CATE O’BRIEN | OPINION COLUMNIST
Feminine. Girly. Pink. What is it about these words that makes our society so defensive? It seems like these days, neither men or women can be feminine. If a man is feminine: if he has a high voice, if he makes art, if he expresses his feelings, if he wears nice clothes, if he is interested in anything other than the thin slice of macho-masculine activities that we tell a man he must be interested in, he is weak. If a woman is feminine: if she is “too” nice, if she isn’t into sports, if she cares too much about her appearance, if she likes the color pink, if she wants to focus more on her family than on her profession, she, too, is weak. There seems to be a common misperception that being feminine cannot coexist with being a strong feminist, and that’s simply not true. Strength and femininity can go hand in hand. It seems that in our quest for equality, we have essentially ignored one of our greatest assets: that of the power of pure femininity.
So what is femininity?
To me, femininity is being considerate of others. It is putting concern for others’ thoughts and feelings in high priority. Masculinity stresses competition and individualism; femininity balances this with a sense of social connectedness. With the rise of third-wave feminism, women have been told repeatedly that to be strong, valuable members of society, they should care less about how others feel and should instead focus on their own competitiveness and individualism. In some way, I agree. If a woman wants to own these masculine traits, more power to her. But to suggest that all women should do this does nothing but encourage the idea that masculinity is somehow better than femininity, and that is simply untrue. Being kind and considerate is not contrary to being a valuable member of society. In fact, I would argue that being kind and considerate adds to the value of society.
Femininity is not just the consideration but also the nurturing of others. It’s the ability to care for people and the passion to continue to do so. This may be why there are so many women teachers, women therapists, women nurses. These professions are often undervalued in our society, especially monetarily, precisely because of our lack of value in feminine strengths. Think about all of the well-paying professions. How many of them could you name that truly value the wellbeing of others? Why is this? Shouldn’t we encourage people to go into professions that help our children learn, our friends be happier and our parents be healthier? Shouldn’t we reward those who successfully do these things?
Obviously, this short article does not and cannot fully explain the complex construct of femininity. But my point is that if we as individuals begin to start valuing the feminine aspects of ourselves and those around us, we allow ourselves to access a whole new set of skills. Masculinity has many really powerful and impactful characteristics, but we need to stop believing that it has the only powerful and impactful characteristics. Being feminine does not mean being weak. Being feminine means taking care of others, and if that isn’t strength, I don’t know what is.