me a break.

So, Stephen. Is your mother stronger than you because she works out? Because she gave birth to you? Because she cries while watching the news? Because she stays calm when her friend is in a crisis?

Stephen said...

I understand, I just don't think she was even implying that.

Same place, we just looked up two different words. Feminine works more for my argument, while femininity works more for yours.
But since femininity is the quality of being feminine, I just used that definition instead.

:)

Megan said...

Drew:

If I'm being perfectly honest, the answer to that question would really depend on which feminist you talk to. I think it's a little bit of both, personally, because I think to some degree, they have to be changed in order to be accepted as being able to be seen in both genders without it being "bad" or "unnatural". I think it has to be accepted that being good with children, for example, can also be part of masculinity, and thus it can be seen in males. But that's just one example and just my opinion. Just like go get 'em attitudes and strength are part of femininity, not a feature outside of it that a certain woman just happens to have. Being strong and confident doesn't make one more masculine, it makes one more strong and confident. Being good with children doesn't make you more feminine. It makes you good with children.

But that's just me. Others may not feel the same, and hell, if I read a good argument otherwise, I may change my mind!

Megan said...

Steven:

Even so, I don't see how your definition doesn't suit my argument just as well. The author said "delicate femininity", surely. I've never denied that. I say it makes no difference, because it's just an add-on to a word that already, in this society, MEANS "delicate" and other similar adjectives. Didn't you say that strength was masculine? If so, what else could feminine be if femininity is supposedly the opposite of masculinity? Apparently, it's not confident strength, and thus, she IS juxtaposing the two traits. You cannot deny that the tone in the article was that of surprise when she wrote that Amy Lee has the ability to balance femininity with strength. It must be something remarkable if it was important enough to write about in the article, no?

You also didn't answer my question. I'm curious as to what your answer is.

Megan said...

Emily: I see what you're saying. I think femininity and masculinity are complements rather than opposites, if there must be a need to define one or the other at all. In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure about my stance on gender identification and such things, but I do know that I don't like to see the author of an article act surprised that someone can be both feminine, strong and confident all at the same time. What does that say about me? Haha.

Stephen said...

As much as it may offend you, if the traditional ideas on what femininity are aren't true, what are they? Remember now, they must be traits that are generally more prevalent in women than in men.

Megan, my Mom is stronger than myself in any way, shape or form. She could beat my ass in an arm wrestle, and she's CERTAINLY been through much harder experiences than I could handle. Do I think this makes her unfeminine? Not at all. Unless you wanted to destroy the word feminine completely though, please explain to me what the characteristics of being feminine are, if they aren't what it's defined as.

Emily, you're right about the conditioning from birth, no argument there. That doesn't mean, however, that every feminine or masculine trait is a result of conditioning.
Certain traits ARE biological, and I'd be willing to bet money on that.

Stephen said...

Oh, and this is just for fun!

Stephen, Stevo, Steveo, or Stevan generally pronounced IPA /ˈstivn̩/, is a male first name, originating from the Greek term Στέφανος (Stephanos), Latinized Stephanus. The meaning of the name is "crown" or "wreath." Ashling Alternative forms and spellings of the name include Steven, Stephan, Stefan (German). Steve is the common short form and various diminutives, such as Stevie, are found. The name is also found as a last name in such forms as Stephen, Stephan, Stefan, Stevens, Stephens, Stevenson, Stephenson, Stevin, and Stever. A female version of the name is Stephanie.

Hah, mine was first. :P

Megan said...

Steven (I don't care. It's better with a 'v'):

By the same token, if traditional views of femininirt AREN'T incorrect, why isn't your mother masculine? Unless of course, you think you can have traits that aren't feminine yet still somehow be feminine, which you'll have to explain to me. This is what I don't understand. You stand by rigid definitions of femininity yet break them when you define your own strong, confident and seemingly crazy-kick-ass mother who I would LOVE to see beat your ass in an arm wrestling match as feminine! How does that make sense? I mean, can you think of traits that are traditionally "masculine" that are rare in women? This goes both ways. I don't see why one gender or another gets to claim certain character attributes. I don't understand why, in order to be feminine, I have to be delicate. Are you telling me that's biology at work? Have to say I doubt that one. Now, nurturing I might give you as a "feminine trait", even "sensitive", perhaps. More emotional, never. Delicate, certainly not. More linguistic? Yeap, probably. Still, I don't understand how you can ask me to do this without first applying the definition of femininity that you're standing by to your mother who does not seem to fit the bill, or at least not to a tee. I would appreciate an explanation for that before we delve into assigning characteristics to femininity and masculinity.

It just seems as though you've already destroyed the word 'feminine'.

Stephen said...

My mom happens to NOT be extremely feminine. She has many feminine qualities, but generally I think I'd pin her as at least a little more masculine. Here's the thing though, I wouldn't consider my mother the norm. I'm going to say it again, these words are based on the majority of people, or at least on the major trends in behavior. No reasonable person would assert that every man or woman has to stick by these in order to be "right". If the words don't mean that one gender acts more prevalently toward certain traits, the words become meaningless.

Another thing, why do you act like you're getting a code tattooed on your arm?
You seem to take it as incredibly insulting if the word means anything but either very vague terms, or only compliments. Compliments of which there are many.
Linked to femininity are compassion, language (as you mentioned), gentleness, aesthetics etc, While masculinity (on the negative side) is linked to aggression, impulsiveness, apathy (although I think this one, if any, is the most societal).
Also, lest we forget, our society is much nicer to overly masculine women than it is to overly feminine men. Just look at fashion.


And I personally don't think we should ignore the truth, if it is the truth, because we're shooting to not convey the slightest idea of gender roles to children.

Emily said...

Drew said:

"This is something about I've been wondering for a couple weeks now. Which is a goal of feminism: to redefine traditional notions of masculinity and femininity (and, if so, redefine them as what) or to promote acceptance of gender expression (not changing notions of masculinity and femininity but rather making sure that people can express both)?"

I don't really see the difference between the two. If people can express both masculine and feminine traits that were once exclusive to a certain gender, then those characteristics would be redefined as neutral. I suppose that means one wouldn't necessarily cause the other either.

Emily said...

Megan,

I don't see roles as a bad thing. I just don't think they should be defined by gender, and I definitely don't think a certain gender's roles should be considered valuable and the others are worthless. And I purposely said "a certain gender's roles" instead of simply "gender roles" because it's no coincidence that traditional women's roles are considered trivial. I think androgyny is a good thing, and I have a feeling you think the same way. The author of the article seemed to think Amy Lee's androgyny was more of a surprise than an asset, even considering his/her word choice. I think Amy Lee's artistic expression appeals to men and women because androgyny is something that she can pull off, so neither men nor women feel compromised listening to her songs (mainly, men don't have to explain the Evanescence album in their CD wallet with a stupid, "Uh, I have it cuz that singer chick's hot *guffaw*"). That's probably what the author was trying to say but fell, let's face it, way short.

Stephen, there are only physical traits that are defined by biology. Even so, an individual's psychology is determined by both brain development and socialization, which sometimes go hand-in-hand. For example, language is better developed in girls from an early age because they're talked to more. However, if you took MRIs of girls' brains and compared them to MRIs of boys' brains, you'd see a physical difference. Therefore, differences in brain physiology doesn't necessarily indicate a genetic difference, let alone one due to sex. Girls don't have stronger language centers and linguistic abilities because they're female. It's because that's how they were treated from birth. Not all things psychological are learned, so you're right in saying that not everything has to do with conditioning. That's why I never said that ;)

Megan said...

I don't see why either gender has to get the short end of a stereotype stick. That's why. I don't act like there's a code tattoed on my arm, but it's generally considered a good thing for women to act "feminine" and for men to act "masculine". Historically, "feminine" has generally meant "non-threatening" and still does. Here's a quote to ponder:


"Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, a good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-dressed, well-groomed, and unaggressive." ~Marya Mannes

I think that has a ring of truth in it. If femininity has a set of standards and femininity is valued in women, women are still held to certain standards. I don't think it's good that men are brought down to simple stereotypes either. That's what allows for pinpointing of certain men, and as in another conversation I'm having on another website, even the rapes of males by other males. It' causes violence against men and against women. I see no reason why that should continue. If a woman can be strong and confident while still being feminine, then what does femininity actually mean? The virtues arbitrarily ascribed to the word by those who are in the position to make such assertions? I'm not denying that some of it might have some merit, but damn, I certainly don't have to take it for face value after "feminine nature" has been the poster child for women's subservience for ages. Surely you can understand that, sir.

I also think it's a shame that society is nicer to overtly masculine females than it is to feminine males (although there is a good amount of backlash against "dykes", etc. as well). That stems from masculinity being more valued in this culture, meaning masculinity as it is defined now. Another good quote that pertains to that is one that states the people are now courageous enough to raise their daughters more like sons, but no one is courageous enough to raise their sons like daughters. So, while I don't think societal constructs of gender are inherently bad things, one must keep in mind that they're easily perverted into justification for homobigotry (e.g.- The "That's the way it's supposed to be" argument against homosexual marriage), women's subservience (e.g.-The feminine pedestal. If women are feminine and femininity is delicate and weak, then why should they be the head of a anything or take any sort of charge?), and even making some men take it up the tail pipe, like in my example of men attacking men for shows of femininity. I think it would be good if all people could have all types of characteristic regardless of their gender, and I don't think they should make them "less masculine" or "less feminine", etc. So, while their might be biologically determined characteristics by gender, lets not lose our heads and say they're all biologically determined. You said I'm on the verge of fanaticism, but I didn't go so far as to say that all constructs of femininity are socially determined. So, let's keep it biological rather than social and arbitrary. Juxtaposing strength and femininity is not doing that. As I said before: There's nothing inherently weak or self-conscious about femininity. That's socially constructed to pull subservience out of women, and I'll believe that and believe it's wrong to do such things until you can provide proof which states that women are self-conscious and weak biologically and by nature. Call me crazy, but socially constructed concepts designed to make me subservient are not something I appreciate. I think the same can even be said about men. Men are called weak if they don't work like a Man (tm) should. That way, and I might be getting a little Marxist here, the state can pull subservience out of men. That's how patriarchy works.

Geeze, I didn't even mean for this to turn into this, but I think we're having a good discussion at the very least. O_O

P.S.-I hope this made sense. I got home from mind-numbing World Religions class just a few hours ago. I've yet to recover.

Megan said...

Emily,

I see what you're saying and I agree. I don;t think roles are inherently bad, but I just don't think they should necessarily be taken at face value, either, if that makes any sense. O_o

Stephen said...

Emily, we are talking PERSONALITY traits right? If some personality traits are genetic, as many researchers think they are (Nature vs Nurture) doesn't it seem POSSIBLE that some genetic traits relating to personality are more likely to be passed to girls, and some to boys, just as physical ones also have a preference in gender?

Megan, I understand and respect your rebuttal ESSAY! (hahaha)
I also agree with parts, like the fact that the idea of femininity has been used to keep women subservient. A few things though.

I never said we should take these ideas at face value, and I definitely never said all personality traits are biological.

According to all of your responses it seems like you want to get rid of the terms feminine and masculine all together; which I'm not completely opposed to.

If you maintain that you DON'T want to get rid of these terms, I'll have to ask you my question again.

What is femininity?

Megan said...

You know, I'm actually not too sure. I don't think I have to be in order to know that the virtues ascribed to the word are not exactly good ones nor is the fact that they were/are ascribed by, well, the patriarchy. Or, well, at least those who benefit from it. I don't know if I'm completely opposed to erasing femininity and masculinity out as words, either. But at the very least, there needs to be some redefining, and it needs to occur among actual men and women, not just from the point of view of men and not just from the point of view of women, and I think race and class need to be considered as well. But really, can you tell me what femininity is? Do you agree with the current description of femininity? If not, it seems like redefining it is something we should work together on. Same with masculinity I'd say, considering how harmful that stereotype is to men.

Stephen said...

I'm feelin ya, grrl.

Surely we aren't the first ones to bring this up though? Redefining the words?
Call a feminist's meeting and tell me how that goes...

:D

Megan said...

I actually did look up feminist commentary on gender roles and perception of masculinity and femininity, but I'm really pressed for time lately so I can't really do an in depth search. Once I get time, I might create a blog post about different theories surrounding the issue, though.